Too often, John Esposito hears people say that Muslim women can't drive cars.
"Saudi women can't drive cars, but did you know that Saudi women own the majority of real estate in Jeddah and Riyadh?" Esposito, an expert on Islam, told a crowd gathered in Montana State University's Strand Union Ballrooms Wednesday night.
Esposito has served as a consultant to the U.S. Department of State and other U.S. government agencies, Middle Eastern, European and Asian governments and corporations, universities and the media worldwide. He's a professor of religion and international studies at Georgetown University. His books and articles have been translated into 30 different languages.
He spoke on Wednesday night about the future of Islam and Islam-West relations.
"The fact is that the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world are still seen in terms of what a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of all Muslims do," Esposito said. "We don't judge all of Christianity that way."
Hard data, collected by organizations like Gallup and Pew Research Center, is out there to tell people what Muslims think about America and vice versa.
For example, when Americans were asked what they admire about Muslims, more than 50 percent said, "Nothing" or "I don't know."
Meanwhile, Muslims had a laundry list of things they liked about Americans, including education, technology, economic development and democratic values.
After 9/11, Americans saw broadcasts of Muslims celebrating in the streets.
But, Esposito said, what most didn't see was the full page advertisement by Muslim leaders denouncing terrorism in a Beckett Foundation publication or other similar statements on various websites.
Americans started asking, "Why do they hate us?"
The problem is, Esposito said, that in asking that question, people didn't distinguish between terrorism and anti-Americanism.
"There are people who believe that in their part of the world, there's a double standard," he said. "They believe America promotes human rights and democracy for themselves, but doesn't get behind it for other countries."
He cited the United States' financial support of totalitarian regimes, like former President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.
Esposito said that after 9/11 an Egyptian friend of his asked him if the tragedy was going to be the beginning or the end.
"She wondered if it would be an excuse to redraw the lines of the Middle East," he said.
Esposito said Americans need "a totally new paradigm."
"The old paradigm has exploded on us," he said, and to simply continue down that path is "a pressure cooker that's going to blow at some point."
"We can't be thinking about promoting human rights for ourselves if we don't support it for other people," Esposito said.
And, he added, "We have to choose diplomacy over military intervention."