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This would be a beneficial text for undergraduate courses on Islam or the Middle East, since it is both accessible and tackles a popular art form that has almost universal appeal.
Gottschalk, a professor of religion at Wesleyan University, and his former student Greenberg analyze what Islamophobia is and how it is manifested through political cartoons, many of which are included with revealing results. The authors say that Islamophobia-a racistlike bias against Muslims based on stereotypes-is very real, manifesting in some cartoons that are obviously biased and others that appear on the surface to be more sympathetic. Cartoons, symbolic of wider feelings and paranoia about Islam, reflect misunderstandings and prejudice among Westerners and, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, often serve to widen cultural chasms, particularly between Muslims and American Christians. Symbols and caricatures, like the veil, the mosque, scimitars and large-nosed profiles, can be misused or conflicting; for example, the scimitar, frequently used to depict Muslim violence, is of doubtful Muslim heritage but is actually used in American military uniforms. Gottschalk and Greenberg offer a particularly chilling comparison of cartoon depictions of Jews prior to World War II and their Muslim counterpart caricatures today. Even cartoons mocking conservative Christians are more neutral and less intentional in their hatred, say the authors. With its incendiary cover art and on the heels of the Danish cartoon controversy, this book should attract well-deserved attention. (Oct.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
During the first half of 2003, Gen. William G. Boykin, deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, addressed a series of Christian groups. Reflecting on his experience in Somalia as American military forces battled against the fractious warlords of that starvation-threatened country, especially the elusive and powerful Mohammad Farrah Aidid, General Boykin offered comparisons meant to explicitly define the distinctive qualities of the United States. At the time, the nation struggled with the repercussions of September 11, celebrated the demise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and geared up for an invasion of Iraq. And so, in June 2003, he addressed the First Baptist Church of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and asked:
But who is that enemy? It's not Osama bin Laden. Our enemy is a spiritual enemy because we are a nation of believers. You go back and look at our history, and you will find that we were founded on faith. Look at what the writers of the Constitution said. We are a nation of believers. We were founded on faith. And the enemy thathas come against our nation is a spiritual enemy. His name is Satan. And if you do not believe that Satan is real, you are ignoring the same Bible that tells you about God. Now I'm a warrior. One day I'm going to take off this uniform and I'm still going to be a warrior. And what I'm here to do today is to recruit you to be warriors of God's kingdom.
Earlier in the year, Boykin had offered a very specific example of the manifest power of God in America's affairs when he addressed the First Baptist Church in Dayton, Florida. He reflected on Osman Atto, a Somali leader who became an American target and narrowly missed capture:
And then he went on CNN and he laughed at us, and he said, "They'll never get me because Allah will protect me. Allah will protect me."
Well, you know what? I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol. But I prayed, Lord let us get that man.
Three days later we went after him again, and this time we got him. Not a mark on him. We got him. We brought him back into our base there and we had a Sea Land container set up to hold prisoners in, and I said put him in there. They put him in there, there was one guard with him. I said search him, they searched him, and then I walked in with no one in there but the guard, and I looked at him and said, "Are you Osman Atto?" And he said, "Yes." And I said, "Mr. Atto, you underestimated our God."
When a video of these addresses came to the attention of newspapers and television news programs, a debate erupted. Because Boykin wore his uniform while making these remarks, various American political and religious figures argued that he should be reprimanded for making divisive comments while dressed as a representative of the United States armed forces. Despite the protests, no such reprimand has been forthcoming.
Boykin's perspective and the complaints against it reflect the twin roots of Islamophobia in the United States. On the one hand, many Christians undoubtedly applaud Boykin's unfettered public expression of their own sentiments that God actively stirs America's destiny to counter evil-as personified by Satan-and to correct the idolatrous like Osman Atto. For them, the world is divided between those on the side of the angels and those who oppose them. Those in the middle are complicit with evil or otherwise compromised. Proponents of this view unwittingly lay claim to a theological heritage that, since the earliest days of Islam, considers Muslims as inherently dangerous because of their (at best) erroneous understandings or (at worst) satanic strivings.
On the other hand, many Americans interpret the stridency of Boykin's statements and their potential negative impact as a demonstration of the threat religion presents when expressed in public or by public officials (in this case a military official in uniform who holds a public position). Indeed, some of these individuals may consider themselves devoutly Christian or otherwise religious, yet they remain suspicious of those who promote, practice, or espouse their religion outside the privacy of their homes and places of worship. Informed by the tenacious Western idea that Islam persistently, even fanatically, strives for dominion over all dimensions of life-particularly the political-many Americans remain inherently wary of Muslims. Although many Americans may suspect politically committed Christians some of the time, they doubt most Muslims most of the time.
