I don’t have any through research nor lots of data to back the following statement up, but it seems to me that one of the reasons for the recent upsurge in prejudices, as expressed in various anti-insert-a-culture-or-religion-here sentiment is intimately linked with fear of the unknown, which, mixed with a liberal dose of misinformation, can be the source of a lot of injustice and even war.
While I am a blogger, I am also a fiction writer. I work very hard at understanding how I can tie in fictional stories with the current social reality, so as to trigger in the reader a reflection with regards to the forces operating in the society in which he or she lives, as well as his or her contribution to dissipating negatives forces by enhancing the positive ones.
One example which has greatly inspired me in the last couple of years is the CBC’s television show Little Mosque on the Prairie, which follows the life and times of the Muslim community in the town of Mercy set in, well, the Prairies.
The show is rather devious in its way of dealing with current tensions between the Muslim world and everyone else. After the September 11 attacks, many viewed all Muslims as terrorists. In my city, Montreal, there were numerous incidents in which anti-Islam sentiment was quite strongly expressed. I myself witnessed a couple that left my skin crawling.
Of course we know that the September 11 attacks were not endorsed by all Muslims; for that matter, they were endorsed by a very small minority of Muslims. I have a lot of Muslim friends around the world, and none of them supported the attack.
So how do we bridge the gap created by fear, between reality and this media-encouraged perception that all or most Muslims are evil? One way is through shows such as Little Mosque on the Prairie, which normalizes the Muslim community as having the same kind of problems as any other community: dratted neighbors, irritating coworkers, misunderstandings stemming from lack of knowledge, and of course, a good dose of romance.
At first, I started and kept watching because of my Canadian pride of a great CBC show; I slowly came to realize the brilliance of the show as others, less fortunate than I who have grown in a culturally diverse setting, shared with me how “normal” these Muslims were. While this sentiment is one that I take for granted, I have come to realize that for many, it isn’t so; the effect of media coverage of various events in the Muslim (usually negative ones, at that) affect in a surprising way the minds of some of the most pragmatic people I know.
And so, while I care about what happens to the characters (will Amaar end up with Rayyan or not? Will the dratted Reverend Thorne finally be put in his place? Will Baber endure his growing daughter’s increasing independence?), I care even more about the conversation this show has created, and hope that, as more and more people are exposed to this fantastic show, they will gain the courage to look beyond the information they are fed about “the other” to realize that, at the end of the day, we are very, very similar.