Many in the American public have been cringing at the mention of Islam since 1979. With the Tehran US embassy hostage crisis, the average American citizen was for the first time hearing about how "Islam hates America" on a daily basis through the media. In this particular situation, America was for once the "victim" in an international crisis. News channels began counting the days (from 1 to 444) that the Embassy employees were being held, and high rations of daily media coverage kept the American public intune with the hostage crisis in Iran. This was the first introduction of many of the American masses (not merely the educated) to Islam.
It can be argued that the average US citizen didn't have much of an opinion about Islam pre-Hostage crisis, which is definitley not the case today. The American perception of Islam only got worse after 9/11, and though we seemed to have a moment of light with the start of the Arab Spring, it continued to plummet down the drain following the recent anti-American protests in response to the "Innocence of Islam" film.
The Muslim population in the United States is significant at around 3 million, however it is a very small minority in the entire population that is well over 300 million. Muslims don't even make up one percent of the American population. With that being taken into consideration, it is safe to say that the average American citizen has not come into contact on an intimate level with many Muslims, if any; not within the United States and most definitely not overseas, considering only one-third of the American population even possess a passport.
Therefore opinions and perceptions of Islam in America are often not from experience, but mere speculation, leaving popular media to govern the American opinion of Islam. Media - as it is not an academic resource, is often politically motivated & searching to shock - has managed to homogenize Muslims into one group. Homogenization is an extremely dangerous manipulation tool. Upon the homogenization of a certain group of people it becomes extremely easy to demonize what they stand for, though in reality this usually differ greatly from one member of the group to the other.
The damage of homogenization of diverse peoples can be put into a larger perspective by looking from another aspect. Some Muslims too have homogenized "The West" into one simplified, negative entity. The "Innocence of Islam" film clip was a perfect example of this. An independent film made by a small number of individuals in the USA, was the necessary spark to set of a few Muslims on attacking US government buildings. There were even protests outside of German government buildings overseas in response to this film. "The West" has been so homogenized for a few that somehow there are those who act on the presumption that the German government represents a few low-budget film makers nobodies from California. Brilliant.
Do you see how this can be a damaging problem on both sides?
I have lived and grown up in some very diverse cultures of the West, The Middle East, Asia, Africa; and in Christianity & Islam. No two people that I have met have been the same. In the case of Islam, the societies that I've lived in all have a very different definition of the Same religion; from Senegal to Tunisia to Saudi Arabia you can find complete contradictions in both Islamic orthodoxy and orthoproxy.
In my own experience, I've noticed that culture tends to rule over religion (for those who practice it). God - although religions teach his spirit is constantly present - is naturally hard for humans to grasp. God as the creator, can be very difficult to relate to, difficult to understand, and difficult to see at work on Earth. Thus, it is human nature to try to understand God within our own human contexts - this often implies that we look and understand God through our own cultural lenses. In the case of Islam, this has led to many cultural practices being deemed Islamic, though they may not have any roots in the religion itself. Often it is the culture and traditions of Muslims that define Islam to onlookers, and not the religion itself.
Another part of the problem of the homogenization of Muslims comes from within the Muslim community itself. There exist large, influential and powerful groups within the community that have a serious inability to deal with diversity. Though, the Quran itself allows for it:
To each of you We prescribed a law and a method. Had God willed it, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good. To God is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ. (Quran 5:48)
The most simplest way to understand this passage, is that not all of us connect to or understand God in the same way, and that's actually how God intended it to be. We may have petty disagreements now, but the passage assures us He will bring us together and work out the issues one day in the future. Take into consideration as well, that this is not a verse addressed to only "the believers of Islam", it extends out to all humanity, and surely we are diverse in belief.
There are those in the Muslim community itself who - through sectarianism, excommunication (takfir) and with rigid interpretations and lack of understanding - would also like for the Muslim community to be homogenized into one simple definition. Many Clerics have merely created a bubble where the "righteous struggle" within Islam is preoccupied with the hair on a woman's head, whether or not she still has her hymen, and making sure men are being "manly enough". All the while serious human rights issues and injustices are being ignored, though this is strongly in contrast to the spirit of Islam.
Both Americans and Iraqis have had to sit and ponder the painful question: "Why are our innocent people being murdered for something they had nothing to do with?"
My answer: Tragic homogenization.