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Friday, February 03, 2006

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.


Anonymous steph said...

Blog sense at last! Thank you. I've got no problem with free speech stuff but I'm sick of everyone jumping up and down over this when they're ignorant about Islam.

February 03, 2006

Blogger Ken said...

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?

I really have to question again the way you skew this. First, why were the sanctions imposed in the first place? Who is the ultimate cause and who could have alleviated the suffering? Let's just say that the Arab governments started cooperating fully with the world community; do you think that such sanctions would exist? Second, the sanctions specifically encouraged rather than discouraged trade for food and health care essentials. Who was responsible for misusing the money? Have you read the Duelfer Report on this issue? Were you aware that Saddam and his government actively exacerbated the situation in order to gain sympathies for lifting of the sanctions so that they could renew their legal arms trade?

Perhaps James you should also look at the extensive list of similar actions by corrupt regimes throughout the Middle East and their treatment of their own. It's a politically correct argument to blame the West for all the ills of the world but it doesn't stand up to close scrutiny or examination... Even the periods of western colonialism and parochialism are not so evil as they are made out to be.

Finally, your argument for pluralism is ultimately illogical. It is not possible that all religions and philosophies are equally valid as many religions and philosophies are mutually exclusive. Attempting to uphold a via media that denies the possibility that a religion or a philosophy might be inherently rotten or just simply wrong doesn't work on an intellectual or a practical level...

February 03, 2006

Anonymous steph said...


February 03, 2006

Blogger James Crossley said...

Ken, I've told you this before, the Dufler report is irrelevant to my point here. And all that pointlessness about political correctness is nothing to do with my argument but a convenient whipping boy so there's no need for me to discuss that. What have I skewed, please tell me? the US knew IN ADVANCE that sanctions would cause serious harm but went ahead (have you read the 1991 DIA reports?). Yes, Saddam would be corrupt but it doesn't take the greatest prophet in the world to work this out, especially not after the happy support given to Saddam by the west at the height of his crimes. And the fact the west has been intimately involved in the creation and manipulation of regimes in the Middle East.

Now let's look at this in historical terms. Britain and the US have been involved in Middle Eastern politics for some tie. Let's take Iraq: the west have long been involved behind the scenes. Saddam was a complete bastard, make no mistake. Then why support him. I just dont get it? Why did the Thatcher administration try to silence British journalists for uncovering Saddam's crimes yet suspiciously were not so hostile a few years later at the beginning of the first Iraq war? Again I just don't get it? Well actually I clearly do and I think it is fairly obvious.

Perhaps, just perhaps, there was not so much western involvement in the Middle East there might not be such hostility. I can imagine certain people being a bit pissed off that the west backed Saddam.

And YET AGAIN let's take Uzbekestan. Again no problem condeming the dictaror Karimov as a complete bastard but was it really necessary for the US to bankroll his secret police?

No one is saying that there isn't corruption in the Middle East but to aboid the blindingly obvious conclusion that the west had a significant role is either irresponisble or ignorant.

But I've said all this before.

February 03, 2006

Blogger Jim said...

James your last sentence is the most significant response. We have our part in it to be sure. That is, we all do. Perhaps this is what has been most neglected in the entire discussion- both regarding the Iraq war and the Muslim reaction to the Jyllands-Posten, the kidnapping of journalists, and the burning of flags.

Steph- !!! back at ya! I thought I actually heard you scream when you read Ken's prattle.


February 03, 2006

Blogger Ken said...

I've never denied US and UK complicity in the region. It's you, however, who continually wants to lay these problems at the feet of the US and the UK when these countries have given millions upon millions in aid to the governments there time and again. It's a damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario from you and I don't get it.

Sure, the US, more properly the UN Security Council as a whole, knew that sanctions could have a delirious effect on the population but this is why they explicitly set up the Oil-for-Food program. The US did everything they could responsibly do to punish the Iraqi administration on the one hand and yet try to mitigate the effects of the sanctions on the other hand. The UN and Iraq opted to abuse the Oil-for-Food program and the Iraqi administration purposefully exacerbated the problem in order to get the sanctions overturned. How do you propose the US should have dealt with the Iraqi regime once it decided to no longer support it and once that regime invaded Kuwait?

