Thursday, June 04, 2009

Where The F*ck is The Muslim World?

I am a Muslim and live in South Africa where my ancestors have been for more than 400 years. Am I in or out of the "Muslim world"?

The notion that there is a "Muslim world" is a deeply racist idea steeped in the colonial myth that westernization and its ideological project, whiteness, 'civilized the world'.

You would think that Al Jazeera would be the one international news broadcaster who would question the assumptions behind the term.


Al Jazeera has joined CNN, the BBC, and of course our own SABC, in adopting the notion that there is a "Muslim world".

Let's be clear. There are Muslims everywhere. Even in Obama's immediate family. There are white, black, and brown Muslims in the US, Europe, China, Australia, South Africa, and elsewhere.

Not all Muslims are Arabs and not all Arabs are Muslims. Also, the so called Middle East is not in the 'middle' of anywhere and it is also not the "Muslim world".

The vast majority of Muslims live outside of the Middle East. The country with the largest number of Muslims is Indonesia while Islam is the fastest growing religion in Africa.

There are 1 billion Muslims in this one world we live in. That means, that one out of every six people in our world is a Muslim.

But that is not to say that all Muslims are absolutely the same. Muslims are as varied and complex as any other religious group.

This means that there is no Muslim mindset or Islamic formula to decipher a universal Muslim.

To construct a "Muslim world" is an extension of the project of Orientalism as Edward Said argued.

I am tired of being defined and categorized for the purpose of showing me my place.

That speech Obama gave today in Cairo was different in the tone he adopted but it was the same in its imperial assumptions.

Obama should stop his machine from killing innocents in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. And, he should distance himself from that despicable Egyptian dictator, Hosni Mubarak

When he starts to do these things, in the name of universal humanity no less, then maybe I, one cranky man who just happens to be Muslim, will listen to his trifling Uncle Tom ass.



Dade said...

Ridwan, my friend, I find myself puzzled at your indignation. A couple points:

1) Does not the term "Muslim world" merely serve as a way to refer to Muslims generally? I have heard the terms "English-speaking world," and "Christian world," as well. I don't understand how this are pejoratives.

2) I think the term "Middle East" applies because that region is in the middle of all human civilizations. In fact, that region is where civilization was born. (Well, there and India, and maybe China).


Respectfully, as always.

Ridwan said...

Dade thanks for your comment brother. I appreciate your questions and input here very much.

I wrote this post because the term "Muslim world" (re)creates the false impression that the West can be seperated from the "Other" in terms that relate to body, religion, politics, art, culture, language, etc.

The manner in which such a seperation is pressed is nothing more than imaginative and is racist in its underlying assumptions.

To understand the latter one must view the term in the history of colonial conquest that precedes it and the historical and political posture that Obama represents.

That is a very long discussion and one that departments inside universities seek to do (Post Colonial Studies; Black Studies; Subaltern Studies, etc).

In short, there is no "Muslim world" and no Islam to "speak to" because both these categories defy being collapsed into categories that are binary in essence (them and us).

When Obama "speaks" he ignores the culpable excess he represents. And, his strategy is imperial for this reason.

"Speaking to Muslims/Islam" just advances the historical baggage that Muslims/Islam are an Other that must be problemitized as a category for analysis/approach (understanding the Muslim mind, for example) by the West (the ascendent West mind you).

The same baggage holds true for the terms "Middle East" and "Far East".

"Middle" in relation to what/where? And "far" in relation to what/where?

Your point about "middle" culture is one I have never heard.

The more precise use of the term in my thinking is in its imaginative location inside the 'world' that British/European colonialism constructed.

For these reasons I am resisting being defined as living in any 'world' by an empire that speaks about peace and democracy on a stage where a despot is the host, and does so while its military massacre innocents at the same time.

It is necessary to understand that any attempt to collapse Islam and Muslims into any category is not progressive.

It is, instead, the opposite because there is a colonial history that must be weighed.

Edward Said's seminal book "Orientalism" in 1977 brought these currents together in a manner that few others have been able to do.

In fact, his book gave rise to a school of thought(s) called Postcolonial Studies.

Most postcolonial thinkers would point to the 'symbols that signify' the assumptions hidden inside and underneath the terms discussed above.

There is, therefore, in my thinking a very important need to resist Obama's tired attempt to re-situate a very old oppression with meaningless gestures.

We have been here before. In fact we never left.

That is why I am pissed brother :)

Peace to you,

Ana said...

Kia Kaha brother

Blistering post, best stuff I've read about the Toms speech. We haven't forgotten what went down in Gaza. Obama just means more of the same oppression for our Palestinian brothers & sisters.

Chomsky: What Obama Didn't Say in His Cairo Address Speaks Volumes About His Mideast Policy

Ridwan said...

Thank you kindly sista Ana.

We have indeed not forgotten, we can't hey.

Thanks for the link.

Peace to you.



Anonymous said...

Slightly related, another problem is that the putative Muslim world tends to be the one with its minarets in the Middle East. Ridwan, you mention this when you say there are Muslims all over the world, including, say, South Africa. And when people hold forth about "Muslim opinions", it rarely considers, to hammer this point, that the Muslim world is a massively variegated world. I'm always bemused when local media use this label, forgetting that there are actually existing Muslims on their doorstep.

Ridwan said...

Groundwork you raise an excellent point.

It is absolutely true that Islam is made to appear 'eastern' in South Africa (and in the US).

In the US Islam has been around longer than the present fixation to relate terrorists or to construct meaningless terms like "Islamo facism", for example.

In Mzanzi the often glossed over assumption that Muslims are 'eastern' simply ignores the reality as you say.

There are so many Muslims from African countries here and the religion is vested among Xhosas, Zulus, Tswanas, among others.

All kinds of folk from all kinds backgrounds and yet we are pressed to assume that there is one face.

It is obvious who it 'helps' to keep an artificial binary line.

Nontheless, making Muslims and Islam so uncomplicated is hardly the way forward.

Thanks for your valuable comment.

Peace to you.