I just attended a wonderful talk at Wilfrid Laurier University by Oren Lyons, "Faithkeeper" for the Onandaga Nation and UN activist for Indigenous Peoples. His words and presence, as well as those of other beautiful people at the conference, inspired me to formulate some thoughts on decolonialism that had been floating around my mind for a while. Here is this formulation:
Seen from the subaltern side of the modern/colonial divide, modern civilization distinguishes itself as uniquely destructive. Colonized and neo-colonized bodies and epistemologies are being destroyed, languages are disappearing at an alarming rate, nuclear weapons continue to threaten the existence of humankind, the ice is melting (as our speaker kept reminding us)...the list of victims is endless. From below the colonial divide, modern Western-centric civilization appears as the civilization of unsurpassed death and destruction. Delinking involves realizing that this system can't be defeated on its own terms. No amount of violence from below can hope to counter the violence coming from above the colonial divide. Only life, love, and wisdom can defeat death, hatred, and arrogant scientism. We are beyond arguments of moral equivalence. It is a matter of survival.
C'est le titre d'une présentation que je donnerai dans le cadre d'un atelier au CEETUM (Centre d’études ethniques des universités montréalaises) à Montréal.
I will be presenting a paper at the graduate symposium of the CEETUM (Centre d’études ethniques des universités montréalaises) in Montreal.
Voici les coordonnées :
Here is the information for the workshop:
Salle 530-1-1 Atelier 12 (1re partie) Islam, islamophobie et migrants musulmans
18 mars, de 9 h à 11 h (partie 2 de 11 h 15 à 13 h)
I gave a lecture to an undergraduate class today. It was entitled Islamophobia and the Americas: The Big Picture. The objective was to provide them with a longue durée analysis of how Islamophobia and the European conquest of the Americas are inextricably linked processes constitutive of modernity. I drew extensively on Enrique Dussel, Ramon Grosfoguel, Walter Mignolo and Dustin Craun. I don't think most of these young students had ever been introduced to such a narrative from a modernity/coloniality approach.
The birthdate of modernity is 1492, even though its gestation, like that of the fetus, required a period of intrauterine growth. Whereas modernity gestated in the free, creative medieval European cities, it came to birth in Europe's confrontation with the Other. By controlling, conquering, and violating the Other, Europe defined itself as discoverer, conquistador, and colonizer of an alterity like-wise constitutive of modernity. Europe never discovered (des-cubierto) this Other as Other but covered over (encubierto) the Other as part of the Same: i.e., Europe. Modernity dawned in 1492 and with it the myth of a special kind of sacrificial violence which eventually eclipsed whatever was non-European.
The invention of the Americas: eclipse of "the other" and the myth of modernity
There is an extremely hateful, violent, and intolerant minority among Muslims. This is not news. Every other human community has its own crazies to deal with. I mean, really, every family I know has at least one member nobody knows quite how to deal with. But many people in the West ask why Muslims can’t seem to keep better control of their hateful few. To answer this question, you must take politics into consideration. And you simply can’t understand the politics of Muslim-majority countries without looking at the impact of Western military, political, economic and cultural power in the region.
Let me be clear. There are internal ideological struggles within Muslim communities that need to be dealt with, but Western power has undeniably played a major role in the internal politics of Muslim-majority societies for centuries until today. This is not ancient history. Today, the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq exist thanks to a power vacuum caused in good part by the America-led war in Iraq. That situation was inextricably entangled with the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths under UN sanctions in the 1990s. And that situation was linked to the broader context of perpetual conflict in Lebanon, Palestine, Israel and all around the region throughout the twentieth century. Were Muslim-majority countries passive victims who played no part in this ongoing drama? Certainly not. But there is no doubt that they wielded much less military and economic power than countries like the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, and France. Which leads us to the Cold War.
Of course, the Cold War is only one chapter in the greater story of Western involvement in Muslim-majority societies, but it is an important one. We are still experiencing its repercussions today. This is not the place for me to get into a long and detailed history lesson, but if you have any doubt about the quick summary I will provide here, check the history books written from a variety of angles (i.e., not only your ideological allies). In the middle of the twentieth century, religious extremists influenced by Salafi and Wahhabi ideologies were much weaker than they are today. They were vigorously rejected by a broad cross-section of Muslims, from traditional Sufis to Arab socialists. But as the Cold War progressed, the power and influence of religious extremists grew while its opponents were weakened. For all intents and purposes, the leftist opponents of American-style free market capitalism were seriously crippled in places like North Africa and Southwest Asia. Of course, some leftist regimes survived in places like Iraq, Syria and Libya. But being severely isolated in the broader geopolitical context, their main political focus was crushing dissent internally simply to survive. Other Muslim despots were generously assisted by Western allies in eliminating opponents from the political left. But defeating militant religious opponents proved more difficult than defeating leftists in the Cold War context.
It turns out that the American superpower in the Cold War found Saudi Arabian Wahhabis and their allies throughout the Muslim world to be the best of partners against the Soviet Union and its allies. Saudi Arabia was—and still is—ruled by religious conservatives and aggressive capitalists. In the Cold War context, Wahhabis countered the influence of communism among Muslims with enormous economic, political and ideological resources. They provided religious literature and training for religious scholars throughout the world. They used their wealth to exert political influence in the region. And they helped put together a force of vicious religious warriors to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. This was part of a concerted effort with the United States, and other allies like Pakistan and Israel, to defeat communism. In the end, only religious conservatives and corrupt despots were left with any substantial political power in the region at the end of the Cold War. Muslims unhappy with the state of affairs in their societies were left with basically only two viable political discourses to choose from: uninspired corrupt despotism or excited religious utopianism. Guess what many of them chose.
Look at Egyptian movies from the 1950s and 1960s. The world of President Gamal Abdel Nasser was far from ideal, but it was one in which many Muslims were placing their hopes in economic reform, and cultural production (hello Umm Kulthum) as vehicles for social improvement. Who is providing dreams to today’s Muslims? Yes, Muslims need to revitalize narratives that can compete with Wahhabi extremism. And believe me, countless Muslims are doing exactly that. But they are trying to produce hope in societies torn to pieces by world powers. Isn’t that what is happening in places like Syria today?
And how about Western Muslims? Well, many of our Western compatriots and Muslim coreligionists find our very identity suspect. Embracing our Western and Muslim heritages simultaneously would contradict the dominant narrative of perpetual conflict between the West and Islam. Fighting this false dichotomy is of course crucial for our very survival as Western Muslims.
The dominant perception of religion in contemporary Western societies like Canada is that its institutions and discourses are particularly prone to dangerous, excessive, and fanatic behaviour, in comparison to other institutions and discourses like medicine, journalism, sports, arts, and law, to name but a few.
Hurting oneself, sacrificing one’s life or even risking to do so for religious reasons is generally considered excessive and suspect behaviour. It often triggers fears dangerous extremism in mainstream society. However, consider the following list of situations in which similar behaviour for non-religious purposes is actually considered praiseworthy in dominant Western discourse:
An interesting academic discussion related to these questions is:
Beaman, Lori G. Defining Harm: Religious Freedom and the Limits of the Law. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2008.
His little washed up body won't go away with the next wave
Because I can't make him other
His little shoes
Are just like...
You know I cried in the shower
Because the curve of his spine
And the shape of his head
Are just the same as...
Transdisciplinary scholar of Islam and Sufism.