International, Peace and Conflict, Poetry, Politics and Governance

A Plea from a Muslim woman in a Western Country

Now that the men in black
Have descended the machines
Like nocturnal birds of prey
And stalked and slain the beast
That taunted them
For a long, miserable decade,
Now that the people of the United States
Of America
Have danced in the streets and screamed with joy
That their land is the greatest
The mightiest
And fairest
Because they have finally got their man
Who killed 3,000 men, women and children
In cold blood
On soil that is more sacred than
The dirt of Afghanistan
(Or Iraq for that matter),
Now that blood has been appeased by blood
And vengeance served cold
And now that God has truly blessed America
Can I,
May I,
Have My Hijab

  • Padda

    to best of my knowledge, Hijab has not been banned. It’s Burqa / Niqab that is banned, because it conceals the identity. In Hijab there is no face-veil, and identity is not a problem. If they ban Hijab, they were to ban the head covering of nuns too!

  • SD

    The author of this poem is incorrectly conflating two different issues.

    One should note, that many people protest against the atrocities committed by the US govt., in solidarity with the people of middle eastern countries (and I too would join them). Yet, this same solidarity is not reciprocated by the fundies, as Islamic fundamentalism is intolerant of everything that is “un-Islamic”.

    Even the Netherlands, an otherwise laid-back country, is getting increasingly agitated by fundamentalist Islam and the intolerance and insularity it promotes. The videos I’ve posted on the other thread should provide a clue as to the kind of preaching that is going on in those countries.

    That’s why it’s an incorrect analysis to conflate these two issues together. Moderate Muslims should not just join this anti-US cacophony, ignoring the rise of this fundamentalism – a threat to free speech, women’s rights, religious co-existence (secularism) and other moral and philosophical values that promote harmony in societies.

  • sumathy

    Great poem Channa !!!

    Reproducing the response of one whom I forwarded it to.

    ‘I liked this a lot. really sardonic, punchy final line. Is really nice.”

    Yes. It all rests on the last line and that’s why the poem catches us all by surprise. That it is written by a non-woman bothered me a little, not much, just a little; but that is not the point of the poem.
    The point is not about the ‘essence’ of the identity of the woman.

    SD does not get it, whoever she is.

    • SD

      Dear Sumathy,

      The poem makes a point and makes it well, I can appreciate that. However, I can only understand the hijab’s use as a rhetorical device, nothing more – it helps gives a nice, punchy ending.

      My criticism was the following – to conflate the issue of the burka ban (The Hijab is not banned, as Padda has already noted) and American war-mongering, is a category error. One should not be excused (as it often is) in light of the other. For example

      1. Americans are not genitally mutilating muslim children in central London
      2. Americans are not keeping muslim women in second class status in the middle east, preventing their education etc.
      3. Americans are not doing honour killings, stoning, public caning etc.
      4. Americans are not dismembering petty thieves in the middle east
      5. Americans are not coercing middle eastern women to dress in cloth bags

      I was merely trying to highlight that problem – that not all of the middle east’s woes are a result of American imperialism.

      If there’s something more to it, you will have to clarify.

  • sumathy

    Dear SD

    Thanks for responding.

    I want to set my side of the record straight.

    The poem as I see it is not about the Middle east, or West Asia as some of us like to refer to that part of the world.

    it is about the ‘Muslim’ woman in the west. and it is not about whether it is teh nikab/abhaya etc.etc. but the idea surrounding Muslim woman’s attire.

    For me the more pressing issue is how even in Sri Lanka teh discourse of the non-Muslim is redolent of the Islamophobia of the west. We who are so anti-western in all of our rhetoric or even people who are on opposite camps when it comes to many other political things come together when it comes to Muslims and then surprise, surprise, it is about the Muslim woman. The poem catches that hypocrisy and imperialism of the dominant that masquerades as liberating the woman. What Gayathri Spivak says, White men saving brown women from brown men”.

    I have written about this elsewhere. It is with a great deal of chagrin that I note that almost everytime I bring up the issue of gender in my lectures at Peradeniya, the students start talking about the Muslim woman.

    This is what the poem at one level addresses: the call by the woman to
    please leave her alone.

