A mosque, muppets, and the media

Reported in The Guardian today is the story of an arson attack on a Mosque in Harlow, just outside London, to the north east. I think the article requires dissecting, teasing out, and looking at in a bit more detail:

“Members of an Islamic centre which suffered a suspected arson attempt have said they are “very saddened” by what appears to be a racist attack.“

Calling it a “suspected arson attack” is reasonable (and likely straight from the police). Calling it ‘racist’ on the other hand is not reasonable, and entirely inflammatory (if you’ll pardon the pun). Islam is a religion, its adherents are as united by race as Christianity is – in other words, not at all.

“Zia Rehman, the Islamic Centre’s vice-chairman, added that although police still have to determine the motives behind the apparent attack, he suspects it may have been due to anti-Islamic prejudice.”

So Zia Rehman suggests ‘Anti-Islamic prejudice,’ where the author of the article (presumably in a bid to not use the same phrase) refers to it as racist.

The largest Muslim population in the world (according to the Pew Forum, 2010: http://bit.ly/15cDgfb) is Indonesia. It should be clear to all that this is a large Island in South-East Asia, not an Arabic state. The three next largest Muslim populations are Pakistan, India and Bangladesh – again, not Arabic states. Rounding out the top 10 are Egypt, Nigeria, Turkey, Iran, Algeria and Morocco – four North African states, and two Middle Eastern. To be clear, even ‘Arabic state’ is confusing – none of the top 10 Muslim populations are even on the Arabian Peninsula, though several have Arabic as a major language. So, what race is this attack racist about?

“Britain has witnessed a spike of hate crimes against Muslims in recent months following the death of Fusilier Lee Rigby outside Woolwich barracks in south-east London in May.”

The killing of Lee Rigby was perpetrated by Michael Adebolajo, a Nigerian (the African country with the largest number of Christians) – I can’t pretend to know the minds of the arsonists, but I don’t think they would be targeting a mosque specifically for the Nigerian or North African contingent, so racism (or at least accurate racism) can be struck from the list of motives.

It saddens me that Zia Rehman even had to make the following statement:

“We have been working very hard within the local community, building bridges, and we were hoping we wouldn’t have this kind of problem, but in the current climate there are elements within society that are not happy and there are issues.”

We don’t see much coverage of such things in the press, do we, this idea of faith communities reaching out to the greater community to say that they distance themselves from the actions of the few? Then again, when the perpetrator of a crime is a Christian, because this is the UK, it’s taken as read, whether they’re C of E or Catholic (or whatever other Christian denomination, assuming their religion even rates mention), that the church distances itself from these actions… then again, given these churches’ actions (respectively, the cover-up of organised child abuse and rampant misogyny), maybe they should.

  • As an aside: Just as ‘child pornography’ has been rightly amended to ‘child abuse images,’ maybe instead of calling these attacks hate-crimes, let’s call them what they are. The word ‘hate’ gives these crimes an element of coolness, albeit misanthropic coolness, that they do not deserve. These are stupid crimes – no-one likes being called stupid, least of all when their eventual capture is emblazoned across national papers under that heading. (It’s possible that sealing the doors with foam, thereby starving the fire of oxygen, may also justify calling it a stupid crime.)

To call the attack racist, we also have to assume that the perpetrators of this attack are white and English. But it’s not racism, so which ‘ism’ does this attack (and those like it) come under?

There is no ‘ism.’

If the perpetrators are white and English, then they are of approximately the same racial, cultural and national identities, perpetrating a crime against individuals of diverse racial, cultural and national identities, who, as a group, just happen to have similar religious identities (and who, like the perpetrators, also have some element of their identity tied to the fact of living in England). Slapping a media-friendly ‘ism’ onto this buys into the simplification that the perpetrators have engaged in to justify their actions, perpetuating the problem that occasioned the article in the first instance.

Racism is making simplistic assumptions based on obvious characteristics, and acting in accordance with those assumptions – which is exactly what The Guardian did in their reporting on this arson attack.


About COEXISTential

I'm a psychology graduate, about to undertake a Masters. I did my first degree at 36 for various reasons, and am contunuing in my education for better reasons. The focus of my research is the psychology of morality, and thus also religion and politics. The focus of this blog is to apply my learnings from this research to the tricky problem of fixing the world. I am a progressive liberal, humanist, and agnostic-atheist, but the individuality of my principles is more important than the labels under which they broadly fall. So let's talk about life, the universe, and everything, and how best for us humans to exist within it.
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4 Responses to A mosque, muppets, and the media

  1. Bill Thomson 52 Ex Forces says:

    I wouldn’t necessarily “Jump” to the conclusion that the perpetrators were indeed White English………there are many in the “UK Community” who do not Like the Islamic way of life and the Undertakings of some of its more Radical Followers.

    I would elaborate but that in itself would brand me “Racist”, Mosques are being attacked in Direct Response to the Slaughter in a London Street of a Young man Purely because he was “White”.

    The perpetrators of that abhorant act were “Radicalised” young Londoners, Radicalised for what purpose…..what is the mindset of those amongst us who live and enjoy the Benefit of this Nation, that they feel the Hatred of their Host Country?

    • But there isn’t “an Islamic way of life” any more than there is a Christian one… let’s face it, the Bible allows for slavery and the beating of children, but thankfully very few people who have adopted a ‘Christian way of Life’ adhere to these tenets. Even if the arsonists were responding to the attack on Rigby, they’re still wrong, because vigilante justice is no justice at all.

  2. martin Fowkes says:

    The word Racist has been hijacked. If you say anythingunpleasant about any culture that you do not share then you are considered “Racist”. If you are against Immigration then you are “Racist”.
    Although Islam is perhaps the worlds most fundamentalist religion, which supports repression of women(Saudi Arabia), genital mutilation (Male and female)Theocracy, any attack on it is calssed as racist which is why the left wing would rather attack European Religions.

    • It’s certainly true that the word racist has been hijacked, it’s also true that it has been misused for a long time. For example, the idea of there being “reverse racism” (i.e. black on white), which is just racism. Affirmative action is closer to being reverse racism in that it tries to be prejudicial in a positive fashion, but it’s still racism.

      Islam is not a fundamentalist religion, it may have more fundamentalists, but a religion cannot be, in and of itself, fundamentalist. Fundamentalism refers to the way in which a religion is followed by certain people. This abundance of fundamentalists may have more to do with Islam being 600 years younger than Christianity, and due to having Christianity bloodying its nose constantly, from the Crusades, to the (re)creation of Israel, to American foreign policy since then. Religion, after all, is almost invariably a reaction to fear and uncertainty.

      The repression of women in Islam is equally proclaimed, but not equally practised, in Christianity:
      1 Timothy 2:12: But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
      Ephesians 5:22-24: Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

      If a woman submits in all things, is she any more than a slave?
      1 Peter 2:18: Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.

      All this said, I will still hold people to account for pointing out the “pedophilia” of Mohammed without noting similar pederasty in the courts of Europe far more recently (and the laws of the UK and the US that allowed sex with 10 year olds: http://bit.ly/1dqPj1Q – see footnote nine), but strongly disagree with anyone’s right to use Mohammed’s example as a precedent for their own pedophilia.

      Is that a sufficiently even-handed treatment of both Islam and “European religions”? (Ignoring that Christianity was also founded in the Middle East, by definition.)

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