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Jan 20 2012

These crimes happen everywhere in the world

Speaking of “Islamophobia,” as we were, we can always count on the Guardian for lashings of Islamophilia. David Shariatmadari tells us the University of East Anglia is going to set everyone straight on women, Islam, and the media. I bet you can figure out what’s coming.

Women, Islam and the media are topics often found in close conjunction, and not always in the happiest of circumstances. So in a canny move, the University of East Anglia (UEA), which often gives better-known institutions a run for their money in terms of column inches, has developed a course entitled exactly that.

The 12-week module, which the university claims is the first of its kind in the UK, will cover the often inflammatory topics of veil wearing, arranged marriage and “honour” crimes – looking at how they are portrayed in contemporary film, TV and other media, and how this reflects cultural biases in both the east and west.

Ahhhh yes, those pesky cultural biases in “the west,” the ones that think systematic subordination of women is a bad thing.

The course was developed by Dr Eylem Atakav, a graduate of Ankara University and lecturer at UEA. “Lots of people have written about women and Islam, lots of people have written about Islam and media or women and media, but they haven’t been brought together before,” she said.

Atakav said the course would be an important way of changing perceptions of Islam. Study materials include films and TV programmes from around the world, including Iran, the US, Turkey and China. “We will look at how the media talk about ‘honour’-based violence, for example. If it’s a Middle Eastern woman who happens also to be a Muslim woman it’s called an ‘honour crime’. But if it’s a British woman who was killed because her husband was jealous because she was having an affair with another man, it’s called murder.

“These crimes happen everywhere in the world, it’s not just a Muslim, or just a Middle Eastern thing.”

But if it’s a British woman who was killed because her husband was jealous because she was having an affair with another man, does the killer or anyone else talk about “honour”? Would the same woman’s father or mother or brother or son help the husband kill her in the name of protecting the family’s “honour”? Would their friends turn a blind eye or cheer them on, because a woman who has an affair is a stain on the whole “community”?

The article doesn’t say.

18 comments

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  1. 1
    Walton

    I must confess, I don’t get it. What’s so wrong with devoting a course to studying Islam, women and the media from a sociological perspective? Cultural bias does, after all, play a role in the way that Muslims are perceived and treated in Western societies or portrayed in the media. There is discrimination and prejudice against Muslims, just as there is discrimination and prejudice within Muslim communities. Some people – like Muslim women and Muslim LGBT people – often face multiple layers of discrimination and marginalization, within their own communities and in wider society; hence the importance of studying how different patterns of inequality and privilege intersect. And a great many generalizations and assertions are made by Westerners about the experiences of Muslim women, on the basis of inadequate evidence, and without listening to the actual voices of Muslim women or studying their lives in any depth. Attitudes towards Muslims in Western society and culture are surely a legitimate subject of sociological study.

    Does this mean that Islam is the awesomest thing ever and should never be criticized ever ever ever? Of course not. But I don’t see anyone in the article saying anything so simplistic or silly as that. It strikes me that the accusation of “Islamophilia” is something of a straw man. Studying Islam, and Western views of Islam, from a sociological perspective seems to me a perfectly legitimate academic activity.

  2. 2
    Sharif

    I was a muslim till 6 years ago. i escaped that brain jail of a religion. . in fact all religions are now outdated . But regarding Islam in Europe i find it hard to accept that the western world will turn the other cheek while the muslims in your communities want to slay all those who would not believe. . In the name of “fighting racism” , you people accept the most racist of the world ideologies with all their rituals and segregation-oriented habits and attitudes.
    A hard hand in many times in history contained and eradicated harmful ideas from spreading like cancer in humanity before it engulfed the world in hate . . . For example Fascism.. . what would have happened if Fascism wasn’t faced by force?
    I hate “justifiable wars” but that is a war that came right to your neighborhoods.

  3. 3
    Ophelia Benson

    walton – who says it’s from a sociological perspective? Atakav is in media studies. Presumably it’s from a media studies perspective.

    You might be right; it might be harmless or good; but there are certainly hints of an agenda.

  4. 4
    Simon

    I don’t see the foul either.

