Negative biases against Islamic people.

This is hard to admit in a public forum, but I hope I can say this in the right way and get the discussion I think is necessary around this issue. I live in a very rural area so I don't know a lot of people who are Muslim, the ones I have met are fine people, but I have this negative feeling about the religion, that spills over into my feelings about people. It's there for other religions too, but not as strong. I think it's obvious that this is due to media and books I have read, I think Christopher hitchens and Sam Harris had pretty dim views. Also I've read salman Rushdie and Ayaan hirsi Ali and these authors informed my opinion. I see the news and what is happening in the Middle East, and it's frightening. Obviously I'm an atheist, I'm not interested in converting, but i would like to have a more balanced view, and I really hate being biased, racist, or anything of the sort. So I'm looking for positive stories about Islam and ways others deal with biases in regards to religion, as an atheist. I guess the first step in conquering biases is to admit them, so here goes nothing.
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    June

    I think it is hard to not be biased when it comes to the views of others. You don't have to agree with them, or even say to their face "Hey, I think it's great that you have this in your life." If they don't disrupt your day to day life I would say live and let live. If they start to interfere with how you chose to live, your safety, your family, then that's an issue. Having religion doesn't give one the right to make their needs more "important" than yours. But I would also say that if it is akin to other common minor annoyances (that check-out girl at wal-mart who talks without taking a breath), just ignore it and move on.

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      forrest pugh

      There is nothing wrong inherently with stereotyping - it is as natural and critical a response as the xenophobia that often goes along with it to turn it into a negative thing.

      Humans stereotype each other in order to form a basis for social intercourse. It would be absurd to approach each and every interaction as if it were a blank slate - it takes too long to really get to know someone and figure out how they work. Stereotyping aggregates physical and social attributes and returns a "best fit" model that allows us to start a dialogue more readily.

      Xenophobia is also natural - We join social groups for a variety of reasons; protection one of the most elemental of them. People who DON'T belong to our group are potential competition, or perhaps enemies. There is an evolutionary advantage to excluding, or eliminating outsiders because of this.

      When the two behavioral axioms are combined you get negative stereotypes which are not necessarily invalid. In fact in the case of Islam it is VERY valid - there are a significant number of individuals who are self-identified with that creed that are willing to commit mayhem and destruction. There are very few religious movements who are exempt from this - it just so happens that at this point in history that Islam is the stand out instance.

      As for your Islamic neighbors - of course not EVERY member of a group seeks to do you harm. You would probably get along with them just fine if you interacted with them more and discovered you had many interests in common.

      I grew up in rural parts of the Mountain States where I think I could have counted all the African American families on both hands. Because they were a significant minority, they were of course discriminated against to some degree. I never really got to know them very well or understand their culture (in as much as black culture is different from white culture). When I finished college I moved to Washington DC where there is a much larger variety and quantity of cultures and groups. There I found that I could relate to the local black culture much better than any other. I found that other than differences accounted for by geography, population, etc. the mindset was more similar to what I grew up with than the local suburban white culture.

      I wouldn't say that my stereotype went away, but the xenophobic part of it was mollified, and I was able to enrich my model so that it was more accurate. Stereotyping only becomes a problem when the associated xenophobia prevents you from overlooking the implications on a case by case basis to assess an individual, or prompts you to engage in harmful or unjust behaviors towards the individuals as a result.

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        Umbra

        I have in the past tried to communicate with people of different faiths and tried to go in to friendly discussion with them.

        I'm afraid that I have nothing positive to report. Christians and Buddhists appear to be generally accepting of you denouncing faith as a whole. Muslims have refused to speak to me for not being religious. I did not put this up front, I was asked. Muslims have a name for people like us, namely "kafir". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kafir

        As a whole Islam appears to me to be the most aggressive of religions. The Taqiya as posted by Marvel underlining perfectly my reservations against it. http://www.thinkatheist.com/xn/detail/1982180:Comment:1210344

        On a slightly more positive note experiences with Christians in my area being called a "good Samaritan" after having gone out of my way to help someone. I've also received many blessings for giving helpful advice. I politely leave them under the illusion that I appreciate their blessings. The truth is a little more ironic of course as an atheist.

        I think you will not find positive stories about religion on an atheist forum. It is simply the wrong place to look for that.