International Muslim media have to look at the bigger picture

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As
someone who studies the phenomenon of political Islam, Farish Noor has,
understandably, been reading much of the international Muslim press
over the past few years. In particular, he has focused on the international Islamist media – the
newspapers, websites, journals and magazines produced by the many
Islamist organisations, NGOs, political parties and social movements
all over the world. One
factor that comes to his mind immediately is how parochial and narrow the
worldview of much of the international Islamist media has become.


More often than not the reportage of world affairs, particularly by
Islamist media in the non-Arab world, is focused more on the
goings-on in Muslim societies and Arab-Muslim societies in
particular. Reading through the material produced by the Islamist
media in Pakistan , Malaysia and Indonesia for instance one learns
more about the developments in Egypt , Turkey , Morocco , the Gulf
states and Iran than anywhere else.

This
does not mean to imply that the developments in these countries are
not important, or that they are of no relevance to the development of
Islamist movements in Asia or Africa or even Europe . But one does
wonder how Islamists in Asia view the rest of the planet, and whether
they realise that so much else is going on beyond the narrow
frontiers of the Muslim world.

More
troubling is that the view of the West is often shaped by the
Islamist lens that they wear, and here again the ethnocentric and
religio-centric biases of the Islamist press stands out in bold
relief. We are all well acquainted by now with the controversy over
the recently-released film Fitna by the Dutch politician Geert
Wilders. But how many Islamist papers reported the fact that during
the protests against the recent Gulf War more than half a million
Berliners came out into the streets of Berlin to protest against the
invasion of Iraq? And what about the other civil-society led
demonstrations organised in London, Paris, Madrid, Rome, Barcelona ?

But
perhaps the most troublesome thing about the Islamist media today is
the impression it gives of being primarily and solely concerned with
the affairs of the Muslim world alone; to the point where the
overwhelming majority of the rest of the human race remain neglected
and their stories remain untold. Yet if we were to look at the
developments in the world since 11 September 2001 it should be clear
to us all by now that many of the major geo-political shifts we have
seen reflect and mirror many of the developments that we also see in
the Muslim world.

Two
examples stand out:

The
first has to do with the latest scramble to re-colonise Africa in no
uncertain terms. If we were to cast our minds back to the late 1990s,
some of us may recall that it was even trendy in some Western
technocratic circles to mumble the mantra of ‘saving Africa from
itself’. Since the publication of Basil Davidson’s ‘The Black
Man’s Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-state’ (1993)
there was much spurious talk of how post-colonial Africa was a
disaster zone and that the nation-state model was not applicable
there. The subtext of this constant attack on the performance of the
nation-states of Africa (which did not come from Davidson, though)
was that Africans were not able to govern themselves and were not
culturally or essentially adapted to modern modes of governance. The
other subtext was that if Africans could not govern themselves then
perhaps the time has come for a new mode of colonialism that would
rescue Africa (and by extension Africans) from themselves.

Today
what we see is the rush to gather and monopolise the oil and gas
fields of Africa in the most blatant manner. Already American,
European and Chinese companies are all over the continent, cutting
deals with corrupt African despots in order to secure the gas and oil
resources of countries like Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Yet
why isn’t any of this being reported in the Islamist press? Surely
the parallels with the developments in many Muslim countries, which
are likewise hostage to the oil industry, are clear? Or is it because
many Islamist intellectuals and journalists still think that Africans
are not important to deserve such reporting because many parts of
Africa (like Kenya , Uganda and Tanzania ) are not Muslim?

Another
striking example that comes to mind is the politics of Central and
Latin America, which has gone unrecorded and unrecognised for so
long. Venezuela for instance has been threatened with numerous
embargoes, has experienced several attempts at toppling its
government and has been cast as a pariah state by the American
government. Yet the country’s president, Hugo Chavez, has been
attempting nothing more than an economic reform project aimed at
giving the Venezuelan economy back to its people, complete with land
reforms and nationalisation of key industries as was the case in
Egypt during the time of Gammel Abdel Nasr.

Surely
it should strike many of us as obvious that this is a case of history
repeating itself, and the parallels with developments in the Muslim
world; from Egypt under Nasr to Iran under Mosaddeq, are obvious too.
And surely there is so much that Muslims can learn today by looking
at the Venezuelan struggle against hegemony and comparing that to
their own geo-political plight under present circumstances. But
again, Venezuela seems entirely off the map for the international
Islamist press. Why? Is it because Hugo Chavez and the people of
Venezuela are not Muslims?

One
cannot help but come to such conclusions when the contradictions and
blind-spots seem so painfully obvious. But if prejudice and ignorance
of the world of the other is the only thing that is stopping Muslims
from looking beyond the frontiers of their own community, then
perhaps the time has come for them to serious ask themselves what it
means to be Muslim in the first place. Surely one of the principle
tenets of Islam is the notion of Tauhid – the unitary nature of God
and creation – which reminds us of the fundamental unity we share
with the entire human race. The editors, writers and journalists who
serve the machinery of the international Islamist press should
therefore get their respective acts together and begin to look closer
at the rest of the world around them. If they do so, they may realise
that Muslims today have more in common with their struggling brothers
and sisters in Venezuela, Cuba and the African nations that with the
rich elite of their own countries.

Dr.
Farish A. Noor is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of
International Studies, Nanyang Technological University of Singapore;
and one of the founders of the
www.othermalaysia.org
research site.

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