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Covering Islam is an argument for actual, humane knowledge. Edward Said focuses on how the U.S. perceives “Islam” via journalism and tv and media. He’s writing this in the 90’s when topics like the Gulf War and American hostages held in Iran were center stage. Said read many newspapers a day during those years and noticed a lot of journalists and academics alike using language that is judgey and false and unproductive. Their credibility and expertise are up in the air and yet they are the ones people turn to for information.
One problem is often the fact that this style of reporters are visitors of a culture, digging into it only through the lens of crisis and cliché. But how can you completely and accurately report on a situation happening in a place where you don’t live and you don’t speak the language and you’ll be off to another place next week? That’s part of how and why the creation of news works as a patriotic business model. Things gets framed as us vs them, and we lose sight of the bigger picture.
Most importantly, a generalized caricature of “Islam” or Muslims or the Middle East treats millions of people from many cultures and places as a monolith–terrorists or oil havers or whatever. So Said is calling out people and their work for what is essentially race-making.
Best line: All knowledge is interpretation, and that interpretation must be self-conscious in it’s methods and its aims if it is to be vigilant and humane, if it is also to arrive at knowledge. -Edward Said