    • SD

      Dear Sumathy,

      Thanks for the clarification. I see your point and I agree with your assessment that the muslim “woman” is merely the device with which Islam is criticized.

      But then, are you refraining from asking the unpleasant but logical question that follows?

      What in Islam, arouses this phobia?

      Do we have Buddhistophobia?
      Christianophobia? (Thank goodness the dark ages are over)
      Anti-semitism? (we all know the roots of that – the bible and the quran)
      Jainophobia? (The more extremist a Jain becomes, the more tolerable and non-violent he or she is)

      What then, is the explanation?

  • Travelling Academic

    Very nice. As Sumathy says, focus on the identity of the woman and extrapolate the rest!

  • iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii

    One argument against this could be, that if a”suddi” can go naked, why can’t a Muslim woman cover it all and go?

    In actual fact even a suddi can’t go totally naked-she can until she gets arrested for public indecency!

    But there are specified beaches and resorts in some countries where they can go naked, and everybody knows about it!

    Similarly, lets make some demarcated locations where the extra-pious Muslim women can cover their bodies from the head to toe!

  • TT

    Food, clothing and housing are basic human needs. Don’t ever ban them unless they violate another’s fundamental rights.

    e.g. A canibal may not have his favourite dish!

    Otherwise, let people have it their way. Remember, one man’s food is another man’s poison. Same goes for clothing. Live with it.

  • Thiruvarangan

    I recently read some sections of an article ( talking about Orientalist feminism. I think the idea that covering does not mean liberation is a manifestation of Orientalist feminism. But it is not only in the West, but even in many Asian countries people tend define and measure Muslim women’s emancipation in relation to covering. They also see Muslim women as more oppressed than women of other faiths.

    I find the timing of the poem interesting too. Isn’t it about the freedoms of the ‘Other’ and ‘Other’ freedoms at a moment of triumphalism in places like where the idea of emancipation is defined?

  • sumathy

    There is a lot of anti-Christian sentiment in the dominant ethos in Sri Lanka; often it is cloaked and disguised in the garb of anti-imperialism.
    Do you remember the attack on churches a few years ago? And it is a persistent problem in India and in other countries.

    2. But that aside, one can go onto ask, why were Tamils in ’83 attacked? Because there’s somethign wrong with the way Tamil women dress?

    Why are there riots in the upcountry where the workers’ are often the target of organized violence?

    Why are the Romas in Europe hounded?
    Why are the native americans in the US kept in reservations, after the massacres?
    What made teh colonizers turn africans into slaves?
    Was there was something in the nature of the beliefs of Africans that rendered them vulnerable to slavery.
    By that same token we can also ask:
    What is so bestial in the white man that he sought the total destruction of native Americans.
    What is so repugnant about the Sri Lankan (read Sinhala here) that he could engage in teh violence of the scale of ’83?

    Of course the next question is about Prabakaran adn the Tamils. But I will not go into that.

    The point SD is this. What makes you even ask this question: What is in Islam that invites this phobia? You are assuming that this dominant feeling is correct. But this is the dominant feeling when it comes to marauding conquered territory, colonialism, intense caste oppression.

    What do you mean? Are you suggesting that something about Muslims invite this hostility? That’s so repugnant a view that I hope I am misinterpreting you.
    Just for once, just for arguments sake, I will request you, SD, to ask yourself, what is in ‘ME’ (yourself” me, or what is in the dominant ethos, dominant thinking that brings on this phobia? What is wrong with US? our thinking?

    Ultimately, I am saddened to see that you are addressing me as a non-Muslim and taking for granted that somehow I’d understand your views on Islam as an aberrant religion. Please don’t do that. It hurts that people can speak so openly and repugnantly about other people. it hurts me, because I don’t seem to exist for you as a person. I can exist for you only as a non-Muslim.

    Please pardon me if I misinterpreted anything that you wrote

    • SD

      Dear Sumathy,

      All of what you say, I can agree with, but unfortunately, you are mixing up different categories/classes of problems.

      You are mixing up racism, with the issue of religious criticism as sabbe laban has also noted. Therefore, much of your response, while well-argued and pertinent in a racist context, is irrelevant here and an attack on a strawman.

