Wednesday, April 12, 2006

"Identity Politics" and its discontents

A letter I sent to the "Columbus Dispatch" March 4, 2006, after it ran a photo that showed a large crowd on the front page of the newspaper with a headline that read, "Indian Muslims rage at America."

Dear Editor,

I found Friday's headline "Indian Muslims rage at America" a great obfuscation of the contemporary political reality not only in India, but across the world. Playing into the identity politics myth that Muslims monolithically subscribe to the same political beliefs regarding U.S. foreign policy not only increasingly casts the identification of Muslim as synonymous with anti-American, it relegates paramount geo-political and socio-economic issues relevant to any critique of international relations to secondary at best.

There was no headline that read "Catholics fury at America" when protesters in Argentina demonstrated against the Bush administration's policies in that region. That's because we all know it's not simply religion that informs political dissent in South American countries, but a vast array of social, political and economic issues. It is no different in countries with large Muslim populations, including India, which has a majority Hindu population that does not in many cases benefit from Bush administration policies. Furthermore, it was reported in the story with the headline in question that not only Muslim, but also leftist parties were involved in mobilizing the large demonstration in Bombay.

Moreover, it's disturbing to see respectable media outlets unable to recognize that billions of people all over the world, including those in South Asia, are able to distinguish between the citizens of the U.S. and their government. By saying Muslims aim their rage at America, it implies that Muslims direct their anger at the all encompassing conception of "America," rather than the government that creates the policies that affect billions of people around the world, regardless of their race, religion, or ethnicity.

Lastly, there should be cause for concern that the headline also included the verb "rage." Not only does the word denotatively involve violent action, it also connotatively implies that Muslims are uncontrollable and uncivilized in expressing their grievances, which is simply not the case. With regard to the cartoon controversy, only .01 percent of the over one billion Muslims in the world reacted violently. Is it interesting to note that neither Christians or Jews, nor even Hindus for that matter "rage" when aggrieved, but rather protest or object. Why the double-standard?

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