Archive for West

Mehdi Hasan: Halal Hysteria

Posted in Anti-Loons, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 15, 2012 by loonwatch

On the politics of “halal hysteria” in the UK and beyond:

by Mehdi Hasan (New Statesman)

I am sitting in one of London’s finest Indian restaurants, Benares, in the heart of Mayfair. I’ve just placed an order for the “Tandoori Ratan” mixed-grill appetiser – a trio of fennel lamb chop, chicken cutlet and king prawn.

I’ll be honest with you: I’m pretty excited. Most of the upmarket restaurants in London do not cater for the city’s burgeoning Muslim population. Benares is one of the few exceptions: all of the lamb and chicken dishes on its menu are halal.

The restaurant opened in 2003 and its owner, Atul Kochhar, is a Michelin-starred chef. “Right from day one, we’ve kept our lamb and chicken halal,” Kochhar says. “It was a very conscious decision because I grew up in India, a secular country, where I was taught to have respect for all religions.” Kochhar, who is a Hindu, says Muslims make up “easily between 10 and 20 per cent” of his regular diners. It isn’t just a taste for religious pluralism that has dictated the contents of his menu; serving halal meat makes commercial, as well as cultural, sense.

To other, perhaps less tolerant types, however, the rise of halal meat in the west and here in the UK, in particular, is a source of tension, controversy, fear and loathing. British Muslims are living through a period of halal hysteria, a moral panic over our meat. First there came 9/11, 7/7 and the “Islamic” terror threat; then there was the row over the niqab (face veil) and hijab (headscarf); now, astonishingly, it’s the frenzy over halal meat.

Last month, MPs in the Commons rejected a ten-minute-rule bill that would have made it mandatory for retailers to label all of the halal and kosher meat on sale and make it clear on the packaging that the animals were “killed without stunning”. The bill’s proponent, the Tory backbencher Philip Davies, claimed that the meat was being “forced upon” shoppers “without their knowledge”. It was defeated by the narrowest of margins – 73 votes to 70.

As is so often the case, the right-wing press is behind much of the fear-mongering and misinformation. “Britain goes halal . . . but no one tells the public,” screamed the front-page headline in the Mail on Sunday on 19 September 2010. The paper claimed that supermarkets, restaurants, schools, hospitals, pubs and big sporting venues such as Wembley Stadium were “controversially serving up meat slaughtered in accordance with strict Islamic law to unwitting members of the public”.

The following week, readers were treated to two more stories suggesting a sinister plot to inflict halal meat on innocent, animal-loving, non-Muslim Britons. “How 70 per cent of New Zealand lamb imports to Britain are halal . . . but this is NOT put on the label”, said the Daily Mail on 25 September 2010. “Top supermarkets secretly sell halal: Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose and M&S don’t tell us meat is ritually slaughtered,” proclaimed the Mail on Sunday the next day.

With the threat from terrorism receding, Britain’s Islam-baiters have jumped on the anti-halal bandwagon, and not just the neo-fascists of the British National Party and the English Defence League, which has a page on its website devoted to its (anti-) “halal campaign”, but mainstream commentators, too. The Spectator’s Rod Liddle – who once wrote a column entitled “Islamophobia? Count me in” – has demanded that halal meat be banned and called for a boycott of Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury and the rest until they agree to stop stocking halal products. “I will buy no meat from supermarkets,” he wrote, rather melodramatically, back in 2010.

David Ha’ivri: Blatant Anti-Muslim/Anti-Arab Racism on YNetNews

Posted in Loon Media, Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 12, 2012 by loonwatch

 

David_Haivri

David Ha’ivri

We have linked several times in the past to articles on YNetNews, a popular Israeli online news source. I am unaware of their “op-ed” policy, but today they published an article by David Ha’ivri titled, The Arab-Muslim Narrative.

Ha’ivri is the “director of the Shomron Liaison Office. He and his wife Mollie live in Kfar Tapuach.” Ha’ivri’s op-ed is racist tripe and generalizes both Arabs and Muslims.

I can understand such an op-ed being published on Arutz Sheva, or the The Israel Times Online but on YNetNews, a leading Israeli online site read by hundreds of thousands daily?

Here are some of the most egregious quotes:

This conversation was a great help to me in understanding the Muslim Arab mindset and culture. Facts are not really so important to them. They can be made up or even changed as needed.

Muslim people celebrate detachment from reality as part of their worship:

Understand that we are dealing with people who celebrate being detached from reality as part of their worship of Allah.

