My Long Time Love Affair With Star Wars Has Finally Ended. And I’m Ok With That.

My Long Time Love Affair With Star Wars Has Finally Ended. And I’m Ok With That.

Unless you are a rabid Star Wars’ fan—or a connoisseur of all things science fiction—you probably only know Star Wars as a movie franchise, that seems to miraculously resurface every few decades. Seriously, zombies, vampires, and Star Wars are dang near impossible to kill at this point. However, Star Wars actually has a rather rich expanded universe (EU) outside of the movies that comes in the form of novels and comic books. Growing up in the 90s, when there weren’t nearly as many ways of distracting oneself as there are today, I spent much of my time lurking in the dark corners of my local library, hunting for good books. And oh, dear God! did these Star Wars’ novels and comics brought teenage Me endless hours of pleasure. Between reading anything I could get my grabby little hands on, watching science fiction shows, and playing Dungeon & Dragons, I was a happy camper. Throw in some chocolate, and I would gleefully sing the song of your people like a troubadour. 

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Look, there is a whole narrative out there that tends to paint science fiction as a lesser literary genre. It is absolute nonsense of course, and I shall discuss it in an upcoming post. However, while the Star Wars novels are not exactly what one would call literary classics, they are nonetheless interesting and a lot of fun. Many iconic authors such as Timothy Zahn are featured in it, and the story is explored in a lot more details. Long before Beelzebub’s spawn (also known as JJ Abrams) and Disney hijacked the franchise, the expanded universe is what allowed us to find out that Han and Leia tied the knot, that Luke Skywalker had a kid with a kick ass warrior lady, and that the Jedi order rose from its ashes like the phoenix. Long before the prequels and the reboots (I basically consider The Force Awaken a reboot of A New Hope), we knew exactly what happened after the initial 3 movies. For some 20+ years, we kept up with all the novels and the comics.

But alas, every good thing must come to an end. In 2012, when Disney acquired Lucasfilm, they decided to pull a move worthy of a Sith Master by declaring the EU non-canonical to the franchise. I’ve long suspected that Disney is in fact located atop a hellmouth. So, the idea of having a newly resurrected Walt Disney dressed as Darth Vader walking around the place force chocking hapless employees (whose lack of faith he found disturbing) before deciding to scrap Star Wars’ Expanded Universe (to spice up his Sunday) didn’t seem like too much of a stretch to me.

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The Dark Lord of the Sith finds your lack of faith disturbing folks.

For the most part though, I think I’ve just outgrown the story. Unlike Star Trek which has always been a lot more cerebral in tackling the human condition and offering a mature and thoughtful sociopolitical commentary, Star Wars has always been about the characters: The Skywalkers, the Solos, the Jedi order, and the Sith. It has always been an epic story of good vs evil with all the trimmings of a swashbuckling adventure. It appealed to my desire to escape the disenchantment we all face as we straddle that weird phase between childhood and adulthood. Immersing oneself in a world where the good guys always win no matter how difficult the fight, a world were the lines between good and evil are clearly delineated, a world where love and friendship rule supreme and transcend class, race, or gender had a way of lessening the bitterness of reality.

Like scores of Star Wars’ fans, it is with great excitement that I went to see the first two instalments of the new Star Wars movies: The force awaken and The last Jedi. While the universe seemed familiar, none of it appealed to me in the same fashion. The characters, the story, heck even the universe itself seemed rather simplistic. I was neither invested in their fate, nor particularly interested in the story unfolding in front of me. I realized then that my attachment to this franchise is fuelled by nothing more than my nostalgia. I am now an adult looking at the world through completely different lenses. I can no longer simply watch a movie without dissecting its narrative. I’m afraid the enchantment of childhood has given way to the cynicism of adulthood.

I’ve been hearing a great deal about the increasing toxicity of the Star Wars fandom lately. While fans should always be able to express their opinions, lines are definitely being crossed when actors are being threatened and bullied constantly. I believe the issue here is one of ownership. Older fans who have loved Star Wars since the beginning want the franchise to recapture that first enchantment that led them to fall in love with this story. However, as they look at it through their adult eyes, I believe they expect  from it far more then it was ever meant to be. I remember how disappointed I was in the prequels (with the exception of Revenge of the Sith) in my early twenties. But those who watched them as kids loved the prequels even more than the sequels. They were mesmerized by the world building and loved the humour, while those of us who were older were angered by what we saw as a dumbing down of the franchise. In the same way, the multitude of kids for whom The force awaken and The last Jedi are their very first experience of this universe will no doubt love them as passionately as we’ve loved the first 3 movies. Maybe, if there is anything to take from all of this is that we should allow new generations to experience not what we think Star Wars should be, but rather what it becomes as the franchise grows.

For my part, I’m grateful for all the good times, the amazing characters, and the beautiful storytelling. As and adult, I am more than ready to take a back seat and let younger generations experience their own enchantment.

Good luck young Padawans.

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A strange tale of transmutation

A strange tale of transmutation

Muslim Futurism

He stirred from his sleep inconvenienced by the intense pain radiating from his neck to the middle of his back. He had the habit of sleeping in the most outrageously disagreeable postures known to man. His ever evolving twists and bends could probably give many professional contortionists a run for their money. Slowly rising from his sleep, he turned on his back, stretching his poor aching neck, and rolling his shoulders to get the kinks out. As he opened his eyes, the first thing he noticed was the light. Forgot to turn the lights off again, he thought still groggy from his sleep. All around his bed and nightstand an assortment of packages, each once containing a variety of sinfully delicious pastries, were strewn about. This is what his life had been reduced to; a continuous binge of equally bad food and entertainment.

