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A Necessary Read for All Americans
on December 31, 2007
Ever since 9/11 I have been on the lookout for any book dealing with changed perceptions or heightened generalizations regarding Islam and Muslims. "Islamophobia" by Peter Gottschalk and Gabriel Greenberg is one of those books that must be read by Americans in this post-9/11 world.
This book starts off by reviewing the reaction of Muslims to the cartoon that appeared in the Danish news paper Jyllands-Posten, which portrayed the prophet Muhammad in a less than stellar light. From here the authors trace the depiction of Islam and Muslims throughout history and how this idea of the religion and its followers as backward, violent and primitive remains well-entrenched in the minds of many Western non-Muslim people. In the introduction, the authors make a statement that I think is right on target: That is they (views held by Americans) demonstrate how natural for so many Americans the image of Muslims as irrational aggressors and Americans as righteous innocents abroad and at home has become, so that any other perspective becomes not a counterargument but a challenge to an unquestionable world order." The authors skillfully present information to back up this statement.
From the history of Western perceptions of Islam, the authors go on to analyze political cartoons depicting Islams. Just before doing this they make a necessary distinction between caricature and stereotype. This is key, because I think for many people, caricatures and stereotypes are one and the same. Most people respond to visual stimuli and in the case of the cartoons, their lack of familiarity with Islam, coupled with a general post-9/11 resentment toward Muslim culture, allows them to formulate opinions based on the animations they read in the newspapers. For example, how many people know the difference between a Muslim and an Arab? The authors contend that too often people categorize all Muslims under the same category (violent, backward, oppressive, etc.)without any reference that may inhibit the formatin of inaccurate perceptions.
I could go on, but it is best for readers to read this book for themselves. I found it very interesting that in the 1950s cartoonists depicted Muslims as lazy and effeminate. Now, the depictions are much more savage in their portrayals. It seems that many cartoons follow the political winds blowing from Washington, DC.