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Parvez Sharma: The Gray Lady Wears Islamophobia on Her Sleeve

7 December 2010 Huffington Post 7 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

This Sunday morning, like most mornings, I opened — from years of habit — the home page of The New York Times. Peering at the lead story without my glasses, I was horrified to find the image of Muslim men praying near Mecca next to a cable excerpt from (the now hard to access) WikiLeaks. The Times had decided this was the top story for us this Sunday.

However, next to the excerpt, which began “Terrorist funding emanating from Saudi Arabia remains a serious concern,” there was the unmistakable image of Muslim men praying near Mecca wearing the requisite Ihram during pilgrimage.

Is The Times saying that all Muslim men who go for the Hajj or Umrah pilgrimages to Mecca are a part of terrorism emanating from Saudi Arabia? Are all Muslims stepping into that holy (and unjustly Wahabi controlled land) getting classes in Terrorism 101?

Living in the U.S., I am now unsurprised by the Islamophobia of others. I cringe when cartoons depict our (undepictable) Prophet. And yet as a moderate Muslim, I always fight for freedom of expression (I usually attach the rider: “with responsibility”).

Throughout history words and images used together convey powerful meaning. All dictatorships, genocidal regimes and problematic systems of power know this. Journalists and photo-editors should know this better than most.

I often defend The New York Times to Muslim friends elsewhere who don’t trust it.

Now, I am not so sure.

I wonder if I am the only one to notice what I hope is a lapse of judgment and not an editorial decision.

Below is my hurriedly written letter to The Times. The image grab can be found on my Facebook as well.

To the Times.

As a Muslim writer and filmmaker based in NY, my home-I have always turned to this paper as my primary source of information. In my travels through Muslim majority nations, I have also been very aware of the untrustworthy label easily assigned to your reportage, which I have often defended. This more from a place of knowing that you are also much reviled by the right-wing here in America as being part of some imagined “progressive conspiracy.” However, this Sunday morning–like every Sunday morning when I opened the paper in my web browser I was horrified to see an image of Muslim men praying during the Hajj, wearing the requisite “Ihram” next to a Wikileak cable excerpt that says “Terrorist funding emanating from Saudi Arabia remains a serious concern…”

This is blatant “Islamophobia”, which your editors surely know is currently much in fashion. Surely a less provocative image can be found to depict a nation, which for many of us moderate Muslims-remains a place we deride for its hypocrisy and totalitarianism but respect as being the home of our two holiest cities. I wonder if the current climate makes it acceptable to use Muslim males in prayer as a suitable image for them usually being branded “terrorists” or singled out at most airports in the world.

Words and images together, convey powerful meaning. Your editors, your web-editors and your photo-editors, I hope know this better than anyone else.

In the past I have considered myself fortunate to be profiled and written about in your paper. Now I am not so sure.

Thank you.

Parvez Sharma
New York
December 5, 2010

Update: As of 11:13 AM on December 5, The Times had removed the objectionable image as part of the scroll. This was probably due to the emails I and other had sent about an hour after I noticed it. The image and its accompanying content can be found at www.ajihadforlove.blogspot.com.

Original post: Parvez Sharma: The Gray Lady Wears Islamophobia on Her Sleeve

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7 Comments »

  1. Dear Parvez,

    Your point is well taken, if a little over-wrought. However the title of your piece leaves little doubt that what you believe to be true.

    Was the juxtaposition intentional or unfortunate? I suspect that in these time of cutbacks, the art directors at the TIMES don’t pay attention much to the editorial content above, below, or to the sides of the photographs.

    To your inquiry I would add my own question, why refer to yourself as a “Moderate Muslim.” instead of simply a Muslim? Certainly you must be aware of the implications of the use of the adjective “moderate.” It defines your identity as conditional, which is to say, under different circumstances you could just as easily be an apostate or an extremist.

    The point I’m making is that we are, both as individuals and as institutions, seldom conscious of the ambiguity we leave in our paths. I think as a writer and filmmaker you have a special obligation not to take things too literally.

    If you think the TIMES may be Islamaphobic, then you’re in excellent company, I met a Israeli woman today who told me she found the TIMES insensitive to the situation of the Jews.

  2. I don’t think this site should post the thoughts of Pervez Sharma, a man whose thoughts also include the acceptance of homosexuality, as well as the advocacy of homosexual muslims, both which are in direct violation of Islam and the Quran.

  3. ITALY GIVES ISLAM THE BOOT: WILL NOT RECOGNIZE IT AS LEGIT RELIGION

    During a segment on O’Reilly several weeks ago I learned that the citizens of Murfreesboro, Tennessee who are waging a well publicized court battle with the state to stop contstruction of a local supremacist mega mosque similar to the one at Ground Zero are doing so on the seemly absurd grounds that “Islam is not a recognized religion covered by the First Amendment.” Opposing the suit were Federal attorneys who offered legal proof in court that Murfreesboro was completely wrong and that Islam was indeed “a recognized religion entitled to constitutional protection” and that the charge that it wasn’t “isn’t supported by any authority whatsoever.”

    True enough. Despite the derogatory opinion held about Islam by Franklin, Jefferson, Adams and other freedom loving Founders (Islamophobes by today’s PC standards) there are no recognized authorities in this country past or present who have challenged or denied Islam’s status as a legitmate religion and way of worshiping God. But outside this country such an authority has emerged.

    Indeed, agreeing with the “ridiculous” anti-mosque opponents of Murfreesboro is the government of democratic Italy. For the “religion of peace, justice and love” is not regarded as such by Italy’s coalition of center-left/center-right ruling politicians. In fact, judging by Italy’s modern, progressive, civilized, pluralistic, liberal standards, Islam, according to them, doesn’t qualify as a legitamate religion. On the contrary, based on decades of experinece with Itay’s mostly hostile Moslem clergy and growing population, the Italian government views Islam unfavorably as a regressive, subversive and destabilizing force in Italian democratic life-i.e.,as a source of tension, discord and social strife with nothing of value or worth to contribute to the greater good and well being of society………

    Click my name to continue reading this article

  4. The juxtaposition of this image and these words is wrong and harmful, you say.

    You take at least partial credit for having the this injustice undone where it appeared.

    And the you post an image of the very thing. Making it linkable by whomever and for whatever purpose.

    Hard to call this a lapse of judgement. It looks like opportunism and a willingness to perpetuate what you call a wrong in order to aggrandize yourself of advance your own politics–or for all we can tell–personal agenda.

    This step calls your credibility very much into question.

    I reject Islamophobia. I also reject hypocrisy.

  5. Everyone EVERYWHERE is waking up to the scourge that is called ISLAM.

    You are on your way down in America. The game is up.

    Hasta la Vista!

  6. I must be a real redneck because I do not have a clue who the Grey Lady is. As a product of 45 years in the Midwest in both poor urban and rural settings that is a metaphor that escapes me. Sorry, if I sound like and idiot. At my age, I hope it is allowed. Please elucidate.

    Be blessed with compassion and mercy this holiday season.

    C. Morningbear Cullimore Mercer, M.Div., M.Ed.
    Retired

  7. @Morningbear:

    “The Gray Lady” = nickname for “The New York Times” due to verbosity and lack of pictures.

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