CAIRO - Working against the gears of Islamophobia machines, efforts of American Muslims to present the true image of their religion are facing uphill challenges to change the wrong media perceptions that Islam encourages violence.
"We work every day to decouple Islam from ... a virtual cottage industry of Islam-bashers and fearmongers devoting their lives to promoting the notion that Islam is forever linked to violence," Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told Desert News on Monday, May 20.The Muslim leader was referring to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center following last month's bombings in Boston that linked Islam to violence.
The survey found that 42 percent of Americans believe that Islam is more likely than other faiths to encourage violence.
These figures were much worse than those measured after the 9/11 attacks.
A Pew survey in March 2002, just six months after the 9/11 attacks, found that 25 percent of Americans said Islam was more likely to encourage violence, with 51 percent disagreeing.
"What's happened (since 2002) is the politicalization of this issue and a very strategic campaign by individuals and foundations that promote this narrative that Islam is inherently violent," said Haris Tarin, who runs the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC)'s Washington office.
Since the 9/11 attacks, US Muslims, estimated between 6-8 million, have complained of discrimination and stereotypes because of their Islamic attires or identities.
In August 2011, a US report depicted a group of foundations, think-tanks and bloggers as the main players behind the campaign to promote fear of Islam and Muslims in the US.
Titled Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America, the report identifies seven foundations that have quietly provided a total of more than 42 million dollars to key individuals and organizations that have spearheaded the nation-wide anti-Muslim effort between 2001 and 2009.
Despite unabated media campaigns against their faith, US Muslim leaders are determined to introduce the true image of Islam.
"We will put out an alternative message to the other side that has become very loud and are wrapping themselves in the Qur'an," said Dr. Maher Hathout, a senior adviser and founder of MPAC.
"We are sparing no effort. This is priority number one."
Hathout said MPAC plans to "flood the market" with video, audio and writings that will counter extremist ideologies.
The group is partnering with the New America Foundation to host a briefing on countering violent extremism and online radicalization on May 28 in Washington, D.C.
Later on this summer, a summit of imams will be organized in Washington where leaders of local Muslim congregations from around the country will discuss the problem of and solutions to radicalization within their communities.
The campaign is not the first effort by MPAC to combat radicalization in the US.
In 2010, the group released its first videos designed to discredit militant messages promoting violence.
A video titled "Injustice Cannot Defeat Injustice" includes brief statements by conservative and liberal imams speaking out against advocates of violence.
"Where are (extremists) successful?" asks Imam Zaid Shakir.
"You just see one mess after another ... and it's time for us to start cleaning up those messes and even going beyond that. It's for us to contribute to the construction of something beautiful."
MPAC leaders also warn that law enforcement's strategy of using informants within mosques would only make the situation worse by troubling youths.
"Law enforcement should handle the criminality and not the ideology," Hathout said."The ideological battle is ours."