Written by Hugh Gardiner
“Teach your children this from a very early age: ‘Everybody in this world is different, you’re going to meet people who don’t look like you, think like you, or even feel like you. This world is filled with so many different colours and shapes, so many different thoughts and feelings. You should never expect anyone else to be the same as you and you should never expect yourself to be the same as anybody else. But everyone can have so much fun learning about each other and celebrating one another’ and when you are all able to do this, the world will begin to change for the better.” ― C. JoyBell C.
As this is in a publication named “MissMuslim,” I will assume the majority of the people reading this are Muslim, and quite possibly female. Based on this assumption – I have some good and bad news for you.
The good news is that you will soon be liberated from all the oppression you are almost certainly suffering, and doing so is very important to the media, governments and populace of the western world. Exactly how oppressed you are depends on whether you are reading this from inside an English speaking first-world country, such as the United States or United Kingdom, or are living outside these bastions of freedom and choice. But either way – you are being oppressed and we are going to get you out of it!
The bad news is that while we care deeply about your oppressed state and making you free, we don’t care enough to actually ask you if you feel oppressed, we don’t want to invest the time or effort to understand either your culture or religion, and we will most likely have to inflict some degree of force (physical, verbal, or emotional) in order to free you, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs and the end will justify the means.
At this point you are most likely falling into one of three camps (even if you’re not, you are to me, because I was born in the UK and I am used to the media stereotyping people):
1. Agreement: “Hmm, this guy seems to have a point and I like his witty writing style. He seems very insightful and I can’t wait to see what he has to say next!”
2. Disagreement: “Obsessed with oppression but can’t be bothered to look at the problem, or ask my opinion? What a stupid article full of drivel.”
Or, just as legitimate, “Ok, tell me something I don’t know pal. I am the one living this and you are just some white dude (I am white by the way) who thinks his opinion is ground breaking.”
3. Bafflement: “Um, who on earth is this guy, what is he on about and how on earth did I end up here? I was just after the latest Plaid to Prada article (my favorite series) and this is very disappointing!”
If you are part of group three, let me say, I whole-heartedly agree with you. I have also stumbled into this mess (writing it in my case); may I suggest you try the search bar. Before you go, feel free to like this post on Facebook and share it. The awesome quote at the beginning has to be worth at least that!
For groups one and two let me expand on my point. Oh, and group two, none of your points are my fault. As I explained earlier I was born in the UK, so I have been shown since birth that everything is far more insightful and important when it is being told by a white guy. Plus, you are the one choosing to read this, so it is at least half your fault.
Anyway, on to the insightful examples…
We care deeply about Burkini’s, Burka’s and other items of clothing associated with Islam. These clothing items are symbols of your oppression and we will not stop in our condemnation of you being forced to wear them and will continue our efforts to end their use! We care, just not enough to actually ask you if you feel oppressed, are being forced to wear the item, or are choosing to do so.
We care deeply about you having the right to not be seated separately in your mosque away from the men; segregation is after all evil! Again, we just don’t care enough to ask if this is really a thing you care about, to investigate the reasoning behind it, or even to find out if this happens in every mosque.
We care that some of your friends, neighbors, and family do not feel safe in our communities. We care that in many areas (Bradford in the UK, for instance), there are large areas of people who identify as Muslim. And while we do not accept that these are “no go zones,” these places are not fully integrated into our society, many people do not speak English very well, and these areas are often some of the poorest of society where the people in these communities generally struggle to access government assistance.
We just don’t care enough to do anything other than to tell those people to join in more and to create government bodies whose entire job is to offer assistance on an ad-hoc basis and repeat the mantra of integration!
We care that so many British Muslims (and many from other western nations) feel so disillusioned with western society they travel to join extremist groups or perform violent acts. We just don’t care enough to ask why this happens–in any meaningful way. We don’t care enough to take ownership of this problem as a society rather than push it back onto the Muslim community. We care enough to challenge the Muslim community to do more, just not enough to ask what they are doing now and have been doing for years!
We do not care enough to want to learn about your culture, religion, or history.
Importantly, we care about you all deeply, as people, and wish you would see you are valuable members of our society (with individual identity!), just not enough to stop referring to Islam in it’s entirety as one large unit and belief system of terror. And we certainly do not care enough to teach your children about their heritage and beliefs in our school system, or to teach our children about history, current affairs, or religions other than our own one-sided narrative we have been teaching for hundreds of years!
Abroad, we care deeply about the way women are treated in Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc., because it proves Islam has an issue with women! We don’t care enough to investigate if all the claims about these countries are, in fact, true, if life is actually unbearable for women in these countries, and if they really do yearn for some western style liberation. We don’t care enough to bother asking the question, “Is the way countries like Saudi Arabia run things because of Islam or because their rulers use Islam to justify their rules?”
We care enough to fund the fight against ISIS in order to liberate the region from their grip, yet not enough to look into centuries old political and ethnic issues that have at least, in part, given rise to ISIS and it’s ilk.
We care enough to send weapons and funds to the region to fund those fighting ISIS, but not enough to ask if those people are anymore democratic, rational, or decent than those we are sworn to defeat. How many men, women, and children have been slaughtered by our allies and those we fund? Well, we don’t really know or care. Like I said earlier, the end will justify the means and everyone will thank us when you are all free!
