Relic Trouble

Having grown up in a Muslim context and a Muslim household has allowed me a certain level of subjectivity in attempting to draw a picture, at least to myself, of the current state of affairs of late reactions towards the caricatures of Mohammed and the anger they have entailed towards France, Europe, and the Western civilization in general. Knowingly, on the personal level, most of these angry Muslims couldn’t care less about the person of Mohammed or his legacy; I do believe, however, this is a matter of identity politics and a psychological play on self-identification and the sense of belonging.

Most of us Muslims today in the 21st century, belong to more or less failed states (barely existing in my occupied displaced Palestinian case), as well as failed families, tribes, communities, towns, cities, institutions and nations. Now it might not be all of these constructs one identifies with which might be failed or dysfunctional, but most of us have at least a couple of these items checked on the above-mentioned list.

Young Muslims grow up with an immense sentiment of inherited failure

After 1300 years of victories, expansions, defeats and conquests, the Ottoman Empire, the last to embody Islam and Muslims as a major global power, has fallen, and none of its remnants has been an actual major player on the international level since. Young Muslims grow up with an immense sentiment of inherited failure; inherited military, economic, cultural, social and urban failures which most of us live with on the very daily level. The violence of this chaos and nonsensical collective failures beat each individual constantly with very little outlets, boiling down so much anger on all levels of consciousness.

A consequent sentiment of submission infiltrates to the deepest layers of the mind and the soul, molding cynical docile individuals

After so many years of practice, these individuals have learned, practiced and even mastered loss and surrender, and have absorbed it throughout their earliest years which shape their selves and identities, be it on the personal level, especially when it comes to life decisions, or on the familial and other collective levels, such as colonialism, displacement, death, corruption… Etc. They end up taking this status quo for granted. A consequent sentiment of submission infiltrates to the deepest layers of the mind and the soul, molding cynical docile individuals with distortions when it comes to communicating and assessing one’s will, desire and just self altogether.

Throughout the 20th century and beyond, within few short decades, Muslim communities have witnessed before their eyes nations come and go, cities and states reduced to ruins from one side, and erected from bare soil from another. They have also experienced various levels of erasure, where belonging to a minority group is often casually subverted and distorted. Your regular Muslim family will deny its Kurdish, Armenian, Jewish or Assyrian heritage in the levantine context for example, or will try to deny its Arab influences and focus on one facet of its ethnic identity as observed in some of the extreme cases among Jewish, Amazigh, Nubian and other communities. Leaders and governing bodies have instrumentalized these distortions in an enforced modern and nationalistic context and reduced all ‘relics’ of one’s identity into a major homogeneous Islamic Sunni one, rendering Mohammad into a common relic.

.. never detaching the person, of Mohammed, from the mythology and what he represents as a socio-cultural and religious relic

This is not new, the figure of Mohammed has remained an untouchable relic throughout the centuries which all believing Muslims identify with and look up to. Any questioning when it comes to his person and what he represents socially and religiously as a leading male figure and leader has been severely thwarted either by punishment or by erasure from any artistic or cultural heritage. Thus, never detaching the person, of Mohammed, from the mythology and what he represents as a socio-cultural and religious relic. I could recall people from my entourage cursing at God in extreme moments of frustration but never Mohammad.

Such an untouchable relic, apart from its religious significance, might underlie other important representations. A majority of Muslim-majority countries is shaped by tribes, very patriarchal tribes, with elder males shaping and inheriting order, tradition, taboos and networks. These males embody an ultimate authority especially in less cosmopolitan areas. My mother narrates the importance her late father has had when it came to the education and thereof, protection of her oldest sister, the first woman to ever finish a bachelor’s degree in their conservative town, today one of the most populated cities in Palestine. A decision he had to pay for by being ousted from the protection of his feudalistic tribe, a tribe with a lineage dating back to the seventh century, which has also survived three crusades and countless invasions throughout the centuries.

Islamic teachings have taught me as a young person the importance of the liberation from iconoclastic representations and influences but only in a religious context, an outdated revolution dating back to the end of the byzantine times and the beginning of Islam. Meanwhile, the ‘West’ has done so centuries after, in a secular more individualistic context, following major cultural revolutions which happened only after major industrial and economic shifts, as well as bloody civil wars and violent political and religious revolutions, which have shaken the dynamics of power for centuries and have come to shape the ‘Western’ individual and body throughout its upbringing.

Today these Muslim individuals are being stirred in this turmoil which conflates the constructed identity with the personal physical one, and blurs out the limits between the two.

Muslim communities are yet to experience such cultural revolutions and separate the constructed socio-cultural identity from the body and the self. Today these Muslim individuals are being stirred in this turmoil which conflates the constructed identity with the personal physical one, and blurs out the limits between the two. Even the latest revolutions of the Arab Spring, which have managed to topple despots and autocratic parties, still have not dealt with notions as such as the tribe and the faith, and their place in shaping one’s self and identity.

In a big part of Muslim majority countries, one could experience the heavy lack of outlets to voice or vent personal frustrations and complexes, as such rituals are hindered by socio-cultural limits, and authority figures, starting from parents and extended family, to male tribe leaders, all the way to national despotic figures which dictate with iron fists, threatening the individual, the body, its safety, its basic needs and its survival. All of which render any form of venting and expression of frustration on both personal and community levels, a taboo. This need for venting does not vanish however and needs to be channeled.

Western leaders and systems never hesitated to utilize this power and invest in it

Colonial powers are very aware of this. The Cold War and its zones of conflict have been important terrains and laboratories in studying, taming and investing in such anger and frustration. From Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Libya, to Algeria, Somalia, West Africa and beyond, Western leaders and systems never hesitated to utilize this power and invest in it to reinforce populist discourses from one end, shape entire countries and systems from another. Thus installing regimes allowing them to pass questionable ‘security’ and infrastructure agreements and deals, maintaining supremacy and control of entire processes of market, from the consumer to the production. Of course China is not out of the equation either, especially when it comes to its late major investments in Asia and Africa.

.. the notion of self-fulfillment, physical and mental needs, and the well-being of the individual and the body rarely shape public policy.

Unfortunately, other than some of very few well-off Muslim countries, the notion of self-fulfillment, physical and mental needs, and well-being of the individual and the body rarely shape public policy. A quick look through budgets of these governments one can easily perceive the gap between public spending on military, police and mosques, versus funds spent on healthcare, public space, equipment, infrastructure, public education and research, funds for SME’s, environmental protection, quality control and so on.

In conclusion, most of the Muslim nations are relatively young and lack the sophisticated tools to voice, vent and just communicate common sentiments of discontent and failure, such as freedom of speech legislation and the accompanying tools and culture of questioning one’s self and one’s identity relics. The outcome of all of this is, in my view, infantile and reactionary tantrums, or violence in extreme cases, which the rest of the more ‘adult’ world has to deal with. Other than puns, hate speech propellers, proxy war soldiers, how do you contain the tantrums of hundreds of millions? For someone traumatized by current and inherited failures, how can major powers end this vicious cycle?

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