Archive for the ‘orientalism’ Category
Dear Sir/ Madam
I appreciate the Guardian allowing a range of voices to be heard on the issue of Israel-Palestine, but I find straightforward propaganda in the news (as opposed to opinion) pages very worrying indeed. I refer to the ‘story’ by Harriet Sherwood – “Flotilla raid: Turkish jihadis bent on violence attacked troops, Israel claims”.
In Muslim cultures, it is common to refer to those who have died for a cause or who have been killed by state terrorism as ‘martyrs’. In the hospitals of Palestine, one might hear people crying – “My baby has been martyred! They’ve martyred my mother! My grandfather was prepared for martyrdom, and now it’s happened!” This does not mean that the baby, mother or grandfather in question were trained-up, armed Wahhabi-nihilists.
Sherwood’s ‘story’, which the Guardian positioned so prominently, is based on the assumption that when grieving Turks use the word ‘martyr’ they mean ‘Islamist suicide bomber’, that they mean what we decide they mean. This is not journalism but propaganda. Its purpose is not to inform readers concerning facts or to give more background on Turkish culture and Turkish responses to the attack on their ships, but to whitewash the piracy and murder committed by Israel in international waters. Sherwood’s sources are “the Israeli government” and Colonel Richard Kemp, who Sherwood doesn’t tell us is a well-known pro-Israel propagandist.
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This was published in the Sunday Herald.
The mainstream media narrative of events unfolding in Iran has been set out for us as clear as fairytale: an evil dictatorship has rigged elections and now violently suppresses its country’s democrats, hysterically blaming foreign saboteurs the while. But the Twitter generation is on the right side of history (in Obama’s words), and could bring Iran back within the regional circle of moderation. If only Iran becomes moderate, a whole set of regional conflicts will be solved.
I don’t mean to minimise the importance of the Iranian protests or the brutality of their suppression, but I take issue with the West’s selective blindness when it gazes at the Middle East. The ‘Iran narrative’ contains a dangerous set of simplicities which bode ill for Obama’s promised engagement, and which will be recognised beyond the West as rotten with hypocrisy.
Another book review, fairly horribly edited by the Guardian. Here’s the unedited version:
The Arab world’s bestselling novel of recent years has been Alaa Al Aswany’s “Yacoubian Building”, which features a gay journalist, a corrupt minister, and sexual abuse in police cells. The very grown-up film of the book has reached a huge audience. Arabic novels on sale in the Gulf discuss taboos from pre-marital romance to sectarian conflict and slavery. Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera broadcasts from Qatar, offering the Arabs a range of political debate which shames the BBC, and which would have been unthinkable twenty years ago. Satellite and the internet have effectively finished the Arab age of censorship. As for books in English, the ‘Arab World’ sections of many Gulf bookshops could be renamed ‘Harem Fantasy for Whites’, concentrating disproportionately on more or less fraudulent revelations of the “Princess” variety. So long as it sells, very nearly anything goes.
Given the new level of official Arab tolerance, it was surprising to hear that Geraldine Bedell’s “The Gulf Between Us”, a romantic comedy narrated by a middle-aged Englishwoman, had been banned from the International Festival of Literature in Dubai, and this because the novel contains a ‘gay shaikh’. Both author and publisher cried censorship, plunging the festival – Dubai’s first – into a swamp of bad publicity. Margaret Atwood cancelled her appearance.
A few days after the damage had been done, the truth came out: the book hadn’t been banned. Like many others, it was not selected in the first place. Maragaret Atwood regretted her cancellation.
A book review of Aatish Taseer’s “Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey Through Islamic Lands” for the Guardian.
Aatish Taseer grew up in secular, pluralist India. His early influences included his mother’s Sikhism, a Christian boarding school, and He-Man cartoons. Nagging behind this cultural abundance, however, was an absence: of his estranged father, the Pakistani politician Salmaan Taseer.
The best of “Stranger to History” is the “Son’s Journey” of the subtitle: the movement towards – and away from – his father’s world. Taseer describes the embarrassment, frustration and occasional joy of meeting his father and half-siblings, and of approaching a cultural and national identity which painfully excludes him. Alternating with this story is a more generalised journey into Islam, from the Leeds suburb which produced the 7/7 bombers, through Istanbul, Damascus and Mecca, to Iran and Pakistan. On the way Taseer observes the ‘cartoon riots’, is interrogated by Iranian security officials, and watches the response in his father’s Lahore home to Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. The writing is elegant and fluent throughout, the characters skillfully drawn.
“The Islamist”, in which Muham(Ed) Husain describes his journey from one form of over-simplification to another, is a story worth both telling and publishing. It works as a local story, of one Bengali-Indian-Briton growing up in Muslim Tower Hamlets in the 1990s and becoming obsessively involved in Wahabi-tinted London Muslim politics. Other east end Muslims might have become involved in business of some form or other, or rap music, or gangs, but Husain’s story provides a detailed look at one of Britain’s tiny subcultures, amateurish and naïve Islamism, and this is interesting. I can even vaguely identify with the earnest silliness of the whole thing, having spent cold mornings as a teenager selling the Socialist Worker newspaper to uninterested nurses and marketmen. And I wholeheartedly admire Husain’s rejection, by the end of the book, as he visits Syria and Saudi Arabia, of Islamism’s scriptural literalism and state-obsession in favour of more traditional and Sufistic forms of Islam.
A great local story, which fails when it makes grandiose claims to universalism. At such moments (perhaps it was the Penguin editors imposing sexiness) the style descends to tabloid: “Lurking in the background were forces preparing to seize the minds of Britain’s Muslim children,” Husain screams, and it may have looked like that to a young man who kept his company and came from his sheltered background of limited cultural interaction. But there were hundreds of thousands of ‘Britain’s Muslim children’ whose minds were occupied by other things. I would suggest that there were plenty who grew up with a lot more knowledge about the politics of various Muslim countries than Ed Husain, and who were therefore not so gullible when (and if) they met a Hizb ut-Tahrir loon.