January 16, 2003

Law and Order: The Pinnacle of Confusion – Are We Fanatics?!!!

 About an hour ago I clicked off the television after watching the last half
hour of an episode of the hit T.V. show Law and Order where—you guessed
it, a “fanatical” Muslim was being tried for murder. With hopelessness
lacing its poison in my mind I made my way to my room. I ran through my choices:
I could lament and complain (which I mentally have already done), I could shrug
and mentally lie to myself like the infamous Scarlet O’Hara and say “I’ll
think about it tomorrow” (which I have done many a times), I could angrily
write a scathing article about the atrocities of today’s television screaming
about the deception and corrupt views about Islam and Muslims it displays (which
I am very tempted to do), or I could try to figure it out. So here I am trying
to figure it out.

The episode of Law and Order which has me reeling is one where the glorious
American justice system with its gloriously fair and judicial lawyers are trying
to bring justice to a beard-toting, kufi-wearing, mosque-going Muslim who has
undoubtedly committed a murder. It wasn’t long before they had this Muslim
(portrayed as an American convert named Greg Langdon) spewing “fanatical”
and “outrageous” opinions about America and Islam. Throughout the
episode Langdon was portrayed as an “extremist” or here’s
my favourite, a “fundamentalist” whose views are of course not that
of the “true believers” of Islam, and do not coincide with what
Islam is. The writers and producers attempted to clearly state that Langdon
is not a representation of Islam and America’s Muslims. Basically he was
portrayed as a mental case whose words have no more meaning than the snort of
a pig. This was done to satisfy the masses and the “good” Muslims
watching the show. See?! They don’t hate Islam they just don’t like
freaks. Good! I’ve figured it out; I can go to bed my conscience eased,
my heart and mind at rest. Yeah right. If it were that simple I wouldn’t
be calling Dick Wolf an idiot.

So here’s what a “true” Muslim according to Law and Order
looks like. After Langdon fires a lawyer who he says isn’t serving his
needs, and demands a Muslim lawyer, a wonderful American Muslim, the poster
boy for “America’s Perfect Muslim” shows up. He’s a
Muslim lawyer who has agreed to represent Langdon. Langdon, (the crazy Muslim)
has a nice full beard, wears a kufi, and dresses in the long flowing clothes
that you see those terrorists wearing on CNN. The nice Muslim lawyer is clean-shaven,
wears a crisp business suit and tie and agrees with everything the prosecution
says. He unabashedly agrees that his client is a freak. But hey, the nice Muslim
lawyer doesn’t fail to stand up for “true” Islam when he says
something to the tune of “I’m helping him because he needs my help,
but don’t confuse his fanatical views with my faith”. Presto! The
episode is politically correct and is even defending Muslims. I can go to bed
now can’t I? I wish.

If we all used Law and Order in combination with CNN and other wonderful forms
of media as our measuring stick for ‘good’ vs. ‘bad’
Muslims, then any Muslim male who has a beard, or any Muslim who actually reads
the Qur’an and applies it to his or her life should be on the run cause
the FBI is on your trail. Godspeed to you! The truth is when Langdon screamed,
“America has a war against Islam” to a shocked and disgusted courtroom,
we the viewers are supposed to shake our heads in equal shock and disgust and
wave the poor fanatical Langdon off—but a truthful, informed and conscious
reaction should be, “he’s right”. He made legitimate claims
about the U.S backing of Israel resulting in the death of Palestinians, but
most viewers were programmed to understand that these words are crazy and fanatical,
untrue and baseless. Langdon’s character was built so we could see him
as a fanatic, a potential terrorist “hijacking” Islam—therefore,
anything that came out of his mouth was equally fanatical and not to be taken
seriously—even if they were true. Of course the writers mixed in some
chauvinism to add to the depth of Langdon’s character when he claims that
Allah has made women subordinate to men so Langdon won’t accept a female
judge presiding over him. Both Muslim men and women would undoubtedly object
to the claim of women being somehow lesser than men. Landon’s character
is further tainted when he hints that planes crashing into buildings to fight
for a cause were a correct and justified means to an end. That is ridiculous
and all Muslims know it —so here we are caught in a trap. We can’t
wholly agree with Langdon—we’re supposed to outright, completely
disagree with him and look up to that nice Muslim lawyer as our role model—but
then again, I cannot wholly disagree with some of his claims either. But then
why would I even think of agreeing with a fanatic?

Oh yes, what happened to Langdon? It turns out that he used Islam as a means
to an end. He was bitter at a girlfriend who laughed at him because she thought
he wasn’t “man enough” and so he turned to Islam (which supposedly
looks down on women) as a vehicle for the murder of a woman he hated. Confusing,
eh? Moral of the story? Langdon’s a fanatic—but not all Muslims
are like him—but be careful some are—but Islam isn’t the problem—fanatics
are the problem…so uh, just be careful—and don’t be a fanatic!!

Okay, here’s where it gets really confusing (if you aren’t already
confused). Often what is portrayed throughout the media as “fanaticism”
is really not all that fanatic. Is growing a beard “fanatic”? Is
wearing full hijab “fanatic”? Is dressing in the Sunnah or tradition
of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) “fanatic”? This particular episode
of Law and Order as well as the multitudes of other shows and media would have
us think so and sadly, both Muslims and non-Muslims will readily agree that
it is fanaticism or the symptoms of “fundamentalism”. (I’ve
always wondered this—if I’m following the fundamentals or foundations
of my religion—which is precisely what Muslims are supposed to do—then
I’m a fundamentalist…so how is that bad?)

So here’s my conclusion: fanaticism isn’t really fanaticism, and
fundamentalism isn’t what you think it is, crazy lunatics may really be
the only sane ones on this planet, and the media is a messed up world that we’re
left to figure out so just deal with it okay?

Although that may ring true in some context, I know it is of absolutely no
help so I’ll try again. What should we do when faced with the constant
bombardment of confusing portrayals of Islam? How do we know what’s right
and what’s not? How do we effectively combat these disturbing views of
our faith? Petitions? Sure, sending out forwarded emails with hundreds of typed
“signatures” which the producers of shows will gleefully delete
with the click of a mouse is a fantastic option! Or how about boycotting the
media as a whole? I know! I know! We can starve ourselves from any contact with
newspapers, T.V., books, Internet, any media and see what happens!! Two words:
won’t work. Combating tainted views starts from the inside, not a direct
attack or complaint towards others. We as individuals must know about Islam
ourselves before we attempt to “clear things up”. If we don’t
have a clear understanding of our own faith, how can we possibly expect others
to understand it? That is not only unreasonable, it is unfair. The popular tactic
of apologizing for Islam is a detrimental step backwards. Islam is not the problem—
some wise person once said, “when you face Allah on the Day of Judgement,
you will not have to apologize for Islam, you will have to apologize for not
knowing your own religion.” Lack of Islamic knowledge, our own ignorance
and unwillingness must first be combated—we must fight a struggle within
ourselves to know what Islam is, truly apply it to our lives and then expect
others to understand who we are and what Islam stands for. If you know what
you’re fighting for, you’re fighting smart. If you don’t,
you’re running in circles like a headless chicken.

Know your faith, know Islam. Our struggle will be difficult, but it will be
True. With the grace of Allah, it will be successful.

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