While I was browsing the web for interesting perspectives a few days ago, I came across yet another article that portrayed Islam very negatively, as usual posted on a pro-atheism website. That, combined with many other examples of people in the West having a terribly negative image of the religion, made me decide that in this week’s post I would try and rationalise things a little. I have heavily criticised this kind of ignorant atheism before, but I simply cannot help feeling like more needs to be said. After all, Islam is still the most hated religion there is, and I’m not sure if that’s justified.
First of all, if you have the time, have a quick look at the article, and also check out the comment section. Naturally, as usual, the writer makes some very big mistakes such as suggesting that Muslims think God has children, and in the comment section anyone defending Islam gets a whole load of rubbish thrown at them, while comments such as “Muhammad was a rapist” receive nothing but upvotes, despite the likely conclusion that none of that is true.
However, probably the worst thing of all is that these people pride themselves as being open-minded and rational, believing that they indeed have all the knowledge. In reality, their judgements are clouded by prejudice and based on extremely questionable sources such as these articles posted on pro-atheism websites. The question is, why do they believe all these “facts”?
In social-psychology, many experiments have been done to test human thinking, particularly a few decades ago when a lot more was allowed. An experiment that is especially interesting is one by Stanley Milgram, who tested the power of authority. All he did was pay a couple of participants to basically torture someone, hire an actor who pretended like he was indeed being tortured (only audible for the subjects), and a man in a white coat who told the participants that everything was fine. The conclusion? Research participants carried on giving electrical shocks until the actor supposedly died (at 450 volts) in over 60% of the cases, just because a man in a white coat told them everything was fine.
Surely, this oversimplifies things quite a lot (you can watch a video yourself, I promise it’s very interesting), but what matters is the result of the experiment: people will believe whatever they are told, no matter the consequences, just as long as the source is authoritative and confident enough. People were willing to kill millions of Jews just because a man with a moustache told them that Jews had to be exterminated, and in the same way, people are willing to believe a fancy-looking article regardless of the fact that it has enormous consequences for a large part of the world population.
In the end, experiments like this one suggest that such ignorance and evil is human nature and that we probably won’t ever get rid of it. As long as there is still someone out there preaching against Islam and as long as the popular media doesn’t explicitly show that Islam isn’t dangerous at all (which is not possible as long as fundamentalism still exists), the religion will always be unfairly looked down upon by a large group of the Western population.
But identifying a problem and concluding that nothing can be done isn’t very productive, so what we should ask ourselves is what we can do to minimise this effect, because although it cannot be solved, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything we can do. For instance, we can educate ourselves and use that knowledge we gain to educate others, so that slowly, one person at a time, we can convince a large part of the population that their prejudices are faulty.
Particularly, now that I have read the Qur’an, I suddenly notice misconceptions about Islam basically on a daily basis, whether it is on the internet, within my friend groups or even my professors in university. Most of these misconceptions are innocent, but that doesn’t take away the fact that if we can show that the innocent misconceptions are wrong, the more damaging ones won’t seem so infallible anymore. And that is what needs to be done: the world needs to be convinced that the “authority” that is the internet and the media is often wrong and that Islam isn’t as bad as some people want us to think it is.
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