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If you want to help end Muslim profiling, here's what you shouldn't say [study]

Media Uncovered  |  By Beth Hallowell, May 2, 2017
Photo: Micah Bazant

Have you ever heard people talk about how Islamophobic policies - like Muslim profiling - lead to the spread of violent extremism? As much you might want to use this hook to start a conversation, our new study shows that this is a bad idea. Here's why.

Statements like this reflect a dominant narrative that's all too common. Our new study on how to talk about Muslim profiling also shows that these statements are ineffective and, worse, may even dissuade people from taking action on this important issue.

Our new study tested two versions of this same basic message: That U.S. militarism causes violent extremism.

The first version, "Our militarized policies have contributed to the conditions for 'violent extremism' to expand," we tested during the in-depth interview phase of our study. The findings? That even though most interviewees agreed with this statement, they were reluctant to use it because of their shared concern that the framing and tone of the message would cause tension if they were to use it in conversation.

We got similar results in phase two of our study, an online survey in which we tested a revised version of this message. A majority of Democrats and self-identified progressives largely agreed with the revised statement, "Profiling and discriminating against Muslims only sows the seeds of hate and strengthens conditions for extremism to spread." Yet, the majority of respondents did not find this message inspiring, nor did they think it would make them more likely to take action on this issue - including the same groups that largely agreed with this statement. 

So what should you say instead, if you want to help build support to end profiling and surveillance policies? Try using statements about the importance of human rights, or about how everyone deserves to live in safety and peace. This same study showed that messages framed in these terms are more likely to inspire and motivate people. They also help us move away from the harmful and inaccurate media narratives linking Islam and violence

Have you heard this frame in the media? What about in your daily life? How have you responded? Tell us about it in the comments or on Facebook. For more resources on this issue, check out our Communities Against Islamophobia project.

About the Author

Beth Hallowell is a cultural anthropologist and the Communications Research Director at AFSC. Follow her on Twitter at @bethhallowell.

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