Saturday, October 21, 2006

A commentary on commentaries...

This is my comment on the post Issue of the Veil on Basil Faulty's blog "Ramblefish" which discusses Jack Straw's latest call for the removal of the face veil. The post is essentially a comment by a Maggie and Basil's very articulate and balanced reply.

I had been pining for a while over what I perceive as the need for critical engagement that goes beyond reflecting phenomenon but rather analyze, critique and produce further knowledge. What this entails is first an understanding of the issues then mounting an intellectual and creative challenge on the paradigm of acceptable vs. deviant. I consider this post an initial modest attempt on my behalf to begin this process and utilize it for further projects.

First of all, FGM is a custom that predates Islam and has roots in African tribal culture. It is practiced in only some corners of predominantly Muslim countries and still in some parts of the African continent. There is mostly general consensus about its ills in Muslim societies, be they medical, social or psychological, in fact, the highest religious authorities in Egypt have condemned its practice and the government has taken real steps to eradicate it. The fact that many still perform FGM is due to ignorance, which drives this, as well as other equally detrimental social practices.

Now, while some of us here are fighting to expand dialogue on notions of nationalism and identity, the west ironically continues to speak with the tongue of extremists like the Muslim Brothers who consider Muslim countries a single homogeneous bloc, completely forgoing the rich cultural diversity of over 52 nations sheltering over 1.5 billion people. In places like Egypt even elements in the Christian minority practice FGM, is that also Islam's fault? Consider if you will how Tunisia has banned polygamy, or how Turkey bans the hijab in official spaces of work. Are these not countries that continue to consider themselves Muslim? Yet the west chooses to remain conveniently ignorant of the diversity of Islamic interpretation and remain steadfast in its accusations of Islam as a terror wielding female oppressing religion. We blame ignorance for the spread of HIV AIDS in Africa and not a sort of cultural vice specific to Africans. When someone has the audacity to blame gang violence in America on an African American cultural penchant for violence we don't hesitate to call them racist, yet it’s become acceptable today to berate Islam, as religion and culture, and call it aggressive, irrational and oppressive based on erroneous and ill informed western constructs and perceptions motivated by xenophobia and intolerance rather than genuine interest and intellectual engagement as
Mr. Jack Straw will have us think. The circular discussion over the veil represented for the most part by the equation “religious oppression vs. freedom of choice” frankly bores the life out of me. The truth is, there are Muslims who consider the veil a “farida” (religious exigency) and there are others who don’t, and while it is taken for granted that unveiled women are more liberal than others, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that the camp you choose determines the degree to which you oppress women or the number of your relatives who have flown planes into buildings. There are also far more interesting intellectual debates taking place in Muslim societies and some very progressive stances being taken, but the west, and the defunct religious pundits who make it their life’s work to reply to the their inanities, are completely blind to the dynamics of our culture which continues to shed skin and re-invent itself, finding new ways of expressing itself, like the phenomena of young veiled women’s fashion in Egypt, which circumvents prevailing conservative tendencies while still upholding their traditional values; because regardless of what the veil may represent or symbolize, at the end of the day people just want to fit in, women are no exception.

It is difficult for a person from the west to have access to locally brewed critical thinking, let alone grasp the multilayered nuances of the region's rich cultural fabric, yet it is no excuse for someone to insinuate that only people in "free societies", meaning the west of course, are offended by oppression as Maggie suggests in Basil’s post The Issue of the Veil. Let's look at this statement in light of
a poll recently conducted by BBC which revealed that in Israel, where the largest percentage endorsing torture worldwide was found, the majority of Jewish respondents (53%) favor allowing governments to use torture to obtain information while in contrast, Muslims in Israel (who represented 16% of total responses in that country) are overwhelmingly (87%) against any use of torture. I wonder if people will now infer that Judaism encourages the use of torture…

Like the late Edward Said explained, the world needs humanists who truly pursue emotional bonds with one another that transcend differences. It would do all of us a favor to pursue a balanced and critical understanding of the topics before launching vituperations and ill founded criticisms, there are those who practice Islam and yet (lo and behold) believe in justice, equality and compassion...


Forsoothsayer said...

nice. that maggie managed to couch hackneyed ignorant old shit in politician's terms.

Forsoothsayer said...

one other note...fgm is equally practised by christians, muslims and others in africa.

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