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Dec 27 2015

The Tyranny of Anti-Islam Internet Memes

misinformation everywhereBy Ghanim Khalil
December 27, 2015

The following essay will address the role that anti-Islam Internet memes play in the distortion of Islam and the demonization of Muslims. These memes originate from America and other Western societies, and are used to reinforce certain Islamophobic political narratives of our times. I will focus on a particular meme and address the issues which make most anti-Islam memes problematic, especially in times of mass hysteria pertaining to the so-called “war on terrorism”.

Internet memes play a considerably efficient and effective role in spreading ideas (whether good or bad) from the periphery of society to the center of the social, business, and commercial worlds. Their ability to convey concise messages make them highly influential in shaping the way we see certain issues, groups of people, and even history.

Unfortunately memes also play a major role in spreading misinformation and negative messages which include bigoted, stereotypical, and divisive views. These views truncate vastly complex issues or subjects into a single simplistic image and set of words, and are meant to communicate the misinformation to a large viewer base. This oversimplification is then used to reinforce a particular negative message. In the context of the “war on terrorism”, memes have played a key role in spreading the stereotypes and ignorance that are needed to generate and maintain peoples fear of Islam and hatred of Muslims.

What Islam Has to Offer

 

Here is an example meme, representative of the many internet memes making waves in the sea of contentious posts about Islam all over the English speaking world:

 

The conclusive message of this meme is simple: what Islam offers is evil. A point-by-point refutation of this and other similar memes requires the meme to be present and popular enough to reach a wide audience in the first place. It has passed its simplistic message to perhaps tens of thousands of viewers until a credible rebuttal takes place. Credible or effective rebuttals, however, seem scarce for multiple reasons – and one being that these types of memes don’t generate healthy dialogues. They instead tend to produce wholesale emotional agreement on one side versus wholesale reactionary views, which seem equally emotional, on the other. In the middle, it is hard to determine how many people dismissed such memes by not engaging in a response. It is similarly hard to determine how many may agree with it to a certain degree but not agree enough to merit a “like” or “share”.

Although each point in this meme can be addressed in its own article and discussed at length, I will offer a quick point-by-point rebuttal in order to demonstrate how a complex subject like what Islam teaches or advocates, is reduced into simplistic memes that play into and fuel divisiveness in American society between different social groups. This divisiveness then complicates how Americans analyze and react to current events that are affecting billions of people. I will also add a little historical and scholarly context to counter the message of the above meme beginning with the subject of pedophilia and moving clockwise.

 

  1. Pedophilia: Islam is often disingenuously attacked for advocating pedophilia. This view stems from the practice of child marriages which occurred in the premodern Muslim world and still happen today in certain Muslim communities. Many non-Muslim premodern societies also practiced this and still do in some areas. Islam sanctions marriage only after puberty and only by consent. Despite this, Islamophobes continue to argue that pedophilia is a norm in Islamic teachings. Complicating this issue is the complete absence of knowledge that many premodern societies culturally practiced early marriages due to short life expectancies and other sociopolitical reasons, and not because of what scholars and psychiatrists define as pedophilic disorder. Early marriages slowly changed after societies industrialized in the 19th century and older norms/conditions were mostly replaced by newer ones.

 

  1. Rape: Rape of Muslims and non-Muslims is explicitly forbidden in Islam and there is a harsh punishment for rapists, where rapists can even be subject to execution. Some Islamophobes have claimed that Islam exempts Muslims who had historically owned female captives due to war, from charges of rape; however, the Qur’an states, “But force not your maids to prostitution when they desire chastity in order that you may make a gain in the goods of this life.” – 24:33. Historically, Islamic scholars condemned forcing anyone into any type of sexual relations inside and outside of marriage and Islamic law not only forbids rape, but has given Muslim jurists and judges the authority to combine a punishment for rape with a punishment for armed assault (if, for example, a weapon was used during the rape).