We care enough to denounce Saddam, Assad, and Qaddafi for their brutality and, indeed, to take action to end their violent regimes–just not enough to stop the flow of funding and support to Israel over their treatment of the Palestinians or to push for the obvious solution of putting UN peacekeepers into the region to attempt to end the violence (Side note: I am not downplaying the death and injury suffered by Israeli civilians, the conflict needs outside intervention to end the bloodshed on both sides).
If you are still with me at this point – thanks – and we are nearly there! Before trying to answer the question posed in the title, “Why are we obsessed with liberating people we don’t want to understand” – for those of you who skimmed through, or got bored and forgot what we were talking about – it is important to point out that the above points are equally as valid for other religious groups, genders, sexual preferences, etc. Western society is equally interested in helping/saving other groups, without any real interest in learning about them.
So why exactly do we do it? And, how do we fix it? I think the answer to the first question is superiority, complacency and ignorance.
Superiority because for centuries the western world has been the dominant force in the world, conquering and enslaving, sorry, I mean, liberating and enlightening all in our path.
This has created a superiority complex ingrained in us, some of which is overt (the huge slant in our history lessons, for example) and some covert (the lack of serious compulsory foreign language study in the west, and the prevalence of other western languages in even those lessons).
Consider the way that everything that has to do with culture and belief is compared to our way of life, normally unfavorably.
Now, of course, you could argue that this is present in all cultures and nations and no doubt someone is thinking, “If you want to see a superiority complex, try Saudi Arabia!” While I would agree that many nations and cultures do, indeed, have this same self obsession, you need only look at many of the Eastern European countries, like France, where foreign languages and study of other cultures is taken very seriously. In any case, in my view, it is clear that this superiority complex is a hurdle and a hindrance to society, regardless of who is the most self-obsessed.
Complacency is the second reason for these issues and a huge barrier to progress. The West seems to feel their actions are helping and so things are all OK. I have had many conversations, both online and in person, with people who say things like, “We have done our bit, it is time for others to step in,” or (with reference to the current state of Iraq), “Well, we liberated them and gave them democracy, so it is up to them to sort themselves out now.” Consider the way the charity sector operates in the UK and, it seems, the rest of the world. It operates on the assumption that people donate money to a cause or society raises some cash for the same cause (normally by doing something amazingly madcap like sitting in a bath of baked beans) and then, having ‘done their bit,’ go back to doing whatever they were doing before. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the numerous, well-funded charities dealing with the elderly, who are often placed into care homes, or provided with caretakers in their own home, while we have a massive epidemic of loneliness in the UK in the over 50’s.
The same is true, I believe, regarding people of different faiths and cultures. We are assured that they have all the support they require and many of us pay towards charities who deal with many of the problems we imagine they have, so the only reason these groups could possibly be having issues, or not integrating, is because of ‘them’ or ‘their religion and beliefs.’
Lastly, and most importantly as it underpins both the previous points, is ignorance. Now, I mean ignorance according to the dictionary definition: lack of knowledge or information – rather than the common modern usage of deliberate ignorance. While I am certain there are many people who deliberately turn a blind eye to all the information they have been given, I believe a large percentage of the population are blissfully unaware of their ignorance and, indeed, have been set up to be so by the school system. While the pros and cons of a mass school system is a subject for another day, it is, in my opinion, geared towards teaching children and therefore adults, to accept what they are told and not to go looking for answers themselves. That is not to say that I feel it is a global conspiracy to keep people dumb and obedient, although it does seem to be a byproduct in many people, I would say it is just the easiest way to impart mass amounts of information to a large group of people (children) in the shortest space of time, with the fewest number of teachers.
As to how we fix it – the clear answer is to tackle ignorance, in ourselves and in others. The quote at the beginning of this piece, from C. Joybell C., sums this up well, but, for me, a more concise quote from former Director General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, puts this more into perspective:
“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.”
I would insert the word “unbiased” before the word education in that quote or, at least, encompassing a wide range of beliefs and viewpoints. I am not necessarily advocating for teaching that all religions or view points are equally valid, but it is vital to teach that they are the core views of some people, without demonizing those people. How can we understand other people if we don’t understand their fundamental beliefs?
For me, media outlets such as MissMuslim provide a vital role in such education, precisely because they encompass and accept so many view points. While it is, as you would expect, predominantly aimed at and about Muslim life, it contains so many differing opinions (such as this exceptional article on wearing the hijab) that it not only promotes debate and tolerance, but also helps educate people who have little-to-no knowledge of Islam. It is an easy starting point for a complex subject in that it allows people to understand parts of a subject without having to devote masses of time to it.
Lastly, I would like to end with, as I so often do when I write, some hope in the form of children. In my opinion and experience, from having two of my own and being around children, young children are the role models we should all aspire to be when we interact with others. They are accepting of new ideas and beliefs and rarely discriminate based on skin color or other cosmetic factor. They are also very much open to questioning things they do not understand (often to their parents’ embarrassment). It is our duty to foster this in them and prevent them from losing this open-mindedness.
Just as we teach them so much, they can teach us, especially how to love and accept other people and to be open to the endless world of experiences, opinions, and opportunities. As political activist, Emma Goldman, so eloquently puts it: