The Islam debate: The dual consciousness of Muslims

Muslims today can no longer think, or ultimately exist, outside the widespread lore about Islam, which links them to discussions about terror, violence and the separation of religion and society. They can never be free of the neverending stream of projections about Islam. An essay by Farid Hafez

Has anything changed for Muslims, since the latest in a long line of so-called jihadist terrorist attacks claimed the lives of 130 people on 13 November 2015? As in the aftermath of any terrorist act, there have been debates on Islam as a religion and on ″its″ role in the attacks. Europe has responded not only with tighter security measures, including calling a state of emergency in France, but also by declaring war.

The attack in Paris was probably not the last: European societies must now face the kind of day-to-day life that has long since become normal elsewhere, complete with attacks and dead civilians. In future, European societies in general and their Muslims in particular will have to deal with issues such as trade-offs between security and freedom. Muslims will continue to discuss what reaction is the most sensible and expedient. Distancing themselves from the attacks? Or condemning them? Do we need the umpteenth fatwa against terrorism in general and Daesh in particular? And if so, who actually needs it?

The European citizens who ascribe to Islam a fundamental affinity for violence? Or the young Muslims who are seeking religious orientation in the face of racial exclusion and the piecemeal return to their Islam? Presumably we will be revisiting these questions again and again in the near future.

What’s the impact on Muslims?

In this article, though, I would like to touch on something else that is in reality ubiquitous but scarcely ever addressed explicitly. Namely: what impact does such debate have on Muslims? What traces does it leave behind, what scars are inflicted on the Muslim self-image as a result of this discussion about Islam and terrorism? To illustrate, let′s start with a Facebook post. Recently, a well-educated, politically active adult Muslim woman posted on the occasion of the birth of her child:

“I gave birth to a boy in the Christian hospital XY, with nuns as nurses and a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf at the reception desk; I named him for the most beautiful person and prophet XY, with the most beautiful character and an exemplary life story. Above my bed hung a cross and a picture of the Virgin Mary and her son, the prophet Jesus. Religious symbols? For me, it was the perfect accompaniment for a wonderful new life!”

Farid Hafez accepts the Bruno Kreisky Recognition Prize 2010 (photo: cc-by/Fatih Ozturk)

Farid Hafez is a doctor of political science and currently does research at the University of Salzburg. He is the editor of the Yearbook for Islamophobia Research and of the European Islamophobia Report, which will be published for the first time in 2016

The post was probably prompted by the announcement by the editor-in-chief of an Austrian newspaper just a few days before that he was considering reviving the headscarf ban debate, at the suggestion of a representative of the Christian Democratic Party.

The post raises many questions: what causes a woman who is giving birth to new life for the first time and is likely to feel emotions of indescribable happiness to cast this unique experience in a political context? What is happening in the mind of this person? The answer to this question may lead us to one of the biggest challenges faced by Muslims today all over the world and especially in the West: Muslims are trapped in the discursive spider web of a pervasive discourse on Islam.

By this, I mean that it is no longer conceivable for Muslims today to think, or ultimately to exist, outside the widespread lore about Islam, which links them to discussions about terror, violence and the separation of religion and society. Simply to exist. To be a human being. To experience a birth without having to interpret the cross, the nuns and Muslim nurses apart from their humanity. To experience and live through a birth. To be free of everything that is constantly projected onto them.

Dual consciousness

In ″The Souls of Black Folk″, the pre-eminent African-American thinker W.E.B. DuBois (1868–1963) describes a condition he dubs “double consciousness”, by which blacks are only able to see themselves through the eyes of others (whites). They can thus never regard themselves as fully fledged human beings because they are always caught up in a dichotomy, wanting to be human – i.e. normal – but being black – and thus outside the norm.

Many passed down this inferiority complex to their children, encouraging them to make life easier for themselves by becoming invisible, as Jean-Paul Sartre shows in his preface to Fanon’s ″The Wretched of the Earth″. Today there are many Muslims who try to make themselves invisible because they want to be humans, in other words, normal.