  5. 5
    Pierce R. Butler

    … looking at how they are portrayed in contemporary film, TV and other media…

    But not, it would seem, looking at the actual events.

  6. 6
    eric

    looking at how they are portrayed in contemporary film, TV and other media, and how this reflects cultural biases in both the east and west.

    Could this be a subtle middle finger given to the extremists? Maybe I’m being ridiculously optimistic, but I read this almost as “based on the complaints about Jesus and Mo, we will now offer a course where things like the Jesus and Mo comic will be required reading.”

  7. 7
    steve oberski

    If the Theo van Gogh/Ayaan Hirsi Ali film “Submission” and the Geert Wilders film “Fitna” are part of the course then I’ll be impressed.

  8. 8
    Walton

    But regarding Islam in Europe i find it hard to accept that the western world will turn the other cheek while the muslims in your communities want to slay all those who would not believe.

    This is ridiculous fearmongering. The overwhelming majority of Muslims do not want to “slay all those who would not believe”. There is no shortage of Muslims who support peace and tolerance, and who speak out against violence. As someone who grew up in a country and a city with a significant Muslim population, and has had many Muslim friends, your absurd stereotypes are not going to fly with me.

    From where I’m standing – as someone who grew up in Britain – I am far more afraid of the racist far right, which uses anti-Muslim rhetoric as a cover for its real agenda of restricting immigration and depriving immigrants of human rights, than I am of any kind of Islam.

    In the name of “fighting racism” , you people accept the most racist of the world ideologies with all their rituals and segregation-oriented habits and attitudes.

    The reason I am bringing up racism is because it is manifestly the case that far-right and racist groups use hyperbolic attacks on Islam, and ridiculous fearmongering about the West being “swamped” by Muslim immigration, as a cover for their real nationalistic agenda of restricting immigration and depriving immigrants of civil rights. Just look at the rhetoric of Nick Griffin and the BNP in Britain, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Jean-Marie Le Pen in France, or the Tea Party movement in the US. They say that their attacks are directed at Islam as a religion; in reality, this is a convenient cover for attacks on an immigrant minority of (overwhelmingly) non-white people.

    Does this mean all criticism of Islam is racist? Of course not. That would be a ridiculous statement, and it is not one I am making. I’m a non-theist, and as such consider the fundamental beliefs of Islam to be false, just as I consider those of Christianity to be false. And I’m appalled by the sexism and homophobia preached by certain sects of fundamentalist Islam, and the repressive laws and horrific human rights abuses implemented by theocratic states in much of the Middle East. But I think it’s important to have a nuanced view; to recognize that Muslims are a diverse group, that Muslims in the West are already a marginalized and discriminated-against minority, and that it is important not to let legitimate criticisms of Islam be co-opted by the far right to serve an anti-immigration agenda.

  9. 9
    Ophelia Benson

    Yes but it’s also important not to exaggerate the extent or power or influence of liberal Islam. It’s not, for instance, just “certain sects of fundamentalist Islam” that are sexist.

  10. 10
    Walton

    If the Theo van Gogh/Ayaan Hirsi Ali film “Submission” and the Geert Wilders film “Fitna” are part of the course then I’ll be impressed.

    Please tell me you’re not seriously promoting the work of racist hatemonger and anti-immigration activist Geert Wilders.

    (I’m not opposed, of course, to people watching Wilders’ film as a sociological study of the propaganda of the far right, and if that’s what you meant, then I agree with you.)

  11. 11
    steve oberski

    Walton, next time I watch a film I’ll be sure to check in with you first to see if my motivation is on the approved list. Maybe you should post it on the internet to make it easier.

    But yes dear Walton, while I don’t agree with everything Wilders presented in his film, I think any course whose stated mandate is the perception of Islam in the media had best present as wide a range of viewpoints as possible, especially those that piss you off.

    So take a deep breath, loosen up that knot in your knickers and get the old moral outrage all pumped up for the next perceived transgression. I know you are up to it.

  12. 12
    Walton

    Walton, next time I watch a film I’ll be sure to check in with you first to see if my motivation is on the approved list. Maybe you should post it on the internet to make it easier.