The brief historical overview that follows mentions the turning point when many Europeans changed their characterization of Muslims from a competitor in theology according to Christian doctrine to an abiding religious threat according to a secularist worldview. Key to this shift in perception was the emergence of secularism in the eighteenth century. Although most Europeans defined themselves and their societies as Christians before this, secular ideals increasingly valued national over religious identity. As we shall see, this meant that as Europeans shifted the understanding of their social order from one identified primarily as Christian to one known principally as secular, "Muslim" continued to serve as a negative identity by which first Christian and then secular norms could be contrasted, defined, and valorized. Distinctively, American mainstream culture projects this expectation of a secular social order while in other ways reinforcing the characterization of the United States as divinely mandated and guided as, indeed, "one nation, under God."
Although an amazing array of influences shapes American popular culture and the population collectively counts every country as a source of ethnic heritage, there can be no denying that Europe and its forms of Christianity loom largest on the American cultural landscape. This is so because some European Christians and their descendants held-and still hold (though less absolutely)-the greatest economic and political power, and so exerted the greatest influence in defining the nascent nation. Although a large number of the earliest Americans did not count Europe as their place of origin (specifically the millions of Native Americans and enslaved Africans), their relative lack of influence by and large left their unique perspectives out of the equation. Nevertheless, their descendants often became thoroughly imbued with the European cultural inheritance that seemed so normal to European Americans through the reinforcement of public education and the mass media. The following account, therefore, traces the passage of Islamophobia to the United States through Europe as a general cultural inheritance even as it recognizes that an increasingly smaller proportion of Americans lay claim to Europe in their personal heritage.
Because of its brevity, this historical outline is necessarily incomplete and fails to describe many of the nuanced changes that occurred over time. It focuses instead on the most significant and pervasive themes that have persisted throughout these fourteen hundred years: religiously tinged anxiety regarding Muslims, theological depreciation of Islam, and a grudging respect for Arab Muslims. This reluctant regard evolved out of specific moments in the relationship between Europe and Muslims: the success in equal combat of Arab Muslim armies and the remarkable emblems of diverse Muslim civilizations. However, these positive impressions seemed to always occur as but lingering moments in some battle for supremacy that, finally, only reaffirmed anxieties and fears that have loomed larger than positive impressions since the beginning of Islam.
In keeping with the overall theme of the book, this chapter restricts most of its discussion to non-Muslim Western perspectives on Muslims and Islam. Of course, Muslims have had their own perspectives on interrelations. A general history of the mutual engagements, interactions, interpenetrations, and antagonisms would require more attention to Muslim views, but since the present work engages in an already different task, we can only refer readers interested in these important perspectives to the works listed on this topic in the bibliography.
THE SPREAD OF ISLAM AND COMPETITION WITH CHRISTIANITY
In 610 CE, a man by the name of Muhammad declared that he had begun to receive revelations from the god, Allah ("the One"), who he considered to be the one and only god. Although some in Mecca, the Arab city in which he lived, welcomed him as a prophet, others felt threatened theologically and economically by this critic of a social order in many ways reliant on the pilgrimage of nomadic tribes to Mecca to visit the images of their various deities installed there. Devotees housed many of these images in a large, cubical structure called the Kaba, which Muslims believed to be an ancient mosque, the first place constructed to worship Allah. Forced by mounting oppression to leave Mecca but guided by the continuing revelations, the early community of Muslims departed Mecca in 622 and settled in Medina, a city whose leaders had invited Muhammad to act as arbitrator of their urban squabbles. These followers called themselves "Muslims," the Arabic word for "one who submits," which is related to the word "Islam," meaning "submission." These words occurred in the revelations that referred to themselves collectively as both "the book" and "the recitation" (Quran). Muhammad made the conversion of the residents of Medina, excepting its Jewish tribes, a precondition of his move there.
Recognizing Muhammad as not only a prophet but also a leader of this, the first Islamic society, Muslims in Medina agreed to live according to the many guidelines and rules revealed to Muhammad in an effort to engender a new ideal of social justice and divine relationship. As a social leader, Muhammad became distinct from foundational figures associated with certain other religions, such as Jesus and the Buddha, because he did not live as an itinerant teacher focused primarily on preaching. Instead, like David, Solomon, Rama, Ashoka, Constantine, and other religious exemplars of leadership, Muhammad became head of state and took on associated duties. These included leading military operations when necessary.
Armed defense became a paramount concern for the next decade as Meccan leaders became incensed with the Muslims for another economic reason. The Medinian Muslims, following traditions long common among Arabs, raided trade caravans. These caravans represented the economic foundation of Meccan merchants who mounted military expeditions to assault the Muslim raiders and their city. The many routs Muslims achieved in battle served as signs of Allah's support for their cause. Meanwhile, the need for defense of the Muslim community became legitimized through the concept of jihad, or striving. Indeed, it is written in the Quran, "Fight those in the way of God who fight you, but do not be aggressive: God does not like aggressors" (2.190). Meanwhile, the Prophet put armed jihad in perspective when a returning warrior extolled Muslim victories. The Prophet replied that two types of jihad existed: the lesser was the struggle against the enemies of Islam and the greater was against the evil within oneself. Ultimately, Muhammad's success in military leadership and diplomatic finesse led to the nearly bloodless capitulation of Mecca and the rededication of the Kaba to Allah alone.