His eyes travelled from his nightstand to a…

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MUSLIM FUTURISM: Science fiction with a Muslim flavour

MUSLIM FUTURISM: Science fiction with a Muslim flavour

When it comes to fiction, Muslims are often left with very little choice when they try to find stories where Muslim characters are at the heart of the action. When such stories are available, many end up either reiterating some of the prevailing stereotypes about Muslims, or they attempt to dilute the very elements of our religious identity that make us who we are. As I’ve mentioned in a prior post, narratives matter.

The power that narratives hold comes from their ability to shape our identities, define our perspectives, and give a unique voice to groups. Whether used in memoirs and documentaries to convey true stories, or made-up ones in books, movies, television shows, and video games, narratives give us access to experiences that otherwise elude us. They allow us to gain a better understanding of the world we live in by introducing us to the multitude of realities that make up the human condition. At almost every level—from the family unit to the highest instances of political power—narratives are used to create a core identity that distinguishes us from others, and helps us strengthen social cohesion through the establishment of specific sets of values and norms. To control a narrative gives one the opportunity to influence the very perception of reality itself. Thus, narratives become in this context a possible site of oppression. It is imperative that we take charge of our own narrative and control it.

Muslim Futurism is one such attempt. This website is dedicated to exploring the world of Muslim fiction through a series of science fiction short stories with a dash of Muslim flavour. The aim being to craft a brand of storytelling placing Muslim characters, experiences, and narratives at the very heart of the story. Instead of trying to change the depiction of Muslims and Islam in the works of others, let us create our own creative outlets. There is not much we can do to stop the ongoing onslaught of vehement bigoted rhetoric, but there is much that we can do in creating a counter narrative that showcases the true nature of Islam, and the experiences of Muslims through our creative works.

 

Political Islam and social movements

Political Islam and social movements

The prevailing image of Islam in Western media and intellectual circles is one that reiterates the political nature of this religion. Islam is said to embody an authoritarian polity in which concepts such as freedom, democracy, and openness, have very little place (Bayat, 2007:4). Political Islam especially is perceived as the main vehicle of this brand of politics predicated on a revival of an authentic Islamic political tradition. This sociopolitical phenomenon embodies for many Westerners what they fear most about Islam.

By the early twentieth century, the autonomy of Muslim societies was greatly diminished due to the consolidation of colonial power in the Muslim world. Strong central governments, answerable to foreign imperial regimes, had replaced the old political system. In this new reality, “the traditional forms of Muslim religious organization were often suppressed” (Lapidus, 1988:7). Massive economic changes, unprecedented migration to the cities, and the emergence of new social strata accompanied the collapse of the old sociopolitical system. “The new era was marked by efforts to define new modes of political action as well as new modes of Islamic religious belief” (Lapidus, 1988:7).

Although there is a general consensus in Western academia that the historical roots and the development of this Islamic revival should be studied, the overwhelming majority of these studies tend to focus only on certain aspects of it, at the detriment of all others (Burke, 1988: 18). While the diverse political projects of Islamist groups is often discussed at length, almost nothing is said about their underlining social agendas. The capacity of these groups to mobilize consensus by addressing social grievances, while redefining the political spectrum, makes them at once political and social reform movements.

“As one engages this issue, one notes important differences over even so basic a matter as the definition of the subject. Is it Islamicpolitical movements? Or socialmovements in Islamic societies? These contracting questions frame a basic difference in the field” (Burke, 1988: 18).

The emergence, development, and diversification of Islamism correspond to the trajectories of state formation and socio-economic development in the Middle East. The popularity of modernization theory, and class analysis in the 1960s and 1970s, eclipsed any possible focus on Islamism in the political analyses of the Middle East and other Muslim majority countries. “When it was considered, it tended to be dismissed as rear-guard battle from traditional social forces heading for the dustbin of history” (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 278). In the wake of the Iranian revolution, Islamism was defined primarily as a political phenomenon concerned mainly with “the establishment of an Islamic state” (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 278). Often compared to movements from the left and the right, it was described as a nationalist and revolutionary movement implementing a top-down approach to seize the institutions of the state in order to establish a new social order (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 278).

Statist Islamism and political activism

“In its high degree of generality, Islamism emerged as the language of self-assertion to mobilize those (…) who felt marginalized by the dominant economic, political, and cultural processes in their societies (…)” (Bayat, 2007:6). For these individuals neither capitalist modernity, nor socialist utopia offered concrete answers to the political and economic woes of their nations. It was not however the working class that brought Islamism to the center-stage of Muslim politics; it was rather the Muslim middle-class that sought to find within Islamist discourse a viable dissident narrative. It was a way for them of rejecting the increasingly rigid control of the elite, while proposing an alternative to their western-centric political, economic, and social project. “In a quest to operate within an authentic nativist ideology, Islamists tried to articulate a version of Islam that could respond to their political, economic, and cultural deficit” (Bayat, 2007:7). Therefore, Islamism was conceptualized as a system with a distinctive political project, a religiously inspired cultural code, and a strong populist language.

“Two simultaneous but contradictory processes pushed Islamism toward its hegemonic position: opportunity and suppression” (Bayat, 2007:7). In the 1950s and 1960s throughout the Muslim world massive educational growth, economic expansion, increase in wealth, and social mobility co-existed with “continuous political repression, marginalization, a sense of humiliation, and growing inequality” (Bayat, 2007:7). The members of this highly educated middle-class increasingly became aware of their marginalization in their societies where a small but affluent elite held all the political and economic power. Often allied with Western powers, these elites enjoyed the protection and the support of these nations. Political repression and social control were widely used by these regimes in order to quell any attempt at political dissidence. Political Islam became widely popular amongst those searching for an alternative to what they perceived as the rapid decay of their societies. Through its populist rhetoric and religious sociopolitical project Islamism quickly gained traction.

