Fanatics with bombs around their waists? Women with bags over their heads?
The worldwide pogrom against Muslims is an absurdity of our times and a perfect example of media panic.
Some years ago, I was in Delhi and an Indian told me with great certainty:
“Look anywhere in the world where there is war or problems and you will find Muslims behind it.”
He was, of course, talking about conflict zones like Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, riots in Paris by North African Arabs, uprisings in Thailand, China and Indonesia, not to mention the communal violence in India. Throw in the crusades and at first glance the history of the Muslims can be seen to be closely intertwined with violence and war.
Certainly that’s the impression you get reading any newspaper these days or watching any TV report. Despite the politically correct declarations of Blair and Bush that they have no issue with the majority of law-abiding Muslims, the climate is one of fear, suspicion and xenophobia. The Muslims are violent, they hate our way of life, they oppress their women.
In fact, the climate of debate is so extreme now that it seems a relatively moderate opinion to associate terrorism and Islam in the same breath – and even if the average Westerner is too liberal to say so, the sentiment is already there in the heart.
The truth is, the current witch hunt against Muslims and Islam in general is just another example of how the masses can be swept up in hatred and fear against a section of the population deemed to be responsible for all that’s gone wrong.
The Church used to whip up similar hatred against witches, the Nazis against the Jews and the Americans used fear of communism to justify almost everything they did for almost half a century. I remember when the Berlin Wall came down, people joked that they’d have to find a new enemy fast.
And they’ve found it. Islam represents the greatest single social and sometimes political alternative to the Western consumer dream. It’s often a backwards, archaic alternative where the common folk are manipulated to suit the agendas of those in power but it does represent a way of life that has all but disappeared in the West.
But as anachronistic as Islam appears, for the majority of the past 1400 years it was light years ahead of the Christian west. Whereas even 100 years ago women were the legal property of their husbands in most of Europe, lacking the vote or any kind of basic rights, Islam had guaranteed a form of child support and social respect for women since the 7th centuries. The veils over the face and relegation to the kitchen reflect more cultural extremes than religious commandments.
As much as anything, Islam is a victim of the times. Human society and culture are changing at exponential speed, side by side with technology and the economy. With only the oil to guarantee the wealth of the Arab Gulf, most of the Muslim world has been cut off from the fruits of the 20th century by combinations of colonial misrule, geographic isolation and tyranny across the world.
Sure, Muslims are in armed conflict across the globe – but only because in most cases they’ve been systematically oppressed and marginalized. Take the 1993 riots in Bombay where the local police actually aided the Hindu nationalists to burn the homes and murder the families of thousands of Indian Muslims.
But that’s all hidden from the Western media. All we see on TV are images of fanatics, suicide bombers and armies of men with their bums in the air at the Friday mosque. Head to any Muslim country though and try to walk around for more than a day without someone trying to feed you or pour tea down your neck.
‘The guest is the face of god’ is a sacred commandment to practicing Muslims and the hospitality is unparalleled. Save for where bands of the fundamentalist faithful have been stirred up by militant groups, you’re far safer traveling in most Muslim countries than anywhere else in the world.
The world is changing fast and Islam isn’t. Tradition and the example of the Prophet must be followed to the letter, the religion says, so change and modernity are hardly welcomed with open arms.
Yet change is almost certainly inevitable. Human nature is pretty damn similar whether in Dubai or Dublin and head to any Arab country and you’ll find bunches of young guys who spend most of their time thinking about girls. They like to listen to rock music and they love to watch movies.
Sure, governments such as the regimes in Iran, Algeria and Syria are corrupt and brutal – but most of the population agree. The Muslims on the ground are no more to blame for their fanatical leaders than Americans are for having a death-wishing Christian fundamentalist in charge.
People are just people and it’s awful to see the Muslims demonized in this way.
Check out the Islam Guide so you know your Mecca from your Medina.