There’s no doubt about it that new media has its upsides. For one, it provides knobbers like me with an arena to espouse ridiculous opinions and frame it like a potty-mouthed Mussolini for strangers who aren’t arsed and don’t agree. For another, you get to see things like 15-second videos of Idris Elba doing sit-ups and for me that’s entirely justified the Internet and everything on it.
You get to know about news events before the national news teams report it, and you get to see celebrities writing pissed up rants, deleting them, apologising for them, and then doing it again. Everyone’s a winner.
But there are, of course, intrinsic flaws in new technology that make for some horrific and seemingly inescapable trauma.
The first is that knobbers like me have an arena to espouse ridiculous opinions like a potty-mouthed Mussolini. And the second is that this new information landscape is difficult to navigate. The important things get lost. There are a myriad of dissenting voices, but only the powerful, hegemonic voices survive the malaise.
There are some notable exceptions. I mentioned The London Riots in a previous blog, which were partly mobilised because of social network activity and there are some great voices and political positions I’ve only ever heard from via the internet, but nonetheless I think the point remains.
For me, one of the most troubling outcomes of social media has been the reinforcement of Western Islamophobia.
There just seems to be great swathes of people who have a warped conception of Islam and Muslims, and because new media operates so insidiously, many of these people think they hate Muslims for entirely rational, logical and ethical reasons and that their position on Muslims came from their own experiences of them, which usually just isn’t true.
Islamophobia isn’t a new thing, of course. Edward Said wrote in his academic discourse of ‘Orientalism’ and the power of positioning people from the East as of ‘The great other’ – something different. Unlike us. To be feared and reviled in equal measure and as of having fundamentally different views to the rest of us.
This is an important message that has served Western governments well when trying to persuade us to go to war for oil, and framing it within a fictional premise of a potential for weapons of mass destruction, or when supporting Israel and funding their mass genocide, or when trying to contextualise Bin Laden in such a way that negates the fact they have previously funded him.
In addition to the most powerful governments in the world manipulating ordinary people into believing Muslims aren’t like us, there is a second reinforcement of Islamophobia from Nazis. The UKIPs, BNPs, Tea Parties, Tories and just general fascist arseholes whose hatred is not just restricted to Islam, but for whom Islam is a fantastic and culturally endorsed scapegoat. The seemingly constant and intellectually stunted bandying around of words like ‘Sharia Law’ by people who know little of it, is relatively new, profoundly disturbing and further evidence of the growing culture of animosity. Most of the founding laws in Europe and America were based on Christian religious scripture. Muslims themselves are divided – secularists, traditionalists and modernist – on a great many issues.
The mistreatment and murder of women and homosexuals is not something that is pertinent to Islam. As is demonstrated in Russia, the USA and Europe every day of every year.
Perhaps the most troubling thing for me is a new third-wave branch of Islamophobia. The neo-liberal assertion of Freedom of Speech, as espoused around the recent Charlie Hebdo attacks.
Freedom of Speech is important to me. Vitally important. Not least because it allows me an arena for my potty-mouthed Mussolini points of view. But I question everyone’s conception of freedom.
How free are ordinary, decent Muslim people when they must first suffer the huge and numerous political attacks upon them by Western Governments who put oil and money before the lives of hundreds of thousands of Muslim people globally? When they live here – sometimes as a consequence of aforementioned mistreatment, sometimes as nationals – they are persecuted for their religious identity. They go to the cinema and every second film is a Hollywood interpretation of their ‘otherness, violence and incivility’ – see Argo, American Sniper et al. They go on social media sites and are confronted with distorted understandings of Islam presented in a way to escalate fear and hatred. They see support for one-policy Nazi parties whose entire identity is built around sustaining, maintaining and creating a climate of prejudice.
And another thing; each time there is an Islamic Fundamentalist terror attack the Muslim community are criticised for not being vehement enough in their condemnation of said attack.
I don’t remember Christians being asked to go on television and apologise for sectarian bombings. Nor should they. It’s implied.
Which brings us back to Charlie Hebdo.
Freedom of Speech is important. Satire is also important. It pricks at the conscience of the powerful and it has the power to provoke and stimulate conversation, which can result in beneficial change. I think everyone should be a target for satire, including the religious.
I just don’t feel that attacking the personal beliefs of a group of already marginalised people is proper satire. First decent Muslims get fucked over by laws that undermine, murder and persecute them and then they face the further indignity of a second image of the Prophet Mohammed as some sort of internationally agreed code for global unity against terror? No.
The world has decided that the best way to fight hate is with more hate, and it’s this hate that will make for a better future for us all? No, thanks.
Satire is about socking it to the man. Not socking it to the persecuted on behalf of the man.
If we want to critique religion, I’m in. I won’t do it in the Ricky Gervais, professional atheist way, because it’s dull, condescending and doesn’t take into account that people who rely on religion are often doing so in the poorest of countries, after centuries of tradition and deserve a discussion, not derision.
But if we’re just looking to attack one religion, continuing to not identify their wrongful persecution, not reporting attacks on them properly, and frame it as a crusade for freedom? Je ne suis pas Charlie.