    *sigh* Look, I wasn’t trying to lecture you, and I apologize if it came across that way. I’ll try to explain why I have such a strong reaction to any mention of Wilders, Pat Condell, or similar people when they are mentioned with any sort of approval in the secularist community.

    Geert Wilders is a white nationalist and an extremely dangerous man, and he and his fellow-travellers have a frightening and growing amount of political influence in Europe. Thanks in part to the kind of thinking that Wilders and other far-right leaders promote, most European countries have implemented appalling immigration laws grounded in racism, leading to detention of people in abusive conditions for no other crime than crossing borders without permission, and to a situation in which immigrants are treated as “a problem”, dehumanized, and deprived of civil rights. I feel strongly about this because I plan to work in immigration and asylum law, I’ve spent time working with refugees, and I am painfully aware of the catastrophic human cost of immigration restrictions. And the very people we should be trying to help – women, LGBT people and others fleeing violence and persecution in Islamist theocratic states – are being harmed by the policies that people like Wilders advocate. Because Wilders and his ilk are not interested in the human rights of those oppressed by Islamic regimes; they’re only interested in keeping Islam out of Western countries. Maryam Namazie has an excellent post on the subject of racist immigration restrictions.

    My primary concern, from a human rights perspective, is opposing racism and nationalism. I absolutely agree with you, and with Ophelia, that there are serious problems with sexism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry in Muslim communities; and I say so often. (Johann Hari’s article on homophobia among Muslims in London was an excellent analysis, for instance.) But the trouble is that this message – which is an important one – very easily gets twisted in the hands of racists and the anti-immigration lobby, and ends with policies which end up harming the very people – Muslim women who are victims of domestic abuse, Muslim LGBT people subjected to religiously-motivated homophobia, and so on – who we should be trying to help.

  13. 13
    steve oberski

    Walton, I call bullshit on you.

    I find Sharif’s story quite believable and see no need for the Walton politically correct song and dance interpretive group providing the approved version of views that you don’t personally agree with.

    I would be interested in hearing more from Sharif, and learn more about his background and experiences.

    I have yet to see a Pat Condell video espousing racist views and I suspect you either haven’t watched them and are getting your opinions 2nd hand or are just misrepresenting them.

    What Pat Condell has done is tear politically correct idiots a new asshole and if you have a problem with that I suggest you address his substantive views and not project your offence and outrage on the man.

    I just watched Fitna again as I found it hard to believe we were talking about the same movie. Once again I challenge you to address one actual fact presented in that movie, which spends the bulk of it’s time showing how absolutely disgusting and vile the Koran is and the correlation between the holy book of islam and violent acts perpetrated by adherents to that cult.

    While I found the movie a bit too graphic for my taste and I don’t agree with Wilders conclusions I would have the integrity to address his views and not tar him with the islamophobe brush.

    Your attitude reeks of condescension and you exhibit a general contempt for the ability of other people to examine the evidence and reach rational conclusions.

  14. 14
    Walton

    I have yet to see a Pat Condell video espousing racist views and I suspect you either haven’t watched them and are getting your opinions 2nd hand or are just misrepresenting them.

    He supports UKIP, which is an anti-immigration, and thus racist, party.

    While I found the movie a bit too graphic for my taste and I don’t agree with Wilders conclusions I would have the integrity to address his views and not tar him with the islamophobe brush.

    Wilders is an extreme nationalist with explicit anti-immigration views.

    The point is that they are using attacks on Islam – some of which may very well derive from legitimate criticisms – to justify restricting immigration and restricting the civil rights of Muslims in Europe. Because they don’t give a shit about the rights of people oppressed by actual Islamic régimes; they just want to keep Muslims out of “their” countries.

  15. 15
    Walton

    I have yet to see a Pat Condell video espousing racist views and I suspect you either haven’t watched them and are getting your opinions 2nd hand or are just misrepresenting them.