The term statist Islamism refers to the brand of Islamism that implies an “institutionalized participation in the politics of the nation state” (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 281). In this category, one can find groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood who seek to reconcile Islamic doctrine with liberal forms of democracy. Their variant of Islamism evolved over time to become a reformist discourse. It appealed equally to members of the middle class and the working class eager to find a “broader popular constituency” to challenge the assertions of the more affluent, more secularized establishment claiming to speak for the nation (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 281). The model of political action and the ideological program detailed by the Muslim Brotherhood served as an example to follow for a wide range of organizations throughout the Muslim world. Groups such as Ennahda in Tunisia, the Salwa movement of Saudi Arabia, and Islah in Yemen, have “Brotherhood roots or links” (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 281). Socially, these movements have often emerged within the middle class and are fundamentally linked to the spread of education and urbanization in their respective societies.

Statist Islamism sought to improve rather than destroy the existing system. Their narrative was not so much predicated on challenging social hierarchies and the economic model, but rather on attacking corruption and moral laxity seen as the very cause of the socio-economic ills plaguing the community. “The economic problems were to be solved not by a drastically new system of governance or redistribution of wealth but by elites recognizing and acting upon their obligations to Islam and sharia” (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 281). What explains the resilience of statist Islamism is its capacity to adapt its aim and strategies to the shifts in models of governance and forms of social activism.

Non-statist Islamism and grassroots activism

The major models theorizing collective action never really focus on how collective action can transform into a revolution. They mainly explain the causes of social discontent without however pondering on how these same causes trigger revolutionary crises. James Davies claims that when prolonged periods of economic and social development are followed by a period of sharp decline, revolutions are more likely to occur (Bayat, 2007:18). According to Ted Gurr’s relative deprivation thesis “what seems to mediate between these objective processes and the occurrence of revolution is the psychological mood of the people, their expectations, and frustrations” (Bayat, 2007:18). Resource mobilization theorists have stressed out however that the people’s mood and their frustrations may not be enough to trigger action “unless they are able to mobilize the necessary resources by creating appropriate opportunities” (Bayat, 2007:18).

Popular frustration can give rise to two types of mobilization. One type seeks to dismantle the existing order and replace it with an alternative structure. This was the case in Iran where shortly after the revolution a process of massive Islamization of the nation was undertaken. Through a top-down process driven by the state a concerted effort was made to “Islamize the nation, state apparatus, public space, and individual behavior” (Bayat, 2007:50). The second type of mobilization seeks to revamp and amend the dominant order through the action of social movements. These movements are attempting to create “alternative institutions and value systems before a total change” (Bayat, 2007:18). Whereas in Iran Islamization spread through a top-down process, in Egypt the Islamic revival was born of a bottom-up social movement that first appeared in the 1920s (Bayat, 2007:33).

The economic restructuring of the 1970s diminished tremendously the state’s capacity to care for the marginalized and vulnerable groups within many Muslim societies. To compensate for this exclusion at the state level, vast sections of these societies relied increasingly on “self-help strategies, kinship networks, and other informal mechanisms” (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 283). This created an environment conducive to the rise of a type of Islamism rejecting any institutionalized participation in politics in favor of changes in lifestyles and individual behaviours.“Non-statist Islamismis not so much apolitical as it is infra political: local-level organizational, preaching and charitable activity” (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 282). Grassroots activism is central to their brand of Islamism. While groups like the Muslim Brotherhood have also centered their activism on charity work and preaching, non-statist grassroots Islamism tends toward a more conservative interpretation of the Islamic doctrine. Salafism, which over the past decades became the most popular movement in the grassroots Islamist phenomenon, encourages its adherents to focus on the community rather than the state. “Salafis tend to promote an ascetic lifestyle and consider consumerism to be a distraction from religious duties” (Volpi and Stein, 2015:283).

The Salafi’s eschewing of all forms of political engagement has worked in their favor at the grassroots level. Unlike statist Islamists and Jihadists who often attract the ire of the state, Salafis are generally tolerated by these regimes. The post 9/11 crackdowns on Islamic organizations in the Middle East were mainly targeted toward politicized, and armed Islamists. “In allowing or facilitating the expansion of Islamist grassroots infrastructure, regimes signalled their limited capacity to govern peripheral, rural or informal urban areas” (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 283). This has allowed Salafis to have a greater control over the social field. Governments have actively encouraged members of politically active Islamists groups to join instead the less overtly militant Salafi movement. The contemporary Salafi movement arose from the student movements of the 1970s in Egypt. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Salafism was often promoted as the safer alternative to the more militant Islamist movements. “Yet, even if many grassroots activist, for principled or pragmatic reasons, eschew politics, their activism has played a role as part of a broader Islamist movement in building constituencies for Islamist parties” (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 283).

Jihadi movements differ form both statist Islamists and non-statist groups like the Salafis by their endorsement of violence as a mean of establishing an Islamic state. Some of these groups call for violent tactics in their attempt to further the cause of an idealized form of Islamic community. Many more however are not motivated by a desire to promote armed struggle as a meaningful strategy, but are rather forced to adopt violent actions as a response to state repression; as it was the case in the Algerian civil conflict of the 1990s (Volpi and Stein, 2015: 284). These types of movements tend to find a fertile ground in areas where the state power is greatly diminished, and communities are marginalized. They usually emerge in places where the legitimacy of the state is widely contested, and its presence is all but absent or greatly undermined (Volpi and Stein, 2015:284).

 

ISLAMIC HISTORIOGRAPHY

ISLAMIC HISTORIOGRAPHY

One of the greatest blessings Allah ‘aza wajal bestowed upon our Ummah is our scholars. Muslim scholars dedicated their entire lives mastering several fields of knowledge and advancing those disciplines to new heights. Contrary to many nations whose history was primarily written by Westerners, the history of Islam (and Muslims by extension) was already written centuries ago by our very own scholars: Urwah ibn Zubayr, Ali ibn al-Madini,Muhammad al-Bukhari,Ibn Wahshiyya, Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī, Ibn Khaldun,Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, etc…)

The problem however is the existing divide between the contemporary Muslim populations and the vast and rich historiography left by these scholars. For a multitude of reasons (Westernized education systems, language barriers, illiteracy, political agendas) most Muslims know either very little or nothing at all about their own history. This of course leaves them vulnerable to just about any attempt made to re-write Muslim history by folks whose sole desire is to tarnish and destroy the legacy of previous Muslim generations.

