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04 April 2012

How to write about Muslims

Inspired by Binyavanga Wainaina's essay; How to write about Africa and dedicated to all my Muslim friends.

You want to write about Muslims do you? Or about Islam in general? Or perhaps you want to talk about them to your friends to make yourself sound intelligent and worldly? Well then listen carefully, it’s all very simple really, there is nothing to it. 


First of all, all Muslims are fanatics. By their very nature their religious fervour gets the better of them, grabs them up and transforms them into other than humans. They are Muslims first before they are Arabs, or Pakistani’s, Africans or Americans. In that description of Muslim [insert race/nationality here] you have already relegated their humanity to a secondary position in relation to their religion. But of course that is the whole point is it not? Try to avoid any mention of their awe inspiring architecture or calligraphy. In fact avoid anything that could be construed as artistic and therefore human.

I mean after all, all Muslims are extremists, fundamentalists, terrorists or a deadly mixture of all three. They are all waiting ready to explode at the slightest provocation. So make sure you include how unfair they are being for being angry at the burning of their holy scriptures. I mean it has nothing to do with anything from their perspective, capture everything from your vantage as the worldly intellectual, the Christian or the global citizen. Don’t talk to any Muslims on why they feel that way, instead use such words as explosive atmosphere, ignite and fatwah (or jihad, yes jihad always sells) as you describe the circumstances surrounding the latest controversy.

If at all you do feel compelled to come down to the human level, dwell heavily on the externals. Focus on the hidjabs on the face of the women, write long paragraphs about the captivity of their eyes as they gaze towards you and freedom. Invoke visions of them wanting to be freed of the restricting headgear and talk at length about the men who force them to wear it. At no point in your narrative should you ever draw the comparison between the hidjab and the habit worn by Catholic nuns. I mean those two pieces of headgear are worlds apart are they not?


If it is a man you are describing, talk at length about his bushy beard. His long robes and the fervour in his voice. Ignore the encrustation on his forehead that is caused by the constant obeisance he has performed as he prays five times a day every day of his life. In fact just don’t talk about praying at all. That is too human an action. Talk instead of the broader religion, in terms of dogma and tradition contrast it with modern humanism, never with the beliefs of Jews or heaven forbid Christians. But as I said before, it is best not to speak of individuals.

Instead always focus on the heaving masses, let the lenses of your mind’s eye soar over the crowds as you paint them as one heaving mass. But make sure never to make the mass too large. Make it a big mass that can still be described as a minority. Never you mind that the UN predicts that Islam will surpass Christianity as the most populous religion in Africa. Whilst we are on the topic of Africa, stay away from any other region besides the Middle East. If you are talking about North Africa call it the Middle East. If you are talking about South East Asia, call it the Middle East and if by some strange twist of fate you have no choice but to talk of Europe or the America’s make sure you highlight the Middle Eastern heritage of your subject.
That land of deserts and spices, a land lost in time and forever abandoned by the march of human progress. Paint it with broad strokes of the storyteller brush. Avoid such absurdities as Qatar and Jordan. Try not to mention that Qatar has the worlds’ second highest GDP or that the Queen of Jordan is an internationally celebrated human rights activist. Focus on countries like Yemen or Syria and if you do feel the need to take up the challenge, talk of Saudi Arabia but always in terms of time warps. Or perhaps terrorists.

Oh yes, that rich subject matter when it comes to Muslims. Talk at length about acts of terrorism and focus on the victims and their grieving families. Here you will find a rich literature, Google is your friend. Of course if you are feeling rushed for time just invoke 9/11 and the Twin Towers. But don’t make the mistake of describing Muslim victims. Oh no. Only 2000 people died as a result of the Twin Towers collapsing, try to avoid mentioning the 1 033 000 Iraqi civilians who died in the subsequent invasion. Don’t draw attention to the fact that many Muslim countries suffer extensively from the effects of terrorism. Forget about Algeria’s schools bombed to bits at the end of the last century by extremists or the devastation that ravaged through Afghanistan for the better part of a decade. No, only non-Muslims can be victims of terrorism (unless of course you are building the case for a Western invasion [this rule does not apply to Palestine of course]); focus your attention on the bombings in London and Spain.


And while you are at it, remember that the word terrorist has a special relationship with the word Muslim. Don’t get sloppy and describe the Norwegian shooter, Anders Breivik or Timothy Mcveigh, the Oklahama City Bomber, as terrorists. No that will not do, acts of terror and the term terrorism are not associative events. Remember that: special relationship. Now draw away from your work and admire the portrait you have created and proceed to publish it to your never ending audience. Don’t worry, stereotypes always sell, I mean who on earth wants to read the truth.

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