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Is the Sunni-Shiite rift mostly politics and media hype?

A panel discussion Tuesday in Doha, Qatar, was dominated by the perception that the Western media hypes up tensions by focusing too much on the minority of radicals.

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Bad rap? Imam Sayyed Hassan al-Qazwini says the Western media focuses only on radicals.

Courtesy of Adrian Haddad

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As imam of the largest mosque in North America, Sayyed Hassan al-Qazwini feels the frustration of trying to convey a moderate image of Islam to a Western media seemingly fixated on extremists.

"When I speak, or other moderate Muslim scholars speak, we will not find any outlet for our words," he says. "But if a grocer in Karachi goes out on the streets and calls for jihad [holy war] against America, he will find many media outlets there ready to cover his insanity."

A televised public debate Tuesday in this tiny Gulf state was dominated by the perception that it is extremists – whether Islamic militants or anti-Islamic commentators in the West – coupled with a "sensationalist" Western media that set the parameters for defining Islam's global image.

Mr. Qazwini, the Iraqi-born imam of the Islamic Center of America in Detroit, was one of four panelists debating the motion "This house believes the Sunni-Shiite conflict is damaging Islam's reputation as a religion of peace." The event was part of the prominent Doha Debate series, hosted and funded by the Qatar Foundation, an educational nonprofit organization, and broadcast by BBC World.

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