WaPo Implies U.S. 'Islamophobia' Emerges in a 'Vacuum' of Ignorance, Lack of Diversity

September 13th, 2010 8:46 AM

Washington Post religion reporter Michelle Boorstein is generally a careful reporter, not prone to outbursts of liberal bias. But the general liberal-media bias that ignorance breeds "Islamophobia" came through between the lines in a Monday story on the aftermath of the Koran-burning publicity stunt week in Florida:  

In fact, like much of the country, Gainesville's racial and religious diversity is minimal. Personal contact with Muslims is limited.

Nationally, more than half of the respondents in a recent Pew poll said they knew little or nothing about Islam. In that vacuum, violence overseas in the name of Islam defines that faith for many.

The implication is that truly learned people who have diverse human contacts have no logical reason to be concerned about the negative impact of Islam. (The story is not yet online.)

It's also a little odd to suggest that "violence overseas" defines negative views of Islam, when violence in the United States is more powerfully suggestive, from 9/11 to the Fort Hood shooting. There can be a great difference between questioning a mosque that seems peaceful and a mosque that spreads the "spiritual advice" of imams like Anwar al-Awlaki that inspires terrorism. But the Post and other media outlets can have trouble identifying which is which.

What's underplayed in stories about America's tolerance of Islam is the question of how tolerant Islamic countries are of other faiths. Boorstein's piece alluded near the beginning to how "more nuanced and franker conversations" are occurring after the Terry Jones stunt, such as "What was worse to see: churches torched in India or Nigeria or a few books in a remote exurban field?" That was the only sentence in the story that dared to imply that Islam is often not a tolerant faith when it dominates the state.

Of course, it should seem somewhat obvious that if the public knows little about Islam, that perhaps might be the fault (in part) of the news media, which generally disdains covering religion except when something (or someone) blows up.

For example, in a 2005 study of religion and the networks, Ken Shepherd and I found the networks couldn't find the time to describe the theology behind the Sunni-Shi'ite "civil war" in Iraq:  "In all of their coverage of Iraq’s religious factions and their political aims, none of the broadcast networks ever gave a basic explanation of the key religious differences between these sects of the Islamic faith. For all their warning of impending civil war, they haven’t explained why their differences on matters of faith have proven a consistent source of conflict. "