Pastor Terry Jones grabbed media attention last month with an announcement of his plans to burn the Quran on Sept. 11. Jones' event, if carried out and given prominent media coverage, would likely provoke some Muslim communities in the world which feel threatened by such inflammatory gestures. Burning copies of the Islamic holy book might also inflame anti-Muslim attitudes in the United States.
Media around the world have the chance to counter Jones' provocative gesture by providing coverage of efforts that demonstrate the amicable relationship between Islam and America. Media would be wise to give attention to constructive events that might allow news organizations to play a role in improving relations instead of exacerbating tensions between Americans and Muslims worldwide.
Produced by world renowned scholar Professor Akbar Ahmed of American University, "Journey into America" documents a year-long anthropological study of Muslims across the United States, Ahmed and his team of largely young non-Muslim American researchers, of which I was a part, travelled to more than 100 mosques and 75 cities to document what it means to be American through the eyes of Muslims.
The One Film 9/11 initiative, which will screen "Journey into America" in the homes, schools and places of worship around the world on Sept. 11, is my own initiative to counter the negativity surrounding relations between Americans and Muslims worldwide.
Since its launch on Sept. 12 last year, One Film has brought Muslims and non-Muslims together at the United States Embassy of London and the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, both of which fostered a meaningful dialogue between non-Muslims and Muslims on the strong ties between Islam and America. In early May, "Journey into America" will be screened at the University of Cambridge as well as other English cities of Manchester, Leeds and Leicester. "Journey into America" is also available online through a free stream so more people can partake in One Film 9/11.
"Journey into America" cuts straight through the stereotypes of Americans being anti-Muslim and Muslims being anti-American. One scene shows Arlington National Cemetery in a visit to gravestones of Muslim American soldiers who died in Iraq. This scene is particularly important for many viewers because it challenges false claims, such as "Muslim Americans are disloyal to the United States" and "Muslims cannot be America." It also demonstrates that Muslims are proud to be American and that Americans are appreciative of the sacrifices made by their fellow Muslim citizens.
Use of social media plays a role in One Film 9/11's goal of changing people's perspectives in an increasingly digitalized world. Spreading this counter-narrative by means of a blog, Twitter and Facebook page has helped foster a more tolerant world as many people form views not through direct interaction with other people, but instead through what they see and hear in the media. One Film has also formed a team of enthusiastic young Americans to help circulate "Journey into America" and organize events around the world. The team is gradually building a bigger network of friends from interfaith and academic organizations and institutions and continues to welcome new volunteers who are interested in One Film's interfaith initiative.
Many people feel that the media plays a significant role in escalating tension between Americans and Muslims around the world. Giving coverage to One Film 9/11 is an opportunity for the media to prove their critics wrong. It is also an opportunity to show how Islam and America are two compatible entities.