Are people demonizing Islam to gain publicity?
March 14, 2002 2:02 AM   Subscribe

Are people demonizing Islam to gain publicity? In an op-ed article in yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle, Asma Hasan wrote that post 9/11, 'hating' Islam is getting 'intellectualized'. She wrote that those who are framing the debate in 'clash of civilization' terms are doing it mainly to gain publicity (or because they dont know better). Her ire was directed more towards Sullivan and Rushdie whose voices as she rightly pointed out carry greater weight than that of people like Buchanan or Graham.
I do see a lot more stuff on the the 'clash of civilization' theme now than I have seen before sept 11. Is it because people think and speak a lot more on this subject now and this is what they actually believe or has the subject been getting sensationalized over the last few months?
posted by justlooking (11 comments total)
An inevitable observation, given the fierce controversy of Islam's role in terrorism. Whenever somebody takes a stand that's politically incorrect regarding Islam, whether they're a moronic bigot (Buchanan). or irreverent apostate (Rushie), there will be accusations of profiteering at the expense of Islam's reputation.

I contend that some media and freelance personalities ARE indeed soaking up all the publicity they can get, that's their job as pundits and critics, and one can expect them to want to attract attention. That said, does it predicate making sensational, false claims for the sake of publicity? In this case, I would say most definitely not.

Miss Hasan, in defense of Islam, has characterized the strong criticism of it using 'hate' and 'demonization,' two loaded words which illustrate her knee-jerk reaction to the intellectual criticism of a religion which deserves, and dare I say, badly needs it. In her desparation to fend off what she percieves as opportunistic Islam-bashing, she's ignoring the fact that Islam DOES have to be examined, critiqued, scrutinized, and judged on its merits and role in terrorism, and that this is also undertaken by those not seeking fame or a spot on the NYT best sellers list.

With Islam Awareness Week coming up next Monday, I suggest we do just what the observance calls for: become more aware of Islam. We should become more aware that Islam rejects the secularization that allowed the west to shake off Christianity's dogma, that Islam's codified law is nothing short of barbaric and inhumane by today's standards, and that Islam's gender inequities and are its most crippling and troubling obstacle to modernity. If we can become aware that Islam is a totalitarian ideology which produces as much bad as good, we can better distinguish between alarmists who utter 'jehad' every other sentence to turn heads, and those who see the real, deeply-anchored problems with Islam, and work to see that they're made known.

One can never be too informed about this issue, so I implore you to become aware and to better recognize a cliche-ridden counterintuitive defense of blind political correctness.
posted by trick at 3:18 AM on March 14, 2002

Not sure if it's been posted here before, but the other day I saw an excellent history and critique of Islam by Tariq Ali, which isn't sensationalist at all. He gives it a roasting, but there's none of the 'clash of civilizations' bullshit. [Warning, contains atheism]

As for Hasan, she seems to think that pro-Islam pieces are good, anti-Islam pieces are bad. That's not the same as saying that sensationalism is bad, and that intellectual honesty is good (except from a certain point of view). She's delighted by Bush repeating the 'Islam is not a religion of violence' mantra, but even if he's right, it can hardly be called a scholarly appraisal. We all tend to think that our own point of view is the only one capable of intellectually coherent/correct explanation, but we should be able to criticise jounalistic stupidity without being entirely one-sided.
posted by Gaz at 3:38 AM on March 14, 2002

[Just to second Gaz's recommendation of the excellent Ali article - it's half-autobiography, half-potted history - and add James Waterson's interesting letter about it in the following LRB.]
posted by MiguelCardoso at 4:13 AM on March 14, 2002

Why is it up to the non-Islamic world to do the heavy lifting of understanding why Islam does not sanction suicide bombers, hatred of other religionists, and hatred of the United States (assuming that's the case)?

Even assuming bad faith on the part of some of the commentators, who created the conditions for them to be talking about a clash of civilizations?

If Islam creates societies of people who are too passive, or too in fear of speaking out to speak out to explain what their creed is about and not about, is that more my fault or their fault?
posted by ParisParamus at 4:20 AM on March 14, 2002

Demonizing Islam to gain publicity? Gasp! This is terrible. Get Noam Chomshy on it right away. Oops, forgot, he's too busy demonizing the US to gain publicity.
posted by MidasMulligan at 7:10 AM on March 14, 2002

"Writers Andrew Sullivan and Salman Rushdie, whose new book, "Fury," was recently published, also are putting on pseudo- intellectual airs with their "analyses" of Muslims as violent and intolerant."

Frankly, I find both Sullivan and Rushdie intellectually more capable than the authentically simplistic rant of the author of this non-analysis.
posted by semmi at 8:36 AM on March 14, 2002

Most people misunderstand Huntington's Clash of Civilizations framework for analysis. This is his conclusion: Western civilization is both Western and modern. Non-Western civilizations have attempted to become modern without becoming Western. To date only Japan has fully succeeded in this quest. Non-Western civilization will continue to attempt to acquire the wealth, technology, skills, machines and weapons that are part of being modern. They will also attempt to reconcile this modernity with their traditional culture and values. Their economic and military strength relative to the West will increase. Hence the West will increasingly have to accommodate these non-Western modern civilizations whose power approaches that of the West but whose values and interests differ significantly from those of the West. This will require the West to maintain the economic and military power necessary to protect its interests in relation to these civilizations. It will also, however, require the West to develop a more profound understanding of the basic religious and philosophical assumptions underlying other civilizations and the ways in which people in those civilizations see their interests. It will require an effort to identify elements of commonality between Western and other civilizations. For the relevant future, there will be no universal civilization, but instead a world of different civilizations, each of which will have to learn to coexist with the others.

