by John Trybus, Managing Director
More than ten years after the September 11 terrorist attacks, discrimination against the Islam religion and Muslim people is holding steady. Consider the following: More than half of Americans acknowledge some level of prejudice against Islam while two-thirds admit they have little or no knowledge about the religion, according to a Gallup poll.
Is it possible to change a society’s deep-seated and negative perception of a group of people? Can hearts and minds really be changed?
To Ibrahim Hooper, progress is possible in large part thanks to the power of communication. He’s the director of communications for the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)and this week’s social strategist.
“We’re trying to promote social justice, mutual understanding, and we’re trying to build coalitions,” Ibrahim explains about CAIR’s mission. “We defend the civil rights not just of American Muslims but of all Americans.”
CAIR’s approach to protecting civil liberties has faced much criticism throughout the years, in large part because of its sometimes aggressive and self-described “in your face” approach to highlighting “individual civil rights cases that are representative of a broader trend.”
“Whenever you’re doing high-profile civil rights advocacy work you’re going to come under attack from some quarters,” responds Ibrahim.
Here’s a preview of some of the strategies he and CAIR use while working to fight prejudice:
1. Audience prioritization. People on the extremes of a charged issue are unlikely to change their views even through engagement. “That’s not an audience you’re going to crack,” Ibrahim says. Instead target those who are in the favorable majority, he recommends. CAIR has active chapters on the local level that help to reach key stakeholders on an individual basis.
2. Raise awareness among society. One of the criticisms CAIR receives among its own supporters is that the media doesn’t accurately report on the topic of Islam. Yet Ibrahim puts it this way: “The media swims in the culture. If the culture lacks understanding of Islam, you can’t really expect media professionals to have some far superior understanding of Islam. The rising tide lifts all boats. If you increase the overall understanding of Islam and Muslims in society that’s going to filter into the media culture as well.”
3. Educate about the role of communication. CAIR produces a number of how-to guides, publications and trainings for members and other constituents aimed at effective media relations and other ways they can help spread the organization’s message in a grassroots and grasstops manner.
4. Turn lemons into lemonade. CAIR is often at the whim of international news and events that take place around the world. In short, success is not easy. “The truth of the matter is that [sometimes success means that] all you’ve been able to do is make things less bad,” Ibrahim says.
Listen to my interview with social strategist Ibrahim Hooper to learn more about CAIR and how to utilize communication to help change perceptions and overcome prejudice.