The Formation of American Perceptions of Islam
This monograph demonstrates that American perceptions of Islam are generally negative. This negative perception was fundamentally shaped by the Iranian hostage crisis, along with the Iranian revolution and the energy crisis of 1973/1974. The media response to the Iranian hostage crisis tended to conflate Islam with radicalism, violence, and anti-western sentiments, instilling these ideas among Americans and solidifying a specific perception of Islam. This analysis begins with an examination of Americans' responses to polling on the Middle East by the Gallup Public Opinion Polls, as well as other formidable polling data. This section provides empirical data on American perceptions of Islam, both prior to and after 9/11. This is followed by a brief overview of Islamic / Western relations to help situate the polling results, as well as the rest of the research, in a broader historical context. Following this is an in-depth analysis of how current American perceptions of Islam came to be, beginning with the 1973/1974 oil crisis and the American psychological and political reality of the time. Without this period, the Iranian hostage crisis would not have had such devastating effects on the American people with regard to shaping the future discourse about the Middle East, and specifically Islam. The monograph next provides an overview of the Iranian revolution as background to explain the rationale and causes of the Iranian hostage crisis. Finally, an analysis of the media response to the Iranian hostage crisis will illuminate how the crisis solidified American perceptions of Islam. This leads to the conclusion, which draws on the overall argument of the research, as well as some larger points made apparent in the course of the monograph.