In other words, the West is perfectly willing to accept other cultures into the Western fold, like Japan -- or, notably in this context, Turkey, as long as they transform to common Western cultural norms such as secular democracy, economic freedom, and human rights. If certain Muslims see Islam as remaining essentially Islamic, retaining its traditional values (e.g. theocratic, hierarchical government) while taking as much of the ancillaries of the West as they can without compromising on those cultural values, is it they who are seeing the world in terms of a clash of civilizations. Hungington was issuing a warning of a future course rather than a firm prediction. IF this THEN that.

Remember, Huntington's book was perhaps more widely read in places like Russia, India, and the Arab-Islamic world, than it was in the US; at the time, outside of foreign policy circles, such things were viewed as speculative curiosities -- but to those on the other side of a metaphorical foxhole, it was much more palpably real.

In any case, this article jumps to conclusions, because certainly the United States has firmly demonstrated that our arguments, if any, are with Islamism, and not Islam. Islamism is the political doctrine that all Muslim countries are ruled by corrupt men who are bad Muslims, and their governments must be replaced with theocratic ones that will implement shari'a law from the Koran. Islamists such as bin Laden frequently invoke "the Caliphate", which means a return to the days when there was a titular head of the entire Islamic world, a head of state who is also head of religion.

Islamists are frequently violent against Muslims, which the writer should surely know. Sullivan and Rushdie certainly know this, and I find it telling that the author wishes to invoke their names to give her argument legitimacy, but all she can quote is Graham and Buchanan, even while claiming their extreme views are irrelevant. Talk about a classic case of an argument undercutting itself!
posted by dhartung at 9:06 AM on March 14, 2002

my goodness midas. do you have to polarize every single conversation from the start?
posted by jnthnjng at 10:18 AM on March 14, 2002

"It was not until the Western nations broke away from their religious law that they became more tolerant; and it was only when the Muslims fell away from their religious law that they declined in tolerance and other evidences of the highest culture ... Of old, tolerance had existed here and there in the world, among enlightened individuals; but those individuals had always been against the prevalent religion. Tolerance was regarded of un-religious, if not irreligious. Before the coming of Islam it had never been preached as an essential part of religion." - Tolerance in Islam (1927 lecture by Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall)
posted by sheauga at 7:49 PM on March 14, 2002

The link to Tariq Ali's interpretation of History was an interesting read. Since he has an ideological bone to pick, I guess we should not take it entirely at face value (Waterson's letter was very well written).

I felt Asma Hasan's article could have been far better written and could be more intellectually disciplined. But she raised an interesting issue I have been thinking about recently.

I tend to view the current events through the prism of my life experiences in in South Asia. In India -where Hindus and Muslims have a shared history, many people are ossified in their respective positions. There is a large Westernized, secular, middle class. But there is also a middle class that have inherited prejudices and preconceptions that they have never questioned. The steriotyped images are pretty strong. While public discourse is mostly vibrant, an open, honest debate about Religion/Islam/how it effects Indian society hasnt taken place. (An analogy to me would be the situation that sometimes breaks out when discussing race relations in USA. It tends to get sharply polarised). I suspect that it may benefit Muslims more.

Historically, people in North America haven't had a lot of exposure to Islam. They are not bogged down by the cultural baggages of yesteryears. But perceptions for the vast majority of people are formed by the media. That is why I think that sensationalization would be a pity. Once people buy into a certain opinion and it gets adopted by their peer groups, it is incredibly difficult to get them shaken off.

While on the subject, I do tend to think that Rushdie can be a bit of a Provocateur. But irreverance in a writer is probably a good thing. (it is interesting that Hasan puts Sullivan and Rushdie in the same category. I suspect in most other subjects they would find themselves in opposing camps). I read Sullivan only occasionally and shouldn't in fairness comment on him.
posted by justlooking at 9:37 PM on March 14, 2002

Asma Hasan is a friend of mine... I pointed out this thread and she wanted to respond to y'all:


Dear MeFi-ers,

Thanks for discussing my editorial. The commentators I cite have made very simple mistakes about Islam and the Qur'an. Sullivan especially quotes a particular verse in the Qur'an that is about violence but always leaves out the next line, which exhorts Muslims to forgive -- I call that intellectual dishonesty! Buchanan has simply lumped onto his usual rhetoric a new "Be against immigration because some immigrants are Muslim." None of these commentators have meaningfully added to the debate -- whether it's Clash of Civilizations or how to prevent 9/11 from happening again.

The Qur'an and Islam are not against women and pro-violence. Why would I be Muslim if this were true? In many Muslim countries, the practice of Islam has become bogged down in patriarchy and pre-Islamic feudal culture, preventing Islam from realizing its true meanings. American Muslims are free from this cultural baggage, making American Islam a purer interpretation.

Thanks again.
Miss Asma Gull Hasan
posted by laz-e-boy at 11:46 AM on March 19, 2002

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