'Who here has read Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book, Infidel?' For the first time in three years not a single person raised their hand. At book club meetings, church gatherings, women's groups and Islam presentations across America, countless hands usually shoot up in the air in response to this question.
Audiences of predominantly non-Muslim Americans love to embrace Hirsi Ali's experiences as applicable to all Muslim women the world over.
Why are they so quick to believe one ex-Muslim woman's autobiographical tale? Is it because she denounces Islam as 'barbaric, backward and bigoted' — all traits which resonate with Americans unfamiliar with Islam? If people are truly curious, why aren't books by actual Muslim women flying off the shelves, books such as American Muslims and Why I am a Muslim by Asma Gul Hassan, War on Error by Melody Moezzi and Living Islam Out Loud by Saleemah Abdul Ghafur?
My suspicion is that people are willing to believe the worst about a religion because it justifies the public airing of their private intolerance; they are given free rein to voice their misconceptions, smug that anything they read in print must be true.
This wilful ignorance is perhaps particular to the topic of Islam because, funnily enough, books such as In the Shadow of the Cross The true account of my childhood sexual and ritual abuse at the hands of a Roman Catholic priest by Charles L. Bailey Jr. or Sex, Lies and Rabbis Breaking a sacred trust by Charlotte Schwab didn't seem to garner either public or media attention.
According to Amazon's sales rankings Bailey's book, which was released in January 2007, just one month prior to Hirsi Ali's book, comes in at 566,088 while Schwab's book languishes at 2,173,819 seven years after publication.
Infidel is ranked 1,386. I am troubled by this disconnect. True, Amazon's sales rankings aren't the definitive word on America's book buying habits but as a barometer of mainstream popularity these statistics reveal an undercurrent of Islamophobia.
In these turbulent times people seem to be willing to believe the worst of their neighbours. Hating Islam outright isn't socially acceptable, but if it is done in the name of women's liberation or equal education, one goes from being a lowly bigot to a lofty crusader for social change.
This disturbing trend in the media allows people to maintain hateful views in the guise of justice.
Regardless of the many Muslims who strive in word and deed to prove their essential humanity, the masses seem to be restless to blame the 'other'. I don't have the solution, but I do know that whatever we're doing right now is not enough.
When the whispered voices of hatred become a drumbeat across society it will be too late to turn the tide. We need to redouble our efforts, whether they are interfaith dialogue, community service, public service, media, the arts, education or sports — speak up!
It's up to us to painstakingly suture this gaping wound before the patient dies on the table. My son Imran jokes that The American Muslim Teenager's Handbook could have sold ten times the number of copies if it had been titled Rebellion One boy's escape from the tyrannical clutches of Islam.
That's sad, but true. It is far easier to believe the worst about a group when you simply don't know them.