 

  1. Beheadings: In Islamic and Judaic law, beheadings are sometimes sanctioned as a form of punishment for high crimes such as murder, rape, rebellion which leads to civil strife, and hirabah (highway robbery or the incitement of violence as in acts of terrorism). Though the death penalty is enacted as a punishment in various countries of the world, including the U.S., beheadings are generally seen as a symbol of premodern times. For this reason it is identified as a particularly backwards or barbaric form of punishment – though the criteria to label what forms of violence are deemed barbaric, opposed to those which are not, seems to be based on shifting ideas and meanings of civilization, society, order, power, and security. But as many Muslim and non-Muslim scholars have pointed out, the application of this punishment in Islam has been nowhere near as popular in Islamic history as it is presented in the distorted characterizations of Muslim life, past and present, found in Orientalist literature and art. It has also been pointed out that when beheadings were carried out, it was enacted swiftly compared to various methods of killing criminals in the history of the U.S. justice system (like electrocution and lethal injection). Opposing beheadings as a method of capital punishment while advocating, tolerating, or ignoring other forms of the death penalty is disingenuous. Even more disingenuous is to justify, tolerate, or ignore the increasing use of the tools of war as extrajudicial forms of executing suspected (often not confirmed) terrorists and their supporters via military drones that end up killing thousands of innocent children, women, and men in Muslim countries while blaming a minority of Muslims for beheading innocent people.

 

  1. Burning People Alive: Islam strongly prohibits the use of fire as an instrument of death. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) clearly stated that “No one may punish using fire except the Lord of fire” (Abu Dawud, Sunan, #2674). Historically some Muslim scholars advocated its permissibility in certain rare circumstances, but the majority of Muslim scholars opposed it in all circumstances.

 

  1. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): There is absolutely no scripture or prophetic tradition that command Muslims to perform FGM.  FGM is a cultural practice which predates Islam, and is also practiced by many non-Muslims. Muslims who practice FGM, do so in contradiction to the teachings of Islam.

 

  1. Hostage Taking: There is no basis in Islam for taking hostages – that is to deprive an individual of his/her right to security and freedom. Islamic laws of war prohibit the harming of civilians and other non-combatants.  

 

  1. Honor Killings: There is no basis in Islam for honor killings. Muslim scholars liken honor killings (found in Muslim and Arab societies) to the pre-Islamic age of ignorance where men could kill those they perceived to have besmirched their honor or the honor of their family or tribe. Islamic law considers honor killings acts of murder.

 

  1. Slavery: Historians (Muslim and non-Muslim) have long pointed out that Islam does not advocate slavery, but does advocate emancipation of slaves as a means of attaining righteousness and salvation. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and many of his closest companions freed thousands of slaves. They took their instruction from various verses of the Qur’an like the following ” But he would not attempt the uphill road. What will make you comprehend what the uphill road is? It is the setting free of a slave.” (90:11-13). People ignorantly point out that the Qur’an mentions slaves as what “the right hands posses” and use this to argue that Islam is pro-slavery. However, scholars like Kecia Ali, Ronald Segal, Sylviane Diouf, Ehud Toledano, Timothy Marr, and even Bernard Lewis have shown that slavery in Muslim societies was far more complex and didn’t mirror the horrors of the Atlantic slave trade familiar to most Europeans and Americans. Some have revealed that slavery was a world-wide fact of life, and that Islam alleviated the treatment of slaves by offering numerous opportunities for slaves to escape their predicament. Many slaves were gradually integrated into the tribes and households they were a part of, thus eventually eliminating their status as slaves. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) famously stated: “Your slaves are your brothers and Allah has put them under your command. So whoever has a brother under his command should feed him from what he eats and dress him of what he wears. Do not ask them to do things beyond their capacity and if you do so, then help them” (Bukhari, Vol 1, Book 2, #29). To the surprise of many Westerners, Islamic scholars throughout history advocated an almost egalitarian treatment of slaves in the name of upholding Islamic principles; And they condemned any mistreatment (including even slapping them, let alone using whips or canes) of slaves, which they classified as grave offenses to Islam. To say that Islam promotes slavery is therefore a fiction that ignores the fact that Islam presents a non-violent and purely voluntary solution to the problem of slavery.

