Islam and THAT cartoon
There have been countless comments on newsblogs, biblioblogs and whateverelseblogs about this cartoon, freedom of speech and what Muslims are really like. Two things to begin. None of the following is personal IN ANY WAY WHATSOEVER: just a general argument covering several blogs. Also I should point out that I am an unashamed extremist on the side of free speech. Put this another way I have no problem with the right to print or say whatever.
One problem I do have is the portrayal of Islam in all this. Many times on this blog I have been very critical of those who have a unsubstantiated negativity towards Islam and here I go again. Across the blogs and the media in general there are comments which completely generalise about Muslims having no sense of humour, being too easily offended, ignorant, not speaking out against this or that offensive remark aimed at some other religion or ethnic group. Frankly some of this is like generalising about Christians from those who target abortion clinics or the vocal creationists or ID-ers. I don't know the figures but I suspect there are a fair few Muslims in the world today and many are split into all sorts of religious and ethnic divisions. Many leading Muslim figures condemn things like antisemitism but when that is barely reported at the expense of some extremist then that becaome 'what Muslims are like'. Many Muslims hold a whole range of ethical and other values which are simply not discussed in any significant way at the popular level. These have been put in print in numerous books and articles but too often throughout the world of the media and beyond these are simply ignored and the tabloid or broadsheet views are just accepted uncritically who should know better and would know better if the comments had been made about Christians. It seems to me that generalising about such a vast range of people in the ways that have been seen in the media (both conventional and blogging world) is not only uncritical but often just plain ignorant.
Also focusing (and this is very common in the media and on the blogs) in on what certain Muslims hostility in Iraq, Iran or the West Bank or wherever in contrast to 'our' civilised behaviour wildly and deliberately (at least in a structural rather than individual sense) misses the point. While individual journalists or bloggers may think what they are saying is honest and right the overall effect is distorting and way off mark. As I've said repeatedly, follow this through to its logical conclusions. You will end up having to say that either Muslims have a genetic fault or that there is something rotten in the heart of Islam. Some (explicitly or implicitly) really do hold the latter view which as I've said time and time again is viewing the world in an abstract and a-historical way to the point of absurdity. Look another way at western policies in the Middle East which have resulted in the deaths of countless Muslims and suffering of countless Muslims then we might understand why there is such hostility towards the west. If the situation was reversed would 'we' just sit there in our calm civilised manner? After the deaths of I don't know let's say over 500,000 children (like the sanctions on Iraq caused) would 'we' just sit there all smiles? Hmmm, I somehow doubt it. This is one generalisation that is very simple to understand but one which is conventiently ignored right across the board.
Another regular feature of this blog is shameless self promotion. This may like seem a little bit of dubious timing (well its more semi-self promotion really) but I think it is worth it. The following two articles should be read by anyone who generalises abut Islam in ways which represent is (ALL!?) as monolithic, evil, extreme etc. etc.:
Hugh Goddard, 'The Crisis of Representation in Islamic Studies', in J. G. Crossley and C. Karner (eds.), Writing History, Constructing Religion (2005), pp. 85-106.
Kathryn Tomlinson, 'Living Yesterday and Tomorrow: Meskhetian Turks in Southern Russia', in J. G. Crossley and C. Karner (eds.), Writing History constructing Religion (2005), pp. 107-128.
Once again I should point out that none of this is a personal attack on any one in the media.