Monday, November 15, 2010

Fear/bigotry/infantile behavior/excessive emotion/incoherence

I got a text from David on October 15th (this picture is irrelevant--I just can't let him live it down).

Apparently, the members of the West Whitman Estate have been treading on controversial territory and as a consequence, their mask pictures have been censored. This is less surprising than it should be.

So here's the story:

The house I lived in last year participates in a tradition. Every year, for the Mask publication (a photo directory of students and faculty), the residents of The Estate dress similarly for the photos. This year, after Tommy had just returned from a trip to the Middle East, they decided to go with an Arab theme. The quoted an unoffensive portion of the Koran, "22:73 He chooses His messengers from the angels and from men. He hears all and observes all. He knows what is before them and behind them. To Him all things return. -Koran." According to a good source (Tommy), these headdresses are available at tourist shops throughout the region. Given that, I think it's fair to say the muslim sellers of this garb expect their merchandise to be worn in less than serious situations (like this one). So, the members of The Estate donned the headdresses, Ray-Ban's, and white undershirts.

This, regardless of it's benign nature, was flagged (by the designated censor who works for the university administration) as inappropriate for a Walla Walla University student publication. Depending on the source, the stated opposition is something like either "the general sensitivity about Muslims in this country" or vaguely "that it might offend Muslims" (Update: Actually the only substantial objection turned out to be that the pictures are inappropriate because they are "covering their faces." If you're as confused about that as I was, they have their faces "covered" because their wearing sunglasses.)

The attitudes surrounding Islam in this country are increasingly alarming. In a political climate where Bill O'Reilly indicts Muslims on "The View" by saying that "Muslims killed us on 9/11" and the folks on "Fox and Friends" state that "Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims," Mike Rosen gets the prize for "most outrageous." 

During a debate of radio personalities he stated (about the proposed Islamic community center relatively near Ground-Zero) "I think they should be allowed to build it, followed by the hijacking of an Iranian plane right into that building and blow it to smithereens."

I'm speechless. However, I do have something to say about the plight of my buddies of the West Whitman Estate. 

1. The context of this game of "dress-up" could not be more innocent. 

2. Muslims who would be offended by the donning of widely distributed Middle Eastern consumer goods intended to be sold to tourists are probably worrying about a multitude of other things besides the fact that college students are dressing up in Arab garb for a student produced photo directory (like the fact that their faith tradition is being demonized by one of the most powerful political parties in the world's only superpower). 

3. This controversy was created by an over-zelous censorship process that has recently been reinforced (because last year they let the word "shaggin'" slip into the publication and had to scribble the word out by hand). Note: In my opinion, over-zelous censorship is redundant. Any censorship is too much.

4. In an age of incoherent and irrational islamophobia (aka. "sensitivity"), the last thing a reputable academic institution should do is jump on the band-wagon of fear and ignorance. This is an institution of higher learning and as such, should never succumb to all the things mentioned in the title to this post.

Update: David and I ended up writing an opinion article for the Collegian (Walla Walla's student newspaper) that was eventually published after much haggling. I'll post it tomorrow.

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