One such attempt was spearheaded by a notorious Egyptian “Academic” called Youssef Zeidan who specializes on Arabic and Islamic studies. He stirred controversy when he called one of the most beloved historical figure of Islam, Salahadin Ayyubi, “one of the most despicable figures in human history.” His statements ignited a heated debate on social media and in Egyptian newspapers.

We live in times of confusion, manipulation, and propaganda. Knowledge is the best possible protection against this. Get to know your history folks, read the multitude of books left behind as a legacy by the scholars of Islam. The best remedy against lies is the truth. Let us not become people who simply fall for the latest trend, let us instead be people of substance with a firm Iman.

May Allah ‘aza wajal rescue us from the perdition of ignorance.

Postcolonialism And Hybridity Discourse

Postcolonialism And Hybridity Discourse

While developing a nationwide consciousness through the rise of a national culture holds many revolutionary and therapeutic promises, it is also riddle with many pitfalls. Fanon was far too aware of the lurking dangers of “fixity and fetishism of identities within the calcification of colonial culture” to fall into to the trap of either romanticizing the past, or homogenizing the unfolding history of anti-colonial resistance (Bhabha, 1994:9). According to him, the discourse of cultural essentialism can reiterate and legitimize the insidious racialization inherent to the violent rationale of colonialism. The process of historical and cultural rehabilitation is an essential step in overcoming the rhetoric of the colonial civilizing mission, and its narrative consigning the colonized to barbarism, degradation, and bestiality. In Fanon’s understanding however, these aggressive assertions of cultural identity at a national level should eventually lead to wider international solidarities dedicated to the same anti-colonial struggle. “Ideally, national consciousness ought to pave the way for the emergence of an ethically and politically enlightened global community” (Gandhi, 1998:123).  It is crucial to move beyond the colonial moment by imagining a renewed social consciousness transcending the fixed identities and rigid boundaries inherent to nativism. “Postcolonialism, in other words, ought to facilitate the emergence of what we might, after Said, call an enlightened postnationalism” (Gandhi, 1998:124).

The vast majority of contemporary postcolonial critics and theorists agree that postnationalism proposes not only a more accurate reading of the colonial experience, but also a more creative framework for a postcolonial future. The perspective offered by the previous generation of anti-colonial activists (Fanon, Memmi, Césaire, Cabral etc.…) is often criticized for describing the colonial encounter through “the rigid binary of colonizer and colonized, center and periphery” (Archeraiou, 2011:150). Despite the historical and political truth of the antagonism underlined in their writings, their anti-colonial perspective neglects to recognize “the corresponding failures and fissures which trouble the confident edifice of both colonial repression and anti-colonial retaliation” (Gandhi, 1998:124). The colonial onslaught, despite its violence and systematicness, was never successful in completely obliterating colonized societies. In fact, Homi Bhabha argues that the encounter with colonial powers was far more ambivalent in nature then exclusively oppositional. The early political visions of Said and Spivak differ tremendously in their understanding of colonial history. Whereas Said presents colonialism as an uninterrupted narrative of oppression and exploitation in Orientalism, Spivak tends to offer a more complex image of the effects of Western domination. While she never dismisses the destructive impact of imperialism, she nevertheless insists on acknowledging its positive effects. According to Spivak, imperialism is endowed with a paradoxical nature that generates what she refers to as “an enabling violence” (Spivak, 1996:19).

Postnationalism investigates the precarious nature of the colonial encounter by bridging the old divide between Westerner and native through a less beleaguered—and more politically amorphous—account of “colonialism as a cooperative venture” (Gandhi, 1998:125). This rather softer outlook on colonialism seeks to produce a postcolonial ethos capable of creating an inter-civilizational coalition to challenge the institutionalized suffering and oppression of our current world (Gandhi, 1998:125). In order to do so, the colonial encounter is showcased as a process of mutual transformation. The old tale of conflict and confrontation is replaced by an anecdote of transcultural exchange. As Harish Trivedi states:

“It may be useful to look at the whole phenomenon as a transaction…as an interactive, dialogic, two-way process rather than a simple active-passive one; as a process involving complex negotiation and exchange” (Trivedi, 1993:15).

Three main factors seem to have heralded contemporary postcolonialism’s discursive turn toward postnationalism. The advent of globalization as an academic field with a growing body of work, insisting on the economic and technological homogenization of the world, reinforced the impression that national boundaries are no longer sustainable in the modern world. The current flow of global capital goes hand in hand with an unparalleled movement of peoples, technologies, and information across borders hitherto perceived as impermeable (Appadurai, 1990:295). Due to its global reach, colonialism became the harbinger of this free-flow that exemplifies the disconcerting relationships characterizing modernity. “The imperial gaze, in other words, delivered a distinctively globalized perception of the disparate world” (Gandhi, 1998:126). The colonial encounter caused the overlapping of diverse and reciprocally antagonistic national histories by accelerating the contact between formerly distinct and autonomous cultures. The colonial onslaught became a common experience to countless cultures connected by nothing else. Therefore, the condition of the postcolonial aftermath pertains “to Indians and Britishers, Algerians and French, Westerners and Africans” (Said, 1993: xxiv). The globalization of cultures and histories is the very matrix through which postcoloniality emerges.

