Western journalists ask: “what’s the politically correct term?”

Terms like ‘Islamist’, ‘jihadist’, talib, Muslims, and other words, which describe the Islamic faith are, most of the times, “abused and misused” by Western media, a journalist from Pakistan said during a discussion at the Senior Journalists’ Seminar of the East-West Center in this city.

“Ignorance is the root cause of this hostility… there exists a communication gap between the East and the West and a language barrier has been a major source of misunderstanding,” said Ashraf Ali of the BBC World Service from Pakistan.

For one, he says, a ‘talib’ or one who follows Islam is “pictured as bad guy.”

“When the Western media used the word ‘fundamentalists’ to describe the Muslims staging wars against the intrusion and intervention of the United States, they meant that those who follow the fundamentals of Islam are bad guys, too,” he said.

Ali calls himself a Talib because he is a believer of Islam and was educated in a  madrasah or Islamic school in Pakistan.   “But that does not mean I’m a terrorist,” he told the group.

“Also, a jihadist is pictured as a suicide bomber, a terrorist, a criminal, or what have you, when in truth and in fact, he’s not,” said another journalist from Bangladesh.

Sajjad Sharif, deputy editor of the Prothom Alo in Dhaka, Bangladesh explained that a ‘jihadist’ is one who struggles against all kinds of evils.

“They are trying to replace the flexible Islam of Bangladesh with extremist militancy using the general religious belief of the people,” stressed Sharif.

Abdul Latif Siregar, news producer of TPI TV in Indonesia, even asked, “Why do all terrorist suspects arrested in Indonesia seem identical or related to Islam, or at least have Islamic symbolism? This was why they associated Jemaah Islamiah (JI) to a terrorist group,” he said.

The JI, according to reports, is training militants from Middle East countries, including the Philippines in Southeast Asia to counter the US’ global anti-terror campaign.

But Siregar clearly pointed out that terrorism is real and dangerous and its effects are devastating.

“Terrorists, regardless of their religious identity, have utilized mass media to propagate their cause,” he said.

Ali from Pakistan added that before the gap between the East and the West widens, there should be an effective cure for that.  “So, the issues should be thoroughly investigated and then addressed properly to root out the cause,” he said.

To conclude the discussion, Richard Baker of the East-West Center who acted as facilitator, challenged the participants, especially from the United States. “The journalists, as shapers of public opinions, must use politically-correct terms so as not to hurt other people who have different faiths or beliefs,” he said.

The East-West Center, a research institution based in the University of Hawaii here, is on its fifth year of holding senior journalists’ seminar that focuses on bridging the gap and fostering understanding between US and the Muslim-dominated countries in the Middle East and in Asia.   

“The Center contributes to a peaceful, prosperous, and just Asia Pacific by serving as a vigorous hub for cooperative research education, and dialogue on critical issues of common concern to the Asia Pacific region and the United States,” said Baker,  

The three-week training, set to end on May 27, takes senior journalists from Asian nations with substantial Muslim populations to the United States, and senior US journalists to Asia’s Muslim nations where they discuss relations between the US and the Muslim world with a cross-section of communities they visit.   (Malu Cadelina Manar, program director of radio station DXND of the Notre Dame Broadcasting Corporation and correspondent of  MindaNews, is attending the seminar.  She presented an article entitled, "The Filipino Muslims and their views on issues involving US”).