20.8.12

How the Many become trapped into One: sinister implications of Western universalism


"Islam and Islamic culture are a complex reality. This complexity is distorted by the West in terms of the way the West views Islam.  But the West also has a contradictory position on Islam. On the one hand, it operates an active anti-Islamic campaign, and on the other, it supports fundamentalism. In both cases, however, it does this for its own political purposes (Matsui, 1991:97)."

(Taken from Muslim Women's Choices: Religious Belief and Social Reality by Camillia Fawzi El-Solh and Judy Mabro)

-One of the ways in which the United States supports fundamentalism is by the internal pressure within United States' broadcasted popular culture to view Islam as a monolithic, over-arching whole that erases both ethnic and personal identity. This move often forces Muslims from various cultures, countries, and demographics within the United States to come to view themselves as "Muslim First" (as Nadine Naber put it in her article "Muslim First, Arab Second: A Strategic Politics of Race and Gender") in a manner that smacks of the West's trends towards universalizing and essentializing via racist ideology the very important definitions of character and distinctions in personal belief systems that come from cultural differences. Put another way, the communalism that does, in fact, exist between Muslims is re-worked through internal social pressures in the United States so that the existing plurality of Islams- that is to say, the diverse practices of the religion of Islam- are cast aside in favor of an increasingly narrow belief of what it is to be "Muslim" that falls in line with current globalizing trends. In this way Muslims in the United States become pressured to lose their cultural identity and (ironically, voluntarily) subsume themselves to one degree or another to a Western-dominated rhetoric of what it is to be "Muslim," just as similarly takes place around questions of what it means to be "Arab," "Persian," "Desi," "Black," "Indian/Native," "Latino," etc. in these respective communities.

It is, in my opinion, no small coincidence, too, that the conference this quote was taken from- the International Workshop of Women from Muslim Countries- was held in Pakistan rather than in Kenya, Tanzania, Uzbekistan, Ghana, or Puerto Rico. What, after all, constitutes a "Muslim Country" really, if not a country where there are a sizeable population of Muslims, as there are in all the aforementioned places? I am sure similar workshops do take place in these other countries, yet too often these are hidden by the prevalence of information on events taking place in the Indian subcontinent, the northern regions of Africa, and the Arabian Peninsula. And if it is not the events, then it is the efforts of Muslims from those areas that are given the limelight over the voices of others- especially if the acts involve some form of violence.

 It is those countries who are of strategic political interest to the so-called "West" whose governments can be libeled as undeniably "foreign" to the "interests of democracy" through their institution of laws based to some level on Muslim theology (as if this is an unthinkable aberration from the norm for countries whose laws are based to some degree on Judaic or Christian theology) who take precedence in presentations of Islam in the West. Those other areas where Muslims make up a sizeable portion of the population who are on otherwise friendly terms with Western interests or else pose less of a "threat" to capitalism (i.e., "Western democracy")  are either presented as peripheral to these "extremist" examples (e.g., the presentation of Libya under Gaddafi versus attitudes towards Malaysia's current government) or else are forgotten entirely in the popular press (as in the case of Tanzania, Kenya, Benin, etc.).

The only examples I can think of at the moment counter to this trend is the continued vilification of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates within United States media- not to vindicate these areas of any breaches in human rights, especially in the case of women, but the difference between United States' presentation of Saudi Arabia and its portrayal of Israel-Palestine can only be said to fall along lines of interest for White Supremacy. The United States has very strong economic ties in both countries, and both countries undeniably are at fault for severe abuses in human rights (Israel-Palestine more so than Saudi Arabia, I must insist), yet the blatant preference for obscuring Israel-Palestine's Zionist political agendas under the title of "the only democracy in the Middle East" while Saudi Arabia is portrayed as a backwards, violent, and oppressive state begs consideration of the preference along Eurocentric/White Supremacist racist lines the United States' international policies continues to work on.