And perhaps the most racist and ridiculous of them all:

It is unrealistic, in my opinion, to believe that we can turn the Arabs into a society that truly embraces western concepts and values – like facts and sticking to truth. It makes much more sense to understand that fantasy and stretching the truth are very deeply embedded in the mindset of the Muslim and Arab culture. I do not mean to say this as an insult, but to suggest that we accept it as a fact, take it as it is and move on.

Islam, Orientalism and the West

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , on August 15, 2011 by loonwatch
Edward SaidEdward Said

I’m writing a much longer piece on Orientalism and its ramifications on our society today, but I found this article in TIME magazine from 1979 very interesting. It is essentially a long review of Edward Said’s historic work “Orientalism,” less than a year after its initial publication.

One piece of information that struck out was the fact that between 1800 and 1950 some 60,000 works on “Islam and the Orient” were published:

As writing about Islam and the Orient burgeoned—60,000 books between 1800 and 1950—European powers occupied large swatches of “Islamic” territory, arguing that since Orientals knew nothing about democracy and were essentially passive, it was the “civilizing mission” of the Occident, expressed in the strict programs of despotic modernization, to finally transform the Orient into a nice replica of the West.

Post 9/11, with the Iraq and Afghan invasions and the rise of Islamophobia to endemic levels I think its a safe bet that there have been thousands of publications about ‘Islam and Muslims in the Orient and the Occident.’

Special Report: Islam, Orientalism And the West

(TIME Magazine)

An attack on learned ignorance

In an angry, provocative new book called Orientalism (Pantheon; $15), Edward Said, 43, Parr Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, argues that the West has tended to define Islam in terms of the alien categories imposed on it by Orientalist scholars. Professor Said is a member of the Palestine National Council, a broadly based, informal parliament of the Palestine Liberation Organization. He summarized the thesis of Orientalism in this article for TIME.

One of the strangest, least examined and most persistent of human habits is the absolute division made between East and West, Orient and Occident. Almost entirely “Western” in origin, this imaginative geography that splits the world into two unequal, fundamentally opposite spheres has brought forth more myths, more detailed ignorance and more ambitions than any other perception of difference. For centuries Europeans and Americans have spellbound themselves with Oriental mysticism, Oriental passivity, Oriental mentalities. Translated into policy, displayed as knowledge, presented as entertainment in travelers’ reports, novels, paintings, music or films, this “Orientalism” has existed virtually unchanged as a kind of daydream that could often justify Western colonial adventures or military conquest. On the “Marvels of the East” (as the Orient was known in the Middle Ages) a fantastic edifice was constructed, invested heavily with Western fear, desire, dreams of power and, of course, a very partial knowledge. And placed in this structure has been “Islam,” a great religion and a culture certainly, but also an Occidental myth, part of what Disraeli once called “the great Asiatic mystery.”

As represented for Europe by Muhammad and his followers, Islam appeared out of Arabia in the 7th century and rapidly spread in all directions. For almost a millennium Christian Europe felt itself challenged (as indeed it was) by this last monotheistic religion, which claimed to complete its two predecessors. Perplexingly grand and “Oriental,” incorporating elements of Judeo-Christianity, Islam never fully submitted to the West’s power. Its various states and empires always provided the West with formidable political and cultural contestants—and with opportunities to affirm a “superior” Occidental identity. Thus, for the West, to understand Islam has meant trying to convert its variety into a monolithic undeveloping essence, its originality into a debased copy of Christian culture, its people into fearsome caricatures.

Early Christian polemicists against Islam used the Prophet’s human person as their butt, accusing him of whoring, sedition, charlatanry. As writing about Islam and the Orient burgeoned—60,000 books between 1800 and 1950—European powers occupied large swatches of “Islamic” territory, arguing that since Orientals knew nothing about democracy and were essentially passive, it was the “civilizing mission” of the Occident, expressed in the strict programs of despotic modernization, to finally transform the Orient into a nice replica of the West. Even Marx seems to have believed this. Read more

It’s Official: Bill Maher is a Racist

Posted in Feature, Loon Media with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2011 by loonwatch

How long will Bill Maher get a pass on his racism and anti-Muslim Islamophobia? Is it acceptable because the targets are Arabs and Muslims and because Maher is a comedian from whom outrageous things are expected?

