LONDON – Three articles about Muslims ran in the same paper on the same day (The Independent, July 25):
(1) Local color piece about how there are a lot more Middle Eastern tourists in London this summer, because France has banned the “Islamic” veil (or the Babylonian/Roman/Byzantine/Islamic veil, to be precise) that covers the face. So, instead of going to Paris, many high-spending female shoppers from the Persian Gulf are going to London.
Big London shops like Selfridges and Liberty are reporting a 40 to 45 percent in international visitors compared with last year. And since Middle Eastern shoppers spend about 15 times as much as your average British shopper, they are more than welcome even if many of them look a little weird to the average British eye.
(2) Story about how rickets, a bone disease that causes stunted growth and bow legs in children, is making a comeback in Britain. It’s caused by a deficiency of vitamin D, which is produced by sunlight acting on the skin.
And it’s Muslims (British Muslims this time), who keep their women indoors or make them cover every bit of skin when they go out, who are the main victims of this disease.
The researcher didn’t actually say that, of course. She said: “You get women living in certain communities that perhaps don’t go out much because of religious, cultural traditions. They’re covered up when they do. They don’t get enough access to sunlight, so they get vitamin D deficient. So (their children will) be presenting with rickets at around 18 months.”
Fair comment, but it’s striking that nowhere in that story does the word “Muslim” appear. It didn’t appear in the first story either. Everybody knows that both stories are about Muslims, but the galumphing etiquette that governs this discourse means that you mustn’t actually say so. It’s a well-meaning but idiotic attempt to compensate for the vicious anti-Muslim rants that you’ll see every day in other parts of the Western media.
(3) Finally, on the letters page, an angry complaint by a British Muslim about the way that Western media jumped to the instant conclusion that the hideous slaughter in Norway was the work of Muslim fanatics.
“Now that the architect of the Norwegian massacre turns out to be a blue-eyed, blond, white, Christian, rightwing fundamentalist,” inquired Dr. Shazad Amin, “where have all the so-called experts on ‘Islamic terrorism’ gone?
“I look forward to now seeing an equally vigorous explanation of how Norway was “always a key target” for rightwing neo-Nazi groups, supported by a plethora of experts on “Christian terrorism” to explain the theological basis for these attacks.”
If you hold your breath until that happens in the mainstream Western media, you will turn an attractive shade of blue, but we could try to apply the principle here.
Just as Muslims living in northerly climes with weak sunlight suffer rickets because of their clothing preferences, for example, so “Christians” living in countries with strong sunshine suffer very high rates of skin cancer because of their custom of wearing as little clothing as possible. That is not really accurate, of course, because a majority of the world’s Christians are not white. What’s actually being observed is that people of European descent (most of whom are at least “culturally” Christian) get skin cancer a lot if they live in countries like Australia, South Africa and Argentina.
The fully veiled women shoppers in London are not just generic “Muslims,” either. They are almost all women from the Arabic-speaking countries of the Persian Gulf, home to only a quarter of the world’s Arabs and only about 3 percent of the world’s Muslims.
This is just quibbling. The real question is: What can be done about the obsession with “Islamic terrorism” in the Western media, to the virtual exclusion of other kinds of terrorism. It is so strong that even after Anders Behring Breivik claimed responsibility for the Norwegian horrors and explained his (rightwing, Christian fundamentalist) motives, Internet posts continued to argue that he was just a tool in the hands of Muslim extremists.
It’s the “hidden hand” theory of politics, and its adherents generally proceed by the logical process that the lawyers refer to as cui bono: Who benefits from this action?
It’s hardly an infallible indicator of who is responsible, because you have to allow for the crazies, and for those who are miscalculating where their interests really lie. Nevertheless, it’s the methodology that the conspiracy theorists prefer.
So, then, who benefited from Breivik’s actions? Obviously he believed that it would serve his own delusional ideology (which he elucidated in a 1,500-page Internet post), but who was really behind it? I’m drifting toward paranoia, I know, but stay with me.
The week before the Norwegian tragedy saw a deluge of revelations of criminality and a firestorm of media criticism about the conduct of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. Suddenly, all the media attention has turned to Norway and terrorism, and the Murdochs are off the agenda.
I’m not going to say anything that might get me sued, but if you like a really big conspiracy theory …
Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.