Islam in the Economist

I’m currently doing a media analysis class, and I think it is one of the most stimulating classes I’ve ever taken. It’s amazing how many types of analyses you can do on different types of media, and how many biases you can find. One technique is to go word by word through an article to see which words are repeated the most. I would never have thought of doing this but it is so interesting to find out which words recur the most often. I would be very interested in doing this to some Dutch newspapers at some point, especially articles about Muslims, immigrants, Moroccans, Arabs, etc.

Anyway we had to find an image that represented social relations of power. I thought to myself that it should be pretty easy to find something in a western media outlet about Islam or Arabs. After some searching, I found this picture:

This is the cover of The Economist, March 31 2011. The title is Islam and the Arab Revolutions. Subtitle is: Religion is a growing force in the Arab awakening. Westerners should hold their nerve and trust democracy.

This picture is troubling on several levels. First of all, there is a clear sign of Islam, which is the crescent and the star. This has somehow come to represent Islam in the media.

So this picture is characterizing the following with Islam (represented by crescent and star):

  • the desert
  • a man
  • in black
  • with a gun
  • with his head covered
  • the desert is unsettled, not calm
So we see a man, who is in all-black with a head covering, coming towards us, carrying a gun that looks like an AK-47. And this is somehow to supposed to make westerners who are “worried about Islam” feel better. Hmmm.
If I were a westerner afraid of Islam (as many apparently are), I would not feel better after seeing a picture like this.
The man is intentionally made to look scary: all-black, hidden, his features are not clear, he’s wearing a head-covering, he HAS A GUN. I mean how is this supposed to convince anyone that everything will be fine and that they should “hold their nerve”??
And WHY is this representative of Islam? A MAN who is not very CLEAR with a GUN? Who is approaching me through a desert? With a gun? A GUN? Okay seriously, this is ridiculous.
Finally, what kind of a story is this anyway? So what if religion is a growing force in the Arab revolutions (not awakenings, for God’s sake)? Why does that scare the west? (oh right, their ridiculous preoccupation with Islam and politics). And why should they hold their nerve and trust democracy? (as if the west would ever allow democracy in the Arab world anyway, see: Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia) Is anyone telling us Arabs and Africans that we should hold our nerve about DONALD TRUMP or SARAH PALIN running for president in the US? or WILDERS or SARKOZY in Europe?
No. Well I’m telling everyone now: Islamophobia, right-wing politics and stupidity are rising forces in European and American awakenings. Non-westerners should hold their nerve and trust democracy.
Oh wait, these people are getting in through democracy. Hmm.
Anyway, back to the post. I expected more from the Economist, which isn’t exactly Fox News. But I guess when it comes to Islam, it’s pretty much the same story in every western newspaper/magazine/news channel.
I’m pissed.

Psychological colonialism

One of the major ways in which colonialism has continued to exist in our world today is through the mind.  It is unbelievable the way the global system(s) have been moulded to produce peoples who think they are organized in a hierarchy.  The media, capitalism, international relations, consumerism, heteronormativity, racism – all of these have combined to create a world in which every person knows there place.

Yet at the same time, many people who are not at the top of the hierarchy (white, male, older, from certain parts of Europe and the US) do not simply accept their position but struggle against it. We know we’re not less human, even though we’re being told that everyday (implicitly or explicitly). Thus life is a constant struggle where you have to defend your race, gender, nationality, sexuality, preferences to not only those who are prejudiced towards you but to yourself. I’ve experienced so many moments where I’ve questioned myself and my beliefs – are women more emotional than men? is Islam a gender-biased religion? are Arabs culturally backwards? And then the tremendous guilt that comes with that because I shouldn’t be asking those questions. But I’m socialized to believe certain things about certain groups, and it is a constant battle to tell myself that these things are social constructions.

Who is an Aryan?

A friend recently told me about an experiment done in the 1940s in America.  Two psychiatrists used dolls to study children’s attitudes about race.

They found that black children often preferred to play with white dolls over black; that, asked to fill in a human figure with the color of their own skin, they frequently chose a lighter shade than was accurate; and that the children gave the color “white” attributes such as good and pretty, but “black” was qualified as bad and ugly (click here).

They argued that these results showed that the children had internalized racism caused by being discriminated against and stigmatized by segregation.

Is it really surprising that black children chose to play with white dolls? Or that they saw themselves as lighter than they actually were? Think of what these kids are taught since the moment they are born: what do they see around them, what do they see at school, what do they experience in the public sphere? There are millions of implicit messages being sent to us each day, especially through the media. These play an integral role in defining us and defining our self-image.


Is it really surprising that so many people are self-deprecating or have an inferiority complex? Are we socialized to have those? Even today I am still shocked to hear Egyptians talk about the US as superior and Egypt as backwards – America, with a history of 500 years and Egypt with a history of 7000 years? Moreover, I find it surprising that people don’t try and understand why we have “more developed” and “less developed” countries today (I hate using those terms but just making the point that some countries are in a better economic and political situation).

How to move past this? How do we stop seeing our own cultures, genders, religions, sexualities as inferior? And even more difficult is to not do what has been done to us: inferiorize others in order to feel better about what is ours. Is the way to feel better about being a woman to put men down, as many radical feminists have done? Is the way to feel better about being a Muslim to emphasize that all non-Muslims are infidels? Surely that’s just reproducing the same racist colonial rhetoric we’ve always been complaining about.

I guess the only way to deal with all of this is to be conscious of how power is used by global systems to produce inequalities and hierarchies, and to constantly be conscious of these, especially when we reproduce them. It’s a constant battle, but it’s better to be aware than to blindly accept and reproduce.