I'm currently taking a course on political Islam. It is taught by a Muslim, so I think I can rest assured that I am being taught correctly. It's a fascinating class, the readings are intense (and mostly about the concept of jihad, incidentally)...but
I'm really confused right now. Obviously, I think we all realize that Islam is more complex than most in the Western world realize. In fact, the more I read, the more convinced I am that you need to grow up a Muslim in order to remotely understand it, and that's only after years and years of study. I don't think conscientious people rely on Fox news for their education in the beliefs of Islam. But then, I do think that many, many, probably most Americans do only know of Islam from the nightly news. After the reading I've done so far, I have come to realize that this is incredibly dangerous simply because, if we are to listen to nothing but horrific tales of suicide bombings, we get an extraordinarily biased view of Islam and we risk alienating the majority of Muslims who do not condone acts of violence against anyone, Muslim or no.
As much as we in the West like everything to fit into nice little boxes with neatly printed labels--good v. evil, God v. Satan, truth v. lie--Islam is not going to fit into any boxes. Ever. Granted, communism should never have been crammed into the evil box, and the West never should have been crammed into the good box, but the current crisis in the Middle East (or southwest Asia, if you prefer) is an opportunity for us to avoid this mistake again. The way things are going, it appears that we are in fact oversimplifying the situation. It is, once again, the West versus Ultimate Evil. But I do think that the people have more sense than the current administration, and thus, I think we can be a little more intelligent about this.
My advice to you is to read. Read everything you can get your hands on, and I don't mean those books you see in Barnes & Noble written by neo-cons. I mean, read legitimate works of research, read the Qur'an itself, read works by Islamic scholars, read Sufi, Sunni, Shiite. Read anything legitimate. This is the only way we can even hope to understand what is going on right now. In short, turn off the freaking television.