Every sailor knows the stereotypical image of the Islamic terrorist as portrayed by mass media, but how many are familiar with peaceful Islam? Can you name the five pillars of Islam, or can you more readily name five terrorist groups? Before I moved to Bahrain, I was more likely to know the latter. Before joining a volleyball team of mostly Muslims, I had reservations about having Muslim friends. Before I forced myself to explore the country I lived in, I was ignorant about the peaceful, kind, and jovial people who surrounded me. This isolation needed to change.
The typical U.S. Navy sailor’s perception of the everyday Muslim is simply wrong. It is an unfortunate side-effect of the Islamophobia endemic in American society, encouraged through a lack of understanding, education, and exposure to different cultures. The more sailors learn about an Islamic country, its people, and its culture, the more they are able to improve their relations with host-nation locals. This amplifies over time, and these minor relations slowly improve, resulting in mutual understanding on a grander scale between the host nation and U.S. government.