Sunday, August 02, 2009

For Tikno - selection, perception, bias and the MUI Fatwa

In a comment on my last post, Saturday Morning Musings - a miscellany, Tikno reminded me that I had not responded to the last point in his post. I had intended to do so, but got sidetracked in my thoughts.

Tikno's last two paragraphs read:

Therefore, it's clear that terrorist is the problem of terrorist itself, the responsibility of personal or their organization itself, and has NO relevance with religion. Among you may want to say "Why not using national legal system?" For this one I agree with you, but at least all the good Muslim people has sending the message for world peace through the Fatwa against terrorist. Always remember! outside there are still many good Muslim people, even more than that which you imagine. Will you generalize them also? Hopefully NO.
Although I'm not Muslim, I want to defend my Muslim friends (my best friends here) who understood their religion properly.

Finally, I'm confused why I rarely heard the publication or discussion for this Fatwa on media like TV, newspaper or internet? Oh... I can understand! But... if you have a blog, hopefully you want to help me to spread this news.

Tikno's post refers to two Fatwas against terrorism, one from Indonesia, the other India. The Indonesian Fatwa was issued in 2004 by Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI), the highest Muslim authority in Indonesia with the rights of issuing Fatwa.

Tikno's point goes to the heart of two linked things, stereotyping and selection in reporting. 

I have written on both in the context that Tikno is talking about. I tried to find the posts, but could not find the ones I wanted in the time I had. There are just too many posts. I will try to find them later.

In previous writing I have attacked the use of the term "Muslim" or "Muslim Faith" as a universal descriptor. My point was that I did not know what it meant beyond a simple religious label. I thought that it had become dangerously misleading.   

Take the phrase Indonesian Muslim. Indonesia I can understand as a country. Muslim is a faith. So in simple English, an Indonesian Muslim is someone from Indonesia who happens to be a Muslim. It means no more than that.

Indonesia itself is a very varied country, so to say more here I would need to know which part of the country they are from. The Muslim Faith is also very varied. Because they are Muslim there are some things that I do know in terms of religious observance. However, to go beyond that I would actually need to talk to them, to understand how they thought and felt.     

The problem with stereotypes is that the mislead and confuse. Worse, they can in fact acquire a life of their own. At worst, they actually become the thing.

In some of my writings on the Australian Aborigines I have pointed to the way that specific stereotypical views held by non-Aboriginal people actually affected Aboriginal perceptions of themselves to the detriment of both. In other posts, I looked at the changing meaning of the word terrorist and the negative impact this had had on Western thought. In other posts I attacked stereotypical views about Australia and Australians, and in some depression also explored the way in which western responses associated with the war on terror were feeding into particular views among some Muslim groups. 

Nadia is Indonesian and is presently working in Angola. In Where's the Love? - On Bombing and Indonesia Unite, she talks about her own reactions to the Bali bombings. She also talks about the way in which attitudes affect something as simple as international travel.

I have written many times about the way stereotypes affect reporting. In the case of Tamworth and Sudanese refugees I reported at some length because the very simplistic initial reports in the metro media were damaging not just Tamworth but were reinforcing global stereotypes of Australia as a racist country.

I am pretty sure, I have not checked, that the Indonesian Fatwa would have been reported in Australia at the time. However, its existence is certainly not well known. This is partly a matter of news value, something of itself that aids bias.

In the constant search for new material, the media focuses on the now and on the visual. There is little time for more reflective reporting. Those feeding the media including political leaders couch their views to fit within this media world.

In saying this, I am not attacking journalists. I am attacking the world in which they have to work.

Returning to Tikno and Indonesia, I remember when I visited Indonesia as part of an official Australian ministerial mission just how complicated I found the country. I knew a fair bit about the country already, but as I listened to the briefings at the Embassy and chatted to our people there, I found layer after layer of fascinating nuances. At the end, I realised just how little I knew!

Tikno's point about the Fatwa is a simple illustration of this. I vaguely remembered this Fatwa, but did not understand its significance in regard to MUI's position in Indonesia. Those who would like to read the Fatwa, it's in Bahasa!, can find it here


Rummuser said...

You have been very reasonable here. A fatwa, in ordinary terms is an opinion given by a scholarly body which is supposed to be thorough in its knowledge and understanding of the Koran and the Sharia. When the Ayotolla issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie, it was not an opinion is was an order to execute Salman. The fatwas issued by the two 'authorities' in India and Indonesia are opinions. They are not orders. The fatwas issued by Osama, his followers and the followers of the Saudi backed Wahaabi Muslim clerics, are orders to the followers. The problem is with the Muslims that follow these orders ignoring the opinions of Islamic scholars. The Taliban today follow the Wahabi system of fatwas, or orders of their mullahs.

There does not seem to be any possibility of terrorism being won in any war against it till the Muslims as a body rise up against it. They don't, either due to fear,which is most likely, or they support the world view of Islam being the ONLY true religion and all methods to establish this truth is acceptable, less likely, at least I hope so with a pinch of salt.

Jim Belshaw said...

Helpful distinction, Ramana, one that I was insufficiently aware of. I agree with you about the role of opinion among Muslims.

Tikno said...

MUI is the council comprises a broad range of Muslim groups including Nahdlatul Ulama / NU (one of the famous leader is Gus Dur / former President Abdurachman Wahid), and Muhammadiyah (one of the famous leader is Amin Rais).
As the highest Muslim authority, of course MUI hold a big role in Indonesia.

Like Rummuser said, Fatwa is a religious opinion, and officially, concerning Islamic law, and issued by an Islamic scholar (scholarly body).

Hopefully the western world would like to see / refers to this "official opinion" rather than personal opinion (false testimony).

Tikno said...

Each negative reaction will produce another negative action, and this negative action will produce another negative reaction, an so on.

Jim, thank you very much for this post. Maybe this is the matter of bias.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Tikno. Thanks for the additional information on MUI. And yes, negative reactions do indeed breed negative reactions.