      A child being born into some family, and being branded with some religion by accident of birth, has no bearing on his/her humanity. A human baby has no religion – they are all born atheists. Parents bear culpability for strongly indoctrinating a child with religion, in ways that often make that religion a non-negotiable part of the individual’s identity – resulting inevitably in absurdity. Have you ever heard of a communist child? A liberal democratic child? If not, what on earth does a Muslim child or a Christian child even mean? Does criticism of a lib. dem. automatically involve violent emotional reactions? How then, is one’s views about the nature and origin of the world – turned into such non-negotiable and emotive issues? You see how religion ensures its own perpetuation – by hijacking minds at the crib – the true mastery of memetic survival.

      Nevertheless, I have taken great care to make sure that the target of my criticism is *Islam*, not the Muslim person who follows that ideology. Islam is an ideology just like any other, a bunch of ideas dreamed up and followed by humans, and any ideology can be benevolent, malevolent or most often – a mixture.

      Christianity during the dark ages turned largely malevolent. Would you say I would have been wrong to speak up and criticise that? Indeed, the opposite would be true. I would be inhuman and morally debauched to fail to criticize it.

      The fundamentalist Islam that is on the rise today, has those same characteristics. It is an incarnation of Islam that has failed to meet the challenges of the 21st century. I realize that many individuals such as yourself, have succeeded in squaring the text in these holy books with modern ideas and ideals. But tell me honestly – what about the rest? Is this perception mere “phobia”, or a reflection of the actual reality about which you are in denial? Why are ivy league professors and top public intellectuals seeing the necessity to waste their valuable lives opposing this (along with fundie christianity of course)? Why is it becoming such a big issue in relatively tolerant western societies? I hope you have been following the discussion on this thread here, where I have articulated the reasons as to why.

      The task at hand is not to engage in apologetics, and to brand those who speak up against this as phobics, but to take steps to do what is necessary – help Islam or at least – the mainstream interpretation of Islam – to get up to speed on the moral and ethical realizations of the modern world – be it equality of women, freedom of/from religion, opposition to religious insularity etc. etc.

      I am quite clear about which side I stand on with these issues, the question is – are you? If so, why is a criticism of this viewed as an attack on Muslims? Shouldn’t you by definition, be agreeing with me?

      Would it be wrong to ask you whether it stems from this islamic solidarity business? Are you denying that in Sri Lanka (not to mention central London), many of the mullahs are preaching about this solidarity business day in and day out as if Muslims were some borg collective? Would it be wrong to observe that this results in a form of racism and insularity? Would it be wrong to speak up against such preachings and declare them divisive and unsuitable for living in a 21st century context? Have you seen the preachings and pronouncements in the Quran and the Hadith about infidels?

      Islam has a long way to go before it can be turned into a doctrine about flowers, world peace and butterflies. I think it’s best to start now, but I somehow doubt that any progress can be achieved merely by curbing criticism and branding those who do so as phobic, although I remain open to ideas. 😉

      • SD

        The other thing I noted about your response Sumathy, is that you seem to have lost all sense of context. We are not talking about 17th or 18th centuries. We are talking about today, in the secular west, in countries which are largely tolerant of diverse religions and cultures. That is the context in which I raised the question, not in the context of historic barbarism.

        It is also not wise to be content with merely being ingratiatingly “sensitive”. That favour is not always returned by others who are under the unfortunate grip of more retrograde ideologies. I encourage you to read the quran and the hadith, as well as the criticisms of them made by distinguished scholars – and understand that the middle east contains the people who follow the ideology in its most unadulterated form.

        They have not yet stumbled on the modern muslims’ (or christians’/jews’) device for squaring the barbaric ideas in ancient texts with modern realizations by interpreting them all as “allegorical”. Well, that’s one hell of a detour to make for an allegory, but why look a gift horse in the mouth eh? So by all means, use whatever rationalization necessary to make those ideas conform to the 21st century conversation.

        But for those of them that simply cannot do this, and proceed to use the tolerance preached in western societies against itself, those who think it’s an exploitable measure to further one’s own religious ambitions, those are the people who should be stopped in their tracks. Tolerance only works when all players mutually respect the rules – game theory 101.

