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17 September 2012

"Some of My Best Friends Are Muslim!"

On  my commute this morning, I was catching up on last week's Friday News Roundup - International from the Diane Rehm Show and was taken aback by a caller's question/comment and one of the panelists' answers/responses. The caller, Tony, had this to say:
Just let me preface this by saying...I have Muslim friends.... My girlfriend...works with Muslim speakers..., but...you know, these explosions into violence time after time after time are...almost...causing those stereotypes, number one, and, number two...Americans feel [this way] about the Muslim world because they're showing us that this is the way that they react to...these investigations.... Now, the gentleman [panelist] said that we must understand this is how the Muslim world reacts, and I completely understand that because I watch it in the media over the last so many years... [emphasis mine]
The panelist, Thom Shanker of the New York Times who covers the Pentagon, the military, and national security, followed with this:
Right. Well, thank you for the comments and, of course, I agree with what you're saying. One other way of thinking about it, not to explain it away or to excuse this horrible violence, but these cultures have been living inside a closed beaker bottle for decades. They have not had an opportunity to grow and mature, and this violence is sort of that infantile reaction. It wasn't that many decades ago that here in the United States you had people putting hoods over their heads, burning crosses, hanging people in a grotesque example of religious and racial violence, but this county has evolved beyond that. I think that might be, one hopes, the better future of the Arab Spring. [emphasis mine]
The caller does the classic "I'm not a racist, but..." pregnant phrase hedging. This is bad enough, but Shanker's overt concurrence is disturbing. Moreover, his characterization of the Muslim world as "infantile" vis–à–vis the "evolved" United States is appalling. This the same type of language that Europeans used to justify the African slave trade and, later, Apartheid. Sociologically, though, this shouldn't be shocking at all. "They" are primitive and backward, while "we" are advanced and progressive. This is the language of hegemony and outright oppression. It is paternalistic and condescending. The only shocking thing is that it went unchallenged on an otherwise high-minded radio program.

There was also this unfortunately titled, though otherwise fairly nuanced, piece in the New York Times this morning: "Cultural Clash Fuels Muslims Raging at Film." "Culture clash?" Really? Is there no other structural context beyond differing values? Please kill this phrase, media!

UPDATE (9/18/2012): Here is more in this vein, this time from The Daily Show:

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Actual Democalypse 2012 - Islam's Growing Pains
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Islam is "just a teenager," while Christianity and Judaism are in "adulthood."

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