Using PSAs to Change Opinion About Religious Stereotypes

Be it opposition to the proposed World Trade Center mosque in New York City or Florida Pastor Terry Jones threatening to burn copies of the Quran, recent news exposed a seeming rise in the mistrust and misunderstanding of Muslims in this country. Observing this trend, what effect would a solid public service campaign have on correcting this skewed image that some Americans have of Islam and Muslims? Would it even be helpful?

The United Methodist Church might say yes. The UMC recently launched its “Rethink Church” campaign, which features television commercials, print ads, and an interactive website in an effort to create a modern face for itself. By emphasizing the importance of being racially, socially and even sexually tolerant of others, past campaigns such as “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” have also been successful in describing what the modern United Methodist Church stands for.

Perhaps taking a cue from these initiatives, several Islamic organizations are beginning to use PSAs to influence public opinion. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest national Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, released a series of PSAs to combat rising “Islamophobia” just before the 2010 anniversary of 9/11.

One commercial, entitled “9/11 Happened to Us All” features a firefighter from New York City who responded to the attacks. After hearing his emotional testimony, the audience learns he is also a Muslim. Another commercial, entitled “We Have More in Common Than You Think,” features Americans from several different faiths explaining the importance of living in an environment where all belief systems are tolerated.

Another organization offers a twist on the classic PSA campaign. My Faith My Voice is a new grass-roots organization that describes itself as a platform for anyone who wants to talk directly to America about issues facing Islam. In addition to providing its own PSA,  the website offers what are perhaps the most powerful messages of all: real Muslim-Americans sending in homemade PSAs describing what their faith means to them.

While these campaigns have only just begun, they demonstrate an increasing belief that public opinion can in fact be changed. How did they affect you?

By Meredith Julian

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