The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Strange how life's little coincidences crop up. I was having lunch on Friday with my friend Kirby. We were shooting the breeze about the recent news events, chiefly the big blackout. Although terrorist action had been ruled out early on, that it instantly comes to mind in a situation like this speaks much about the state of the American mind at the dawn of the 21st Century. And when an American thinks of terrorism, s/he instantly, and wrongly, conjures up Islam as the root.

Following this train of thought, Kirb wondered why the representations of Islam we constantly see are exclusively of the radical, anti-Western kind. He knows he's not well-versed in the Muslim religion or cultural sphere, but to him, the steady stream of news reports makes it hard to believe there's any such thing as a moderate Muslim society.

I pointed out to him that, as far as the news goes, extremist events are what generate headlines and sells papers, so naturally that's what's going to dominate the media reports. In a similar vein, ultra-conservative and ultra-liberal Christian groups tend to grab more news coverage out of proportion to their actual numbers (e.g., Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell make the evening news every time they say yet another stupid thing; also, the recent Episcopalian gay bishop controversy brought more news coverage than that group normally gets). The moderate middle tends to not do or say anything all that exciting, and so doesn't make as many headlines.

They're pretty much the silent majority. That's the case with Islam, with huge populations in Indonesia (the world's largest Muslim country) and Turkey comprised of propserous middle classes that don't make many waves, and thus don't invade the American consciousness as much as radicals in the Arab world do.

As I hinted with the reference to the middle classes, economics and enfranchisment play a big role in this too. When you're fat and happy, your religion tends to be less radicalized (there are always exceptions, of course).

Well, I fumbled around trying to explain all this on Friday while lunching, when I could have referred my friend to Professor Bhikhu Parekh's look at the assimilation of Britain's 1.6-million Muslim population, and how they prove out the influence of high benchmarks of quality-of-life and economy on religious and cultural identity.