Monday, March 20, 2006

When Ignorance Certainly Isn't Bliss

Over the weekend, I found myself in Wellington to avoid the damned Flying Tram Games. I just can’t seem to find sports such as synchronised tap-dancing on ice all that riveting.

On Sunday night, I joined some friends at a Wellington cinema for the 9pm session. We had 20 minutes to spare, and decided to check out the bookshop-cum-newsagency, where I picked up the New Zealand edition of Investigate magazine.

I can’t say I’m a regular reader of this allegedly conservative glossy rag. I did once see its Australian editor, James Morrow, give a speech in Sydney at a book launch organised by the Centre for Independent Studies. Pakistan and Kashmir had just experienced a nasty earthquake in which over 50,000 had lost their lives.

Mr Morrow told his audience that a similar earthquake in San Francisco of similar intensity had only killed 10% as many people. He said this proved conclusively that western capitalism was superior to eastern allegedly non-capitalist Islam.

Morrow was talking about Islam as some kind of eastern and non-European phenomenon. Seated next to me at the time was an Aussie businessman of Bosnian Muslim origin who graduated from the Faculty of Theology at the University of Sarajevo and had also studied at the old Ottoman Gazi Husrev Beg Islamic seminary. Honestly, you’d only need to take one look at him to realise this very capitalist imam wasn’t exactly Kashmiri.

That first brush with Investigate left me a little sceptical. But the front page of the Kiwi edition of Investigate promised some hot goss about a NZ Labour MP who apparently has been accused of doing things with schoolgirls and tennis balls.

The editorial by “Ian and Heidi” was entitled “Turban-charged motions”. Its first half had some useful comments to make. The editors stated that one doesn’t need to publish cartoons to understand why they might be offensive. “We see people charged with child porn. We don’t need to see what they’ve done”. Can’t argue with that.

But the second half of the editorial should have been headed “Protocols of the Learned Mullahs of Islam”. It claimed that violent responses of a minority of Muslims were sufficient evidence to show that Muslim migrants will never be able to live in a modern liberal democratic nation-state.

The attitudes of this tiny minority who took part in violent demonstrations and burning embassies were then imposed on the entire corpus of Islamic theology in all its permutations and combinations. The editors asked “why Islam reacted as it did”, and then made the absurd claim that “Islam doesn’t recognise national borders”. It even said “no devout Muslim would consider himself Egyptian first and Muslim second”.

The closing paragraphs made the stupendous claim that Islamic political theory only recognises God as ruler and that “there are only two states in the world: Muslim and infidel”. It then suggested that Muslim migrants “don’t respect the nation-state model. Where there’s a conflict of allegiance, the nation state will always lose.”

The offensiveness of these claims makes the Danish cartoons pale into insignificance. The editors are effectively attributing fringe al-Qaida thinking to millions of Muslims living peacefully across the Western world (including New Zealand). Yes, it is true that some Muslims have this kind of thinking. These are the same Muslims who strap bombs to themselves and commit terrorist acts in which Muslim casualties far outnumber non-Muslims.

Investigate claims to be a conservative publication. One would expect ideological conservatives to be actively courting followers of a socially conservative religious congregation.

In Australia, conservative politicians and writers are making the same error of playing wedge-politics and seeking to demonise followers of perhaps the most disorganised socially conservative congregation in the country. Conservative writers have been attempting to generate support for the idea that Muslims are all plotting and planning to undermine “Australian values”.

This sort of thinking also poses a challenge for Muslims on both sides of the Tasman. Despite their obvious social conservative leanings, many Muslim migrants find it unusual that their cultures are maligned by social conservatives.

Perhaps the clue to this conundrum lies in the fact that so few ordinary Aussies and Kiwis have even a working knowledge of Islam. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on March 20 the release of a study by University of NSW geographer Kevin Dunn showing over one third of Australians admitted to knowing nothing about Islam and its followers.

Sadly, migrant-dominated Muslim groups spend more money taking each other to court than informing their fellow citizens about themselves and their rich heritage. Recent events at the Christchurch mosque are further evidence of the near-irrelevance of Muslim institutions.

Islam is misunderstood by most people. Muslims can take a number of approaches. They can cry foul and blame their fellow citizens for being so ignorant. Alternately, they can invest time and money in ensuring their faith and values are at least understood before being criticised.

Fear of Islam in the present age is largely fear of the unknown. The onus is on Muslims themselves to dispel that fear by making themselves and their faith understood.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Anonymous said...

"The onus is on Muslims themselves to dispel that fear by making themselves and their faith understood."

hear hear!

Pete's Blog said...

Yes certainly moderate Muslims need to speak out (for balance) each time a radical imam makes a headline.

Anonymous said...

Will be a hard slog to make Muslims appear knowledgeable about their religion when "experts" who have not studied it properly, and actively hate/malign it always have the last laugh.

Good Luck!

Qaadi_Dimashq said...

I certainly agree with your last assertion.

Anonymous said...

I think the problem is on the other foot..
More and more people DO know about Shia and Sunni Islam now.

They know about Sharia law.. and see it being implemented to the letter in Afghanistan....

1/ Does he 'stubbornly' insist on rejecting Islam ?
2/ Is he sain ?

If the answer to 1 and 2 is 'yes' the main schools of Islamic law say 'death'. Correct me if I am wrong please.

What they probably don't know much about is Irfs 'Sufi' tradition.