Saturday, April 21, 2007

Covering Islam, Book Review


Published by Vintage 1997, this book ‘Covering Islam’ by Edward W. Said is the third in the series of the book that had first hit the shelf a decade and a half ago. In this updated version, Edward W. Said spotlights the role of American Media in penetrating a hostile and orthodox image of Islamic people in the minds of American general public.

The book comprises of Introduction to the Vintage Edition followed by an updated introduction by the author. The book further on in its three chapters engulfs various aspects of misinterpretation and misinformation about the Islamic world in the western minds and media.

The introduction to the Vintage Edition explains the serious deterioration in the practice of fair portrayal of the Islamic world and illustrating the same by a highly inflated stereotyping and aggressive hostility. He grieves over the deformation of Islam in the west equating it to ‘fundamentalism’ and reinforcing every negative fact with Islam. This introduction also highlights the contributions from pro- Israeli books and journals which endeavor to portray Israel as the victim of Islamic violence.

In the first chapter of the book, namely ‘Islam as news’, Edward Said traces the history that mirrors how Islamic armies and navies threatened Europe and still persists as a ‘threat’ to the west (p. 5-6). Edward claims that America has lacked interaction with the Islamic world which makes it tough for Americans to understand the depth of this religion and customs, unlike France and UK which have sheltered a major Muslim populace in their country (p. 13-14). The writer seems to have failed to notice the rising Muslim population in America which contradicts his claim in the book.

Outlining the strategic importance of Iran, the author has impressively used news articles to accentuate criticism of American media machinery. He centers the subject of representation of Islam as a formidable competitor of the west and seemingly a latecoming challenge to Christianity. Effectively stating the use of Islam by the geopolitical strategists and liberal intellectuals, Edward supports his claims by highlighting relevant information and extracts from relevant articles that periodically appeared in newspapers over years. The last part of the first chapter provides particulars about the controversial film, Death of a Princess and the diplomatic incidences involved.

In the second segment of the book, he illustrates news reports and newspaper articles on Iranian revolution further clarifying the way generality and experts on Islam resulted in misinterpretation of Khomeini and ignored the positive aspects of the revolution. Said has criticized the American media on the aspect that it functions like the mouthorgan of the government. This analysis is justified to a degree but Said should comprehend that fact that during a time of instability and crisis, the media attempts to adjust its tone in order to maintain the sanctity of nation’s sovereignty and image.

Edward in his third section of the book overtly states that the knowledge and coverage of the Islamic world in the USA are defined by geopolitics and economic interest (p. 153-154). Said suggests the interpreters and writers to know thoroughly about the alien culture before they pen down a statement which exudes vibes of bias.

Some statements and arguments in the book tend to create walls of controversy which if battered could turn out to be irrational discussions against the west. Said has endeavored to portray the other side of the mirror with substantial statements and facts but when the accounts boil down to reality, the cartoon controversy and reaction of the Muslims concerning Pope’s statement make it difficult for the western world to swallow every word or argument in the book. In the nutshell, this book is a excellent piece of work to know about the unexplored side of Islam but somewhere the waves of bias make it a bit difficult to absorb every aspect of the book.

-AM