February 03, 2006

Anonymous steph said...

Hi Jim! You did hear me scream hysterically - yip I've been having a real good laugh but then we've heard it all before... deja vu eh Jim?

February 03, 2006

Anonymous Paul said...

Thanks for that James. I just got around to reading it now so have posted a somewhat delayed agreement on deinde.

February 12, 2006

Anonymous Pete Phillips said...

Hi James,

I am amazed that you suggest that what you say is not a personal comment. What is it then? Are you suggesting that what you say has greater factual congency than someone else's opinion? Your comments are based on hypothecations - let's say 500,000 - and on one reading of Islam. The fact remains that there is a massive difference between critical openness within NT Studies which allows you the freedom to say what you want in your research and the closed nature of research parameters within Islamic studies - or at least in majority Islamic studies. You will know how difficult it is to create a text critical edition of the Quran or to provide historical critical analyses of the various sayings...
No-one, surely, with a right mind is saying that Western imperialism is right but nor is it factual to simply say that Islam is as open to freedom of speech as the West is...


February 13, 2006

Blogger James Crossley said...

Thanks Paul. I read your stuff but couldn't work out how to leave a comment on Deinde. Just to say I'm in full agreement with what you say.

Hello there Pete. I think you have missed the point of my argument. I wanted to amek clear that I wasn't giving a personal attack on any one individual. Many people I genuinely like have written things I profoundly disagree with and I just wanted to make it clear that this was an argument and that that's how I would prefer it conducted as opposed to some slagging match.

Even though I wasn't discussing what you raise Pete I will now. Yes, as I never once denied, clearly there is clearly a difference between NT studies and Quranic studies (though there are 'critical' scholars working in that area too) but let's not get carried away about the so-called openness: NT studies is a Christian discipline with largely Christian questions. As an open secularist I have encountered some completely unprofessional attacks by certain NT scholars and I know of other secular minded scholars who have had similar experiences. I was even told by one scholar that I should shut up and just accept this is a Christian discipline. In one sense he was right. It is effectively a Christian discipline which asks Christian questions and surprise surprise by and large gets Christian results. Also, which other academic discipline would take seriously the the idea that a virgin birth really did happen or that a man really was resurrected from the dead?

I can't help but feel there is an element of Christian gloating on all this, as if our religion is better than yours because we're more liberal etc. Why wasn't that the case in Medieval Europe? Why were people killed for 'misinterpretation'? Now things are different. Why? Well, at a guess because there have been a whole host of social shifts rather than something inherently good in Christianity which has mysteriously emerged only in the past 200 years or whatever (and, incidentally, Western secularism played its part).

Would you say then that Christianity is somehow 'better' than Islam? That's the only logical conclusion I can see from what's being said (either that or Muslims are somehow genetically inferior)?

Let's not fool ourselves, a great deal of hatred towards the West would have been dampened if there wasn't a constant intereference in the Muslim world, placing and supporting this or that dictator followed by claims of how undemocratic they are. It is not for nothign that bin Laden and other extremists will cite Muslim fatalities: that's how they can drill support.

Another point: you generalise about Islam as many do. It's not fair. There are plenty of Muslims who are open and critical. Ok, in certain academic disciplines of the middle class west the Bible and Quran can be treated differently. But what about Muslims in parts of central Asia? Are they all as you say they are? Do they care?

But my point was the portrayal of Islam itself. Paul Nikkel's commments are worth reading here but I'll add my own. Firstly the Danish picture is a pretty tasteless stereotype of Muslims. There are plenty of non-Muslim things which would cause outrage in the West. There are still taboos in this country. So why publish a Muslim one? I was told (so don't know if this is true) that the same paper refused to publish certain anti-Christian cartoons.

February 13, 2006


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