As you all know, I do not get political here or on any of my accounts. I hesitated when I received this post because of that; I realize that maybe some will find this post controversial but it fit my criteria for a guest blog (pop culture related) and I think she makes some great points regarding judging others by the actions of the few and allowing ourselves to be influenced by what we may see in the media. Sometimes, it really is a vicious cycle. I hope you’ll get something positive out of this post and I thank Mohanalaskshmi for swapping blogs with me. You can see my post here. — JamieB
No, that’s not the tagline of a Hollywood script, that’s what happened last week in real life world events. An anonymous YouTube video, translated into Arabic, depicting Egyptian Muslims abusing Coptic Christians was making the rounds on Egyptian media.
When the smoke cleared from the grenades of the assailants and the tear gas from security forces, citizens in Benghazi pleaded not to be judged by the actions of a few; Americans posted photos on Facebook asking the same.
What many people in the West may be scratching their heads over is how a video can evoke such a strong reaction. Many expressed similar surprise at the 2005-2006 protests and clashes over the publication of a Danish cartoon depicting Islam’s Prophet Muhammed with a turban made of out a bomb.
“If Islam is such a peaceful religion, then why are the people so violent?” is a question that’s often asked when there are images of flags being burned or people hoisting guns circulating from the Middle East.
The answer is more much more complex than the presence of the rioters themselves and has as much to do with the role of the media in shaping our perceptions of the “Other”. This manipulation happens on both sides, East and West.
In Islam the Prophet is not only a scared person, but any references to him also must be reverent. In most Arab countries, and indeed countries with Muslim majorities like Malaysia and Indonesia, theism is the norm. There is no agreement that the public is secular while the private is up to the individual.
This fundamental difference about Muslim societies, contrasts with the Western ideal that the church and state are separate. This public secular space means that religion has a limit, if you well, a boundary, that also creates a distance between the believer and her faith. Expressions like “Bloody hell,” or “Jesus H. Christ,” may not be used by the faithful but they are employed by others in their hearing. The irreverence becomes a kind of standard in its own right.
As for these mobs in the Middle East and North Africa, often they are pawns used by unseen conservative religious forces to stir up anti-foreign sentiments. They are made up of people who see themselves as defenders of a faith that is under constant threat by the devil of the secular, godless West. Most Muslims will tell you that while they find the content of the video offensive, they don’t judge an entire nation on the actions of a few. Neither do they want innocents to pay with their lives.
That the YouTube video was made by an American confirms their suspicions of the whole. When those in the West see photos of flaming cars their stereotypes about religious conservatism are reinforced.
Is there a way out of the loop of this media enforced judgment?
Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar is a South Asian American who has lived in Qatar since 2005. Moving to the Arabian Desert was fortuitous in many ways since this is where she met her husband, had a baby, and made the transition from writing as a hobby to a full time passion. She has since published five e-books including a mom-ior for first time mothers, Mommy But Still Me, a guide for aspiring writers, So You Want to Sell a Million Copies, a short story collection, Coloured and Other Stories, and a novel about women’s friendships, Saving Peace. Most recently, From Dunes to Dior, is a collection of essays related to her experiences as a female South Asian American living in the Arabian Gulf. After she joined the e-book revolution, she dreams in plotlines. Learn more about her work on her website at http://www.mohanalakshmi.com or follow her latest on Twitter: @moha_doha.