I had my eyes opened the other night. I was shown a celebration that had been happening for nearly 30 years but I had never seen.
I attended the media awards organized by the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) this past weekend. It’s sort of like the Academy Awards, but in a significant way it’s more meaningful. It’s not just about entertainment; it’s an affirmation of truth.
For the next hour and 25 minutes I was riveted.
What I saw was a recognition of the best kind of inclusion: a collection of movies, TV shows, and press coverage where Muslims are not necessarily the story (although in two of the films, they are) but who, in their portions of the stories, are depicted as they are: human beings—not necessarily perfect human beings, but real ones.
These honest portrayals by major film production companies, TV networks and press outlets are what the MPAC Media Awards celebrate.
People shouldn’t have to be “normalized.” They should just respect each other.
Digging into their website, I discovered that MPAC has been in existence since 1988. Its purpose is to “promote and strengthen American pluralism by increasing understanding and improving policies that impact American Muslims.”
It accomplishes this in many ways. Chief among them is to engage with the entertainment industry to “improve the quality of authentic, nuanced, and inclusive depictions of Islam and Muslims.” In other words, to show Muslims authentically in a world that seems to be dominated by stereotype. They do this by connecting and consulting with the entertainment industry and contributing information and assistance where needed.
Based on what I saw in the awards show, they do a splendid job.
Ultimately, one could say that, for lack of a better term, MPAC is about “normalizing” Muslims while celebrating what is unique about them—just as one could say that the Sikh Coalition is about doing the same for Sikhs or, for that matter, STAND is about doing the same for Scientologists.
The responsibility falls upon us to push back against the fearmongers.
The thought stirred up the idealist in me. As I fell asleep that night, I was thinking this kind of thing shouldn’t be necessary. People shouldn’t have to be “normalized.” They should just respect each other.
I woke up thinking: “Yes, they should respect each other, but a lot of them don’t. This is the real world. Live with the truth.”
And the truth is that as long as there are misconceptions and lack of understanding, there will be fear and mistrust—and there will be individuals who sow and amplify that fear and mistrust for their own advantage by spreading lies and excluding others.
So the responsibility falls upon us to push back against the fearmongers—it’s the shared job of MPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, the Sikh Coalition, STAND and others like us who don’t see religion and religious difference as threats.
We see them as strengths. And so we share this common purpose: including others and opening their eyes to truth.