Sunday, December 11, 2011

How media sees Muslims: Scary or Stupid? (oh -and shame on Lowes)

by Salman Hameed

First of all, shame on Lowes. It has pulled ads from the reality show All-American Muslims after receiving protest e-mails. Protest for what? Protests for the fact that Muslims are depicted as ordinary Muslims and not as a threat - as is perceived by Florida Family Association! Seriously.

Hardware store giant Lowe’s has yanked ads from the series after the Florida Family Association encouraged members to email the program’s advertisers.
“The show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish,” the group said about the show, a docu-soap chronicling everyday Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan that debuted last month. “Clearly this program is attempting to manipulate Americans into ignoring the threat of jihad and to influence them to believe that being concerned about the jihad threat would somehow victimize these nice people in this show.”
The organization posted a letter allegedly from a Lowe’s representative agreeing to pull its ads: “While we continue to advertise on various cable networks, including TLC, there are certain programs that do not meet Lowe’s advertising guidelines, including the show you brought to our attention. Lowe’s will no longer be advertising on that program.”
Wow. It is hard to see this kind of bigotry against any other group at this moment in time (in the past, Catholics and Jews have faced similar reactions in the US). At the same time kudos to California senator,  Ted Leiu (D), who is calling for the boycott of the home improvement store unless it apologizes to the Muslim community in the US (Good - that we have been going to Home Depot all along :))

On another issues, I had mentioned earlier about the news item of UK Muslim medics "boycotting evolution lectures". Well, that was based on one interview with a biologist. Now it may very well be true that many Muslim doctors or students may not agree with evolution and may indeed have been walking out of classes, but it needs to backed up some kind of study. However, such a news item fit such stereotypes that it ended up being covered by several British newspapers and appeared on numerous blogs on the web.

Now comes the news that an anonymous Egyptian cleric has issued a fatwa that women should not handle cucumbers in the kitchen. This is clearly idiotic, and most of us would chuckle and move along. But again, for some this defines Islam. Tabsir - a friend of this blog - has an excellent (and quite entertaining) commentary on this, High Heels, Cucumbers, and Fat-chance Fatwas:  

Drowning out a semblance of nuance are the Islamophobes who are having a field day with the spate of silly fatwas coming out of Egypt (and elsewhere). Within the last couple of days it seems like The Onion has been scooped by sites like Jihad Watch. The wishy-watchers on that Watch quote al-Arabiya, so we learn:
Preacher Mustafa al-Adawi issued a fatwa prohibiting Muslim women from wearing high heels because they are a source of seduction for men.
“A woman can only wear high heels for her husband but she is not to do so outside her house,” he said.

If you have invested in the Egyptian stock market, you might want to pull out of the shoe businesses. Well, at least this preacher lets women wear high heels at home.
Then there is the anonymous Egyptian cleric who has apparently warned women not to touch cucumbers, zucchini or carrots because they resemble a penis and will thus arouse the women. So they should have a male cut these vegetables for them, as women obviously still need to do the cooking. I suppose it has not occurred to this fellow that if a man picks up a cucumber and thinks it looks like a penis, that this kind of homosexual thought should be even worse. Actually, this is not a new idea. The 13th century travel account by Ibn al-Mujawir relates a story that the ruler in Sanaa, Yemen at the time forbade women to sell or buy whole white radishes (the long white kind that look like carrots) in the market because they would use them for a certain purpose in that unmentionable part of their anatomy. And someone should tell this cleric that men should not eat figs unless they are at home with their wives in bed. Pity the poor vegetable hawker who gets a basket of oranges or mangos to sell and is asked for two at a time.
The fear mongering here is that, horror of horrors, Egyptian women will not be able to wear high heels in the street and men will have to help out in the kitchen for dinner. Of all the issues pressing Egyptian society, high heels and phallic cucumbers are newsworthy? Jihad Watch does not indicate that in fact these are not binding rules, but opinions that most Egyptian Muslims find utterly amusing. There are indeed all kinds of silly fatwas out there, which is the case for any religion I know. I remember growing up fundamentalist Baptist and reading a little booklet by “Sword of the Lord” John R. Rice that women should not bob their hair. Bob their hair! It is also well to remember that almost half of the people in the United States say that they believe in a literal Adam and Eve and do not accept the scientific theory of evolution.
But then here is the key point - there are people risking their lives for democratic ideals, and this is the kind of items that are garnering attention?
The popularity of such fat-chance fatwas is obvious; we all love to read silly things. But there is a double problem here. First, an anonymous bearded cleric does not define Islam any more than Terry Jones defines Christianity. If you think that the first new law passed in a democratically elected Egyptian parliament will be to ban wearing high heels, you probably need a brain transplant. Second, we trivialize Islam by focusing on such banal pronouncements. We just witnessed protests in several countries that took people’s lives; those who braved the tanks and tear gas did not do so to keep Egyptian women from handling cucumbers. Yes, the new political systems will have a far more religious flavor. No one knows what rights will be newly given and what rights will be eroded. I suspect, however, that economics will trump moral policing.
First of all, read the full article here. I suspect that these kind of issues are brought up as a distraction. The whole Terry Jones stuff as well as the hysteria over the Manhattan Islamic Center was part of the election cycle and Republicans stoked those fires. The same will be true for Egypt as well. Some of the crazier fatwas may help divert attention for a bit. But, as it is pointed out on Tabsir, ultimately economics will drown out claims for such moral policing.


Asad M said...

Re: Florida Family Assoc., just shows how the (ultra) conservatives are finding a normal portrayal of muslims so hard to digest as they are used to seeing (or imagining) them only as villains or buffoons on TV/cinema. Reminds me of a documentary called “Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies A People” which is available on Google video and youtube, here’s the link

Salman Hameed said...


Thanks for appropriately pointing out Reel Bad Arabs (we have a local connection here, as it was produced by the Media Education Foundation here in Northampton, MA). I think there is hysteria out there fanned by stations such as Fox and also by (formerly) higher profile people like Herman Cain (he had said that he won't appoint a Muslim in his cabinet).

Anonymous said...

see wat i tol ja folks

Gary said...

This was my response to the cucumbers fatwa on another site. Sad to think the fatwa was not a joke.
"This is clearly a joke but it raises an issue: Women can't fondle carrots cucumbers etc., in the grocery aisle lest they be overcome with lust and disgrace themselves before they reach the checkout. If this is the case and the recommendation that their male relatives do it for them is followed aren't we risking turning them into homosexuals? Of course we could always send the boys on a remedial trip to the rockmelon section to cure them. But wait if we let the sisters handle melons won't they turn into lesbians. Better to let the girls handle the carrots and the boys fondle the melons that way we will all be on the "straight' and 'marrow'".

Saif said...

A fatwa for women not handling cucumbers? Are you serious? Is it possible that there are some personal reasons behind this? Maybe the Egyptian cleric caught his wife masturbating with a cucumber, got pissed, and decided to pass on this fatwa? :D

Anonymous said...

Very enlightening discussion going on indeed.

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