Yesterday I watched a TED talk with the headlines What We Don’t Know About Europe’s Muslim Kids. Now, I’m very wary of any public discourse about Muslims because so much of islamophobia is legitimized, even by so-called liberals. But because the speaker was possibly a Muslim, I thought perhaps she’s sharing her experience of growing up in that stigma, something I relate to. So I watch it, and it quickly becomes a cultural narrative of someone who happened to be Muslim; it became about honour, and honour killings. This is a real phenomenon but it’s a cultural one that could be said to be specific amongst Iranians/Arabs/Kurds/Pakistanis/Afghanis.
I had an inkling of the direction she was headed to, but I decided to listen further. Then comes the punch line
The thing is that most people don’t understand is that there are so many of us growing up in Europe who are not free to be ourselves. Who are not allowed to be who we are. We are not free to marry, or to be in a relationship with people that we choose. We can’t even pick our own career. This is the norm in the Muslim heartlands of Europe. Even in the free societies in the world, we’re not free. Our lives, our dreams, our future doesn’t belong to us, it belong to our parents and their community
There it is again. The personal and cultural experiences of those with a Muslim background find a simplistic reasoning in chalking them up to Islaam. In a society that marginalizes and invalidates you, it’s very tempting to present yourself in a way that agrees with the mainstream narrative. And if you could pose it in a way that makes white saviours out of Westerners, all the better.
The reason why this is deeply troubling for me and black Muslims who are already made invisible by the brown Muslim stereotype are further weighed down by the cultural baggages of others just because they share faith. It ironically deepens the prejudices by infantalizing all Muslims as sitting ducks for the big bad islamists. Like our only redemption lies in being saved by our white masters, in the same fashion that Western imperialism was touted ever so triumphialistically.
It’s easier to outsource blame rather than take a hard, critical look at the culture, and consequently yourself. No one wants to vilify their familial roots, so finding justifications for the incriminating traits found in your social circle can be liberating, redemptive even.
But by doing that you displace your challenges to others around you. People with their own difficulties to worry about have their backs broken by others negative projections.
I’m a Somali, an African. I hail from a country that has ancient ties to Islaam, has had flourishing empires, was referred to as Land of Punt by the ancient Pharaohs, that had female empresses. Honour killings does not exist in our cultural fabric. We’re more matriarchal in ways.
That’s not to say we’re better or we don’t have issues. We have abominable practices like female genital mutilation (which is thankfully declining), sexism that is so internalized by women that they enforce it by shaming each other. Contrary to controlling fathers, we have an endemic of absent or deadbeat fathers. Mothers are overworked and underappreciated. Girls are raised with the perfectionistic and cynical stance that they should be overachievers and not expect much from a man. We have khat addiction running high. We have young men, perhaps disillusioned with growing up in the shadows of strong women and no dad, joining extremist groups.
However, these are problems best understood through a lens of cultural relativism, not Eurocentrism! The environment, history of colonialism, nomadic lifestyle,tribal system, homogeneity, entrepreneurial flair all factor in shaping the Somali Muslim personality.
Individuality is a microcosmic representation of cultures. Problems, and solutions, stem from within. Attributing woes to external forces sets the stage for inferiority complex and exploitation.
As for whether there is something to the cliché that Islaam is a conduit for misogyny and bigotry-
I can’t answer that because that notion is a torn page from a book authored by the person’s ego. It’s not so much a question as it is a statement, in that it doesn’t seek clarity. Thusly, it’s not in my place to start a discussion that the other person isn’t seated at the table for.
What I believe about Islaam is an entirely different topic that I’ll eventually get to. I just wanted to get this thought that has been gnawing at me out of the way.