Islamophobia and stereotypes met with Muslim humour

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Islamophobia questioned: Interrogating one stereotype would help Muslims unfix numerous others – opines Haroon Shah


Islamophobia’s apodictic footings in American and Western societies are reflective of its long history preserved in the canons of history. However, its tidal-wave came to the fore in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, chilling Muslims, in particular those living as immigrants in the West, to the marrow. George Bush dubbed Muslim compartment of the globe as the “axis of evil”. Hewing to this labialization, Western media so furiously pathologized Muslims that fleeting mention of the word Muslim would suffice sketching out in the minds of Western audience diabolical images: gun-toting, bearded, fanatic terrorist. Though this image of Muslims and Islam popped up in the wake of September 11, it had been monopolizing Western subconscious for ages.

Two narratives, though visceral, define Western subconscious: Genesis 12:3 narrative and 19th century narrative.  The former narrative banks upon the verse Genesis 12:3, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse”. This narrative pertains to conservatives. Western conservatives’ undefeatable persistence with pro-Israel stance is indicative of Genesis 12:3 narrative. For these leaders, God’s words to Abraham are God’s words to 21st century Americans, who will experience dire consequences if they curse rather than bless the nation of Israel. Importantly, the narrative is rooted in fear, raising the specter of imminent catastrophe if Christians do not pledge unconditional support for Israel’s atrocities vis-a-vis Palestinians.

Palestinians are believed to be the concretization of Islam. In other words, it is Islam which is at war with Israel; hence, a possible threat to Western security. Destruction of Israel embodies God’s wrath for Western powers. To be precise, it is, in fact, Genesis 12:3 narrative that has made Western conservatives paranoid with Islam. In other words, Genesis 12:3 narrative enjoins upon the Christians to purge Israel off Islam which, according to Western sages, drives all actions of Muslims.

Opposite the Genesis 12:3 narrative’s basis in fear, the 19th century narrative is grounded in confidence, embodying the notion of American, rather Western, exceptionalism. Since Western colonialism and throughout American drive of cultural imperialism, the Muslim world, with its Islamic heritage, has denied acceptance to American cultural heritage. Bernard Lewis, leading orientalist of contemporary era, has defined this phenomenon in these words: “they”, in other words Muslims, are as doomed to rage and irrationalism as “we” are to the enjoyment of our rationalism and cultural supremacy. Muslim world with its huge uncharted reservoirs of oil and gas is fatally important to Western economic and cultural supremacy. Islam is bare-bone behind their rejection to kowtowing Western political and cultural dictates. Confidence and supremacy are synonymous to each other and Islam has turned out to be capable of dealing heinous blow to this confidence.

To be more specific, Islam, to Westerners, threatens their security by posturing as cataclysmic to Israel and their supremacy by personifying moors reckoned taboos in Western world. Threat of Islam is called Islamophobia.

With the Genesis 12:3 narrative Islam presents danger religiously. With 19th century narrative Islam manifests danger to Western supremacy culturally and economically. However, there is another narrative of Islamophobia as well which indicts Islam for being the reason of humourlessness of Muslims. Psychology states that humourlessness is illness. With the stereotypes of Islam’s’ incompatibility with Jewishness and Islam’s incompatibility with democracy, freedom of speech, women equity and abolition of blasphemy laws viz. Western supremacy, there reared another stereotype of Islam’s incompatibility with humor.

Known as the “first transnational anti-joke scandal,” the riots over Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten’s elicitation and publishing of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad have been widely discussed. Once the protests began, the cartoon’s status was irrevocably changed from a public humor performance into a high-stakes game of a “clash of civilizations,” supporting the narrative of the Muslim Other as inexplicably humorless and enraged. This reaction of Muslims further confirmed the stereotype that Muslims are ideologically deprived of the ability to take jokes and humor. Muslim resistance to the cartoons helped Western hawks to further pathologize Muslims, and justify the stereotype of humourlessness attached with Muslims.

Stuart Hall, doyen of cultural studies, states, “Interrogating stereotypes makes them uninhabitable – it destroys their naturalness and normalcy.” Humorous strategies are powerful in the capacity to “unfix” dominant meanings through subversive satire and parody, and affix new meanings that destabilize the underlying assumptions of the stereotype. Westerners’ unquenchable zest at inventing and fixing new stereotypes with Muslims must be counteracted with humor interrogating them.

On Sept. 17th  2012 Newsweek magazine deliberately courted controversy with its cover. Across the top in bold red capital letters, the blaring thought-stopping headline: “MUSLIM RAGE.” Underneath the title, there appeared a close-up photo of Middle Eastern men, yelling, saliva-flecked, faces contorted with fury. Underneath the photo, there appeared the featured subtitle by the highly polarizing figure Islam Ayann Hirsi Ali, “How I Survived It. How We Can End It.” Released in the wake of the YouTube video “The Innocence of Muslims,” which encapsulated a systematic check-list of the most offensive and inflammatory representations of the origins of Islam.

Contrary to the response meted out to the Jyllands-Posten for its publishing of Prophets Cartoons, Muslims responded with humor. Besides proving the point of being humor-laden and being capable enough to take jokes, Muslims kept Newsweek fallen in its own petard. Newsweek, intent on proving “The Muslim Rage” as real and threatening, opened a discussion by inviting global participation with the hashtag #MuslimRage. In the place of intended rage, Muslims satirically made fun of the hashtag. They narrated ordinary affairs of their routines with the hashtag #MuslimRage.

These were like:

I am drinking water #MuslimRage.

I am going to bed #MuslimRage.

This was a befitting response. Muslims proved the point that they can take jokes and can poke fun at others. Western hawks were left gobsmacked.  For the first time, Western audience rendered the thesis of humor vs. humorless world beyond the pale.

Muslims need to shatter the stereotypical narratives of Genesis 12:3 and 19th century in the same way they shattered the narrative of humor vs. humorless world. Muslims need to exhibit calm, passion and peace, which are integral to Islam, to desecrate the ages-old parchments, firmly imprinted, of Islamophobia. If they say Muslims are fanatic then Muslims need to behave the opposite. This seems to be the need of an hour.

(Haroon Shah is a blogger at the Nation and writes columns for the Baluchistan Point. He can be reached at [email protected])

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Arabian Gazette’s editorial policy.

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