Saturday, February 13, 2010

Not Backwards, Just Fundamentally Different

Paradise Found is, in many respects, a remarkable film.

Made mere days after the 7/7 bombings in London, the spectre of Islamic terrorism is clearly on the mind of the film's producer, but he decides to make the film regardless of the episode, choosing to set aside the antagonisms between the western world and the Islamic world.

One of the most intriguing things discussed in the film is that of a Muslim-produced map. At first, the map actually looks like something one would find printed inside the cover of a fantasy novel; it looks more to the Western eye as a fictional construct than the real world.

Yet when the map is turned upside-down, it becomes evident that the map is, in fact, that of the world as we know it.

If there is any greater metaphor for the way that many see the global relationship between the western world and the Islamic world, one would be significantly challenged to find it.

Dichotomous thinking regarding the predominantly-Christian (now actually multicultural) and Islamic (now slowly secularizing) Islamic world permeates theories such as Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations. Such theories have treated the Islamic world as a threat to the western world and its values.

Meanwhile, the theories of various Muslim thinkers also treat the world as dichotomous. In this vein of thought, the western world is decadent and immoral, and this threatens to leach into Islamic society through close contact between the two.

In the western world, a distressingly popular meme is to think of the Islamic world as backward and barbarous.

But the beauty of Islamic art should put the lie to this idea. While an unfortunate degree of ugliness has sprung forth from the Islamic world, an equally degree of ugliness has emerged within the psyche of the western world as well.

The Islamic world is not backward, but it is fundamentally different. It's a failure to respect these differences for what they are that has led so many people from each world to view the other as menacing.

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