And then there are those who publicly avow Islam and thus take on all the challenges and discursive conflicts that this entails. In their effort to counter the hegemonic discourse, they overlook how trapped they are in exactly this discursive web. They have to take a stand. They cannot remain silent. Because silence could be taken as tacit consent to this or that terrorist attack.

Trend towards self-discipline

Recently, a former class representative wrote on the Facebook wall of a Muslim girl who used to be a pupil of his: “To remain silent on the terror in Paris (and elsewhere) means to accept or even to endorse it”. If Muslims avow their faith, they are then compelled to answer for it. If they make themselves invisible, they escape that pressure.

In a second stage, this discursive pressure leads to Muslims beginning to discipline themselves. Parents avoid giving their children toy guns in order not to be perceived as radical. Mothers and in particular fathers do not allow their young daughters to wear a headscarf on the way to the mosque, so as not to attract disparaging glances from those who regard this as a sign of subjugation.

Parents begin to bring up their children according to standards that attempt to counter the negative stereotypes, conspiracy theories and horrific imaginings that are part of the discourse.

Caught in the discursive web, it would seem difficult to breathe the air of freedom, to be human, to live a life apart from all the allegations, innuendo and suspicion. And yet it is this very freedom that is the first and most fundamental condition for thinking and living as a human being. In dignity.

Farid Hafez

© Qantara.de 2015

Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor

The submissive subject tries to evade this discursive pressure by making himself invisible. Psychoanalyst Frantz Fanon spoke in relation to Algeria of the desire of the formerly colonised subjects to be white.

Assault against Ahmadiyya mosque in Leipzig

November 15, 2013

 

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jammat community of Leipzig has demonstrated confidence after a committed assault against the construction of its mosque last Friday. Unknown perpetrators had thrown pigs’ heads in front of the mosque. Abdullah Uwe Wagishauser, chair of the community in Germany said that the community would not loose its composure. However, he regretted the fact about people being able to react till this level.

The mayor of Leipzig Burkhard Jung (SPD) condemned the assault, saying that Leipzig would be shocked after such a disgusting assault. Robert Clemen, chair of the Leipzig Christian Democratic Party (CDU) condemned the assault as anti-constitutional and an act against the freedom of religion.

Skadi Jennicke, council of the left socialist party (Linke) described the assault as an act of intolerance and disrespect.

 

Leipziger Volkszeitung: http://www.lvz-online.de/leipzig/polizeiticker/polizeiticker-leipzig/anschlag-auf-leipziger-moschee-gelaende-unbekannte-spiessen-schweinekoepfe-auf-holzpfloecke/r-polizeiticker-leipzig-a-215113.html

Dutch Fears of Foreigners “Understandable”

28 June 2011

In a leaked copy of a speech, Dutch Deputy Prime Minister Maxime Verhagen addresses Christian Democratic Party members with the message that worries about foreigners are ‘understandable’. Verhagen seeks to distance himself from the increasing populism in the Netherlands yet recognizes what drives it. He notes that “People are concerned about churches being replaced by mosques, about the fact immigrants don’t integrate and the risk that they will take Dutch jobs”, NRC reports.

Qaradawi to Norway

28 April 2011

Norwegian media reports that Yusuf al-Qaradawi is coming to Norway. He and his team are to settle on prayer times for Muslims living in the most northern hemisphere where the sun doesn’t set during summer time and never rises during parts of the winter. The knowledge of the starting and ending times for prayers is of critical importance to Muslims and also concern the religious obligation of fasting, according to the Turkish-English paper Zaman.

This has created quite a stir in Norwegian media. The daily Dagbladet, for example, refers to an article by the Iraqi-Norwegian writer Walid al-Kubaisi in which Qaradawi is said to be “more dangerous than Usama bin Ladin”. Even though Qaradawi has legitimated wife beating, female circumcision, men marrying 9-year-old girls, called the holocaust God’s punishment on the Jews and that he wants to die a martyr in an attack on the Jews, Muslims in general consider him to be moderate, according to Dagbladet.

