Beware of the Idiot Box

Posted by on Feb 15th, 2008 and filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry


I HUMBLY ask my Muslim brothers and sisters to turn off the “idiot-box” when they hear news and commentary concerning Islam and Muslims. I also ask that non-Muslims who read our articles do the same.

Strangely enough, the horrific events of 9/11 have catalyzed many Americans to enquire about Islam and Muslims. Stranger still is the fact that many Americans learn about Islam and Muslims via the cable-news medium.

For starters, there is MSNBC and the FOX channel, to name a few. These are a few mediums through which ordinary Americans hear Arabic lexical terms such as the “Taliban” and “Jihad” – terms used indiscriminately among liberal and conservative commentators. Listen closely and you will hear these terms within functional political contexts such as: “how will the war on al-Qaeda influence Bush’s re-election bid?” or, “what did the Bush Administration know about al-Qaeda prior to 9/11?” Never mind that these terms are completely taken out of context, only to be used in another one.

This is not the first time that both print and televised news media has misused terms that ordinary Americans don’t understand. Besides, ordinary Americans are economic and cultural consumers in a market-driven society; no one has enough time to know what these terms really mean. During an almost frenzied attempt to convince ordinary Americans about the evils of Communism during the 1920’s, the American news media twisted the term “Communism” entirely out of context. Not that this term is an ideology today; at that time Communism was a vibrant political alternative to American democracy. Then came the “Cold War” and Ronald Reagan’s depiction of the Soviet Union as the “evil empire”. As Communism spread throughout Europe, Latin America and Africa, one continuous message remained the same: Communism is antithetical to freedom and must be extinguished at all costs. Consider the “Red Scare” of the 1920’s, whereby anyone who professed to be a Communist was arrested and thrown in jail.

The news media has always been adept at inculcating within the American public a perceived “enemy” that eventually becomes “real”; but it cannot educate anyone about anything. Everything can’t be wrong with Communism. Fidel Castro’s Cuba has been “Communist” for over fifty years now. Its infant mortality rate is significantly lower than that of the most industrialized nation on Earth. Its medical students enjoy free tuition and their expertise is being utilized world -wide. Despite contrary views, there are indeed many positive consequences of Communism. Consider also conservative views of liberals. They are called “bleeding-heart liberals” in order to underscore their inclination to focus on human emotions and mores rather than the rule of law, regardless of whether it is beneficial to society or not. Conservatives never minded, for example, that the rule of law once considered African-Americans as three-fifths of a person and therefore justified to be enslaved, or that George Washington signed into law the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 (Article IV, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution).

I took the opportunity one day to enquire what these Arabic terms really mean by visiting the resident Imam at ICNA. What does “taliban” really mean? According to the Imam, it is the plural of “talib” which means “student”. These are students who learn religious curricula at what is called the madrassah or religious schools located throughout the Muslim world, particularly in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Yet the ordinary American associates “Taliban” almost instinctively with violence and oppression. Next, I asked the Imam about the term “jihad”, to which the Imam answered with one word: “struggle”. To be more precise, “jihad” means “holy struggle”, not “holy war”. In a purely linguistic context, “jihad” means struggling or striving, not war. According to Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki, the jihad of the individual is to struggle against the evils of oneself, and jihad for the community is to protect the religion from either internal or external enemies; if any internal corruption occurs with in the Muslim community, Muslims should struggle to get rid of it, and if there is any external force, then Muslims should struggle to defend itself. Military action is, therefore, only one means of jihad, and is very rare. As an example, the prophet Muhammad (SAW) told his followers returning from a military campaign: “This day we have returned from the minor jihad to the major jihad, meaning a return to a peaceful return to self-control and betterment”.

The writer is a recent revert to Islam and can be contacted at:

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