In all the talk of love and compassion and tolerance, remember that sometimes the oppressed and the colonized have a right to their anger. If your discourse does not acknowledge that, if your discourse doesn’t teach the oppressor to restrain, then your discourse is useless for me.
I had a discussion at my college’s MSA today.
It was about current events. #MuslimRage. The video of “The innocence of Muslims”. You know. What’s been on the news. And there were some people who said: “we should pick and choose our battles” and not get upset about everything.
Which I can agree with, yes, people should definitely choose their battles, but it kind of becomes hard when things are pushed towards you, but anyway. Also, apparently even Clinton had something to say about it. And one of the people commented as to how “it’s such a shame that a non-Muslim had to remind us this.”
There was another concurrent theme of the whole, “we should educate people, because there are peaceful Muslims etc etc”.
And I agree with the sentiments, I do. I think it was abhoring that the American ambassador was killed in Libya. I was horrified with the rioting that happened in places like Pakistan. That’s not Islam. That’s not what the Prophet taught us. I saw campaigns erupt on Facebook condemning and shaming fellow Muslims into please, please, please not do what the Prophet wouldn’t do. One of the most famous incidents from the life of Prophet quoted: how he’d walk past peacefully when a woman threw rubbish on him, and the one day she didn’t, he asked after her health. I think that’s a powerful narrative, and is something that most Muslims know about, and can relate to. I also love the campaign of trolling that started on twitter (see #Muslimrage), and it even migrated to tumblr here. Humor is a powerful tool. Violence isn’t always the answer.
One of the things that I keep hearing over, and over, increasingly from both non-Muslim and Muslim commentators is that the Muslims who protest incidents like these (the film of “Innocence of Muslims”, the Danish Cartoons etc.), are too “sensitive”. They need to learn tolerance etc. etc. One of the best counter argument was provided here by blogger Mehreen Kasana:
Also, remember: These protests arranged by Muslims aren’t only about the Islamophobic film (created by an extremist Coptic Christian to pit Jews and Muslims against each other again) but most of the rage comes from the resentment and frustration the Middle East and Central and South Asia have for US foreign policy (which happens to be extremely dishonest, exploitative and violent). Anyone thinking all Muslims are “touchy” is over-simplifying the issue. This film only triggered it once again. I spoke to one of the students in Pakistan who has been protesting other Islamophobic productions and he had a very simple thing to say: “It’s not just the film. It’s everything. Their politics, abuse and mockery for us. We don’t talk about the clash of civilizations; they do. They created the battle of West against East. It’s not just the film. You’re naive to think so.” He had a point.
A lot of commentators, in their zealousness to portray Muslims as a peaceful people overall, forget this point. In today’s world, Muslim are othered. Mocked. They are attacked, not only in the name of free speech, but also attacked and exploited in political, and economical terms. I am not denying that Muslim identities are very interwoven with their national ones in many countries, so it seems that they erupt over “religious issues”, but frankly, I am getting tired of this discourse being set only in terms of religion.
Because may God help the Palestinian who gets angry at their situation, and at Israel (their colonizer), and at America (their colonizer’s ally). May God help the Pakistani who gets angry and protests against the drone attacks that’s happening (which is not even really acknowledged by American politicians or popular media, btw). It is all nice and great to say that when Muslims protest and it turns violent, that is the image that goes out to the world, so we should abstain from it. But who decides what image goes out to the world? Popular media does, first world countries with their monopolies do. I have heard the argument: “well, when, for example, Christians are offended, they don’t go all crazy”. Firstly, they are not. Secondly, when, for example, the Westboro Baptist priest started burning Quran, he was not the face of #ChristianRage. He is not portrayed as the face of Christianity, he is not portrayed as the face of America. Neither was the Norwegian Christian who killed kids. Politicians and media changed their tone the moment they were made aware of his ethnicity, and religion. Priests who sodomized young boys are not the face of Christianity. So then here’s my question, why is there this image of “Muslim radicals”, the mainstream image of Islam? In media which is supposedly “open minded”, and “liberal”, and for the “educated masses” (aka, supposedly not Fox News Watchers).
Because rhetoric shapes politics. Because while Americans are killed by non-state terrorist groups, Muslims are killed by the States. And I am a little tired, that not only are these facts not acknowledge, Muslims are expected to tolerate these facts. Not only am I tired of having to defend over and over, people and places and incidents that are only connected to me because of a common belief, but I am also tired of seeing, over and over, that there is no legitimate discourse when #MuslimRage is talked about. So few popular media talks about drone attacks. So few talk about all the ways in which First World countries still exploit Third World Muslim countries, where these protests are happening.
