A recent study by the Washington, D.C.,-based Muslim Public Affairs Council ( MPAC) has shown that many of the “experts” on Islam who try to interpret the religion for others are not qualified to do so. In fact, just one out of every 25 experts is qualified. This begs the question, who speaks for Islam and how should we deal with misinformation campaigns?
The cottage industry of “experts” Islam is growing and many of those claiming to be “experts” are anything but that. I argue for caution before accepting anyone as an expert, and for checking their credentials before taking their word for granted.
The report adds:
"In the past few months, many of the individuals profiled in the study have appeared in mainstream media and political circles, where their inaccurate information and commentaries have been used by politicians such as Rep.Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Some have also been cited by convicted terrorists, such as Anders Breivik of Norway."
Pat Roberston’s recent rant, where he gave advice to a caller to “move to Saudi Arabia, so you can beat your wife,” is yet another example of hate-speech and fear mongering. How can someone who is a public leader and a responsible figure make such a callous and ignorant statement?
The MPAC report lists people such as Pamela Geller, Frank Gaffney, Daniel Pipes, Zuhdi Jasser and a total of 25 self-styled “experts” on Islam, who obviously have the credentials nor the background to speak authoritatively about Islam or Muslim issues. So, what is wrong if they speak? And what falsehoods are they perpetuating?
Here is my a list of top five ideas about Islam and Muslims which are wrong and misleading:
1. All Muslims are bent on dominating the world, and hence are not to be trusted. This stems from a gross extrapolation of fears and misconceptions of Muslims as Jihadists just because a few individuals indulge in acts of violence. On a lighter note, watch The Colbert Report's take on this issue.
2. All Muslim leaders are representative of the Muslim Brotherhood. I see this happen repeatedly. Pamela Geller and others like her repeatedly link every organization imaginable with the Muslim Brotherhood. This is seriously beyond ridiculous, and actually laughable.
3. All Muslims are perfectly familiar with all tenets of Islam. Certainly not true, as more than 50% of American Muslims don’t attend mosque service regularly.
4. All things Islamic are oppressive towards women. While societies such as Saudi Arabia can be very restrictive toward women, a large portion of the Muslim world has laws and social norms geared toward protecting women and their rights. Even Pakistan has had a female Prime Minister, as does Bangladesh. Let's get real, now.
5. All Muslim men have four wives and are promiscuous. I have yet to meet one Muslim man who has more than one wife, and publicly acknowledges it. And this is after having lived for 26 years in India, over two years in the Middle East, and three years in the U.S.
It is about time that these false experts are exposed for what they are, before they do more damage to civil society and civic discourse.
While freedom of speech is certainly a value one cannot snuff out with violence, one must also remember the difference between this freedom and hate-speech.
Besides, freedom comes with responsibility. And unfortunately, many of these hate-mongers don’t seem to recognize this fact.