One of my favorite books is Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. I'm surprised I didn't bring it with me to Texas, but a summary is available online if I ever want a quick review. (http://www.westegg.com/unmaintained/carnegie/win-friends.html)
Because my recent post about political correctness and bigotry got a little popular, I've been giving more thought to the idea. I do think that "political incorrectness" serves as a mask for all kinds of bigotry--racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and more. But I doubt that the purveyors of it think of themselves as bigots. With the exception of some elites who might be deliberately "stirring the pot" I think most people probably believe their grievances are valid. Their irrational hatred, fear, or disdain seems to them to be sensible and obvious, though unpopular.
It is very easy for a person to insulate himself among similar ideas and points of view, perpetuating his belief system. For instance, I can choose to read only articles and blogs that I already agree with, and only discuss these issues with people who share my perspective. But if I do that, then I'm just stunting my own growth in understanding.
Although, this doesn't mean that by conversing with people of opposing opinions I necessarily enhance my understanding--a lot of people can talk and argue without listening or absorbing the arguments of their opponent. The key, I think, is to deliberately keep an open mind.
And that's where the Carnegie book comes in. A few of his points are especially relevant here. When "handling people," we shouldn't criticize. If you're trying to explain, for instance, that calling Islam a cult is stupid, saying that the majority of Muslims sympathize with terrorism is a lie, if you get straight to the point and call your opponent a stupid liar, you've pretty much closed the door to his understanding your point of view.
Another key strategy to "win people to your way of thinking" is to "show respect for the other person's opinions." Yep. Even if they are stupid lies. (Bad Amy!)
Granted, these techniques are for one-on-one interaction. Personal interaction can be extremely powerful, so it's important for Muslims to articulate their beliefs to their neighbors and communities. But in the public sphere, the impersonal world of media and blogs and punditry, perhaps other strategies are more appropriate.
I would be interested in learning the Real reasons that an individual has to oppose building a mosque, for instance, especially if it's not anywhere near him. I wonder if most people would maintain such acerbic criticism if someone sat down with them and listened to their concerns with an open mind, and let them offer solutions to ameliorate those concerns.