It stinks of colonialism.
It stinks of colonialism, because not only are First World countries allowed to tell Muslims as a whole, what to get offended at and not get offended at (that is such a supremacist mentality), First World countries are still deciding what image of Muslims gets out on popular media. Yay for Orientalism, Hollywood, and print media, which btw, is not obsolete. It stinks of colonialism because they get away with it. Because both Muslims and non-Muslims often paint it as a black and white picture of “idiot, angry Muslims” vs “educated, secular, peaceful Muslims”.
And I am tired of this. I am tired, and defensive, and aggressive about this. That Muslims, as a whole or as a fraction, are not allowed our hurts and our anger. I am tired, that we are exploited, that we are killed, but we should still have “peaceful protests”. Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t condone violence. But I wish we were treated humanely, we were treated like our First World (white) counterparts. I with that a few people wouldn’t become “the face of Islam”, I wish we were allowed diversity, I wish this didn’t become a linear debate.
Apart from the characterization of the political condition of India preceding the British conquest as a state of anarchy, lawlessness and arbitrary despotism, a central element in the ideological justification of British colonial rule was the criticism of the “degenerate and barbaric” social customs of the Indian people, sanctioned, or so it was believed, by their religious tradition. Alongside the project of instituting orderly, lawful and rational procedures of governance, therefore, colonialism also saw itself as performing a “civilizing mission.” In identifying this tradition as “degenerate and barbaric,” colonialist critics invariably repeated a long list of atrocities perpetrated on Indian women, not so much by men or certain classes of men, but by an entire body of scriptural canons and ritual practices which, they said, by rationalizing such atrocities within a complete framework of religious doctrine, made them appear to perpetrators and sufferers alike as the necessary marks of right conduct. By assuming a position of sympathy with the unfree and oppressed womanhood of India, the colonial mind was able to transform this figure of the Indian woman into a sign of the inherently oppressive and unfree nature of the entire cultural tradition of a country.
Of course, within the discourse thus constituted, there was much debate and controversy about the specific ways in which to carry out this project. The options ranged from proselytization by Christian missionaries to legislative and administrative action by the colonial state to a gradual spread of enlightened Western knowledge. Underlying each option was the colonial belief that in the end Indians themselves must come to believe in the unworthiness of their traditional customs and embrace the new forms of a civilized and rational social order."
Partha Chatterjee, Colonialism, Nationalism, and Colonialized Women: The Contest in India
This is a great essay about the inadvertent construction of a new patriarchy through nationalism as a response to colonialists and their manipulative characterization of the colonized Indians.
You can click through to read it.
Best defined as the ‘adoption’ a.k.a. theft of specific parts (icons, traditions, rituals, behaviour) of a culture by a dominant culture where the significance of the parts of the original culture are not acknowledged, eventually leading to the ruin of what’s appropriated. The items become meaningless and lose their original spiritual, cultural, and historical significances and simply becomes stereotypes of pop culture.
In racial dynamics where white supremacy was started with colonialism and currently upheld and maintained, appropriation is usually done by white people of the cultures of people of colour. Cultural appropriation is in fact a by-product of imperialism, colonialism, and the oppression of people of colour wherein PoC (people of colour) are shunned for celebrating their culture. This is not a post-racial society, and there is a very definite imbalance in the cultural, economic and territorial relationship between people who are white (dominant culture(s), the oppressors in a world that upholds whiteness) and people of colour (minority culture, the oppressed). The imbalance between the two is maintained by extracting everything of value from the oppressed (people of colour) for profit and in this case, culture is very much of value.
And cultural appropriation is very much profitable. Objects and traditions of a culture of marginalized people are seen as trendy, exotic, edgy and desirable, which means profit. The media industry profits off taking parts of marginalized cultures and portraying them in ways that degrades them from their original value. In the meantime, the people those traditions originate from are oppressed and treated inferior for the celebration of their own culture.
And because of the history of colonialism behind white people and the continued oppression of people that exist today, white people have no ‘ethnicity’ because celebrating whiteness is racist. People of colour are the only ones with ‘ethnicity’ and white people, ‘without an ethnicity’ try to take on aspects of other cultures to appear worldly.
One of the worst things white people do is treat everything like it is theirs to have. But they do, and it is maintained by white supremacy, which means even a lot of people of colour are willing to allow whiteness to consume all of their culture in an effort to be accepted. It has not, does not, and will not work.
