Living in the Age of Spin
“Your generation lives in the most difficult time in human history. This is an Age of Spin.” - Dave Chappelle
The quote was extracted from one of my favorite stand up comedians’ specials called The Age of Spin by Dave Chappelle. I am not sure if Dave coined the term—I doubt that he did— but what I was particularly drawn towards was his analysis of the term itself. The Age of Spin refers to the sensationalism of news and how it emotionally numbs the people who are attuned to such tragic and sometimes gruesome news. It is also telling of the age we live in, where comedians are more analytical than some journalists. The Age of Spin is even more challenging for Muslims because, keywords such as ‘Muslim’, ‘Islam’ and ‘terror’ are clickbaits in the news. Now, there is nothing wrong in the news reporting actual terrorist attacks per se, but often these headlines would give the impression that Islam is almost always associated with or even equates to acts of terror. These news reports also paint a black and white picture of an issue, when it is usually not the case. Take for example the recent horrific events in France that I, and most Muslims condemn. But for the media to simply reduce the root cause of the violence and disagreements to Islam is dishonest and disregards the long-standing issues in France with respect to its colonial past and marginalisation of minorities. This article is not intended to address those claims that Islam is the root of the violence, but to address how those claims affect everyday Muslims.
“I’m getting over one cop shooting and another one happens, and then another one happens, and another happens.” - Dave Chappelle
I vividly remember how I felt when I first saw the headlines for the 2015 Paris Attacks. As I opened the link to read the article, I kept thinking “Please don’t be Muslim, please don’t be Muslim, please don’t be Muslim”, and to my utter dismay, it was. I knew how much of a backlash Muslims got after 9/11 and sure enough, once again Muslims and Islam received much backlash after the 2015 Paris Attacks. The news cycle after the attacks were focused on Islam and terrorism. It is always deeply hurtful for Muslims to hear vicious vocabularies being associated with Islam, how Islam is a “ religion of war”. When in actuality, Muslims often feel defenseless against these criticisms because the Muslim voice is drowned out by all this negativity and anger towards them. When Muslims respond to these criticisms against Islam on social media, they are often at the losing end as the internet mob is frequently opposed to any nuanced views on Islam and Muslims.
I am reminded how just recently, one of my close friends shared how he tried to reason with the people on Reddit, on how the media portrayed Islam in a one-sided and negative manner, and that those who committed violence in the name of Islam do not represent Islam. No matter how much he tried to reason with them or give a more nuanced explanation, the people on Reddit would just downvote him or not take his explanations into consideration. He felt dejected that the name of Islam was being dragged through the mud. It is extremely emotionally exhausting to constantly respond to these attacks in this Age of Spin. Sometimes it does seem as though the whole world is against you.
So what can we do to prevent ourselves from being emotionally exhausted? I would suggest that we shut ourselves out from news that is sensationalist in nature. We do not want to be embroiled in emotional turmoil when we ourselves have other challenges in life to face. But this solution also comes from a place of privilege. How is this privilege, you may ask? Being in a position where you can turn away from such news is a privilege because some Muslims, like those in France, are not afforded that option. For the Muslims in France, it's not news anymore but rather a reality which they have to face firsthand.
“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” - Malcolm X
What else can we do to stop the perpetuation that Islam as violent? Educate.
Educate others around you about the true essence of Islam, about the noble character of our Prophet, and how he was sent as a “mercy for the whole world” (Al Qur’an 21:107). There is an abundance of books that can help us with that, for example the magnificent Biography of Prophet Muhammad by Martin Lings, or Shaykh Hamza Yusuf’s beautiful analysis of the life of the Prophet. We would not want every other Muslim, or even future generations of Muslims to constantly go through the same process of heartbreak that we have gone through. Thus, we would need to educate ourselves about the situation in the Age of Spin. For this, we could look at a book by the prominent Edward Said, “Covering Islam”. In the book, Said highlights how the media shapes how we think about Islam and Muslims, and how ‘Islamic’ countries use the name of Islam to justify oppresive regimes. We could also read books such as “We Need New Stories'' by Nesrine Malik, where she highlights the need for a fresh perspective on media consumption. These recommendations are not exhaustive and there are numerous other avenues where we can educate ourselves. However, one thing we should take note of when trying to educate others is that we might not change their perspective now, but InshaAllah we may lay the foundations for their minds to be more open and more accepting. In other words, we cannot expect to change the world in an instant. It is a process, and processes need to start somewhere, even if it begins from a heartbreak. As Jalaluddin Rumi expounds in a poem,
“I said: what about my eyes?
He said: Keep them on the road.
I said: What about my passion?
He said: Keep it burning.
I said: What about my heart?
He said: Tell me what you hold inside it?
I said: Pain and sorrow.
He said: Stay with it. The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”