Eid Mubarak or Selamat Hari Raya to all Muslim friends and wish you have a blessed year ahead! The Eid ul-Fitr is a traditional Muslim festival to mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan and has always been a time for house visiting and feasting for myself.
This book review on Edward Said’s book ‘Covering Islam’ will therefore be in lieu with this annual holy festival. If you have been largely reliant on news coming in from Western media such as the New York Times, CNN or the Economist, just like myself, then this book is going to change your view about the Islamic world.
You have been warned that this is not the easiest book to digest or understand about Islam but is nonetheless very well argued and well substantiated that makes his arguments powerful and are worth poring over.
Said is a highly controversial writer, an American intellectual and a pro-Palestinian activist who wrote widely about issues relating to his central concept of what he called orientalism. Orientalism, in an overtly simplified version here, is an ideological framework constructed by the West to guide its entire thought and scholarship towards the East.
In ‘Covering Islam,’ he utilizes the same framework to particularly explain how Western media covers and misconstrues Islam-related issues, particularly towards the Arab world. Said definitely showed no mercy when lashing out at stereotypes and inaccurate reports by the Western media and a strong sense of injustice for the Arabs.
“…the term ‘Islam’ as it is used [by the Western media] today seems to mean one simple thing but in fact is part fiction, part ideological label, part minimal designation of a religion called Islam. In no really significant way is there a direct correspondence between the ‘Islam’ in common Western usage and the enormously varied life that goes on within the world of Islam. ” – Introduction chapter, Covering Islam
[Snapshot of the food feast I had for Eid at end of article]
This book was penned based on observations and events leading up to 1981, updated and written with new introduction in 1997. Yet it is still amazing that the situation and analysis he made more than 12 years back still remain relevant in today’s context.
Look no further than the July Norwegian killings for evidences. Upon first reports of the incident, the New York Times, the Financial Times and other major American news agencies were quick to jump to conclude that it was a work of Islamic terrorism. UK tabloid The Sun’s headline was “Al-Qaeda Massacre: Norway’s 9/11.” (More information, refer to this article on The Atlantic Wire)
To explain such the lack of understanding of Islam, one of the central arguments made by Said is because of the media’s negative portrayal such that Islamic nations are always seen to be radically at odds with the West. “So long as this framework stands, Islam, as a vitally lived experience for Muslims, cannot be known,” he said.
Ever since 9/11 occurred, images of fanatical Islamic fundamentalist would bombard TV screens, newspapers and TIME magazine covers such the Islam I knew became radically different. Much of the woes of the Middle East have largely been accrued to Islam.
In Said words, “There is a consensus on ‘Islam’ as a kind of scapegoat for everything we do not happen to like about the world’s new political, social and economic patterns. For the right, Islam represents barbarism; for the left, medieval theocracy; for the center, a kind of distasteful exoticism.”
As a journalism graduate, such blatant biasness could be seen as blasphemous to the principals underlying the profession, which strives to report on the verified truth. Making sweeping statements, such as Islam is incompatible with Western democracy, is an overgeneralization that fails to accrue for the diverse Islamic believers across the globe. To portray believers of “Islam” frequently as radical terrorists is to sideline the majority who are moderates. More fatally, to conveniently equate Islam = Arab is ignore four fifth of non-Arab Muslims who speak different languages, eat different meals and even practice Islam differently.
“Uncovering Islam” is a book that gives you an alternative angle to the Arab world and how American media, since the 1970s, unfairly covers the Islamic world. This would challenge the everyday norm you see on the mass media unless if you are willing to approach the book with an open mind. Because the author finds uber passionate in his cause which he propagates in his books, which is why you might find his arguments single-sided and language used overly emotive at times.
Here is a snapshot of the traditional delectable delights we had over Eid. Hope you guys would enjoy viewing it as much as enjoyed eating it (: