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We Need To Talk About Islam

Submitted by on May 11, 2010 – 1:43 pm6 Comments

‘When caricature replaces dialogue, everyone suffers says Naomi Wolf. No doubt former Channel Nine cameraman Simon Fuller can attest to that.

Fuller lost his job last month after he was caught on camera calling law-abiding Muslim citizen Gad Amr a ‘f**king terrorist’.

Only in a political climate where the word ‘Islam’ has become synonymous with ‘terrorism’ could such a baseless slur have fallen so easily from the lips of a media professional.

The history of negative portrayals in the media indicate that any act of violence or terrorism or general unsavoury behaviour by any Muslim, anywhere, is taken to be representative of Islam as a whole.

In 2000, the ABC comedy program BackBerner, in satirising the album A is for Allah by Yusuf Islam, joked that other songs included B is for Bomb.

Following the 2001 gang rape trials in Bankstown, The Australian ran a headline screaming of the ‘Rape Menace from the Melting Pot’ as if sexual assault were somehow intrinsic and exclusive to immigrants.

The 2002 Bali bombings saw The Australian’s political cartoonist Bill Leak sketch an image of two burqa-clad women, one asking the other ‘does my bomb look big in this? ’The image is clear: Muslims are not like us. They are dangerous. They are the ‘Other’.

This image is cemented because Muslims are denied the opportunity to counter it in public discourse. Waleed Aly, writer and lecturer in politics at Monash University, points out that whereas Christian churches are appreciated for their contribution to civic life and asked to comment, “on social issues such as industrial relations reform, we would never even think about asking an Islamic organisation”.

“As long as Muslims are not permitted to have a public existence outside of their ‘Muslimness’ then the process of ‘Othering’ will remain alive and well.”

Rather than engage in meaningful dialogue with Muslims as it does with other religious groups, the media reduces Muslims to a caricature, judging them all by the worst amongst them. It is this caricature that allowed the recent ‘death threats’ against South Park creators Trey Stone and Matt Parker, to be blown out of any sense of proportion.

The cartoonists, who depicted the prophet Mohammed in a Care bear suit were ‘warned’ by radical group Revolution Muslim that they would end up like murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh.

New York based Revolution Muslim has only 12 members so is not exactly representative of the 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide. Yet, after years of negative representation, our fear of Islam is so great that the ranting of an extremist group was enough to whip the world media into a frenzy and compel Comedy Central, which screens the show, to censor further references to Mohammed in a subsequent episode.

By caving in to Revolution Muslim, Comedy Central has staked the reputation of their irreverent show, given power to the few extreme voices who prey on fear and condemned millions more innocent Muslims to further ostracism.

We cannot allow the opportunities for dialogue to continue to pass us by because, as Fuller and South Park have discovered, it’s not just Muslims who suffer.

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6 Comments »

  • Of course, as Waleed points out, it’s about the process of “Othering” that makes popular representation like in South Park possible.

    But perhaps it runs deeper? So many other “Others” – women, gays, transsexuals, indigenous australians – have received exactly the same treatment (or worse) by comedies such as South Park or Backberner.

    The point of South Park is that it pokes fun of everybody – minorities and majorities. How do we make Muslim society see that they are actually being inclusive by including them in this?

  • Brett Kolodziej says:

    South Park should have been censored far earlier. If not at the request of its network, then simply for my benefit. Islam is not the only cultural group that has been lampooned on South Park and in some ways the real issue regarding that particular show is, where is the line? I have often found that it goes too far in its representations.

  • Ruby Hamad says:

    Hi Emilia,

    I agree with you that South Park was actually being inclusive. And unlike BackBerner was actually not vilifying Muslims.

    The problem is that most Muslims did not object to the South Park episode in question. But because one small radical website did, the media jumped on it and made it seem as if Revolution Muslim was representing all Muslims when of course, they were not.

  • Ruby Hamad says:

    Hi Brett,
    Yeah South Park definitely crosses the line, though I actually think they didn’t in this case. It was actually a clever way of dealing with a real problem. How do we actually talk about Mohammed and Muslims when depictions are considered blasphemy?

  • Tiffanny Junee says:

    Ruby thanks so much for raising this topic. I think you’ve absolutely hit the nail on the head.

    Western media doesn’t know how to differentiate between the small radical, yet vocal Islamic voice citing offence to social commentary, to the millions of Islamic men, women and children.

    Accordingly, their default defence is censorship. But realistically, who doesn’t cringe when fundamentalist religious heads of any denomination take to the soapbox and inevitably misrepresent the opinion of a few, as that of the majority?

    We as an evolving western society have to navigate through the inherent prejudices inbred in non-muslims (whether we like to admit it or not) and make the move to nurture a desire to understand a religion and culture that is similar, yet distinctly different to our own.

    We need to engage in dialogue. Admit we don’t have all the answers and learn to respect our differences.

    Respect is earned, but it starts as a choice to embrace diversity of opinion and practices. Sadly, something beyond Simon Fuller who in my humble opinion, was by no media professional.

  • Sonia Chan says:

    This is such an interesting issue to me. Because I approach it from the absolute opposite side of things.

    I grew up in Parramatta and about 80% of my childhood friends were Muslim. All of my mental associations with Islam are of loving mothers who cooked delicious food and fathers who would sit with us in living rooms making jokes and laughing loudly. Memories of kind words and wise advice.

    No terror.

    Also, media that doesn’t actually engage is a waste of time. So yeah, Ruby, there should be more engagement and opportunities for this kind of discussion is imperative.

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