Western media has a disordered relationship with Islam and Muslims.
We can do better.
I often write about Christianity and the Roman Catholic Church. Some Christian friends of mine have suggested that I should direct my critical attention onto Muslims. They join the chorus of similar anonymous grumbles I get on my blog. I criticise Islam (and Hinduism and Judaism and others) regularly, but they only notice when their own religion is put under the spotlight.
The right-wing Christian obsession with trashing Muslims is also a recurring problem among stand-up comedians. Both popular light entertainer Dara O’Briain and tortured sarcastic intellectual Stewart Lee were forced to address it in their sets.
As someone who writes satirical articles about the Catholic Church, I also write satire about Islam, but not in a way that Christian critics would like. I get the recurring impression that well-researched, well-written Islamic-themed comedy is not what they’re looking for.
O’Briain and Lee and myself wrangle with Christianity because we come from Christian traditions. We know exactly which parts of the religion are ridiculous and which parts we can discuss with confidence. We used to be where the Christian critics are now.
Sometimes I feel like these people are not gathering information but ammunition. Nothing will satisfy them except hateful invective. One friend phrased it like this: “Do something about Muslims.”
A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches can never be sure. Talk to one Muslim and you think you’ll have a handle on Islam. Talk to two and you will never be sure. While there are broad schools of thought, there are wildly divergent interpretations about even the most generic aspects of Islam.
Whenever you read “Muslims think X…” or hear “Muslims believe Y…” there is a great chance that whatever follows will be wrong. A fine example is every time the leadership of Al-Qaida said the problem with Iran is they’re too pro-American. There is no way to shove this into any standard Western narratives of “what Muslims think”.
A recent survey of Indian Muslims revealed that 6% of them don’t believe in a god. This was around twice the percentage of Hindus and Christians who gave the same answer. Indian Muslims don’t have to worry about their atheism, however. The same survey revealed that (nearly 20%) more of them think avoiding pork is more important to Islam than believing in a god.
In the West, we have been trained to see “Muslims” as a monolithic block of opinion and practice. Whenever we see them on the news, it’s usually because some of them have murdered Westerners. Journalists casually refer to these murderers as “hardcore Muslims” or “Muslim fundamentalists”. We are constantly nudged towards the conclusion that the more violent Muslims are, the closer they are to the “real” Islam. Any such conclusion appears to be nothing more than an interpretation.
In 2015, Muslims in India (which has the third-largest population of Muslims in the world) demonstrated in support of France during the Islamist attacks in Paris. Muslims in the Maghreb are less tolerant of France’s shenanigans. It’s not coherent, therefore, to say that “Muslims” either support France or don’t support France. Some do and some don’t and politics drives these positions more than religion.
I will do something. I will write articles about Islam and Muslims for OnlySky. They will not peck at the edges but discuss the most sensitive and salient issues I see among Western commentators.
If you expect to read a defense of Islam as if it were in any way based on some universal or demonstrable truth, you will be disappointed. I reject any and all supernatural claims made by everyone and everything in Islam.
If, however, you expect to read excoriating diatribes trashing Muslims, or glib mockery, you will also be disappointed. I’m not interested in enabling racists or xenophobes. In any case, I expect OnlySky readers to reserve judgment on any articles before finishing them. The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk.
Western media has at best neglected Islam and Muslims and at worst intentionally misrepresented them. We’re not there yet, but I’d like to nudge the public discourse towards a place where Islam can be robustly criticized without accusations of bigotry and the human rights of Muslims can be robustly defended without accusations of Islam apologism.