On his last show Bill Maher went on a speel undermining the Democratic character of Revolutions sweeping across the Arab world. Amongst his ludicrous statements he claimed “women can’t vote in 19 of 22 Arab countries,” that “women who have dated an Arab man, the results aren’t good,” that “Arab men have a sense of “entitlement,” etc. He also went onto forward the argument that “we are better than them,” justifying it by implying he is not a “cultural relativist.”

No, Bill might not be a “cultural relativist” but he sure sounds like a “cultural supremacist.” His factual accuracy about the Islamic and Arab world is akin to Robert Spencer’s. It is patently false that “19 of 22″ Arab states don’t allow for women to vote, a brief trip to Wikipidea would have disabused him of that false fact:

Women were granted the right to vote on a universal and equal basis in Lebanon in 1952[46]Syria (to vote) in 1949 [47] (Restrictions or conditions lifted) in 1953 [48]Egypt in 1956[49]Tunisia in 1959 [50]Mauritania in 1961[51]Algeria in 1962 [52]Morocco in 1963 [53]Libya [54] and Sudan in 1964 [55],Yemen (Partly)in 1967 [47] (full right) in 1970 [56]Bahrain in 1973 [57]Jordan in 1974 [58]Iraq (Full right) 1980 [57] Oman (Partly) in 1994 and (Fully granted) 2003 [59], and Kuwait in 2005 [57].

The reality, (what is lost on Maher) is that even though nearly all Arab states allow for voting for men and women, their votes didn’t matter in the autocratic kleptocracies that littered the Middle East, and this is what Arabs — men and women — have been fighting against these past few months. It seems Maher just can’t handle all the myths he’s been pushing being shattered.

Bill Maher goes onto talk about how Arab men are bad spouses and boyfriends, to buttress his points he brings up “anecdotal” evidence and his opinion that Arabs have a “sense of entitlement.” How does Bill know? Has he dated Arab men? This is one of those things that is so ridiculous and patently unsubstantiated that it is beyond being laughable, you almost cringe with embarrassment for how stupid it makes Maher look.

Maher also seemed to use “Arab” and “Muslim” interchangeably, perhaps not knowing that a significant number of Arabs are not Muslims. While there are certainly problems in the Middle East and the Muslim world regarding the treatment of women, Maher judges Arabs and Muslims by their lowest common denominator. Ignoring countries such as Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Lebanon, Jordan and others that have progressive legislation regarding women and which have had women presidents, prime ministers, parliamentarians, business leaders, sports icons, journalists, etc.

At the end of the day Maher needs to have someone on his show who can push back against the myths that he indulges in and propagates. Someone of the caliber of As’ad Abu Khalil or Juan Cole might be a good start.

You can watch the segment at Mediaite:

Bill Maher Slams Muslim Men’s Treatment Of Women, Gets Heckled By Audience Member

(Mediaite)

Maher was having it out with Smiley over relative treatment of women in Muslim countries and American society – Smiley didn’t argue that Muslim countries often exhibit poor attitudes toward women, but argued treatment of women in America has a long way to go, too. Maher called it a “false equivalency,” and it went on from there. Maher read off a list of the ways women are oppressed in Arab countries – in 19 of 22, they can’t vote; in Saudi Arabia they aren’t allowed to drive; etc.

Then, he got into slightly weirder territory. He asserted that “civilization begins with civilizing the men,” and then, after saying, “I know this is anecdotal” (not an auspicious way to start when you’re trying to make a convincing argument), unleashed this line:

“Talk to women who’ve ever dated an Arab man. The results are not good.”

Maher added they have a “sense of entitlement,” indeed quite the anecdotal piece of “evidence,” and one to which guest Michelle Caruso-Cabrera shot back, “Every man I’ve ever dated has a sense of entitlement.” And Maher kept on having none of Smiley’s argument that Americans shouldn’t act superior about treatment of women and rejected the notion he was “demonizing” anyone by saying Americans’ treatment of women is better:

“They’re worse. What’s wrong with just saying that?”

And it continued on like that until a guy in the crowd started yelling about Hellfire missiles…and yelling, and yelling. He rattled off so much so quickly (though most of it was tough to hear) that Maher guessed it was a prepared speech…a guess buoyed by the fact that the rant, as Maher also pointed out, indeed didn’t have a whole lot to do with what the panel was talking about. Video of the segment below – the interruption begins at the 5:32 mark.

 

Egypt shows ‘clash of civilizations’ was a myth

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2011 by loonwatch

Egypt shows ‘clash of civilizations’ was a myth

by Arun Kundnani

(CNN)

Since the end of the Cold War, conservatives have argued that the world should be seen through the lens of a clash between civilizations. The world could be divided, they argued, on the basis of different cultures and their distance from Western values.

