In the last few weeks, I have been beginning to see some extremely encouraging signs of change, even incremental, small ones, in the way public discourse and conversations are taking place.
First of all I am extremely pleased that American comedian Bill Maher has finally been exposed as the Islamophobe that he is and that it took not only a well-respected academic like Professor Reza Aslan to do it….
but a Hollywood actor like Ben Affleck as well…
I admit, I used to like Maher, particularly the way he lampooned the ultra right-wing nut jobs in the US but his racism and all-too-obvious dislike of all Muslims became very clear over time. (I remember watching an episode of “Real Time with Bill Maher” when Nobel Peace Prize winner and the father of microcredit, Dr. Muhammad Yunus was on the show. Maher was condescending, rude and made snide remarks which Yunus did not catch, but the rest of the panel did. It was painful to watch)
Aslan and Affleck were trying to point out that “Islam” is not some homogenous, monolithic entity which is bloodthirsty all the way through and that a few bad apples is not representative of the whole barrel. Maher (and that annoying pseudo-intellectual poser Sam Harris) don’t seem to understand how culture differentiates Islam from region to region.
A Muslim in Bangladesh will be very different from a Muslim in Turkey, Pakistan or a Muslim in Saudi Arabia. It’s like comparing hard-core Opus Dei Catholics in Spain to say Catholics in Ireland, Mexico, Poland or Catholics in rural Quebec. Their expressions of faith will be very different from place to place, in large part due to culture. Maher does have a few Muslim friends, namely Salman Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, two Muslim “spokespersons” who experienced the worst aspects of Islam themselves (via the fatwa in Rushdie’s case and female genital mutilation in Hirsi Ali’s case) but they only reinforce his opinion of what a bunch of savages most Muslims are deep down inside. The backlash against Maher and his ilk, mostly from non-Muslims has been surprising and encouraging. I didn’t expect that.
The problem isn’t just Maher and Harris. Those two are examples of the “acceptable” forms of racism rampant among Western liberals and progressives and right now, Islamophobia is quite acceptable. It’s the poster-child of “good” racism.
A few weeks ago Henrik Palmgren of Sweden’s Red Ice Radio, a show I normally listen to from time to time because of the interesting guests Henrik is usually able to score, had an interview with David Icke and it was really disappointing to say the least. Palmgren was baiting Icke over issues of race, immigration, multiculturalism, the legacy of colonialism and cultural purity. It’s painfully obvious to anyone who wants to hear it. Icke, to his credit, walked right over that pool of quick-sand and I have a strong feeling he knew what was going on and saw right through it. (Thumbs up, David!).
We just had Canadian Thanksgiving this past weekend while Americans had Columbus Day, or as many American cities and states are increasingly adopting in place, Indigenous People’s Day . That would have been unthinkable even ten years ago. When I was growing up in the 1970s and 80s, it was still (good) cowboys and (bad) Indians, like in John Wayne movies. Now it’s in people’s faces right on mainstream network TV. John Oliver and RT especially killed it.
Identity politics can get super messy, super quickly. I understand how people can get passionate or have very strong feelings about these issues. I mean I don’t consider myself a practicing “good” Muslim Indian Bengali-Canadian by any stretch of the imagination (if that were the case I would have never discovered the joys of sipping iced-cold vodka martinis), but I can’t help but feel angry or step up and say something when I see the carnage in Gaza and the media blaming it on “Muslim extremists” or have my blood boil over when I see how Muslim men abuse vulnerable girls in England or keep dozen of wives as prisoner sex-slaves in Saudi Arabia. I also get angry when I observe the media coverage over a spoiled, white American college girl who ends up doing something stupid while on holiday versus the long-standing incarceration of an innocent, eloquent black dissident and writer like Mumia Abu Jamal.
I don’t think it’s so much about identifying yourself as “this” or “that”. Yes, our differences are worth celebrating and understanding, it’s what makes us all different and unique and interesting to each other. It gives life spice and flavor. Sometimes it goes wrong and you get cultural appropriation. Sometimes it goes right and you get a wonderful new mix of ideas and culture creating something completely original and beautiful. From a spiritual point of view, it might mean I’m Bengali Canadian in the here and now. I might end up Swedish and male in the next round or maybe I was an Austrian Jew in the last round. Who knows? Who cares? That’s not the issue. It’s really about making the conscious decision to walk in someone else’s shoes for even a minute and base our actions on that.