Muhammad's diplomacy not only allowed for the union of the disparate tribes on the Arabian Peninsula during his lifetime but also made possible the astonishing expansion of this united Arab power following his death. Perhaps propelled by a population that had begun burgeoning before the advent of Islam, Arab armies unified by an Islamic ideology quickly moved out of the peninsula and, within but one hundred years, fashioned an empire that stretched from the Iberian Peninsula of contemporary Spain and Portugal to the western edge of what is today Pakistan. This success came at the particular expense of the Byzantine Empire. With its capital in Constantinople, the Byzantines had dominated the Mediterranean Sea for centuries. They understood themselves to be the orthodox successor to both the Roman Empire and the Christian Church. Their emperors legitimated their rule through the Orthodox Christianity that they lavishly sponsored. The singular success of Muslim Arabs to displace both Byzantine rule and Orthodox dominance in such stalwart Christian realms as North Africa shocked the rulers and prelates alike and challenged their expectations for the success of Christendom. Christians had understood the astonishing growth of their movement from diminutive Jewish sect to Roman persecuted church to official imperial religion as evidence of the miracle of Christ's Word and the inexorable Christian spirit. The sudden loss of so much Byzantine territory and accelerating conversions of Christian souls precipitated three responses common in most cases of competition: (1) an effort to explain the losses and (2) an attempt to disparage the competitor while (3) affirming the truth of the home team. (Not all Christians felt this way. Those communities outside the fold of the dominant form of Christianity, such as the Copts of Egypt, often welcomed Muslim rule. Because of their recognition of Christians as recipients of early instances of Allah's revelation, Muslim rulers often afforded protection to minority Christian groups against the persecution they regularly experienced under Roman Catholic and Orthodox rule. Jews, too, often benefited from Muslim rule because of their recognition as "People of the Book," hence Muhammad's exemption from conversion of the Jewish tribes of Medina.)
For many, if the success of Christianity and the expansion of Christendom resulted from the grace of God, then the success of Islam and the expansion of Muslim rule must be either the outcome of grace or the result of some other supernatural force. Obviously, since the former conclusion necessarily displaced Christianity as God's Truth, most Christians were unlikely to embrace it. In the binary world of medieval Christianity-where God stood countered by Satan, good by evil-the alternative meant that Satan must have engendered these successes. Jews had already, at times, been depicted within this framework as handmaidens of Satan and a community blinded by deceit. A similar place would be added for Muslims.
Christians often also responded through efforts to disparage their competitors. Although there was no centrally planned program of disinformation, the disparagement commonly focused on three elements of Islam: the person of Muhammad, the message of the Quran, and the character of Muslim societies. While Christian writers certainly chose a topic sensitive for Muslims when they condemned Muhammad, they did so with a misperception of his role for most Muslims. It is true that no person has as much stature for most Muslims as Muhammad. As recipient of the final revelation of God, as leader of the first Muslim community, and as the exemplar of Muslim behavior, Muhammad continues to hold a very special place of veneration among Muslims. However, Christians often assumed his role in Islam to be comparable to that of Christ in Christianity. The parallel is a faulty one. The thrust for Muslims, as is obvious from the story of the purging of the images of the various gods and goddesses in the Kaba, is that Allah alone should be worshipped, never a human. When Muhammad died in 634, one of his closest followers immediately declared, "O men, if anyone worships Muhammad, Muhammad is dead: if anyone worships God, God is alive, immortal." Although many Europeans and some Muslims would refer to Muslims as "Muhammadans," most Muslims now bristle at the term because their faith and practice centers on Allah, not Muhammad.
Nevertheless, Muhammad became the target of Christian derision. Attacks often focused on one or both of two features: Muhammad as a hedonist and Muhammad as a shyster. The contrast appeared stark when comparing Jesus' presumed sexual chastity, material impoverishment, political disinterest, and devotion to peace with Muhammad's multiple marriages, economic involvement, political rule, and military leadership. For instance, Muhammad's marriage to fourteen wives contrasts starkly with Jesus' celibacy. Since Jesus provided the paradigm of godliness for Christians, Muhammad seemed to be his polar opposite. Muslims, as evidenced by their deep regard for Muhammad and his message, indicted themselves as similarly hedonistic and misdirected. In an odd paradox that will be better understood when we consider the issue of "norm" in chapter 3, later Europeans and Americans would criticize Muhammad for his perceived puritanical stringency as evidenced by restrictions on the consumption of wine and the segregation of men and women.
Excerpted from Islamophobia by Peter Gottschalk Gabriel Greenberg Copyright © 2007 by Peter Gottschalk & Gabriel Greenberg. Excerpted by permission.
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