Countries where the majority of the population is Muslim were grouped together as the ‘Islamic world’ and seen as culturally prone to fanaticism and violence. Revolution there could only mean Islamic revolution along the lines of Iran in 1979. Democracy could only emerge if imposed by force from outside, as disastrously attempted in the Iraq War.

Liberals had their own version of such thinking, particularly after 9/11. Rejecting the necessity of a clash between civilizations, they spoke of a dialogue between civilizations. But they shared with conservatives the assumption that culture was the primary driving force of political conflict.

There was something of this thinking in President Obama’s famous 2009 speech in Cairo, addressed to “the Muslim world.” Liberals like Obama thought it possible that dialogue could allow for the peaceful co-existence of cultural differences between Muslims and the West. Conservatives, on the other hand, feared that no dialogue was possible with Islam, and it was better for the West to ready itself for inevitable conflict.

These have been the terms of debate between liberals and conservatives since 9/11.

Significantly, both sides in the debate assumed that the fundamental divisions in the world were cultural rather than political.

In the case of the Middle East, conflict was seen as rooted in a cultural failure of Islam to adapt itself to modernity, rather than a political aspiration to freedom from regimes the West was backing.

The Egyptian revolution has finally demonstrated in practice that this cultural assumption no longer holds. Popular sovereignty, not God’s sovereignty, has been the basis of the revolution. Muslims and Christians have marched together on the streets. The slogans have been universal demands for rights, dignity and social justice. At the same time, the Muslim Brotherhood has been one among the many strands of the movement, accommodating themselves to its democratic and pluralist thrust.

All of this confounds the “clash of civilizations” thesis which holds that the ‘Islamic world’ has necessarily “bloody borders.” It also confounds the “dialogue of civilizations” approach, which seeks to address the people of the Middle East as a culturally distinct “Muslim world” rather than as populations whose demands are political and universal.
It is no surprise that the Obama administration’s response to the fall of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt has been muddled; its working assumptions about the ‘Muslim world’ have collapsed as a result of the revolutionary movements in Tunisia and Egypt.

Equally, the confused response of conservatives reflects the fact that their framing of the Middle East as a hotbed of fanaticism has been revealed to be a myth. And they are exposed for backing an autocrat for narrow strategic reasons linked to protecting Israel. For all their rhetoric, the real fear of conservatives is not the “Muslim fanatic” but genuine political freedom for the Arab nations — which is now suddenly imaginable.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Arun Kundnani.

 

Soumaya Ghannoushi: Islamophobia Acting Like Free Speech

Posted in Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 29, 2010 by loonwatch

An interesting piece from Soumaya Ghannoushi published at AlJazeera English.

Islamophobia acting like free speech

by Soumaya Ghannoushi

The caricatures of Prophet Muhammad first published in the Danish Jyllands-Posten then reprinted in a string of European newspapers have exposed the gulf separating the West from the Muslim world.

The cartoons and the reactions they have sparked across the Muslim hemisphere, many have conjectured, symbolise the confrontation between two irreconcilable value systems, one based on the Enlightenment tradition, the other clinging to religious dogma.

These simplistic explanations would have stood a better chance of being accepted if the majority of those offering them had been more vocal in denouncing the continuous assault on free speech in Western societies in the name of the war on terrorism. The reality is that the controversy over freedom of expression and its limits is a symptom of an infinitely deeper crisis affecting the relation of the West, European and Atlantic, to the vast Muslim world from Tangier to Jakarta.

Nothing happens in a vacuum. Since we are historical beings, we cannot be detached from our hermeneutical tradition and historical condition.

Only by reference to these contexts are our actions understandable. Any explanation of the cartoons crisis that does not take into account the explosive climates of the post-September 11th world and the rise of the right wing in Europe and the United States is bound to remain superficial.

Islam, which had lain forgotten during the cold war and the obsession with the communist threat, has now come to the fore, penetrating into the heart of the public domain.

It is no coincidence that the cartoons were published in Denmark in a right-wing paper under a right-wing government then reprinted in countries notorious for their hostility to their Muslim minorities and opposition to the cultural and racial diversity of today’s European societies.

That reactions to the cartoons have been so passionate should come as no surprise to anyone who has been following developments in the Muslim world closely. To Muslims, the caricatures vividly brought back the scenes of Israeli bulldozers demolishing Palestinian homes in Jenin, the invasion of Afghanistan, the fall of Baghdad, terrors of Abu Ghraib and humiliations of Guantanamo Bay.

