CEDAR CITY — Southern Utah University students and community members gathered in the Sterling R. Church Auditorium Tuesday night for a discussion titled “ISIS and the Media’s Portrayal of the Islamic Religion” hosted by the Southern Utah Democrats.
Two speakers were featured at the event: Michael Stathis, a professor of political science at SUU, and Madelyn Crookston, a Muslim-American convert from Parowan.
Stathis kicked off the discussion by speaking on the history of ISIS, also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and Islamic State, and how the group differs from others in the past.
“The rise of ISIS, for most people, came out of nowhere,” Stathis said. “No one saw it coming. Abu Bakr (al-Baghdadi) … was a totally unknown person.”
Whatever people may call it — whether it is ISIS, ISIL or the Islamic State — the intent of the group is something the United States has not seen in basic terrorist groups before, Stathis said. Unlike other terrorist groups whose main concern has been to export terrorism around the world, ISIS’ main goal is to carve out territory.
The brutality the world has witnessed at the hands of ISIS is unlike anything seen in modern times, Stathis said. There are rumors that al-Baghdadi’s break away from al-Qaeda was because he did not feel the group was brutal enough, which can be hard to imagine.
The main question many Americans raise is, “what should the United States do about the situation?” Stathis said. The United States has made many poor decisions regarding the Middle East since World War II and some people suggest that the rise of ISIS is due to the fall-out from the war in Iraq.
That is partially true, Stathis said, but it is also from the civil war in Syria, as well as a number of other things.
The United States has caused so much upheaval and discontent in the area that it is difficult for us to really do much that can be seen by others as positive, Stathis said.
“Given the track record, the United States might be better off being given a temporary time-out in the Middle East,” Stathis said. “That might be better for everyone concerned.”
While Stathis said it is not really feasible for the United States to completely withdraw support from the ISIS conflict, he said it would not be a bad idea to do a little less.
“This is a Middle Eastern problem,” Stathis said. “The primary players here should be people in this area.”
Following a question from an audience member, Stathis also spoke about the connections between ISIS and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The recent crisis involving al-Baghdadi, Syria and Iraq has taken so much attention away from the Arab-Israeli conflict, Stathis said. This is a great tragedy, because the conflict plays a vital role in the goings on for the entire Middle East.
“The Arab-Israeli conflict is the key to stability in the entire region,” Stathis said. “Until it is solved — beginning with the creation of an independent Palestine — we are going to see crisis time-after-time.”
In his closing speech, Stathis said for the audience to not mistake his remarks as him underestimating al-Baghdadi or the conflict with ISIS. Rather that the United States should carefully consider what they are doing beforehand.
Following Stathis remarks, Crookston took to the stage and spoke about her “spiritual journey” to Islam.
Having grown up in a primarily LDS environment, Crookston said she did not fully agree with the concept of going to hell for simply following the wrong religion. It was after studying multiple different religions that she discovered the Muslim religion allows all those of a good heart and intentions into heaven.
She came to this realization, she said, after reading a passage in the Qur’an in Surah 2:62. Accepting this meant she had finally found a religion where she would not need to worry about the people she loved following her to heaven.
Not everyone sees Islam in the same positive light that she does, Crookston said. The mainstream media in the United States often portrays the religion in a negative light, causing those who intake the media to view it the same way.
An example of how the media portrays Islam is through using the Arabic word for God instead of just saying “God,” even though they are translated to mean the same thing, Crookston said. When a person hears the Arabic word over the television, it will usually show an extremist shouting the name or show it in a negative way.
“They say, ‘Allah’ because it seems foreign and … scary and different,” Crookston said.
The reasoning for this, Crookston said, is because Islamophobia sells. It is a multi-billion dollar industry that news agencies, talk-show hosts and authors all profit from. When people accept these Islamophobic stances, they are validating what the Muslim extremists do and only assist their agenda.
Separating Islam from the rest of the world in these ways can create an us versus them mentality, Crookston said. The media has created a mindset that Muslims cannot be good Americans.
Another misconception about Muslims — both American and not — is that they are all al-Qaeda sympathizers, Crookston said. This is completely untrue, she said, and that she does not understand how people can group one-quarter of the worlds population under a single banner.
“We hate al-Qaeda … because we are getting blamed for their actions and living with the consequences that they are not,” Crookston said.
This hate for Muslims is one that can be found everywhere, even in Cedar City, Crookston said. In 2013, somebody threw a brick through a mosque window located at 59 N. 100 W. in Cedar City. The police did not call this act a hate crime and it was not featured in any media source.
In the end, Crookston said it is her hope that Americans stop painting Muslims with such a broad brush.
“I’m just as Muslim as someone born in Saudi Arabia and I love funeral potatoes and green Jell-O,” Crookston said.
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