Islamophobia in biographies: Commercial agendas and marketing of stereotypical narratives of cultures

November 25, 2014 OPINION/NEWS




Tala Halawa

The trend of using Islam in the titles and content of novels and biographies is spreading worldwide. Since the “War on Terror” has emerged as a global issue and been promoted as such; reflections on cultural productions have been noticed.

The term ‘Islamophobia’ has been bandied around of late and has come to the fore in many contexts. Some people may categorize this trend as a marketing gimmick. However, the exploitation of Islamophobia, in order to produce a bestselling book, has become exposed.

On one hand, and in such novels, Islam as a religion is not distinguished from (Islamic) cultures, be it in Arab based culture or other Islamic societies.  On the other hand, many, if not most, of the authors have been affected by new cultures and different beliefs.

Engaging in new cultural experiences is not to be underestimated in this case, but it could be presenting some bias in evaluating life quality, especially when it comes to making a comparison between first and third world countries; as most of the cases show the author as a hero in his host country whilst he has been oppressed in his home country. On the other hand, the authors are representing their childhood, at an age when a person cannot be fully qualified to understand and evaluate a culture or a religion.

As culture is definitely affected by religion, it is also influenced by politics, economics and technology. Having an argument on a specific religion without tackling other cultural components cannot be fair, neither for society nor for its people.

Reflecting on a personal experience with the three biographies of Son of Hamas[1] , The Kite Runner [2] and Orphan of Islam[3], while also reflecting on my knowledge of Islamic and Arab culture, and through my keen sense of observation, I could sense that using Islam in the aforementioned books at least has been manipulated for the sake of marketing and selling more copies, especially given we are addressing biographies.

Biographies can grant a great margin of manipulation especially as they have a great effect on readers living in the illusion of knowing the writer personally by reading his or her own life story, without having any doubts of its credibility. Douglas (2001) argues that “even in autobiographical writing, using a biographical reading can create interesting dilemmas […] the author’s ability to manipulate the narrative to create such literary effects as the great, wise, and almost infallible writer” [4].

However, authors of the previous autobiographies are implicated in underlying and passing Islamophobia through the narratives of their own lives, which adds value to their stories and assures that the common negative thoughts about Islam in the world do exist, and in order to sell more copies of their books in the short term, while assuring the fulfillment of broadening Islamophobia propaganda in the long run.

While The Kite Runner and Orphan of Islam discuss Pakistani and Afghani cultures and refer all negative cultural customs and traditions to Islam, the Son of Hamas attempts to polish the author’s dark history in terms of betraying one’s own people and country while also attempting to provide justifications for one’s deception. However, and in all the above cases, none of them discuss Islam as a religion, but all represent cultural behaviors and traditions which have either been developing, changing or disappearing.

In the Orphan of Islam, the author narrates his life story as the son of a British mother and Pakistani father. He criticizes every single aspect of the Pakistani culture and relates it to Islam, starting from food habits and marriage traditions, down to Islamic schools. Moreover, like a Hollywood movie which represents the white man as the pure race, the author follows the same scenario and represents his Pakistani uncles aggressively as if violence is only connected to migrants or non-indigenous people. The author does however characterize his British family as thoughtful.

On the other hand, language can also be of great importance in this discussion. Afghans, Pakistanis and other non Arab societies do not speak Arabic. Arabic is the language of Islam and the Quran, hence the interpretation of the rules of Islam and its links to Muslim daily life are able to generate a gap of theoretical and implemental roles of any religion. At the same time many meanings can be lost through translation, especially since the Quran is known as a miracle of language, written in the highly sophisticated Arabic language. This gap can create a margin of misunderstanding of Islam for receivers, and a margin of selling stereotypical ideas for the writers.

Despite the fact that many resources about Islam are greatly available for non Arabic speakers, the intention of the one’s will to read and understand Islam may differ from one to another. In The Kite Runner, which has found a great popularity in the world, the author echoed many of his own experiences on Islam and portrayed his experience with the western society as heaven.

Pulling the readers to the corner of sympathy in a cultural product is licit; especially when we are talking about a life story, a real one. However, the discourse of discrimination between underprivileged communities and greatly valued communities in the world can be reflecting more bias and unfairness to the democratic world than humans are looking forward to create. Understanding the reasons behind those unacceptable cultural behaviors is a priority, while judging different cultural behaviours only for the sake of underestimating them would bring nothing to this universe but more hatred, ignorance and violence.

There must be a fine line between the narrative of a cultural behavior and religious belief. Moreover, there is a certain frontier between any religion and its practitioners. Additionally, passing stereotypes about any culture through a personal narrative to win the reader’s sympathy or intercalating Islamophobia for promoting a product can only be described as irreverence to the intellect of the reader.



[1] Mosab Hassan Yousef, Son of Hamas, Authentic,UK. 2010.

[2] Alexander Khan, Orphan of Islam, Harper,UK. 2012.

[3] Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner, Bloomsbury,UK. 2013.

[4] Kate Douglas, “Blurbing” Biographical: Authorship and Autobiography”, Volume 24, Number 4, Fall 2001




Tala Halawa

Tala Halawa

Tala Halawa is a Palestinian journalist and researcher based in occupied Palestine. She holds a Master’s degree from the University of Leeds in International Communications and hosts a morning show in a local Palestinian radio (24FM).  


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