Scholar: Media uninformed

By Niccolo Barber, Staff Writer

Conflicts between the Western and Islamic worlds stem from a general misunderstanding between the two cultures, said leading Islamic scholar Akbar Ahmed.

Students and local Utahns gathered at the Salt Lake Jewish Community Center for a lecture on Islam from Ahmed on Thursday.

Ahmed said that if President-elect Barack Obama hopes to make progress with the Middle East, he must seek to understand the Islamic world.

“We just don’t know enough about each other,” Ahmed said.

The solution does not rest solely on the future president’s shoulders, Ahmed said. Americans must seek to become informed as well.

“We need to be thinking of a solution beyond stereotypes and distortions of television,” he said. “We can only do this if we look at each other as human beings.”

Ahmed, a former Pakistan high commissioner to Great Britain, has advised Prince Charles and President George W. Bush on Islam and is considered a leading authority on contemporary Islam, according to the British Broadcasting Corp.

He recently wrote the book Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization, which he discussed at the lecture.

Ahmed said western media has distorted the Muslim world with unfair typecasts, furthering isolation between the two cultures. He said Americans should come to a proper understanding of Islam before they believe the media’s understanding of the culture.

“All I saw on television (in respect to the Islamic culture) was terrorism,” Ahmed said. “That is not the Muslim world I remember.”

However, seeking a proper understanding is not merely an exercise in open-mindedness, but a necessary measure to ameliorate relations with the Middle East, he said.

Ahmed said he believes a cause-and-effect scenario links America and the Middle East. Signs of ignorance in America, such as offending the prophet by calling him a terrorist or pedophile, causes anger in the Middle East and aggrandizes tension between the two worlds.

“With wars and deaths in the Middle East as the effect, we need to look at the causes here in America,” Ahmed said.

Many audience members nodded in agreement throughout the talk, but a few people expressed some disagreement with Ahmed.

“It was a great lecture and I see where he’s coming from, but at times I felt like he was placing the entire blame (of United States and Middle Eastern tensions) on American citizens,” said Anthony Berg, a Salt Lake City resident.

Most people were enthusiastic about the lecture, including Jace King, a psychology major at the U.

King said he forfeited his ticket to the Utes games against TCU the same evening to attend the lecture.

King felt Ahmed’s comments about media stereotypes making the conflict worse are entirely true and more people should be aware of differences between the two cultures.

“This was much better than the football game,” King said.

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