 

  1. Oppression of Women: Oppression of women in Muslims societies exists just as it exists in all societies. However, Islamophobes have utilized evolving stereotypes of the Muslim woman (silent, passive, concealed, victimized, economically deprived, politically absent, and sexually exploited) popularized by what the anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod has called “gendered Orientalism“, to argue that Islam is the source of their oppression and therefore they need rescuing. One of the most potent symbols used by Islamophobes is the hijab (as well as the burkah, nikab, and full body dress) to argue that the Muslim woman is a victim of a male-dominated religion constructed by men and for men. Not only is this historically and religiously inaccurate, it also reduces Muslim women to simple caricatures void of any reality of their own (as has been shown by numerous Muslim and non-Muslim scholars like Annemarie Schimmel, Sachiko Murata, Karen Armstrong, Katherine Bullock, Yvonne Haddad, Aminah B. McCloud, and Lila Abu-Lughod). Much of the oppression of Muslim women today takes place in cultural and political contexts that violate Islamic principles; And many Muslim women react to this oppression (especially oppression established in the name of Islam) by using Islamic religious texts. This is a reality that undercuts the myths and stereotypes prevalent in the Western world.

 

  1. Jihad: Though jihad means “to struggle” or “exert effort” into doing what is right, it has long been used as a trigger word for Islamophobes to create and maintain fear of Islam and Muslims. In the meme it is assumed that listing the word (with a hand holding a knife over it) is sufficient to generate the intended fearful response. This is a well founded assumption due to the fact that American and European popular culture is replete with stereotypical and incoherent uses of the word jihad (often mistranslated as “holy war”) – uses which are overwhelmingly based on false understandings and meanings of the word. Jihad is used in Islamic sources to signify a number of different but related aspects of the human self and the ideal Muslim society, most of which has not provoked objections in Western views of Islam. The Qur’an uses it mostly to describe a person’s struggle to uphold truth, justice, and self-discipline. The word is also used to describe defensive combat as defined by the laws of war as set down by the Qur’an, the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and the sayings of some of his closest companions. In Islamophobic works, the term Jihad is used to conflate Muslim violence, past and present, with Islamic teachings; And this is despite the fact that most Muslim violence (especially what is witnessed today) is prohibited by Islamic law and is overwhelmingly opposed by Muslim religious scholars and institutions of learning all over the world. A number of scholars of Islam like Marshall Hodgson, Norman Daniel, Philip Hitti, Ira Lapidus, Caesar E. Farah, Carl Ernst, John Esposito, William Chittick, and Michael Bonner have debunked the many myths associated with the misuse of jihad by both Muslims and non-Muslims.  

 

CONCLUSION

Even a brief look at the above issues show that internet memes can reduce and shape reality and history to conveniently fit into simplistic messages meant to produce or maintain fictions that are readily deployed as talking points in divisive narratives. They have complimented and in many instances overtaken the place of newspaper and other print media (cartoons) that have historically been used to denigrate minorities like Blacks and Jews. Obviously, common flaws within these memes rely heavily upon already existing assumptions and stereotypes of Islam and Muslims. These memes almost always conflate negative Muslim behavior with Islam, and lack any coherent scholarly input. Many scholars have also pointed to what scholar Nathan Lean calls the “Islamophobia Industry” where a handful of hate-mongers and so-called “experts” of Islam like Robert Spencer, David Horowitz, Pamela Geller, Brigitte Gabriel, Debbie Schlussel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and their powerful political, business, and religious allies have been exposed as the ideological base behind the current wave of fear and misinformation about Islam and Muslims.

19 comments

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  1. Lauren

    Well, since Islam is such a wonderful, peaceful religion, I guess we can go back to printing ‘offensive’ cartoons of Mohammed without fear of any reactive violence, or murder….right?…

  2. meysam

    okay daesh or isis is behadings,burning people alive ,but there is not islam.
    america is the biggest terrorist because america helps daesh terrorists.

  3. meysam

    islam is not terrorist islam is beautiful .islam is not beheadings .islam is gods religion.

  4. The

    You forgot stoning

  5. Ghanim Khalil

    Observe for yourselves the incoherent and ignorant commentary expressed here by Sandra and Phillip Slepian.

    1. Phillip Slepian

      Wow, Ghanim, what a thoughtful and substantive reply! You really put me and Sandra in our places. With defenders of Islam like you, the Uma need never worry about successfully fooling and conquering dar al Harb! {sarc]

      1. Ghanim Khalil

        My message was neither for you nor in response to you specifically.

