Critical Thinking in the Face of Propaganda

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by Fedwa Wazwaz • 11/4/08 • The elections this year turned ugly as presidential candidate Barack Obama was continuously portrayed as a Muslim, with a hidden negative inference that being Muslim means that Obama supports terrorism, and that being Muslim means bad and ugly.

Minnesota Muslims are finding themselves voiceless, discussed, defined, categorized, psychoanalyzed, talked at and talked about without a serious attempt at inclusion. Muslims, and friends of Muslims, would like to change this climate. Engage Minnesota is a blog that begins that effort.

While such attacks came mainly from the Republican party, the Democratic party did not show a strong backbone to repudiate these attacks. Even Obama showed weakness in not fighting these attacks against Muslims and Islam by proclaiming he is not Muslim, he is a Christian. He lacked the ability to affect a change in the pscyhe of Americans by challenging them to not define their Muslim neighbors by negative stereotypes.

To add to the wave of insults, in many US swing states an extremist group has mailed a copy of the movie Obsession to 28 million homes via mainstream newspapers, including the New York Times. The DVD is a hateful piece of propaganda that is meant to influence Americans to vote for John McCain via its fear-mongering and hate-mongering. The alarming part is not that there are extremists promoting such propaganda, but that credible and mainstream newspapers would allow such hate-filled propaganda to be mailed to Americans via their newspapers.

Americans—both Muslim and non-Muslim—value the freedom of press, speech and expression, but what value are these freedoms if we embrace them without critical thinking? Wouldn’t these freedoms be harmful to society if they are devoid of critical thinking? Taken from the “Practical Guide to Critical Thinking,” by Greg R. Haskins, let us ask regarding the movie Obsession:

“Does the information source have the necessary qualifications or level of understanding to make the claim (conclusion)? Does the source have a reputation for accuracy? Does the source have a motive for being inaccurate or overly biased? Are there any reasons for questioning the honesty or integrity of the source?

If any of the answers are “no” to the first two questions or “yes” to the last two, the critical thinker should be hesitant about accepting arguments which rely on such sources for factual information. This may require additional investigation to seek out more reliable information sources.”

The Islamic Resource Group has reached out to the University of Minnesota and University of St. Thomas to bring more reliable sources for information on Islam and Muslims to challenge the propaganda and the Islamophobia that makes Obama afraid to associate himself with Muslims.

Dalia Moghahed is a senior analyst and executive director of the Gallup Organization’s Center for Islam Studies. In the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Gallup Chairman and CEO Jim Clifton commissioned his company to research the views and attitudes of Muslims around the world. The result of this research is the book Who Speaks for Islam? written by Mogahed and co-authored with Georgetown University Professor John Esposito.

The book, based on six years of research, challenges conventional wisdom about what motivates Muslims worldwide. Gallup researchers conducted the largest poll of Muslims to date by interviewing tens of thousands of individuals residing in more than 35 countries.

Mogahed will discuss her new book, Who Speaks for Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think, twice on Nov 5th: in the afternoon, at the 3M Auditorium located in the Carlson School of Management on the University of Minnesota campus, and in the evening at University of St Thomas.

Mogahed’s work has appeared in a number of publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy magazine, Harvard International Review and the Middle East Policy journal. Her audiences have included the High-Level Group of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, the Community of West and Islam Dialogue (C-100) group of the World Economic Forum, British parliamentarians, U.S. senators, and religious leaders from every faith.

This event will be one day after the elections. We encourage people, particularly those who value the freedoms of press, speech to attend and critically evaluate the arguments and facts. We further encourage Minnesotans to embrace these valuable freedoms with critical thinking and facts so they do not become sponges for emotional and manipulative propaganda.

Read more:

This guide should be used in evaluating the movie Obsession: “A Practical Guide To Critical Thinking” by Gary Haskins: http://skepdic.com/essays/Haskins.html

Fedwa Wazwaz is a Palestinian-American freelance writer who lives in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.