A second factor that leads to the “postnationalisation of postcolonial theory” is the mounting critical distrust of identitarian politics (Gandhi, 1998:126). A variety of critics suspect that essentialized racial/ethnic identities are deliberately being maintained and proliferated in the neocolonial context. Stuart Hall details the insidious process through which “the convenient Othering and eroticization of ethnicity merely confirms and stabilizes the hegemonic notion of Englishness” (Hall, 1989:227). In these circumstances, ethnicity is always defined as peripheral to an Englishness or Americanness conceived of as the mainstream. This leads critics such as Rey Chow and Gayatri Spivak to question the enduring longing for the “pure Other of the West” (Spivak, 1990:8). The dissatisfaction with identitarian politics is driven primarily by the conviction that the narrative based on racial/ethnic affiliations has been co-opted by a devious partnership between neo-orientalism and postcolonial pragmatism.

Finally, to complete this account of the growing discursive turn toward postnationalism, we must take into account the pervasive exhaustion with the previous embattled approach to colonial history. The desire to transcend the older pattern of confrontation and conflict fuelled the belief that the antagonistic basis of old solidarities lacks contemporary credibility. “In conservative Britain, for instance, old racial oppositions come in the way of other more urgent alliances organized along the axes of class, gender, sexuality” (Gandhi, 1998:128). Said denotes an analogous impasse in old national enmities. His disenchantment stems from what he labels as a ”rhetoric of blame”, which he claims is responsible for the violence and confusion escalading hostilities between the Western and non-Western world (Said, 1993:20). These antagonistic relationships are exploited and manipulated by a throng of fundamentalist and reactionary movements taking cover under the rhetoric of anti-Western sentiment to, in Said’s words, “cover up contemporary faults, corruptions, and tyrannies” (Said, 1993:17).

“Finally, for all the blindness of unequivocal anti-nationalism, postcolonial theory has been susceptible to the general disillusionment with national cultures. Caught between the harsh extremes of ethnic cleansing, on the one hand, and the militaristic American purification of the un-American world on the other, postcolonialism ponders a ceasefire. Its hope, via postnationalism, is this: that it be possible to inaugurate a non-violent revision of colonial history, and that politics may become genuinely more collaborative in times to come” (Gandhi, 1998:129)

Hybridity and mutual transformations

Much like the culturalist turn of the 1970s that became a leading trend in the social sciences, the non-binary models promoted by Bhabha, Young, and Gilroy gained traction in the early 1990s in postcolonial studies. They have become the principal modes through which colonial and postcolonial cultural encounters are conceptualized and understood (Acheraiou, 2011:150). The previous models predicated on binary modes of theorizing and resisting colonialism/neocolonialism have been relegated to oblivion. Postcolonialism opts instead for a postnational reading of the colonial encounter, putting the emphasis on the amalgamation of cultures and identities touched by imperialism. To do so, it deploys various conceptual terms and categories of analysis to examine the elusive relationships between colonizers and colonized. “In this regard, the terms hybridity and diaspora, in particular, stand out for their analytic versatility and theoretical resilience” (Gandhi, 1998:129). As a critical term, hybridity is often tackled in connection with a series of concepts indicating the advent of an “intercultural transfer”, as well as the forms of identity emerging from such an exchange (Hiepko, 2001:118). This process of creolization implies that the various groups implicated in this event will adapt themselves to each other and to their new environment, allowing for a new identity to arise.

The origins of the term hybridity can be traced back to the discourse of the biological sciences. In botany and zoology, the hybrid is said to be a cross between two different species of plants or animals. However, in the context of colonialism and its racializing discourse, the term was primarily understood in a negative manner. By blurring the distinction between different races, the process of hybridization was seen as a potential danger to the alleged superiority of the White race, and white colonizers by extension (hiepko, 2001:118). Since the usage of this concept is traditionally entrenched in the narratives of evolution, “the hybrid was originally conceived of as infertile and often as an inferior copy of the original” (Kuortti & Nyman, 2007:4). Within Western thought, hybridity was usually interpreted in the framework of racial thinking. This generated a great deal of reluctance amongst those wary of its usage in postcolonialism. They were mainly concerned with the nineteenth century notions about race and miscegenation embedded in the term. Robert J.C Young who discusses the link between the concept of hybridity and the racist idea of mongrelity has argued for this perspective. He claims that the usage of the term reiterates and reinforces the contentious and divisive dynamics of its nineteenth century ideological baggage (Young, 1995:14).

“Today, therefore, in reinvoking this concept, we are utilizing the vocabulary of the Victorian extreme right as much as the notion of an organic process of the grafting of diversity into singularity” (Young, 1995:10).

For the most part, the language of hybridity seems to derive its theoretical incentive from Fanon’s judicious reading of colonialism as a catalyst for the accelerated transformation of colonized societies. He states that the constraints of the decolonization project radically unsettles and alters traditional cultural patterns in colonized societies. “The shifting strategies of anti-colonial struggle, combined with the task of imagining a new and liberated postcolonial future, generate a crisis within the social fabric” (Fanon, 1965:64). The revolutionary endeavor undertaken in the struggle for liberation provokes profound political and cultural transformations that change these societies irrevocably. Fanon proclaims that it is “the necessities of combat that give rise in Algerian society to new attitudes, to new modes of action, to new ways” (Fanon, 1965:64). His analysis of the Algerian Revolution highlights the transformations observed in the status of Algerian women as well as the changes occurring in the family structure and its values. Significant modifications in the customary attitudes toward science and technology can also be observed during the same period. While the rise of a national culture requires the uncovering of a native identity, invoking the myth of pure origins, the experience of colonial oppression must bring profound changes in the consciousness of the colonized to help them transcend the limitations of nativism, so they can instead embrace wider international solidarities.

“The challenging of the very principle of foreign domination brings about essential mutations in the consciousness of the colonized, in the manner in which he perceives the colonizer, in his human status in the world” (Fanon, 1965:69).

