By Amitabh Pal on July 17, 2011

Prejudice is flourishing in the United States.

A tempest brewing in Maine illustrates this. A decision to invite the Al Jazeera Washington bureau chief, Abderrahim Foukara, to speak at a museum fundraiser in the state has generated such a strong reaction that the public reception has been moved to a private, undisclosed location. The protesters’ beef? According to them, Al Jazeera is nothing more than a front for Islamic radicalism.

“A lot of people are not real happy with extremist Muslims, and Al Jazeera seems to have a tendency to promote terrorist acts,” explains Pete Harring of the Maine tea party, expanding the movement’s agenda beyond its supposed fiscal conservative goals. Another Maine resident, Mackenzie Andersen, is convinced that Al Jazeera is actually a jihadist recruiting front.

It is based on such absurdities that these crusades are launched. Serious media analysts have long disposed of the canard that Al Jazeera is spreading a radical Islamist agenda. “I would challenge anyone who feels that these networks are apparatuses for terrorism to first see if they’ve ever watched it,” says Professor Justin Martin, adding, “There’s not very much agenda pushing. I’m more shocked when I watch Fox News.”

The cheek of professors to unfavorably compare Fox to Al Jazeera, even when the Murdoch media empire is in such trouble!

Seriously, there are deeper undercurrents here. Anti-Islam and anti-Middle East prejudice (the religion and the region are perpetually confused in the mind of bigots) have hampered the free flow of information in the United States. (I have written an entire book to counter the association of Islam and violence.) As a result, Al Jazeera English is available in only four communities in this country.

“The crux of the problem in getting cable and satellite clearance is that providers have seen little upside and a big downside to carrying Al Jazeera English,” writes Lawrence Pintak in the Columbia Journalism Review. “Not much demand—i.e., profit—but a near-certainty of pushback from conservative and pro-Israel camps in the form of letters, bad publicity, and potential boycotts.”

A Time magazine poll last August showed the level of intolerance and misinformation prevalent in the United States.

“Twenty-eight percent of voters do not believe Muslims should be eligible to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court,” the poll discovered. “Nearly one-third of the country thinks adherents of Islam should be barred from running for President—a slightly higher percentage than the 24 percent who mistakenly believe the current occupant of the Oval Office is himself a Muslim.”

The saddest thing is that this sort of bigotry is based on rampant ignorance.

“The Pew Forum’s September 2010 survey of religion literacy found that only about half of Americans know that the Qur’an is the holy book of Islam,” write scholars John Esposito and Sheila Lalwani. “It also found that less than a third know that most people in Indonesia—the world’s most populous Muslim nation—are, in fact, Muslim. What many did know and fear were stereotypes based on misinformation.”

Such an astonishingly inaccurate understanding of Islam is contributing to the spread of hate and fear in this country. As the Al Jazeera ruckus in Maine shows, the United States still has a way to go before it can live up to its ideals of pluralism and openness.

If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of The Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "U.S. and Pakistan: A Most Complicated Alliance."

Follow Amitabh Pal @amitpal on Twitter

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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