So culture is then treated not as a part of existence of people of colour but as a ‘thing’ in this capitalist society where individual people with differences are not treated as such but as identical workers, parts of a machine. So culture is not seen as maintained by the people, but as maintaining the people. This is best seen as when people of colour are informed and treated like there is a ‘right way’ to be of their culture/race and thus moulded into stereotypes that are very often mostly inaccurate and originate only from pop culture.
But things from a certain culture? Have their meaning BECAUSE of the people of that culture. It is given meaning by the people, and not the other way around, those objects have meaning when particular people of that culture wear it/do it, partly because of the history of the people and that part of a culture, and the people fiercely holding on to their culture despite the years of oppression.
When a white person wears something from a marginalized culture, they ignore the years of oppression PoC endured, and still endure, because of their culture. It becomes a mockery, makes it seem like all that hardship suffered doesn’t matter. When PoC wear or do something, they do it in defiance of white supremacy and the ideals of whiteness. When PoC celebrate their culture, they suffer, but it is done in defiance. White people do not have to suffer, because they are not oppressed for that culture, instead, white people appropriating culture strip the original culture of its meaning and the years of oppression that culture has borne. And most white people do not wear/ do something of another culture of another culture with its historical, cultural and/or spiritual significance in mind. Which is why it’s not okay for white people to wear/do things of PoC culture, even if particular people do know the significance. (See the post through the link)
There ought to be a differentiation between cultural appropriation and cultural syncretism , the latter of which is defined by “the process of reconciling or melding of differing views or beliefs or uses. This can happen intentionally, or by a natural, unconscious process. More or less discrete cultures that come into contact with one another, either through geographical proximity, migration, conquest, trade and exploration, or in other ways, will start to syncretize aspects of each culture. This is inevitable, and neither undesirable nor preventable. Cultural items tend to get taken on in a new culture if they are useful, convenient, resolve a problem, or appeal to a value that already exists in the host culture”. (From the article through the link- read more there to better understand syncretism.) Cultural syncretism, however, IS how cultural appropriation (degrading of a culture, loss of significance) happens eventually.
Things confused with cultural appropriation often: cultural exchange or sharing, which suggests an equality between the cultures. However, sharing can only be cone when parts of a culture are ‘offered’. Like when cultural food or art is offered by the people of that culture, or learning of a culture from materials given to you by the people of that culture. That’s based on syncretism. An example would be when a native martial arts master offers to teach others. Here there is a willingness to share, and it is a skill given freely (or sold) by a member of the original community. As in, their culture belongs to them and they can do whatever with it, but other people learning Japanese martial arts doesn’t make them Japanese, nor does it allow them to adopt other parts of Japanese culture, which is downright appropriation.
And cultural appropriation is stealing, and degrades culture. It is not okay for white people to take from a culture that does not belong to them, which is racist.
The thing with ‘transethnic’ people. There is white people being oppressive and pretending to be of another race so that they get to act like they somehow don’t have all the privileges of being white. But there’s another problem too.
There are actually people who have a legitimate claim to their culture/ heritage/ nationality and are denied it. The Burmese Muslims in Burma, denied their heritage as Burmese, driven out from their homes, called illegal despite having lived in a place for many generations. The Palestinians, denied their home. The Roma, thrown into a racial stereotypical image of ‘gypsy’ and denied their true culture even as they are persecuted for it. There’s more I can add to the list.
This is not a game. Oppression isn’t something selfish, self centered, uncaring white kids with internet access and nothing good to do have to endure. ‘Transethnic’ is a mockery of the oppression of real people with a real culture that they are denied go through. We DIE for trying to reclaim our identity. Do you hear me? People DIE because of racism. You, white person, will never suffer that, will never have to be afraid of that. You do not have a right to the culture of which you are not. The end.
I understand that there are ”…starving children, tens of thousands of refugees, rapes and racial epithets, a spiraling death toll [in Africa]…”, but I hope that you know that the VERY SAME thing is in America, too.
And just to give you a glimpse:
- Starving Children In America. N oh look, it’s there even in the suburbs!
- Refugees in the USA: Looks like they don’t have it nice and beautiful in good ol’ Uncle Sam’s country! :O
- Well. Do I need to tell you about the rape statistics in the U.S.of A?
- Racial epithets, and death tolls? That surely could not exist in the US now, would it? Here is a blog post on The Chronicle. Tumblr has many, many excellent blogs that break down racism as it exists in the America. Go follow them and learn from them. Death tolls? Have you heard about the amount of non-white people who die every.single.day because of racial profiling by both the police and civilians? Maybe there isn’t an official statistics for that (if someone has it, please feel free do add to this post), but yes, oh my god! DEATH TOLLS.
- p.s Here: Torture in America. To pregnant woman. Wow guys. congratulations.