      • BalangodaMan

        Full Moon – An entire paragraph from you, the sole result of which showing that you failed to grasp the relevance of the Poya Day analogy. The point is, it is unthinkable that the government in SL will consider changing the laws of the land to accommodate foreigners who do not respect it. (the relevance – that burka wearers appear not to respect the principle of secularism in France which the French fiercely protect).

        On ‘dark ages’, again you go off on a tangent sparked off from a single word that SD used for clarification in a particular context. (If I say ‘Mr X is a good man’ I suppose you will write a paragraph on why ‘man’ is a bad thing?)

        The whole point you are missing is this. There may well be some very good things about Islam (indeed I have noted a few myself above). But it is NOT the job of the Free World to sell it to themselves. It is for Islam to sell to the Free World (like curry which they love). It is up to Islam to show that it will not harm the ideals of the Free World. What we have shown is that it is a tough job, given the fundamentals on which the religion is based AND the failure of progressive Muslims to stand up for reformation. (Christianity was barbaric once. Coincidentally, today is the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James bible which was a milestone in the reformation of that religion. Even so, Christianity is still way out of touch with the 21st century. Islam hasn’t been reformed EVER. It is still a recipe for 6th century wandering desert nomads and remains unworkable in the 21st century)

        Free World – oh dear, so you don’t like that expression either, and you go on to question whether the Free World is indeed free. I will not get into a debate on that as I have no wish to travel on another tangent of your creation. The point of using the expression ‘Free World’ primarily is to identify a part of the world for the purpose of this discussion, to differentiate it from the World of Islam. As you are obviously well read you will know that this is a concept fundamental to Islam in the Quoran – the Free World is the ‘World of Chaos’ noted in the Quoran referring to the world where non-believers reside.

        Sumathy, the choice is simple. If you are the kind of person who wants to be ‘managed’ then live in the world of Islam (or under Communism). If you are the kind of person who wants to live ‘free’ as an individual, think freely, speak freely, do freely (and of course put up with any chaos) then live in the Free World. The two do not mix. You cannot have your cake and eat it.

  • sabbe laban

    I disagree with you Sumathy! People have a right to critically analyse any religion. If some religion thinks that they are above criticism and cricising thus could be a cause to impose the death penalty on such a person, it has to bear the consequences of such line of thinking. As I see, this tolerence is least in Islam[as blasphemy is a crime punishable by death under Islamic(Sharia) law], and in other world religions it could be a reaction like a protest by the Christian Church, a statement by the Pope or the Mahanayakas, a demonstration by the Buddhists etc.

    Just because some say that their religion in God’s word and nobody should question it, it doesn’t mean that the rest of the world also should be “God fearing” and “obedient” as they are! There are intolerent Hindus, intolerant Buddhists, intolerent Christians as well. But, they can’t even hold a candle to the Muslims when it comes to criticism of religion!

    This is due to a sense of religious superiority that the Muslims seem to be harbouring. Any religion could do this to you if you overdo any religion and try to be Holier than God or the Buddha! Such elements are rare in other religions, but they are the mainstay in Islam!

  • BalangodaMan


    There is absolutely nothing wrong with Islam as a system by which a country/society is run, it is perfectly workable … as long as it’s in isolation. Indeed I feel we will have a tighter reign on people, keep them from misbehaving, with more effective deterrents perhaps.

    The same goes for Communism. It will work … again as long as it’s in isolation and the people are kept behind barbed wire and shot if they try to escape. Islam has the same. It is necessary to imprison the masses for such systems to work.

    The problem we have is when Islam (or Communism) try to co-exist in the free world. I think it’s called the ‘free world’ for a good reason (there’s a clue in the word ‘free’). ‘Free’ is something like the opposite of ‘imprison’. Same with Communism, which also cannot co-exist with, say, the American Dream in the USA – it’s just not possible. Islam is fundamentally incompatible with the ideals of the free world, much discussed elsewhere on GV. Hence, iPhobia (just coined that!) does not have a parallel in Buddhism, Christianity etc. For example, Buddhist children are not taught in school that non-Buddhists will go to hell, or are monkeys and pigs.

