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Home > Culture and Society

Islam: it's been a bad week for public relations

3 September 2004

There's a theory that aliens haven't visited earth because they've picked up our TV and radio broadcasts. Not just The Mighty Boosh or Radio 4's You and Yours, which are both pretty good reasons to leave the flying saucer in the garage, but the endless news bulletins that graphically demonstrate just how fucked up Planet Earth is.

A prime example is the latest chapter in the story of the French government banning Muslim headscarves in schools. The ban seemed to be the product of a melodramatic desire to defend the secular state, rather than genuine concern for the well-being of Muslim girls. The veil and burkhas raise real questions about personal freedom, but headscarves?

Not to be outdone in the overreaction stakes, some Iraqis have now taken two French journalists hostage, demanding that the headscarf ban be lifted. Watching this on the news, you can easily be misled into thinking this is just the latest
unfortunate but understandable clash of values between the more extreme elements of Islam and the West.

That's one way of looking at it. The other is: it's just fucking mental, like killing yourself because you've run out of teabags. Even the most militant Iraqi insurgent would have second thoughts about the value of the kidnapping. 'Hmm,' they might think, 'American attack helicopters are killing women and children in Najaf. Should I take arms against my oppressors, or should I do something about headscarves?'

Of course, it's not just in Iraq that Islam and politics have become hopelessly enmeshed. This week Hamas, who espouse radical Islam as part of the Palestinian struggle, blew up two buses in Israel. And unless you're one of those people whose only news sources are Heat and OK! magazines, you'll probably have noticed that Chechen terrorists, who want an independent Islamic state, have kidnapped more than 300 people in a school siege. As if Islam wasn't already having a bad PR week, last week Channel 4 decided to show Edge of the City. This look at the work of social services is possibly the most depressing programme ever made, featuring a chronic alcoholic with cerebral palsy and a could-peg-out-any-second pensioner with a moth infestation (his house that is, not him).

Edge of the City also featured the infamous claim that Asian youths were 'grooming' underage white girls (frankly they did need grooming, or at the very least a makeover) for sex because of arranged marriages. We don't quite follow the logic of the last bit, and we've got a feeling the producers didn't either, quickly moving on to the cerebral palsy alcoholic spilling Ace cider down himself or Mothman having his clothes incinerated by Rentokil.

Of course, none of these depressing world and local events really have anything to do with Islam. Islam is all about how to lead a good life, and generalising about the different brands of Islam is as offensive as imagining that all Christians are fire and brimstone loonies like Jack Chick. Blokes have been trying to impress girls by endlessly cruising around in their cars since the invention of the internal combustion engine (look out for the director's cut of Genevieve, in which Alan McKim gets a blow job round the back of the Co-op), and events in the Middle East have a lot more to do with years of oppression and violence than anything Mohammed did or said.

Unfortunately, too many people seem intent on polarising opinion about Islam. The BNP are prime offenders, along with good ol' George Bush, who constantly couches world conflicts in terms of good and evil, with apocalyptic warnings about heathen terrorists wanting to destroy The American Way of Life.

Kidnapping journalists to protest at a headscarf ban is genuinely weird. But in the grand scheme of things it's not a whole lot weirder than some of the crap coming from Bush and Blair, who seem to want to reduce historical, political and territorial conflicts to some simplistic notion of good and evil, where evil is a scary, inscrutable foreigner. (It's even odder coming from Blair, who made such a point of reading the Koran. Maybe Osama Bin Laden should be made to read the whole bible. No, that's too cruel.)

The 'good versus evil' world view is as cynical as it is depressingly simplistic. It's a shame that so many politicians are happy for us never to move on from the days when all most people knew about Islam was that your friend Anwar couldn't eat pork sausages.



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