Friday, December 15, 2006

Sheik Taj Din al-Hilaly and the use of Metaphor

War of Terror, the Home Front:
Language and the Construction of Meaning. Part 1

A month or so back there was a lot of media hysteria in Australia about the comments of a particular Muslim cleric, Sheik Taj Din al-Hilaly.


The comments that caused offence was the use of the analogy of a cat being tempted by uncovered meat, to highlight the belief that immodestly dressed women inspire rape.

The offence the comment caused should have been in the fundamental concept that one person can be responsible for the actions of another, that a woman can ‘ask to be raped’ by the clothes she chooses to wear.
This was not the line of objection presented by sections of the Australian media (yes Naomi Robson and Ray Martin, I talking about you, and other mean-spirited, mouth-breathing halfwits like you).

Several TV news services claimed that Sheik Taj Din al-Hilaly had said "women are cat-food”.

Anyone who thought that the comments placing the blame for rape with immodestly dressed women, was a statement claiming that 'women are cat food', have failed to understand one of the most basic tools of communication, 'metaphor'.

This was a real low point in Australian news and ‘current affairs’. There is no doubt that those who presented and saturated the news broadcasts for weeks with this slander were being disingenuous, that they intentionally misrepresented the case, and blew it out of all proportion.

There are probably those of you reading this wondering why I’m so annoyed by this, thinking ‘so what, they oversimplified it a bit, it wasn’t intentional, what’s the real harm in that?’
The problem is it was part of a cynical, intentional, campaign that makes war possible, and Australia a hateful, racist nation.

Anything Islamic/Arabic is considered worthy of headlines, and is reported in a particular way by the tabloid news services. Extraordinary efforts are made to link any ‘news item’ about Islam/Arab nations/individuals with terrorism. Other terrorist links don’t rate a mention anymore. When did anyone last hear concerns regarding the IRA, or a Timothy McVeigh-type Anglo terrorist?

The ‘she’s asking for it dressed like that’ mentality is alive and well in many Anglo/Euro sections of Australian society, there is no shortage of sexist stupidity in Anglo-Australia, but the media outrage wasn’t about that. It was just another opportunity for the ‘lowest common denominator’ media outlets to portray Islam as the ultimate evil ‘other’.

The only way the majority of Australians will tolerate a war is if they think that their way of life is under threat from something worthy of fear. From the point of view of those trying to ‘sell the war’, the beautiful thing about ‘fear’ is that all you need to produce it, is to prevent people from being able quantify the threat they face, that when they can no longer relate to ‘the enemy’ as people, you get infinite fear and hysteria (I'd like to take this opportunity to say 'hello' to our friends in America!).

So, back to Hilaly. If that dishonest sector of the media had have reported the sexist implications of the ‘cat/uncovered meat analogy’, then the reactionary thugs that watch so-called ‘current affairs’ programs like ‘today tonight’ would be watching a story about sexist views that many have in common with Sheik Taj Din al-Hilaly, and that could even possibly undo some of the hard work that those media outlets had done in making Islamic clerics ‘alien’ (“see, he’s just like ‘real Aussie’ men who secretly know that ‘no’ means ‘yes’). That is why a different news headline ‘cleric likens women to raw meat’ was repeated so much, they want us to think that Muslim men are evil, and keep women chained-up in the basement (“it puts the lotion on its skin and puts it in the basket”)

Recently an American bigot who is known as ‘JohnK’, tried to convince me that ‘the war on terror’ was really a ‘war on Islam’, and that it was only political correctness that prevented the American government from calling it ‘the war on Islam’. While this was just JohnK’s xenophobic belief that to fight a war on terror effectively, YOU HAVE TO KILL EVERY MUSLIM, there is a greater truth to his initial claim, and his misguided beliefs demonstrate it. In order get support for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American government have succeeded in convincing more than just JohnK that the enemy is Islam, that all Muslims are irretrievably evil. The implication is that war in Iraq is necessary, and by its nature, we needn’t be concerned about the possibility of ‘innocent civilians’ being harmed, as all Muslims are potential ‘enemy combatants’ (ask David Hicks, he might be AngloAustralian, but underneath that white skin beats ‘an evil Islamic heart’).

So whether its misrepresenting the comments of Sheik Taj Din al-Hilaly, racial violence on a Sydney beach, the contents of citizenship tests, stories of great waves of ‘illegal immigrants’ coming in boats, it isn’t sloppy reporting, it is strictly in line with the policy of trying to make Arabs/Muslims be seen as evil, that some media outlets have. Hate, fear, and hysteria make good ratings/sell newspapers. It also makes the government’s task of selling their wars to us, a whole lot easier.

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