Fanon’s remarks pertaining to the “instability and consequent inventiveness of anti-colonial conditions” were revisited by a variety of postcolonial theorists who later formulated the discourse of hybridity (Gandhi, 1998:130). Most of them focused on the fact that the colonial encounter led to the transformation of the colonized into a political subject of decolonization. The contact between two conflicting systems of belief produced a whole new cultural identity. Stuart Hall argues that anti-colonial identities “do not owe their origins to a pure and stable essence” but are instead the byproduct of a traumatic and disruptive fissure in history and culture (Gandhi, 1998:130).

Homi K. Bhabha contributed to the discussion on hybridity by bringing forth the idea of intercultural space. According to him, this expanse of in-betweenness and liminality is where hybrid identities are formed. In what Bhabha calls the ‘Third space of enunciation’, the transitional space between the cultures of the colonizer and the colonized, as well as migrants and other post-colonial subjects, go through a process that alters their fixed sense of identity (Bhabha, 1994:37). While this recasting of previously fixed identities can be positive and empowering, its transgressive nature and location in the liminal space, poses nonetheless potential dangers as it produces “a new, and hybrid subjectivity” (Kuortti & Nyman, 2007:8). While this Third Space possesses the ability to generate non-fixed identities, there is always the possibility that these new identities might at first glance resemble the old ones, without being quite the same however (Bhabha, 1994:4). What is involved in the creation of a hybrid identity is an “estranging sense of the relocation of the home and the world—the unhomeliness—that is the condition of extra-territorial and cross-cultural initiations”(Bhabha,1994:9). Colonialism is read, in Bhabha’s perspective, as the trigger of a new politics of un-homeliness.

“In this sense, colonialism is said to engender the unhomeliness—that is the condition of extra-territorial and cross-cultural initiation. Not surprisingly, diasporic thought finds its apotheosis in the ambivalent, transitory, culturally contaminated and borderline figure of the exile, caught in a historical limbo between home and world” (Gandhi, 1998:132).

The role of hybridity in the production of contemporary identities is particularly of significance when one takes into account how this process frames them along cultural borderlands as hyphenated entities. Mary Louise Pratt extends Bhabha’s analyses by arguing that both the colonizer and the colonized are involved in the transcultural subtleties of the colonial encounter. She describes it less as a violent interaction and more as a contact requiring innovative forms of communication to overcome the existing ideological/cultural/linguistic barriers. This interaction amidst “radically asymmetrical conditions of power, invariably produces an estrangement of familiar meanings and a mutual ‘creolisation’ of identities”(Pratt, 1992:4).

“Some critics of Bhabha, such as Aijaz Ahmed and Benita Parry, criticize his theory for its poststructuralist/postmodernist and textual emphasis” (Kuortti & Nyman, 2007:9). Ahmed argues that Bhabha is situated in the same material conditions of postmodernity that ascertain and reiterate the benefits of modernity; it is this very location that informs Bhabha’s judgments of the past, as well as the “anti-historicality of his post-colonial theory” (Ahmed, 1996:291). Others however, have argued that the ambivalence of Bhabha’s Third Space can be used to inspire emancipatory aims, and unearth new narratives pertaining to nation. “Hybridity is a threat to colonial and cultural authority; it subverts the concept of pure origin or identity of the dominant authority through the ambivalence created by denial, unsettling, repetition, and displacement” (Mabardi, 2000:6).

The possible existence of these locations of hybridity theorized by Bhabha, where the traditional and the new co-exist, challenges the standard narratives pertaining to modernity and postmodernity. It proposes the likelihood of “mixed times where premodernity, modernity, and postmodernity coexist” (Pieterse, 1995:51). This outlook on time occupies an important place in Bhabha’s work. His concept of time-lag intimates that the colonial past still exercises a certain hold on the postcolonial present, that is,  “in the colonialist stereotype that surfaces in the present and troubles the linearity of modernity by repeating the past” (Kuortti & Nyman, 2007:10). Hybridity’s ability to question and challenge what might appear as natural borders is probably its greatest aptitude and influence.

“Acknowledging the contingency of boundaries and the significance and limitation of hybridity as a theme and approach means engaging hybridity politics. This is where critical hybridity comes in, which involves a new awareness of and new take on the dynamics of group formation and social inequality. This critical awareness is furthered by acknowledging rather than suppressing hybridity” (Pieterse, 2001:239).

The notion of in-betweenness implied by the term hybridity is further explored through the concept of diaspora. While this term usually evokes the specific dynamics of human displacement, postcolonialism is generally more concerned with the idea of cultural dislocation. Although it is often used interchangeably with the concept of migration, “it is generally invoked as a theoretical device for the interrogation of ethnic identity and cultural nationalism” (Gandhi, 1998:131). The notion of hybridity elucidates those processes of “cultural mutation and restless (dis) continuity that exceed racial discourse and avoid capture by its agents” (Gilroy, 1993:2). This concurrence between diasporic thought and the discourse of hybridity allows postcolonialism to reveal the process of mutual transformation experienced by both the colonizer and the colonized. “For all its hyperbolic claims, the discourse of hybridity and diaspora is not without its limitation” (Gandhi, 1998:136). While postcolonialism attempts to understand the mutual transformation of colonizer and colonized, hybridity usually implies the destabilizing of colonized cultures. In all these cross-cultural conversations the West remains the primary meeting ground. Furthermore, in the metropolis, the positive outlook on multiculturalism is often used to disguise serious economic, political, and social disparities. In this context, it is crucial to remain cautious of claims which favor hybridity as the only enlightened response to racial/colonial oppression.

“The dangers of ‘enlightened hybridity’ are amply demonstrated in Ashcroft et al.’s recently announced objections to the aggressively postcolonial claims of the indigenous peoples of ‘settled colonies’ which, arguably, compete with the corresponding claims of ‘white settler’ Australians and Canadians.” (Gandhi, 1998:136).