    To take just one example: in his video Goodbye Sweden, he says “no country has done more to embrace the multicultural nightmare… I mean dream… than Sweden”; accuses the Swedish government of trying to “wipe their culture clean out of existence”, fearmongers about the imagined danger of Sweden becoming “the first European Islamic state”, and asserts that it’s “now unconstitutional to uphold Swedish values in Sweden”. He goes on to allege that immigrants are responsible for an increase in rapes in Sweden, saying that Sweden is now “the rape capital of Europe” and explicitly linking this to “immigrant Islamic culture”, and argues:

    “When you allow millions of people to immigrate from places where they mutilate their daughters as a matter of course, where they kill them in a heartbeat over some twisted sense of honour, and where rape victims are treated as criminals, it doesn’t take a genius to know that you’re going to be importing these values and attitudes as well, wholesale, unless you take steps to prevent it.”

    That is anti-immigrant hate speech, of exactly the kind we hear from the BNP and from the likes of Geert Wilders. It’s classic cover for an agenda of opposing immigration. And, unsurprisingly, he also supports UKIP, a party with an anti-immigration platform.

    He also stands shoulder-to-shoulder with right-wing bigots in the US like WorldNetDaily columnist Pam Gellar, who promoted his video “The Great Palestinian Lie” among others.

  16. 16
    Midnight Rambler

    I have yet to see a Pat Condell video espousing racist views

    I’m amazed to have seen at least two people say this in the last couple of days. Granted I haven’t seen that many, but I have yet to see one that didn’t espouse racist views.

  17. 17
    steve oberski

    Muslim extremists storm Irshad’s book launch in Amsterdam

    In Amsterdam, 22 jihadis stormed my book launch, ordered my execution and threatened to break my neck. Police arrested two men and found a third with a loaded machine gun at home. They’re members of “Sharia4Belgium,” an international network with cells in most of the countries I’ll be visiting in the next 6 months. While personal security has taken on renewed urgency, I must report some good news:

    Even when they had a chance to run from the room, nobody at my Amsterdam launch fled. Some of my guests created a human shield around me and my host (see the photo at right). It’s yet more proof that “ordinary people” are capable of moral courage. As I write in Allah, Liberty & Love, “Some things are more important than fear.”

    Sounds pretty racist to me.

    This is precisely what Pat Condell is criticizing. If you equate this to racism then you have a problem.

    I had the opportunity to hear Irshad Manji speak in Toronto. She thinks that it is possible to salvage Islam and bring it out of it’s current tribal phase and have it become an adult participant in modern secular society (this is my interpretation, not her words).

    I wish her luck.

    If sheer courage and guts can accomplish this then she has what it takes.

  18. 18
    Irène Delse, on dry land among seabirds

    Ophelia, in the original article:

    “But if it’s a British woman who was killed because her husband was jealous because she was having an affair with another man, does the killer or anyone else talk about “honour”? Would the same woman’s father or mother or brother or son help the husband kill her in the name of protecting the family’s “honour”? Would their friends turn a blind eye or cheer them on, because a woman who has an affair is a stain on the whole “community”?”

    Not so long ago, in Europe and other Christian countries, it was so. Ever read Garcia Marquez’ Chronicle of a Death Foretold?

    Nowadays, it rarely goes as far as killing… Except when it does. A few years ago, in France, a member of parliament killed his wife for having an affair and then killed himself. The general opinion was to pity him. Same thing when a celebrity French rugby player killed his wife for having an affair, went to prison for it but didn’t lose any fans over it: he found a lot of people to make excuses for him. “A crime of passion”: this is what a Western honour crime looks like, and justice sometimes still finds it’s a mitigating circumstance if the woman was not faithful.

    And then there are other cultures than Islam where “honour crimes” are still culturally accepted. Didn’t you yourself devote several posts last year to a Hindu girl killed by her family for dating a non-Hindu?

    That’s why I see nothing absurd or irrelevant to talk about Western representations of Islam compared to other cultures. You seem to assume that it will necessarily amount to Islamophilia or Islamic advocacy. How about checking first?

    ++++++++++

    @ steve oberski #17:

    “Sounds pretty racist to me.”

    No, it’s religious intolerance. It’s jihadists threatening and bullying one of the liberal, reformist Muslims (and not just the tepid “moderate” label) that some people on this thread and others say don’t exist or just “condone by their silence” the acts of extremists.

    Of course, if the Western media’s coverage of Islam amounts to oil, jihad, immigration, burqa, we don’t get to hear much about that.

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