This perception is not due to any intrinsic resentment of Islam by the American people. It is understood that the mainstream of Muslims, the vast majority of them, like in every other faith, is peaceful and pay their taxes, trying to make America a better society, trying to improve relations with neighbors and colleagues.
But images and terminology influence public opinion, and a bitter taste is left when Islam is reported in the daily headlines. The term "Islamic fundamentalism", whatever it means, has been repeated enough times in relation to violent incidents that naturally, any thinking human being has to be uncomfortable with the fact that America is home to a vibrant Muslim community. The problem stems from negative images about Islam. In the court of public opinion, Islam is guilty until proven innocent.
Even though the Middle East was home to fewer terrorist incidents than Latin America and Europe, for example, it is still regarded as the region where terrorism is rooted. According to a recent US State Department report, Patterns of Global Terrorism, issued earlier this year, 272 terrorist events occurred in Europe, 92 in Latin America and 45 in the Middle East. Sixty-two anti-US attacks occurred in Latin America last year, 21 in Europe and 6 in the Middle East. These numbers represent the terrorist trend and not an anomaly, whereby the majority of perpetrators are not linked to the Middle East or Islam. The Red Army Faction in Germany, the Basque Separatists in Spain, the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, the Shining Path in Peru and the National Liberation Army in Columbia are not viewed with the same horror as terrorist groups of Muslim background.
There is no moral justification for terrorism regardless of the ethnic or religious background of the perpetrator or the victim, but the factual basis of terrorism has been either hidden or twisted in the public's perception of this policy problem, especially in congressional hearings on terrorism. The countries with the worst terrorist records in the world are not in the Middle East either. They are not even Muslim countries outside the Middle East. They are Columbia and Germany, havens for drug lords and neo-Nazis.
The negative association of Islam with terrorism exists, but no one has ever asked "Why?". Could it be that American society cannot overcome the Khomeini phobia, even though he is dead? The US Congress found it necessary to push $20 million towards covert operations in toppling the Iranian government even at the dissent of people in the CIA. The Arab countries, both friend and foe, are run by tyrants who kill more of their own people than those outside their countries. The presumption that these countries represent a threat to American interests or that any one of them can dominate the region or even rival the only remaining superpower is indeed generous. So the issue is not these countries' hegemony in their region or the world, but about who can dominate their people and exploit their resources.
The perception in the Middle East is that US policy does not serve the peoples interests; it protects Israel and friendly Arab dictators even when they violate human rights, while it slaps sanctions on and takes military actions against countries whose dictators misbehave, resulting in suffering, starvation and even slaughter, all in the name of teaching the tyrants a lesson. The priorities in the Middle East for the US are not human rights and democracy, but rather oil and Israeli superiority. Consequently, anti-American sentiment increases. This mood of the general public is then characterized as "Islamic fundamentalism", even though the resentment is not rooted in religion. When it turns violent, it is termed "radical Islamic fundamentalism" or "Islamic terrorism." The various "terrorism experts" promote linkage to the Middle East before any other possibility every time terrorism is speculated. They exploit the human suffering of the victims, their families, and the fears of the American public.
Indeed, extremists of Muslim backgrounds are violating the norms of Islamic justice and should be held accountable for their criminal behavior, but we in America should not be held hostage to the politics of the Middle East or biased reporting.
An Israeli journalist, Yo'av Karny, reporting on the events in Chechnya made a striking observation about this development: "The West will be told--and will be inclined to believe--that the oppression of the Chechens is part and parcel of a cosmic struggle against 'Islamic extremism' that rages from Gaza to Algeria, from Tehran to Khartoum. Russians will seek Western sympathy. They should not be given it." The issue is not Chechnya, and it is not even about Islam and the West. Debates about religious wars and cultural clashes only distract us from the real issue: the powerful want to continue dominating the powerless, manipulating facts to influence public opinion, hence maintaining the status quo.