October 01, 2006
Violence, Christians, Muslims - More Fallacious Framing
I caught an interesting article in the Washington Post on Somali shopkeepers and violence which I think is a decent point of illustration of the easy, fallacious framing that often occurs.
Now, in this instance, the article focuses on the xenophobic reaction of Xhosa to Somali shopkeepers, telling known by a name derived from Islamic and Somali vocabulary - baraka, which as many readers know is simply the Arabic for "blessing(s)," although not as the journo incorrectly puts it "God's blessings" as a phrase, merely understood, as in English low church usage that it's God that does blessing. Somalis are known as barakas. Now, the article, aside from some ethnic superficialities, is quite good. However, in reading it and reflecting on how such stories get framed I rather thought it typical of, in particular, Western journo reporting in Africa and elsewhere on violence where an ethno-religious cleavage exists.
[Crossposted from The Lounsbury]
There is, I would opine, a strong tendancy to have violence where the Islamic group is in the violence driver seat characterised in purely or predominantly "religious" and clash of civilisation terms. On the Xian side, that is when a predominately Xian group is in the driver's seat, at least for Africa, it becomes "tribal." That is no longer the "Religion" with a capital R driving the violence, but rather local particularities, "tribalism" (or better, ethnic conflict as most things called tribes in Africa are not tribes but language based linguistic groups, although tribalism as in actual tribes is also a problem, but at a more granular level).
Lest anyone think I am suggesting some grand conspiracy, let me disabuse them. And let me add that in focusing on this, I don't want to imply that journalism in the Islamic world is particularly better in this area, indeed the analytical sins are suprisingly similar if not perfectly identical. Rather, I want to go back to my little term "Fallacious Framing" and to the issue of familiarity to highlight how superifical knowledge or understanding tied to familiarity misframes - of course that doesn't exclude pure hypocritical mendacity on either side of the equation by those parties that actively want to pimp conflict for own purposes.
I would suggest the difference arises from several almost trivial, but important factors.
On the side of familiarity, your average western journo is at least passingly familar with Xianity, if not in fact quite familiar indeed. As such, they generally find it easy - perhaps too easy - to hive off local particularisms from overarching "theoretical Xianity." That is certanly not the case for Muslim groups, or Islam generally. I am constantly annoyed at seeing journos repeating what are clearly local tribal/ethnic/particular group practices/beliefs as "Islam" in its wide theoretical sense (and of course while it may seem precious to do so, and I would agree often false, I am a believer in one standard for like things, such that hiving off local particularism for Xianity should be applied also to others). Now, of course, there is also the issue of Muslim groups, radicals or otherwise, having a far stronger tendancy to use "universal" language to justify their local particularism, even if it's purely rubbish.
The importance of this is the degree to which inter-Muslim/Xian conflict that is in the end not at all Islam versus Xianity in reality, but "Those Bastard Neighbours Who I Want A Nice Reason to Kill" - but the mistake of packaging it up as universal tends to feed into the generally universal aspects of the tensions and conflict, to no one's good but those of the bloody minded.
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Nice. And I do think you're right that if this had happened to a group of non-Muslim refugees in, say, Pakistan or Indonesia that Islam would have come into it, somehow.
Posted by: Tom Scudder at October 1, 2006 10:02 AM
Sadly, my inner libertarian fundamentalist gripes, our lefty friends will never grasp the real ideological roots of this South African anti-Somali mini-Kristallnacht: an unjust war on capitalism, driven by greed. (That greed can be inimical to capitalism doesn't register in the leftyverse.)
Posted by: matthew hogan at October 2, 2006 05:23 AM
Hm. Seems to me they were just leveraging their core competence.
Posted by: Tom Scudder at October 2, 2006 09:50 AM
I think you have it wrong re capitalism.
Rather its about ethnic mercantalism. Not the same thing.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at October 2, 2006 09:58 AM
Yes, they were ethnic mercantilists, waging war on free enterprise as ethnic mercantilists are wont to do.
That they werent consciously being ideologically anti-capitalist doesnt mean they werent actually being anti-capitalist.
Posted by: matthew hogan at October 2, 2006 07:12 PM
At risk of derailing things, I would say your contrast between capitalism and mercantilism is a false one.
You're actually meaning liberal market capitalism versus illiberal mercantilist capitalism.
Mind you, you know my sympathies are purely with the liberal market capitalists, but I think your whacking at the Lefties was misplaced in this instance (or premature).
But we can agree on the impoverished idiocy of the mercantilists.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at October 2, 2006 09:24 PM
I'm just being a pedantic fundamentalist to illustrate a point -- the significance of free market thinking to equality, progress, and general liberalism and social harmony.
So I am defining capitalism -- very American libertarian fundamentalist -- as simply liberal market capitalism and not rentier or other mafia mercantilism by capitalists.
The reason is that almost every form of racial or other communal predatory disparity -- from high state imperialism to institutionalized slavery and serfdom to enforced segregation to tolderance and participation in ethno-thug protectionism involves a pulling away from the [liberal free] capitalist idea that someone is entitled to make and enjoy an honest buck, by trading competitive goods services and skills to voluntary and happy consumers.
Posted by: matthew hogan at October 3, 2006 09:46 AM
Okay, but I prefer you make the point full out, you know we are in full agreement on your thinking.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at October 3, 2006 09:58 AM