Issue 98 November 2012
When myths take on an air of authenticity, society is in danger.
A low budget film about the Prophet made in the US was blamed for inciting riots in the Middle East including the storming of the American embassy in Benghazi and the death of the Ambassador. Let’s put aside for one moment the underlying politics of who made the film and why. The entire incident raises some big ideological issues that come up repeatedly pertaining to violence, freedom of speech, and the right to offend. Namely, that Muslims are offended by everything and can’t take criticism. Muslims are intrinsically violent. Muslims aren’t like us, and need a proper education. This is just about religion and blasphemy which Europe managed to get rid of in the Enlightenment several centuries ago. These are myths.
There are other myths. The myth of ‘creeping shariah’ persists: that the overarching goal for Muslims is to impose shariah law wherever they go, and that by 2030 Muslims will apparently make up the entire population of the UK. That Eurabia is a real country. That Muslims are all planning their Islamification strategies. And everyone’s favourite myth, that Muslim women are oppressed and it’s because the Qur’an and the Prophet say so. Honour killings are, of course, the fault of Muslims, failing to mention that this is part of the same heartbreaking story of violence against women that includes the death of two women in the UK each week at the hands of their partners.
So how should such myths be tackled? Facts, oft-repeated facts, in the voice of calm, reasonable logic. Take the myth that Muslims have can never be patriotic to their country. Here are some facts.
In 2006, CNN-IBN-Hindustan Times conducted a survey of 29 Indian states, and concluded that Muslims suffered under a “myth of extra-territorial loyalty”, pointing to the fact that all but two per cent of Muslims said they were “proud” or “very proud” of being Indian. Levels of pride in being Indian were almost identical between Hindus and Muslims.
In 2009, the Coexist Index published by the Coexist Foundation in conjunction with Gallup found that 86% of British Muslims said they were loyal to the UK compared with just 36% of the wider population. In Germany, the figures were 40% versus 32% and in France, the two groups were about the same at 52% versus 55%.
Or what about the myth that all Muslims are terrorists?
According to Europol’s EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report, out of 249 terrorist attacks carried out in the EU in 2010, only three were related to Muslims.
A January 2011 report on terrorism statistics based on publicly available data from bodies such as the FBI and other US crime agencies concluded that terrorism by Muslim Americans to date had accounted for a minority of terrorist plots since 9/11.
What all this points to is myth serving as propaganda, the goal of which is inciting violence and hatred. In the USA recently, celebrity Islamophobe Pamela Geller sponsored adverts to be posted on New York subway platforms saying, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
If the adverts weren’t so putrid with hatred, they would be impressive for the number of myths they manage to pack into so few words.
The United Methodist Women sponsored adverts to be posted side by side with these saying: “Hate speech is not civilized. Support peace in word and deed.” Rabbis for Human Rights-North America posted adverts saying: “In the choice between love and hate, choose love.” And the Christian group Sojourners have bought signs to say: “Love your Muslim neighbours.”
What is heartening—and the other plank of countering myths—is the solidarity shown across multiple sectors of the US public in tackling such raving nonsense.
We all need to make such efforts because once myths take hold they are pernicious, long lasting and divisive. What we need is persistence, solidarity and most of all, facts, to counter the fear and ignorance upon which myths are built. l
Shelina is the author
of Love in a Headscarf,
and writes a blog at