    Today, running such ‘control environments’ like Islam (and we saw what happened to Communism) is getting less and less practical because of mass communications, satellite TV, internet. However hard the authorities try vivid imagery and ideology from the ‘decadent west’ will seep into the isolated Muslim world somehow. You see, China is doing all it can to keep their people from being ‘poisoned’ by the free world via the internet for the same reason.

    On top of that (I don’t don’t want to go over the discussion in the other thread on the burka ban) hoards of Muslim people are CHOOSING to live in the free world and want to incorporate the Islamic system of law for their people … and in priority to the laws of the land of the host nation. This is another source of iPhobia – which does not arise in other religions. How would you feel if, people from some hypothetical country residing in SL traditionally drank themselves silly on Full Moon days and threw wild orgies in public places as their way of celebrating their holy day the full moon, their ancient decadent practices they claim take priory over the laws of Lanka (as written in the holiest of their holy books)? Would we in SL have any issue with that?

    So there, I have answered SD’s question for you. Please correct me if I am wrong.

  • sumathy


    1) Well, it was you who said, ” What in Islam arouses this phobia?”
    I was merely responding to you. Now you say, it is not about Islam.

    Islamophobia is racism by another name.

    2. I am not talking about history as history in the past. What you forget SD is that history is very important because history is about the present. From Marx to Foucault, not to mention a host of other scholars, have noted this. For Foucault, history is nothing but the present.

    BTW: I dont know what dark ages you are talking of! We live in the dark ages. I really wish you would do some research on the dark ages. The dark ages of Medieval Europe is partly an invention of the moderns. of course there were the hateful crusades, which my teacher on Early modern europe says has more to do with finding employment for the second sons of the aristocracy, who could then amass their wealth through plunder. But we had following that the horrors of colonialism, the holocaust, Guantanamo Bay, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and so many other things that are the hall marks of western civilisation. So is the Taliban remember. Remember how this free world and tolerant west nurtured the Taliban?

    3. when you say cite scholars that i need to read I’d need to know who they are. I really cannot waste my time on writers of the ilk of Nalin de Silva, Daniel Moynihan, Fukuyama or more sophisticated right wing thinkers like Schlessinger, Huntington, etc. etc. Give me people who are historical and political and who do not premise their views on the inherent superiority of barbaric western civilisation or any other culture.

    3. To Sabbe Laban!
    About the free world: How can a country built on race and colour be free! on capitalism! Please get real. I can’t believe that you are even saying this. Free world indeed.

    To Balangoda Man:
    I dont know in what world or country you are living. I live part of the time among Sinhala Budhists in Sri Lanka, and they traditionally throw wild parties of drunken revelry on poya days. This might not be every poya day, but poya days are occasions for revelry for many/some Sinhala Buddhists.

    I remember when I lived in Jaffna as a child, I’d be cautioned to not loiter about it in the streets on Deepavali day, because of drunken men hanging about.

    Now, I dont care whether people drink or not on poya days or deepavalli. All that I am saying is that we don’t need to ‘import’ people here for that. And even if they did, so what? Why should not people come here and drink themselves silly? Take the stiffness off the self righteous mien of the people, who even when they drink cannot get off their high moral ground.

    SD and others. I am not alone in saying this and you do not have to accept what I say. But if you are interested in delving into this further and I think you should since you all are waxing eloquent on teh subject you owe it to the readers of this blog, you should read the enormous amount of research that has gone into the way racism and discrimination against Muslim people in the west takes place. One starting point is: Paul Gilroy. But there are others. And they are all not radical scholars either. you have a wide range of liberal writers, ranging from Charles Taylor to Kymlicka,Kwame Appiah to Ta-Nehisi Coates on this.
    Even Alan Sked, the founder of UKIP, a liberal right wing party, left it because of its rank anti Muslim stances. That’s how bad it is there.

    I have read liberal and radical writers who have made a case against the burka and the so called ‘ethos’ of the Muslims, some of them ardent critics of Western civilisation like Julia Kristeva and I am happy to say I find their arguments really weak and very very eurocentric.

