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The limitations of the single narrative

"So that is how to create a single story: show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become." (at 09: 35mins)

That is what Islam has become; that is what Africa has become: a single story, a flat land of one-dimensional beings.

When we watch the news about Africa or read about it in the papers, we could be forgiven for thinking that Africa is a country where Africans live.

When we watch the news on Islam, we could be forgiven for thinking that these are a people, or that they are believers in the exact, same thing.

But Africa is not a flat land, Islam is not a monolithic belief.

There are over fifty countries in Africa, hundreds of mutually exclusive languages, diversity of race and culture like no other place on Earth. No, Africa is not going to hell in an empty bread-basket, despite what the statistics from the UN say. No, lions and hyenas do not speak on a regular basis, despite what Disney shows. Yes, the place is filled with outstanding expanses of immense beauty. Yes, there are highly educated, modern innovators and thinkers there. Yes, illiteracy is also rife, disease and death are often seen walking the streets together.

My point is, between the Bread-Basket and the Hyena, there is a rich, complex, often unreported wealth of stories, many of them awful, some of them beautiful, but most of them unremarkable, mundane, every-day and normal.

Islam, too, is not the noisy, blood-thirsty ramblings of bearded men we often see on TV; nor is it the uneasy, silent shuffling of a burqa-wearing, faceless mass holding a bemused baby looking back at her gridded eyes, as we are too often shown.

There is a rich tapestry of men, women, and children in the so-called Islamic world, between the Burqa and Bearded Iman. You have blue-eyed Jordanians, and olive-skinned Bedouins, and a Princeton-educated Lebanese professor, who is a Catholic, and his wife, a Muslim woman and a lawyer. Their Saudi Arabian neighbour, a banker (who loves skiing and has a male, Egyptian lover that he keeps as a secret from his family back home), with his Indonesian maid who happens to have gone to school, back in Indonesia, with a girl who is now a famous film-maker in Jakharta.

These are all Muslims, and this is Africa today, in 3D; but why don't we see this on TV or read about it in the papers?

There is a danger, the danger that when we are fed certain stereotypes in a drip-drip fashion, those stereotypes flatten all other available stories and take on the semblance of truth. The best way one can get beneath this constant barrage, I think, is to put on ones hard-hat, pick up one's passport, and go to these places, see for oneself.

It has been said of late that there is no excuse, especially for those living in the West, to be uneducated. Today, there is no excuse, for those living in the West, to be untravelled.



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