Cultural arrogance was added to political aggressiveness. Muslims have grown used to the torrent of terrifying images that associate them and their faith with the most horrifying of practices, from violence and cruelty to fanaticism and oppression. When it comes to Islam, all boundaries and limits could be dispensed with. The unacceptable becomes perfectly acceptable, proper and respectable.

The truth is that today racism, intolerance, xenophobia, and hatred of the other hide behind the sublime façade of free speech, the defence of “our” values and protection of “our” society from “foreign” aggression.

Let us not be deceived about this rhetoric of liberalism and free speech. The Danish cartoons have nothing to do with freedom of expression and everything to do with hatred of the other in a Europe grappling with its growing Muslim minorities, still unable to accept them.

Muhammad, who had been depicted in medieval legends as a bloodthirsty warrior with a sword in one hand and a Quran in another, is now made to brandish bombs and guns. Little seems to have changed about Western consciousness of Islam.

The collective medieval Christian memory has been recycled, purged of eschatology and incorporated into a modern secularised rhetoric that goes unquestioned today.

The medieval world abounded with hostile stories, folktales, poems and sermons of Muhammad where the imagination was given free reign.

About Muhammad, or “Mathomus” all could be said since, as the 11th-century chronicler Guilbert of Nogent had put it: “One may safely say ill of a man whose malignity transcends and surpasses whatever evil can be said about him” (Dei Gesta per Francos, 1011).

Guilbert’s Muhammad, like that of most medieval authors, bears little resemblance to the historical Muhammad, or his journey.

Just as in the Danish caricatures, he appears as a scoundrel who used licentiousness and the promise of paradise with its many beautiful virgins to lure men into following him. His career was devoid of virtue. His vast empire was built on slaughter and bloodshed.

In the popular Chansons de Geste, written from the 11th to the 14th century at the height of crusading fervour, reflecting sentiments and beliefs that were widely accepted, Muhammad and his followers, the “Saracens” are described in the most grotesque of terms.

Creatures of Satan, they are painted with huge noses and ears, blacker than ink with only their teeth showing white, eyes like burning coals, teeth that can bite like a serpent, some with horns like the antlers of stags.

Humans inherit their prejudices as they do their language. Europe has inherited an enormous body of stereotypes of the Muslim elaborated in the course of many centuries of confrontation with Muslim civilisation.

Islam could not be regarded with the same detached curiosity as the far away cultures or beliefs of China or India. Islam was always a major factor of European history.

As the historian Richard Southern put it, Islam was Latin Christendom’s greatest problem, a mighty military and cultural challenge, dazzling in its power, wealth, learning and civilisation.

In the heart of Europe, its poor northerly neighbour, it generated an array of emotions that ranged from fascination to fear and resentment.

When in the 11th century European writers began to form a notion of what it meant to be European, they found themselves faced with a powerful Islam, which they were neither able nor willing to understand.

Islam was integral to the European notion of the self. The encounter with the Muslim other was fundamental to the formulation of the Western world view, particularly in the centuries that began in the Crusades and culminated in the dismemberment of the Ottoman empire.

By forcing the continent to find ways of concerted action, Islam encouraged Europe towards a stronger sense of “self” and a stronger sense of the “other”. In more ways than one, Islam was Europe’s midwife.

In the tense post September 11th climate, with its pre-emptive strikes, growing military interventions and increasingly powerful right-wing parties, the medieval arsenal of fantasies and stereotypes of Islam and Muslims has been brought back to life. Gone are the devils and Antichrists of medieval legends and polemics.

But their bleak outlook on Islam and the Muslim lingers on unchanged. It survives in an essentialist self-enclosed discourse centred on a mythical pure self permanently pitted against an imaginary dehumanised, demonised Muslim other.

In the past as in the present, religion, culture and the politics of fear are placed at the service of the great games of dominance and mastery.

Make no mistake about it: This is a political conflict that speaks in the language of culture and religion. The conflict is not between “we” and “they”, not between cultures and civilisations, but within the same cultural and political front.

The battle must be fought, a battle against intolerance, hatred, myth of cultural superiority and will to hegemony over the other.

Soumaya Ghannoushi is a researcher in the history of ideas at the School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London.

The opinions expressed here are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position or have the endorsement of Aljazeera.

Ghannoushi is currently writing a book on Western Representations of Islam Past and Present.