Monday, January 24, 2005

Smashing the idols 

Should this be called "soft terrorism"?
"British Muslim activists have stepped up a campaign to deface or rip down advertising billboards featuring scantily-clad women in communities with large numbers of Muslims.

"The Advertising Standards Authority said increasing numbers of posters were being torn down or painted over in predominantly Islamic areas, The Times newspaper reported.

"Ads for perfume, hair dye, bras and television programs were among those that has been attacked, the newspaper reported. Photographs of semi-dressed women were most frequently targeted, with the offending body parts painted over or ripped off...

"A group calling themselves Muslims Against Advertising (MAAD) has established a website giving advice on how to vandalise billboards and listing potential targets."
Not much to worry about? After all, it is a victimless crime; nothing really compared to beheading hostages or flying planes into building. Yet on another level it is troubling because it is indicative of the growing disconnection between sections of the Muslim community in the West and the democratic processes. Instead of tolerance there is destruction, instead of lobbying and working for change through usual channels there is vigiliantism.

The Advertising Standards Authority, which oversees the industry, is not impressed: " 'It's a criminal offense and private property is being defaced ... it happens in a lot of Muslim areas such as Luton, Bradford, Glasgow and Birmingham.' The authority encouraged people to contact it so that action against offensive billboards could be taken through the proper channels, the spokeswoman said."

I would concur with the Authority. I can only speak from the local experience, but the Australian equivalent has generally been quite responsive upon receiving negative public feedback about outdoor advertising. Around here most complaints of this sort come from social and religious conservatives who don't particularly enjoy the sight of 20-foot semi-naked women in suggestive poses. If you are of such persuasion then it's not too difficult to sympathize with certain aspects of Islamic social conservatism (though by no means all, and certainly not with methods some of them use, such as vandalism in the story quoted). I would venture a guess that if September 11 did not happen, we would now be seeing a growing political cooperation between Christian conservatives and Muslim conservatives in the West. I recall a few years ago, Vatican building coalitions with Islamic states to stop the radical feminist agenda dominating UN conferences. That was before S11 and I can't imagine it happening again any time soon.

Ironically, in Brisbane it's a safe bet that any defaced billboard or a poster will be the work of radical feminists who object to objectification of women in the fashion and beauty product ads. Maybe we'll see in the future a rainbow coalition of the followers of Andrea Dworkin and of bin Wahhab holding hands (metaphorically speaking) and together engaging in iconoclasm. Islamofascists, of course, would be the first to stone radical feminists and feminists themselves would have nothing but scorn for Islamist male chauvinists (although most of the sisterhood remained strangely quiet while their sisters were being liberated - maybe because they were being liberated by a Republican president), but they're certainly united in their hatred of common enemy.


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