“Islam is peace,” said George W. Bush just days after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Earlier this year, President Obama wrote that it reflects a “tradition of peace, charity and justice." And Pope Francis has repeatedly said it is wrong to identify Islam with violence. But many Catholics disagree. According to a new report from Georgetown University’s project The Bridge Initiative, 45 percent of U.S. Catholics believe “Islam encourages violence more than other religions,” and fewer than two in 10 have a favorable view of Muslims.
Catholics’ negative impressions of the world’s second largest religion may be explained in part by their unfamiliarity with its adherents: 70 percent of Catholics say they do not know a single Muslim. (Those who do are more than twice as likely to view them favorably.) That means most Catholics “know” Islam through the media, where it is most often discussed in relation to violence and terrorism. And, it is disturbing to note, those who frequently read Catholic publications have on average more unfavorable views of Muslims than those who do not.
This report should prompt those who work in Catholic media, including America, to examine how we write and talk about Islam. It is important not to downplay the atrocities committed by the Islamic State—whose victims are primarily other Muslims. But it is also vital that we not speak of our Muslim neighbors as if their value depends solely on their being allies or instruments in the fight against violent extremism. They are, first and foremost, in the words of St. John Paul II, fellow believers “in the same God, the one God, the living God.”