Hybridity and mimicry

The complications pertaining to Bhabha’s attempt to think beyond the traditional binary modes of analysis become evident in “his account of the issue of political engagement, resistance and agency” (Moore-Gilbert, 1997:130). He views the political sphere as an area where dominant and subordinate cultures engage in a process of constant (re)negotiation and political (re)positioning. This cognitive ambivalence on the part of both “partners” permits the advent of new, and hitherto unknown methods in which the native can circumvent the weight of colonial power. Bhabha compares this process to a “psychological guerrilla warfare” that gives the colonized a certain edge over their colonizers (Moore-Gilbert, 1997:130). His reassessment of the spaces, the times, and the modes of political engagement in the colonial relationship is an attempt on his part to find a way of reformulating subaltern agency in terms other than those elaborated by either late Fanon or early Said. For Bhabha, the portrait of the violent native insurgent found in The Wretched of the Earth reestablishes the Western model of the individual as an autonomous subject, “by which Western modernity—and the history of colonialism which accompanied it—is underwritten” (Moore-Gilbert, 1997:131).

Unlike Fanon, Said establishes the subaltern as devoid of any real agency, and a mere consequence of the dominant discourse. Within the power dynamic presented in Orientalism, the subaltern is only ever the West’s silent rival. While some have criticized Said for “constructing too hegemonic a picture of Orientalism’s discursive formation, Bhabha points out to the way in which Said himself shows that such a discourse is constituted ambivalently” (Young, 2004: 181). Said tackles this ambivalence by mentioning a single instigating intention. In his analysis, Orientalism is reduced primarily to a Western projection designed to rule over the Orient. He posits an antagonism born out of the binary opposition between power and powerlessness. This emphasizes “the supposition of an exterior controlling intention and leaves no room for negotiation or resistance (…)” (Young, 2004:182). However, Bhabha believes that Europe’s intents toward the East were not merely motivated by imperial greed. “There is always, in Said, the suggestion that colonial power is possessed entirely by the colonizer which is a historical and theoretical simplification” (Homi, 1983:200). He argues that this is a reductive analysis of a far more complex relationship. According to him, the representation of the Orient in Western discourse displays a deep ambivalence toward an Other viewed simultaneously as an object of desire and derision (Bhabha, 1994:19). Both the colonizers and the colonized enter a process of mutual transformations and engage in mutual mimicry.

Bhabha defines the concept of mimicry as “one of the most elusive and effective strategies of colonial power and knowledge”(Bhabha, 1994:85). The case of the nineteenth century adventurer Richard Burton, who passed himself off as a native in India and other British colonies, is no doubt one of the greatest examples of cross-cultural impersonation through mimicry. “His fluency in several languages and easy ability to consort with natives led him to adopt indigenous dress” (Godiwala, 2007:59). Burton’s act of mimicry was a subversive one that allowed him to regularly warn colonial powers against insurgent activities, burgeoning rebellions, and underground anti-colonial mobilizations. Said’s definition of the orientalist as a Westerner who establishes himself as an “authority in the texts of the colonized peoples applies to Burton’s writing as it does to the Egypt-based Burkhardt” (Godiwala, 2007:60). As pointed out by Parama Roy, in Burton’s travelogues, letters, and journals he is always posited as the authority on the native subject having “penetrated and participated in every exotic and forbidden mystery”(Roy, 1998:26). Mimicry is used here as a camouflage allowing the colonizer to fade into the background while still occupying a privileged position as an observer.

However, in the case of the colonized, Bhabha theorizes that the act of mimicking the colonizer’s habits, behaviors, mannerisms, and attitudes contains simultaneously an element of mockery as well as a certain threat in the resemblance to the values of the colonizing culture. The colonized subject engaging in the act of mimicry is effectively refusing to return the colonizer’s gaze, which, “Bhabha suggests, destabilizes colonial authority just as effectively in a different way” (Moore-Gilbert, 1997:132). The colonizer’s ambivalence toward the colonized is conveyed in the “narcissistic colonialist demand” that requires the recognition of his authority, priorities, and references by the Other (Moore-Gilbert, 1997:132). By refusing to satisfy the colonizer’s need for such recognition, the subaltern is effectively engaging in resistance. This defiance arises from the subaltern’s calculated attempt to escape the process through which he is to be confined to a subordinate position in order to confirm the dominance of the colonizer.

“Here, the Anglicization of a colonial subject makes the subject familiar and yet, for Bhabha, emphasizes the difference from the English subject which is a process that mocks the authority of the latter” (Godiwala, 2007:60).

According to Dimple Godiwala, Bhabha is making a false assumption by equating the mimicry of an Englishman such as Burton to that of an Indian mimicking English values and attitudes. While Burton’s mimicry is endowed with the power bestowed upon him by his status of colonizer, to the colonized subject this mimicking Englishman represents a danger in his role as a spy of the empire. “Burton’s impersonation gives a him a thrill and a pleasure as his role as consummate actor is mingled with the knowledge of his own power” (Godiwala, 2007:61). Bhabha’s projected equivalence on both sides is simplistic and foregoes completely the impact of the power wielded by the colonizer’s culture. Young echoes Godiwala’s argument by pointing out that “such an analysis cannot be equally applicable to colonized as to colonizer” (Young, 2004:145). Burton’s motivations are part of the larger ‘colonialist desire’ to insinuate oneself into the lives of the colonized in order to render it accessible and manageable. The colonized however, mimic because they have internalized the notion that their cultural values are inferior to that of their colonizers. Therefore, the “subject-positions” of the colonizer and the colonized are fundamentally different and mimicry is used for very different reasons. The colonized is primarily motivated by a desire to imitate values they regard as superior to their own (Godiwala, 2007:61).

