Framing Muslims – Stereotyping and Representation After 9/11

framing muslims

Framing Muslims
Stereotyping and Representation After 9/11
By Peter Morey and Amina Yaqin
Harvard University Press – £20.95

In the very first chapter of this highly readable and contentious book ‘Muslims and the Nation-State – The Politics of Stereotyping,’ authors Peter Morey and Amina Yaqin perceptively write: ‘’It has become something of a truism to remark on how stereotyping says more about the person or group doing the stereotyping than it does about the group stereotyped.’’

How true and explicitly well said.

A nigh pristine, perfect example of which is relentlessly evident on that all reflective gauge of tempestuous human nature, Facebook; everyman’s concurrent soapbox, upon which the same group of people will forever complain and carp on about the same recurring issue(s).

Anti-Muslim invective (currently) being one of them.

In this particular instance, most vitriol aimed at Muslims are, to varying degrees, more often than not, undertaken by ignorant, myopic, racist individuals, who are themselves, in dire need of someone to else blame for their own (usually economic) shortcomings. That much of the right-wing media, unnecessarily partake in said blame culture, only exasperates a problem that is beginning to spiral out of control.

To be sure, perhaps said problem has already spiralled out of control; which explains why Framing Muslims – Stereotyping and Representation After 9/11 is such a timely and important book. Not only does it dissect the volatile and fundamental depiction that all Muslims are somehow bad or inherently problematic, it sheds much needed light on the degree to which modern society desperately needs to look beyond infuriating, demagogic, tabloid ideology.

As the authors so eloquently write in the Introduction: ‘’Timeless truths or truthless signs of the times: it is between these two rocky promontories that this book must navigate.’’

Said navigation, this book deservedly does in such a way that is simultaneously succinct and to the point, while being considered and analytical throughout: ‘’The sheer ubiquity of images of Muslims and the insistent repetition of certain reductive tropes convinced us of the importance of looking more closely at what we term here ‘’structures of representation.’’ The bearded Muslim fanatic, the oppressed, veiled woman, the duplicitous terrorist who lives among’’ us’’ the better to bring about our destruction: all these stereotypes have emerged with renewed force since 9/11. To be sure, they existed before. Yet the scale and spectacle of the Twin Towers and Pentagon attacks, and the reaction to them, has thrust a certain type of Orientalist stereotype firmly back onto our cinema and television screens, into our news media […]. What we see, and what this book sets out to trace, is the distortion of particular features of Muslim life and custom, reducing the diversity of Muslims and their existence as individuals to a fixed object – a caricature in fact […]. Time and again, behaviour, the body, and dress are treated not as cultural markers but as a kind of moral index, confirming non-Muslim viewers of these images in their sense of superiority and cementing the threatening strangeness of the Muslim Other.’’

As is oft the case, anything ‘Other’ usually manifests itself on the grounds of being different to that of the norm. A norm, normally promoted by the very purveyors of those who profess to believe in peace, love and understanding. But as is well known, this is complete and utter nonsense. Those who cowardly cower behind said veil of the ‘norm,’ are, in the cold, harsh light of the unquestionable truth, absolutely no different to the many thousands of oiks for example, who partook in the rise (and unstoppable rise) of Nazism throughout 1930s’ Germany. And had such Internet chat-sites as Facebook been in existence in 1933, one can only speculate upon the sheer amount of uncontrollable hate that would have literally, suffocated the electronic, Germanic airwaves.

Moreover, it’s not only the media that plays such a substantial part in the warped representation of Muslims, as the six chapters of this profoundly well-researched book attests to. Apart from ‘ Muslims, Multiculturalism, and the Media – Normalization and Difference’ and ‘Muslims in a Media Ghetto – The Anthropological Impulse in Realist Film and Docudrama,’ the book’s final chapter (of six) ‘Performing beyond the Frame – Gender, Comedy, and Subversion,’ addresses such a disputatious issue as the marketing of Muslim Children’s Dolls – in this particular instance, the Islamic Barbie: ‘’The main message we try to put forward through the doll is that what matters is what’s inside you, not how you look. But the dilemma for the Islamic Barbie is that it does matter how she looks, because she has to personify Islamic identity through role play and religio-performativity as her life story unfolds.’’

What primarily struck me about the above quotation was the dual, yet sincere juxtaposition at play, which is evident throughout Framing Muslims as a whole. This just leaves me to contend that Peter Morey and Amina Yaqin have herein written a book that really is, disquietingly disturbing – as well as lucid and absorbing.

David Marx

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