War, Negation And Muslim Identity Revisited

Published on Countercurrents, by Ramzy Baroud, Oct. 22, 2009.

… In her defense, Amirah Sulaiman was simply following an existing pattern, commonly used to delineate one’s cultural or religious progression, at the expense of another. But it’s more than that, it’s also a defense mechanism, a haunting reminder that the alleged civilizational clash, although more imagined and politicized, than real, pervades many aspects of our perception of ourselves and of others. Among Muslim intellectuals, as in societies, this paradigm is omnipresent.

Cultural animosity, collective defensiveness, racism (and Orientalism), among other overriding cultural trends existed long before distained US foreign policy in the Middle East became the defining norm, before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. But these events emboldened existing arguments on both sides, with Muslims solidifying as a collective victim, and the US, from a Muslim point of view, seen as a vulgar, but true representation of the West. 

Of course, Muslims and Islam had their own ominous representations in the US, thus ‘Western’ media, culture and psyche – the dagger wielding bearded man, who abuses women, whenever he takes time away from blowing up infidels. As comical as I intended this to sound, as disturbingly true such a depiction is in the minds of many.

It would be utterly unfair and largely inaccurate to equate the ‘Western’ misrepresentation of Islam and Muslims, with the latter’s misrepresentation of the West. The former approaches its caricatured depiction from a chest thumping, Fox News mentality of militarily powerful and economically stable countries. Its view of the other is largely hegemonic and its standard solution to bringing wars to an end is with military surges and the increasing of military assistance (with Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan being the current cases in point.)

Collective Muslim identity however is largely fragmented, between governments that only represent themselves, and peoples facing many forms of oppression: political tyranny at home, external repression (war, foreign interventions, etc), economic uncertainty (fuelled by inequality and compounded by unfiltered globalization), and extremism.

The so-called war on terror, for obvious reasons, cemented that fragmentation. On one hand, it reinforced many Muslims’ growing sense of victimization; a notion that itself resulted in both submissiveness and extremism. On the other it inspired a re-think, positive at times, self-negating at others: it kindled a affirmative sense of identity and pride among a generation desperate to identify itself according to its own priorities and on its own turf, while, on the other hand, it led to a (minor) movement of intellectual migration, which sought in the ‘West’ an escape from the oppressive reality, of which, of course the ‘West’ is equally responsible … (full text).

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