CAIRO – In his first visit to an American mosque, President Barack Obama called for writers and producers to create more rounded Muslim figures in TV dramas that truly represent the Muslim community away from terrorism.
“Our television shows should have some Muslim characters that are unrelated to national security because it’s not that hard to do,” Obama told the Islamic Society of Baltimore on Wednesday, February 3, the Guardian reported.
“There was a time when there were no black people on television. You can tell good stories while still representing the reality of our communities.”
The comments were given during Obama’s visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore on Wednesday, his first as a president.
Rejecting “inexcusable political rhetoric” targeting the religious minority, he blamed bigotry on the fact that many Americans don’t know a Muslim person.
He added that the portrayal of Muslims on TV, along with news coverage after any terrorist attack have played a big role in demonizing the Muslim community.
The president said many Americans do not know a Muslim person and form a “hugely distorted impression” based on TV, film and negative news reports.
Since the 11 September 2001, Paris and San Bernardino attacks, he continued, “You’ve seen too often people conflating the horrific acts of terrorism with the beliefs of an entire faith.
“And of course recently we’ve heard inexcusable political rhetoric against Muslim Americans that has no place in our country. No surprise, then, that threats and harassment of Muslim Americans have surged.”
Though the US President did not name any TV shows, many may have had Showtime’s hit series Homeland in mind when he pleaded for Muslims to appear in series not about terrorism.
TV’s most popular program to feature Muslim characters, Homeland, was recently accused of being “racist” by graffiti artists hired to add authenticity to refugee camp scenes in an episode from the fifth season.
They used their artwork to accuse the show of racism, painting slogans on the walls of the fictional Syrian refugee camp including: “Homeland is a joke, and it didn’t make us laugh” and “#blacklivesmatter.”
Part of America
Obama went on to assure American Muslim citizens that they were a key part of the fabric of the United States.
“Now, a lot of Americans have never visited a mosque,” Obama said.
“To the folks watching this today who haven’t, think of your own church or synagogue or temple and a mosque like this will be very familiar. This is where families come to worship and express their love for God and each other.”
The president lamented that the current political climate has put the Muslim community under attack, with women wearing hijabs being targeted, children bullied and mosques targeted.
He added Muslims wrote to him saying they were made to feel like second-class citizens, while a 13-year-old girl from Ohio wrote to tell him she felt scared.
“These are children just like mine and the notion that they would be filled with doubt and questioning their place in this great country of ours, at a time when they’ve got enough to worry about – it’s hard being a teenager already – that’s not who we are. We’re one American family and when any part of our family starts to feel separate or second class or targeted, it tears at the very fabric of our nation,” Obama said to an enthusiastic applause from the audience of about 100 Muslims.
“An attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths and when any religious group is targeted we all have a responsibility to speak up … We have to be consistent in condemning hateful rhetoric and violence against everyone, and that includes Muslims here in the United States of America. None of us can be silent. We can’t be bystanders to bigotry. We’ve got to show that America truly protects all faiths,” he continued.
The US President urged Muslims to deny legitimacy to terrorist groups, such as the so-called Islamic State, which distort Islam’s image.
“We shouldn’t play into terrorist propaganda. We can’t suggest Islam itself is at the root of the problem. That betrays our values. It alienates Muslim Americans. It’s hurtful to those kids who are trying to go to school … That kind of mindset helps our enemies, it helps our enemies recruit. It makes us all less safe,” he said.
Obama added that Muslim leaders should continue to offer a positive version of their faith by speaking against extremism.
“Those voices are there. We just have to amplify them more.”
At the end of the speech, he assured that Islam has always been part of America. Muslim Americans range from scientists and soldiers to sports heroes like Muhammad Ali.
“Muslim Americans enrich our lives today, every day … You’re not Muslim or American, you’re Muslim and American,” he said.
He alluded to the conspiracy theories that Obama is in fact a Muslim posing as a Christian, saying the same rumors had plagued Thomas Jefferson.
“I am not the first,” he said. “I am in good company.”