Belief Beat

As I hinted at in my blog posts on the anniversary of President Obama’s Cairo speech to the Muslim world, I’ve been working on a Religion News Service story about the impact that America’s political efforts and cultural exports — including “Sex and the City 2,” “South Park” and the Miss USA pageant — have had on U.S.-Muslim relations. (This term is too vague and oversimplified, a few sources reminded me, but I’m at a loss for a succinct replacement. Any suggestions?)

The story, which I wrote for Religion News Service, is up on The Huffington Post. Here are some quotes that didn’t make it into the final version:

Fatemeh Fakhraie, Muslimah Media Watch editor-in-chief:

Recent pop culture representations of the Middle East and Muslims sort of highlight the fact that Muslims and Muslim-majority countries are increasingly high-profile, both in politics and in the mainstream American media. There have been several TV shows, books, and movies in the last 10 years that include Muslim or Middle Eastern characters. Because so many stereotypes still exist about these particular demographics, many of the representations are still negative, and until these stereotypes change, the representations won’t.

Amir Hussain, a professor in Loyola Marymount University’s Department of Theology:

I think behind the scenes, American Muslims are doing what we can, and this is the best way to improve relations with the rest of the Muslim world, to show them who we are and what we are able to do in this country… Politically, it goes back to (American) support for wars in Muslim countries, as well as support for oppressive Muslim governments in places like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt. In a funny way, I think (American) politics undermines the culture.

Haroon Moghul, director of the Maydan Institute, a consulting firm that works with American Muslim communities:

Cultural issues can undermine the (political) process, but I don’t think they directly impinge on the process… They can certainly hurt, becaue they can be used by people who are obstructionist, but I think fundamentally the bigger problem is that the people (Muslim governments) we talk to don’t speak for anyone. Obama reaches out to governments who don’t have mandates.

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