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Muslim Inverse Tribalism 16 November 2009

Posted by MOZAFFAR in Misc.

In a way, this post is a sequel to the post Reactive Nation. The concern is yet again relevant in light of recent events.

It began long before 9/11, perhaps after the first WTC bombing in 1993.   Perhaps it began with the Salman Rushdie affair at the end of the 1980s.  Perhaps it began earlier.  But, over the course of the decades, we have developed a particular, problematic, tribalistic culture in our community.  We’ve developed a posture in the community of apologizing and ostracizing.

Tribalism is as human as human can be, at least when the baser self — the abasing self — takes over.  It is tribalism that compels so many in the discussion — for example — on the Israeli-Palestinian situation to automatically choose one side or the other, as though there are only two sides to the issue, the Israeli side and the Palestinian side.  Because almost everyone in the discussion has chosen this route — thus choosing a side — it has of course been impossible to establish peace.

And, among the deepest impulses of the human self is the impulse toward balance.  The choices we make that might knock our hearts far out of balance will find compensating pushes in the opposite direction to maintain balance.  In tribalism we vilify the Other.  Not only do we risk dehumanizing those we’ve positioned on the other side, we also risk superhumanizing our own selves.  That approach to humanity becomes the new balance.  The extreme example of such dehumanizing/superhumanizing is, of course, genocide, followed closely by war.   But, our community is not anywhere close to dehumanizing the Other or superhumanizing the Self.

But, there are very influential figures in our greater American society who are marching toward this process of Self Superhumanizing, and Muslim Dehumanizing.  And, it is the barking of those people, who comprise a significant portion of the Republican party, who have made a fixed part of their agenda to be an ongoing attack against all things Muslim, that has compelled so many in our community to take on a posture of Inverse Tribalism.  Indeed, many of those who forcefully vilify us are not limited to the Republican party, but for some reason an unusually large number are there.  This collective perception that a significant population does not have the sense to see our humanity, and instead sees us as power-hungry savages has promoted this posture of Inverse Tribalism.

We are not painting ourselves as Superhumans.  Rather, as those militants on the far Right paint themselves as invincible, we have been painting ourselves as vulnerable.  As those militants on the far Right paint themselves as conquerors, we have been taking on a posture of apology.

Simply, we are spending too much time defining ourselves according to our perceptions of certain perceptions of us.  Thus, we are only as relevant as we think they make us.  Otherwise we —  the carriers of the message of the Prophets -p, commanded to stand for justice even if it goes against our own selves, commanded to call all to reconnect with the Divine — are simply irrelevant.

Thus, when a Muslim man opens fire on a bunch of soldiers, we race to apologize.  Indeed, we are condemning his actions, but the thrust is one of apology.  Why publicly condemn only his actions?  Why not equally condemn the actions of the various Muslim heads of state who exploit their populations?  Why not? Because nobody is telling us to do so.  Why not condemn every single wrong action conducted by our own president?  Why not?  Because it is not popular to do so.

And, thus we see that many of our major Muslim organizations have little to offer us except Public Relations.  Regardless of their claims of social service, they continue to remain Public Relations organizations.  And, so long as we maintain this posture of Inverse Tribalism, we will continue to support them.

The risk, of course, is our connection with the Divine.  If we abandon the work of justice for the sake of this Inverse Tribalism, then we abandon perhaps half of our relationship with our Creator.

And Allah knows best.


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