A Temecula group has launched a Muslim version of YouTube.
10:00 PM PDT on Sunday, July 20, 2008
By DAVID OLSON, The Press-Enterprise
MuslimChannels.tv aims to educate non-Muslims about Islam and provide an Internet site for Muslims to view videos without worrying about anti-Islamic tirades or sexually explicit content, said Tarek Ayoub, a volunteer for the site and for the site's nonprofit founder, Islam The Answer Corp.
"It's a way for Muslim users to feel safe," Ayoub said.
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The site also includes non-religious programming, such as comedy, travel, sports and cultural videos, along with documentaries containing trenchant political commentary on subjects such as the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. The volunteer-run site will not accept advertising or donations, to avoid compromising its mission, Ayoub said.
Larry Slusser, secretary of the Southwest Riverside County Interfaith Council and a Mormon, praised the idea behind the site.
"I think it's great anytime someone can dispel misconceptions and promote understanding of and appreciation for a faith," said Slusser, who has not visited the site. "As a Latter-day Saint, I know many people have misperceptions about my faith. There's enough hatred in the world. We need more understanding of our differences."
Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Southern California office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said MuslimChannels.tv's nonreligious videos show how Muslims are culturally and ethnically diverse and cannot be defined solely by their religion.
Ayoub said the site was founded in part because he and other Muslims grew weary of seeing viciously anti-Muslim comments that YouTube users posted as reactions to Islamic-oriented videos. Some YouTube users e-mailed Muslim video-posters and threatened them with violence -- in some cases with warnings such as "We know your address" -- or made sexually demeaning comments toward Muslim women, Ayoub said.
Ayoub said he and others have met with FBI agents about the threats. FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said the agency does not typically confirm or deny investigations. Ayoub said YouTube did not respond to repeated phone calls and e-mails about the anti-Muslim comments or to allegations that the company suspended the accounts of some people who had posted videos critical of Israel.
In an e-mailed statement, YouTube said it does not comment on individual videos. The company said it relies on users to flag content that violates YouTube's prohibition on hate speech, defined as speech that demeans people based upon their religion, race, ethnic origin, disability, gender, age, veteran status, sexual orientation or gender identity. YouTube staff reviews flagged material and usually removes it within minutes if it is deemed hate speech, the statement said.
Although Islam the Answer founded MuslimChannels.tv in part as an alternative to sites such as YouTube, volunteers with the group are also forming a team to better respond to the anti-Muslim comments on YouTube and other sites, said Cait Ramshaw, a Florida volunteer for MuslimChannels.tv and a sister site, MuslimBridges.org.
Muslims need to ensure that misrepresentations of Islam do not go unanswered, and that the responses are reasoned and factual rather than angry, said Ramshaw, who developed "Golden Rules for Muslim Bloggers."
MuslimChannels.tv is not only a way of allowing non-Muslims to quickly access factual information about Islam to counter misperceptions, said Muhamad Ali, an assistant professor of religious studies at UC Riverside who specializes in contemporary Islam. The site's features that allow video-sharing, online forum discussions and other interaction help unite U.S. Muslims, he said.
"It provides a better sense of community, of being an American Muslim, rather than a Pakistani Muslim, an Egyptian Muslim, a Palestinian Muslim or a South Asian Muslim," he said.