Members of the Norwegian parliament representing the Christian Democratic Party calls Qaradawi the “sheikh of death” and demands of the Islamic Council in Norway to account for their relations with him. From what is reported it is unclear, however, if the Islamic Council in Norway has invited Qaradawi to come.
The information regarding Qaradawi coming to Norway originates from the Turkish paper Zaman.

Muslims are not Welcome in the Christian Party

Thursday 9, 2010
Bjarte Ystebø, editor in the Christian paper Idag, speaks out against Muslims joining the Norwegian Christian Democratic Party (KrF). Christianity and Islam hold very different values, he says, and the kinship between them is greatly exaggerated.

Christianity promotes freedom, human rights and pluralism, he continues, while Islam stands for just the opposite. This, he claims, is obvious from studying all the countries in the world where Islam is the main religion, and have control over the state apparatus.

KrF most important task is to emphazise the Christian values that makes out the foundation of Norwegian society, such as family values, protection of life, property, peace, solidarity and freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Some of these values, he states, Christians share with Muslims, and if there were a Muslim party in Norway they could work together towards a mutual agenda on matters such as abortion, alcohol and family.

But when it comes to freedom of religion and speech, just as the support for democracy, Christian values collide with Islam, writes Ystebø. Therefore KrF can cooperate with Muslims, if they share these values, but ought not to include Muslims in the party. KrF needs to be, as it has been, a Christian party – he concludes.

Dutch Christian Democrats welcome Muslim texts

A new book of spiritual meditations was unveiled by the Dutch Christian Democratic Party, and includes meditations from both Christian and Islamic materials. The book, called Reflections for political meanings will be distributed among the CDA regional branches. According to CDA spokesperson Jo-Annes de Bat, the Muslim meditations were included to take into account non-Christian CDA members. It is a common CDA tradition to open meetings with a meditation. But we noticed that branches sometimes found it difficult to find an appropriate text (as not all CDA members are Christian). That is why we put together the collection, said de Bat.

Readings Across The Mediterranean: To Veil Or Not To Veil… That Is Not The Question!

By Waleed Arafa The ban on hijab has stirred a great deal of discussion that has gone far deeper than simply the issue of hijab. “Islamic Identity in European Communities: Abdications and Integration. A Reading in the Current French Scene” was the title of a two-day conference held at the Faculty of Economics and Political Sciences, Cairo University, as part of the Program for Dialogue of Civilizations. On February 18 and 19, 2004, intellectuals and specialists discussed the issues involved in depth, leaving their audience with a variety of perceptive opinions and questions to contemplate. Discussing “Place” &”Time” The furor over hijab became the mandatory gateway to most of the issues. Dr.Mona Abu al-Fadl began by mentioning the date of the first incident over hijab in France; the year was 1989. She attempted to link it to the global winds of change that were taking place during the period 1989 – 1992. Before then, Muslims had been present in France for years and years without a single problem concerning hijab. Later Dr. Amr Al-Shobaky discussed “Place”. France! Why France in particular and not Britain for instance? The answer, in his opinion, is based on the uniqueness of the French secular model versus other models, especially the Anglo-Saxon model. A third speaker, Dr. Salah Jaa’frawy, argued that secularism should not be used as a comprehensive excuse for such practices, because other European countries have certain tilts towards certain religious groups. The Christian Democratic Party, currently ruling in Germany , where Dr. Salah lives, is an example. He mentioned that there is a race amongst German states to formulate laws banning hijab. Dr. Pakinam Al-Sharqawy confirmed that some people in the West simply like to attribute the problems of Muslims to Islam, and then link the problems of Islam to the problems of Muslim women, finally they reduce all the above to a secondary issue like hijab. She firmly stated, “They are escaping the bigger questions because eventually they will find themselves equally as guilty of Muslims’ problems, and that is a responsibility they do not want to take.”