Thursday, April 29, 2004

Oh, sh*t! Mike Wallace! Run!

Norman Geras has posted an excerpt from an article in the Guardian about "Luton's Muslims['] march for peace".

In recent years the Bedfordshire town of Luton has come to be seen as a hotbed of Islamism, one of the country's chief breeding grounds for terrorists. Yesterday the town's Muslim community tried to puncture the stereotype, using a religious parade to convey the message that the vast majority of its members abhor violence.

More than 500 members of local mosques, including boys and old men, and many teenagers - just the sort the extremists target - took part in the march.

Some carried placards which emphasised that Islam was a peaceful religion and complained at the way they and their faith are portrayed in the media.

Others chanted and recited poetry calling for an end to violence.
I make a point of reciprocating compromise and concession but this march is not so much about repudiating Islamic fundamentalists as it is media depictions of Islamic fundamentalists.
The vibrant Muslim community in Luton, around 25,000 adults, has been organising the annual march for almost 20 years to celebrate the birthday of the prophet Mohammed.

What made this year's celebration different was the growing feeling among Luton's Muslims that their community is being unfairly maligned and their religion misrepresented.

Earlier this month, Luton was one of the areas targeted in police raids aimed at disrupting an alleged Islamist terrorist bomb plot. Media reports pointed out that the radical group al-Muhajiroun often carried out recruitment drives in Luton.

The group's local leader, Sayful Islam, made inflammatory remarks condoning the bomb attacks in Madrid, Bali and elsewhere.

But Akbar Dad Khan, of the community group Building Bridges which promotes racial harmony, said yesterday: "He is one of the people whose views are given prominence. He is seen as a man of importance by outsiders.

"But he represents the views of perhaps half a dozen people in Luton."

Speaking in the packed courtyard of the Central Mosque, from where the march began, Mr Khan, a local businessman, said: "Today we want to say in a very public way that the Muslim community in Luton completely rejects such views. There is not the sort of problem in the town which the media tries to portray."
Muslim advocacy groups all over the West echo this stance, which reminds me of the campaign by Italian-American advocacy groups against movies and television programs that feature Italian gangsters. The Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Order of Sons of Italy in America seem to buy their hammers from the same store. How can I tell? 'Cause even if it's a screw, a nut or a bolt, they keep using the same old hammer on it: cast the unfair media as the villain instead of, oh, I don't know, actual murderers. Those Italian-American advocates who claimed, "There's no such thing as the mafia, it doesn't exist," paved the way for Muslim advocates to say, "Islam has nothing to do with terrorism". Destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas? Change the subject: "Foreigners are more concerned with statues than with starving Afghan children." September 11th? Sophistry: "Islam means 'peace' so obviously Islam cannot possibly have anything to do with violence." And my personal favorite, what, for now, I'll call the argument from incompleteness. I know that name is already taken but maybe readers more deeply versed in philosophy than I will let me know the technical term for this fallacy (please).
Premise: Not all A's are B's.
Conclusion: No A's are B's.
Averroes would be so proud.

Definitions of "extremism," "violence" and "terrorism" are often subjected to semantic contortion and qualification. "It's not terrorist violence; it's a martyrdom operation." I don't claim to be an expert on the history of Imperial-era Rome, but I don't recall Christians taking any lions with them on their way out. I'll be convinced of sincerity and good faith when signs saying "Muslims oppose sharia in non-Muslim countries" become a common sight.

Chris Rock puts all this far more pithily than I.
I see some black people looking at me: "Man, why you got to say that? It ain't us, it's the media. The media has distorted our image to make us look bad." Please, cut the shit, OK? When I go to the money machine at night, I ain't looking over my back for the media. I'm looking for n*ggers!
UPDATE: BBC News also covered the march.

UPDATED to include a link to a Washington Post article about how Muslims in Ontario may now arbitrate certain civil, as opposed to criminal, disputes, e.g. "family disagreements and inheritance, business and divorce issues" in accordance with shari'a under a 1991 law under which Jews and Christians done the same according to their own religious principles.

Those of you under the impression that I'm a raging Islamophobe may be surprised to hear that Ontario allowing shari'a arbitration, in and of itself, does not alarm me. I absolutely believe that experiments in governance are a necessary part of liberalism. I can even see how this development might have positive knock-on effects; Ontarian Muslim tribunals could become the shari'a equivalent of the famously liberal American Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, demonstrating how shari'a can be implemented in accordance with liberty.

I am concerned about that some might attempt to expand its jurisdiction, a la Nigeria. The article does not address jurisdiction over cases between Muslim and non-Muslim parties where the Muslim party would prefer to submit the case to shari'a tribunal and the non-Muslim party would prefer Canadian law. I doubt that such a case would, in the end, be arbitrated by shari'a tribunal, but I'm more curious as to how the Muslim community would react. Would they recognize and respect the voluntary nature of shari'a arbitration in Canada or would they regard it as a violation of their rights?

UPDATE: Even if Akbar Dad Khan is correct and "99.9% of Muslims in Luton oppose terrorism," does that mean that the 0.1% who do should be ignored? The characteristic complaint of Mr. Khan, and community advocates like him - no matter the community, is that the media focuses on the extremist minority rather than the peaceful majority. These advocates, concerned only with the perception of their communities, show little comprehension of the concept of newsworthiness or the responsibilities of the media. The minority of extremists such as Sayful Islam is given prominence because their presence is a matter of concern to the general public. The media is not under any obligation to make any community "look good". It is a waste of the media's effort and resources as well as readers' and viewers' time to report "Everything A-OK" on those days when the extremist or violent minority hasn't done anything newsworthy.

UPDATE: From Randy McDonald's Livejournal
In a letter that I sent to the Toronto Star in limited defense of the French ban on the hijab, someone in the comments made the point that although an often extreme misogyny is present in many Muslim countries, this misogyny isn't intrinsic to Islam. That's a valid point, and I agree with it. What I don't agree with, however, is the poster's statement that this misogyny has nothing to do with Islam....To my mind, it's completely irresponsible for practitioners of any ideology to deny the legitimacy of extremists in their movement. Claiming that the misogynists of the FIS and GIA aren't Muslims, or that the numerous Christians who aide and abet anti-Semitism in its various forms aren't real Christians, or that the Hebron settlers aren't real Zionists, or that Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot aren't real Communists, or that the mobs who massacred thousands of Muslims in Gujarat last year aren't made up of real Hindus--all of these excuses are cheap ways to escape responsibility for your ideology's bad side-effects....If there are many noble and good things in your ideology of choice, though, and if you think that your ideology should be known for these things instead of for horrible crimes, you can't simply ignore your ideology's connection to and responsibility for those crimes, for by so doing you passively collaborate in its bad marketing. And if you deny your ideology's connection outright, then you're either misinformed or lying.
via Gene Expression

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