The most striking scene in Nick Broomfield’s powerful 2007 film Battle for Haditha is not one of violence but a simple love scene. A wife calls to her husband from an upstairs window. He comes up to the bedroom. She removes her hijab. Her hair tumbles over her bare shoulders. They shower and then they make love. The scene is not especially erotic or intense. What makes it so memorable is the rarity of seeing Muslims depicted in a normal way, doing normal things, like normal people. Whether in screen dramas or on news reports the Muslims of the Western popular imagination are too often angry men waving guns or distraught women wailing beside gravesides. They are terrorists, kidnappers, and suicide bombers. They are patriarchal husbands, violent fathers or repressed women forced to cover their faces and murdered in the name of honour. Even the more nuanced depictions of Muslims in books and films – from the Kite Runner to the Reluctant Fundamentalist – struggle to avoid negative stereotyping.
Against this backdrop it is not surprising that there has been an upsurge of anti-Muslim feeling on both sides of the Atlantic. The threat by pastor Jones to burn a pile of Korans on the anniversary of 9/11 reflects the growing levels of hysteria in America, whilst on September 14, following a vote in the Senate, France became the first European nation to criminalise the wearing of the burqa and niqab. Belgium looks set to follow suit in coming months.
In America the resurgent right wing has identified anti-Muslim feeling as an issue that can be turned against Obama and his administration. With an eye on November’s mid-term elections the right wing media have tapped into the trauma of 9/11 to stoke fury over what they have misleadingly labelled the “Ground Zero mosque.” With Islam regarded by many Americans as a political ideology as well as a religion,and recent poll findings suggesting that one in five Americans believe Barack Obama to be Muslim, it is easy to see why there is political capital in playing the anti-Islam card. But, as violent protests against the Koran burning have shown, this is a dangerous and unpredictable path to take.
In Europe, where there…