 

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Political Islam And The Pearl Clutching Of Moderate Muslims

Political Islam And The Pearl Clutching Of Moderate Muslims

Political Islam or Islamism—that is Islam as a political ideology instead of a religion or theology—is a relatively contemporary phenomenon in the history of the Muslim World. Although Western Academia coined the term, the distinctive forms of Muslim politics that later came to define Islamism emerged in the nineteenth-century as European colonial incursions into Muslim territories increased. For many Muslims and non-Muslims alike, Political Islam represents what they fear most; a brand of aggressive, politicized Islam hell bent on bringing about autocratic theocracies. Of course this is nothing short of a cartoonish portrayal of a complex sociopolitical phenomenon, but nevertheless this caricaturization continues to plague any conversation pertaining to the role of Islam within politics. In an attempt to explain the ongoing political upheaval observed in many Muslim countries, some Muslim intellectuals, scholars, and politicians often resort to facile and simplistic explanations.

According to them, the proliferation  in the Muslim world of ideologies and movements that strive to establish some kind of an “Islamic order” is due primarily to an increasing religious illiteracy. This particular outlook on the ongoing anomie in the Muslim world is especially prized by contingents of the Muslim community who label themselves as progressives and/or moderates. In this narrative, proponents of political Islam are portrayed as ignorant, fundamentalist, regressive forces battling against the very idea of progress and development. Interestingly enough, this perspective is also one that authoritarian regimes are often quick to reiterate in an attempt to delegitimize any broad-based opposition to their rule. After all, both Muslim personalities in the West, and officials of authoritarian regimes in Muslim countries were quick to point out the glaring religious illiteracy of ISIS’s foot soldiers, while remaining mum on the political factors at play in the very emergence of ISIS.

 

SILENCING ISLAM ON MATTERS OF POLITICS: WELCOME TO CORPORATIZED DA’WAH.

Using the existing problem of religious illiteracy amongst Muslims to sweep under the carpet the very real political, economic, and social grievances of this Ummah is not only fallacious, it is down right disingenuous. At some point this community of ours will have to drop the groupie mentality and start holding folks accountable for their words and their actions. At some point this community of ours will have to take a long and hard look at people’s motivations and loyalties. Islam, is and always was, a complete way of life encompassing all aspects of human existence. Those who—in this dire moment in the history of our Ummah—are quick to preach that Muslims should turn away from politics and confine their practice of Islam to mere rituals are for all intent and purposes telling Muslims to not only accept their own oppression, but somehow find purpose and contentment in it.

Those who are window dressing the acceptance of our humiliation and oppression as a religious edict cannot (and should not) be allowed to hide behind the title of scholar (‘alim) to avoid the much deserved criticism levelled against them. No scholar is infallible, and no human being is above criticism. Yes Muslims suffer from religious illiteracy. However, to surreptitiously omit mentioning that this problem is a direct result of the Western colonial onslaught that destroyed and dismantled much of the Muslim world’s institutions is nothing short of historical revisionism. To somehow pretend that religious illiteracy is the primary reason we are observing an uptake in extreme forms of militancy in Muslims countries, and not the direct result of Western imperialism and its murderous forays into Muslim land is the epitome of hypocrisy.

Here is the thing: THE STATUS QUO IS NOT AN OPTION ANYMORE. There comes a moment where remaining silent, turning the other cheek, and hoping for the best won’t cut it anymore. When in the absence of viable options to address the very real grievances of our Ummah, some of our brothers and sisters turn to the only groups—albeit problematic, and often flawed in their approches and methods—that seem to be offering a semblance of resistance, a promise to change the tide and bring about change, why do we collectively clutch our proverbial pearls and pretend not to understand what compels them to do so? We—by our indifference to the plight of our Ummah, our cowardice that prevents us from speaking truth to power, our selfishness that makes us so enamoured with our own confort that we keep silent in the face of mounting injustices—create the very conditions that lead so many of our youth to embrace this path. Our disconnect from the political realm as a community has left a void that sadly has been filled by groups lashing out in anger and despair. It is so easy and oh! so convenient to look at them with disdain, point the finger at them, and label them the bane of our existence and the root of all our problems. It is easy to ascribe to them all the evils of the world in an attempt to wash away our own guilt. For we are guilty my brothers and sisters. Guilty of not living up to the true potential of Islam. Guilty of remain deaf, dumb, and mute to the cries for help emanating from the four corners of the Muslim world.

Silencing Islam in all matters other than rituals, repeatedly downplaying the political and social grievances of Muslims, while vehemently criticizing those who engage in political and social resistance has become a staple of an increasingly corporatized form of Da’wah. Many of these scholars have turned into media personalities with massive platforms and millions of followers. They repeatedly use their platforms to plead for the need to maintain the status quo, while demonizing those who criticize and question it. While being implacable critics of what is often dubbed in the West as “political Islam”, they have no qualms cozying up to the same forces that generate the existing political crisis of the Muslim world. While they have no problem becoming the “poster child” for a brand of state approved Islam getting the thumbs up from Washington to Dubai, empathizing with the pain of their fellow Muslims and standing in solidarity with them in their grievances is apparently where they draw the line. In Islam, scholars are said to be the inheritors of the Prophets. As the custodians of Islamic knowledge, they are supposed to be a source of guidance not only through their teachings but also through their actions. To see so many Ulama become deeply entrenched in corrupt power structures, and Da’wah turn into a increasingly lucrative industry should alarm us all.

Look, the very first act undertaken by the Muslim Ummah in the moment of its birth was of two fold; religious and political. When Muslims gave their Bay’ah (oath of allegiance) to our beloved Rasulullah (saw), they recognized him as both their spiritual leader and their political leader. He became their Imam and their Amir. To pretend today that somehow Islam has nothing to say on political matters, or solutions to offer to the political problems plaguing the Muslim world is nothing short of delusional. Asking Muslims to prove that they are peaceful moderate people by endorsing their own oppression is a sacrifice one only asks of subjugated people. When the very forces occupying and exploiting much of the Muslim world are also the one’s fabricating the labels that exalt or demonize us, we should realize that utilizing them only furthers their interests. Ignoring politics only services the forces that are seeking to subjugate, oppress, and exploit our Ummah.