A refreshing dose of realism comes from Razi Azmi in Pakistan’s Daily Times (thanks to Mentat_99). In contrast to the fulsome dhimmitude served up by CNN and other Western media outlets, Azmi acknowledges that any negative feelings people may have toward Muslims have been provoked by … Muslims. May many Muslims in Pakistan and elsewhere heed Azmi’s words, and start to clean up their act.
A good object will always sell itself, while a bad product will flop even with the best packaging and the finest advertising. Image is always a reflection of substance, however distorted or imperfect
Muslims of all hues and lands protest their so-called image problem, blaming it not on themselves, but on their detractors and perceived enemies, specifically the much-maligned Western media. It does not occur to them that their negative image could, by and large, be a reflection of reality. They should know from daily experience that a good object will always sell itself, while a bad product will flop even with the best packaging and the finest advertising. Image is always a reflection of substance, however distorted or imperfect. Why blame CNN, BBC, New York Times or Le Monde? One only needs to read a Pakistani newspaper on any given day, or the editorials on March 23 or August 14, to get Pakistani perspectives on the state of the nation. I mention Pakistan because it is one of the few Muslim countries with a relatively free press.
Take the most recent example of the image problem, although I doubt that Muslims would have seen it in this light: armed Iraqis holding daggers and knives to the throats of three abducted Japanese civilians, including a woman who went there to help Baghdad’s homeless children, and threatening to slit their throats amid cries of “Allah-o-Akbar.” It was no figment of the “infidel” West’s imagination, the film having been made by the abductors themselves and proudly passed on by its producers to the Arab Al-Jazeera television to be shown to the world. Ten thousand speeches about peace and tolerance in Islam will not be able to undo the damage done by this odious sight projected worldwide as wished by its Muslim producers.
Witness the images from Gaza, Chechnya and Kashmir, where, more often than not, violent acts are packaged in Islamic garb and slogans, portraying them less as liberation struggles than as elements of a universal effort to establish Islamic hegemony. Or the successive Osama bin Laden and Al Zawahiri tapes taking credit for 9/11 and swearing to wreak havoc and destruction on the “infidel West” unless it cowers before their threats.
Take the suicide-bombers in Palestine. Their last, pre-mission recorded statements are couched in religious language, representing their supreme self-sacrifice not so much as a struggle for liberation from Israeli occupation but as an Islamic mission in a war against Jews, with the expected reward of martyrdom and houris-in-waiting. One recalls that the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka were the “pioneers” of suicide bombing to achieve a political goal. But these suicide-bombers, called Black Tigers, were not paraded before cameras extolling the virtues of Hinduism or chanting the Tamil equivalent of “Jai Ram”. The world did not approve of their method but saw it for what it was — an instrument in the struggle to liberate what they called their land, not a holy war.
Even the names of the organisations that represent the struggle of Muslim people in various parts of the world necessarily carry religious connotations: Al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e Taiba, Jaish-e Mohammad, Hezb-ul Mujahideen, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Al Aqsa Brigade, Hamas (acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement). In Pakistan, the slogan “Pakistan ka matlab kiya, La Ilaha Illallah” is chanted even during games in stadiums. There exists a “Muslim Parliament” in UK and an Imam in London has demanded the implementation of Sharia law for British Muslims. The Pope may rule millions of hearts, but he controls less than half of one square kilometre (exactly 0.44 sq km or 0.17 sq miles) of territory, and even in this so-called Holy See there is no religious police to enforce a dress code or commandeer Christians to prayers.
A much-travelled email on the image issue emanating from a Muslim source recently landed in my mailbox. It juxtaposed a series of actual photos of Muslims and Westerners, while their captions attempted to highlight the “double-standards”. One of them showed two nuns in full garb next to three Muslim women in burqa, chador and scarf and then posed the question: “Why a nun could be covered from head to toe and she is respected for devoting herself to God. But when a Muslim woman does that she is considered oppressed and reactionary?” Now, any Muslim living in the West would tell you that he would have to travel some distance to see a nun, if he is lucky.
The reality is that while nuns are becoming something of an anachronism in the Western world, Muslim women, including those living in the West, are increasingly covering themselves in burqa or hijab. As if that is not enough, some of the more educated ones go around giving speeches and interviews claiming that it has a liberating influence on them. That might be true in Muslim countries, where perhaps the only way for a woman to avoid the lustful looks and sexual advances from men is to make herself invisible as best as she can. From any other perspective, the claim that the burqa is something of a liberator sounds a bit amusing. Ask any Muslim woman living in the West, hijab or not, and she will tell you that she feels more liberated and protected in London, New York, Sydney and Paris than in Lahore, Karachi, Tehran and Cairo, not to mention Riyadh or Kabul.
No, the negative image of Muslims is not the result of malicious Western propaganda against Islam. On the country, all the documentaries concerning Islam and Muslim lands shown on the mainstream western television channels — and there have been many in the last two years — present a very sympathetic picture of Islam as a religion and of Muslims as people. The image Muslims find unflattering reflects the larger reality of the Muslim world, steeped in dictatorship, corruption, ignorance and illiteracy, and characterised by the repression of women, honour killings, child abuse, sectarian and religious violence, persecution of minorities and a general and pervasive denial of basic freedoms and human rights.
The next step, of course, must be for Muslims to confront the sources within Islam of these behaviors, and repudiate them once and for all. I do not expect this to happen within my lifetime, if ever, but that doesn’t make the need for it any less urgent.