The Commentary “Why A Beheading Makes Us Feel Indifferent”: A Commentary

US media can be skewed when it comes to Islam


The commentary “Why a beheading makes us feel different” (Sept 17) failed to clarify that the Islamic State is unrepresentative of Islam and account for the context surrounding the group’s rise in the first place.

The reason for the prominence of these beheadings in the media and the political world is that the victims were Americans and, now, British.

And the writer, a New York Times columnist, distinguished a beheading from a shooting or bombing in the context of these beheadings by the Islamic State.

His conclusion was that a beheading is an indignity and defacement of the “sacred” body, a concept he identified as existing in Judaism and Christianity.

However, Islam, also an Abrahamic faith, shares the concept of the body as sacred, even after death. Defilement of the human body is also abhorred within Islam, a faith the writer mentioned only in the context of the Islamic State.

If we deign to remember, the proto-form of the Islamic State received funding and arms support from Western nations a year ago, when the United States was contemplating air strikes against Syrian President Bashir Assad, in conjunction with Syria’s rebel efforts. Many of the rebels regrouped into the Islamic State this year.

While studying in Iran last month, I learnt from locals in Tabriz that their friends from Azerbaijan had joined the Islamic State simply because it is the largest employer in this economically depressed region.

Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis displaced by war are also joining its ranks for mundane, economic reasons. This is unlike Muslim youth in Western nations who join the Islamic State for their own ideological reasons, something that has been highly publicised.

My point is that while an essentialist version of Islam has been played up as the reason behind the Islamic State, there are always practical, economic and political factors guiding people’s actions.

The long involvement and interference of the US in the Middle East provides a crucial backdrop for all that is happening today, which cannot be summarised readily into a headline or soundbite.

I feel Singaporean media should exercise great discretion in importing American news publications for the local audience. The American media can be skewed, especially on the topic of Islam.

We should not replicate any Islamophobia in Singapore, not only because of our Muslim friends and families who live among us, but also because we belong to a region that has known Islam for more than 1,000 years.

*The writer has a Master of Arts in history from the American University of Beirut in Lebanon and is a doctorate student in Middle East history at Yale University.

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