        1. Phillip Slepian

          So, Ghanim, if your message was not for me or inresponse to me, why did you include my name, specifically, in your message? Please, think before you type. It’s a good habit to get into.

  6. Phillip Slepian

    I don’t have the time to refute this nonsense point-by-point. In general, Khalil ignores abrogation, which do indeed call for many of the things he claims Islam forbids. More than that, is the maxim that Islam is as Islam does. When Muslims claim to commit all these things – in the name of Islam – we would expect there would be a massive reaction from leading Muslim clerics. There rarely is, and when it comes, as in this piece, it is phrased along the lines that “your maidens” must be treated well. The obvious meaning is that women and girls who are infidels, and therefore, not “your maidens” are fair game for rape, slavery, etc. Likewise, the killing of “innocent” people is always condemned by Muslim clerics, without, conveniently, defining who is and who is not “innocent”.

    While not every criticism of Islam on the web is accurate or well researched, some are. And, frankly, it is no bigger problem than all of the misinformation regarding Islam being posted on the web by Muslims seeking to disarm infidels and lull them into accepting Islam as a religion of peace that does not seek world hegemony and the subjugation of all people in the world to Islamic law. So the knife cuts both ways. To choose some very over-simplified graphic (which I had never seen prior to this post, btw) ignores the vast body of scholars who offer legitimate examinations of Islam and how it translates into application in the modern world. Khalil is only fooling the blindly obedient and the naive infidel, and, perhaps, himself.

  7. sh e 5 a

    This is wrong. XDDDDDD

  8. Guy

    “Pedophilia: Islam is often disingenuously attacked for advocating pedophilia. This view stems from the practice of child marriages which occurred in the premodern Muslim world and still happen today in certain Muslim communities. ”

    Was the prophet Muhammed a pedophile or not?

    This is where people get the view that Islam sanctions pedophilia.

    ———–

    Also what is the punishment for apostasy?
    Are Muslims justified in killing those that leave Islam or not?

    1. Phillip Slepian

      You hit on an important point, Guy. Muslims are bound to imitate the behavior of Mohammed. Read the Koran and the Hadiths, and you will see that the practices Khalil claims are not Islamic were, by and large, things Mohammed did. The question for Khalil should be: Which is it? Obey your version of the Koran, which gives equal weight to earlier and later revelations, or imitate Mohammed. It seems doing both involves numerous contradictions.

  9. Mohamed

    Watch this video about Islam https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LMOSpfnz-w

  10. Riqqah

    Let me ask you a question.If you do not trust real muslims,then why do you guys trust isis who you think ,are true muslims?Islam means peace,freedoom and nothing’s more beautiful than islam..To all the haters of islam,May allah ease your heart and make you believe the peaceful truth behind islam..Amin

    1. Phillip Slepian

      I don’t want my heart eased by your god, Riqqah. I want to preserve the faith of my fathers, not force it upon you. And my faith in the One True G-d is strong. I am commanded to avoid false gods, and that is why I will live and die as a non-Muslim. I wish the hearts of more Muslims would be eased so that Muslims could accept that not everyone should be forced to submit to Islam. If that would happen, you would quickly see fewer non-Muslims criticizing Islam.

  11. Anwar Alibux

    Well summarized. Thank you Ghanim. Keep up the good work.

  12. MOHAMMED

    Islam means peace means freedom means love means charity means being honest means love other people understanding means smile means doing well Islam accept others you Do not know Islam You only Know people that Try to show That Islam is not Good But Islam Means Peace Read Holy Qura’n Understand it then You well Know that nothing Beautiful Like Islam ^_^

    1. Sandra

      Don´t teke the christians and jews as friends they are friends to each other ?!? sonds very like acceptens BTW Islam means submission not peace and not freedom submission is the opposit to freedom !
      I have read the quran and well I was shocked and just can tell any moslem to read the Quran (cause most moslems I talked to have no Idea whats writen in their holy book) and then read Tora and Bibel and then use your common sence !

      Only if you got all the information you´ll be able to see the whole picture

  13. Ilia

    This is just lie that Islam is this,all of them!! It’s very funny for me that always you are speaking about freedom and honest but you don’t have any honest in your issues and just lying to peoples about pure Islam, peoples that don’t know any thing about alone peace and pretty offers in world that these are writed just in Islam

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