    At another level I must say, and I say this not in a tone of superiority, because honestly I dont feel superior to anybody, I am appalled at the levels of ignorance and bigotry I find in these pages of the blog about Muslims and Islam. I confess to this openly. I rarely call people names and I am not calling any of you bigots. But I have to confess that I find your stances shot through and through with a very high level of bigotry. This is why I am saying, please if you want to write about this, you are beholden to me, to the writer of the poem and to other readers of this blog, to do some real analytic research.

    To all those who are talking about Islam and Muslims, i have just one word of self righteous advice. Please do some homework on the religion, on the multiplicites of people who claim to profess that faith, on the history of Islam (that too is important), and on the history of modernity.
    A starting point could be Talal Asad’s brilliant work, Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity’. It is a highly complex treatise on secularism.

    I am sure you have heard of, if not read, Edward Said.
    I am citing all this in order to make you see that my position arises from
    1) a lived experience of discrimination and racist assault on Muslims in the west, which in a way is not all that different from the attacks on blacks, other non-Muslim Asians including Christians, native Americans and Romas to name just a few.

    2) My theoretical stance on colonialism, modernity, and gender, nationalism and racism in general.

    3) The horror I feel at being continuously othered in Sri Lanka.
    I live part of the time among Muslims, my work is centred on northern Muslims and Muslim women writers in general, and I find that much of the time they are, and that goes for the Mullahs too, are trying to figure out what to do with the rising cost of living, battling squabbles that are internal to the community etc. etc. And then some of them support Pakistan in cricket. But I do too when they are not playing the West Indies. and then some of them are sad that Osama Bin Laden was killed by hateful america. So were many tamils when prabakaran died. And think of the ‘fascists’ that the Sri Lankan populace in general has supported at different times. For reasons of security I would desist going into further detail on that last item.

    SD again:
    I agree with you that falling into some kind of apologetic strain is not the way to go. But I am not being defensive at all. I am on the offensive! Periyar the maeverick politician from Tamil Nadu of independence days asked people to convert to Islam! I am not suggesting that people should convert to anything. I am merely saying that it is not a gift horse. We labour for and against discrimination, for our rights, for a subjective appraisal. We have struggled over the years against racism.

    And on the topic of diversity: Don’t be poker faced.

    • SD

      Dear Sumathy,

      Once again you write a post that I can be entirely in agreement with and then try to portray me as a bigot and a racist – thus halting any further criticism of Islam.

      I said in unequivocal terms – that I will never support the oppression of any Muslim, under any circumstances. I condemned the actions of the US at the very beginning, on this very basis. However, that does not mean that any medieval ideology gets a free pass! So writing volumes attacking strawmen (which are interesting and you should keep writing) remains orthogonal to the issue.

      You must address Sumathy, what on earth is going on in central London, what on earth is going on in the middle east and other parts of the Muslim world, without sweeping it under the carpet on the grounds that criticizing it is racist! How on earth is criticizing an ideology racist?

      If I criticize Nazism, is that racist against Germans? If I criticize Buddhism, is that racist against the Sinhalese? Islam is not a race – it’s an ideology. What you are doing, as is the mistake of many, is to immediately link criticism of religion with racism. The moment you do that, the criticism must stop – no one wants to be called a racist. Do you acknowledge that this is invalid?

      If you nevertheless wish to persist, you may, but let me tell you that I’m an equal opportunity “racist”, as the Buddhists and Christians on this forum will testify. As for bigotry – guilty as charged. I have problems with being tolerant towards the intolerant. I have problems with tolerance being used against itself. I value it too much to see it being destroyed from within.

      My point is simple – beliefs have consequences. If we believe in a certain ideology, those beliefs can have very fundamental effects on our behaviour. If we believe that a certain holy book contains the unerring word of God, we will have a far better reason to continue to justify what we are doing, without even needing to discuss it further.

      Even today, we see the effects of this, as people try to subvert the teaching of evolution, prevent stem cell research ot cause a virtual genocide in poor African countries because papal wisdom considers birth control unholy, choice examples amongst other biblically inspired nonsense that we must all grapple with daily. Fundamentalist Islam is doing that today with women, with infidels, with stoning, with insularity and many other pathologies that we witness in its most naked in the middle east, not because they are bad Muslims, but because they are deeply religious and are following the “unerring” word of god.

      Sure enough, the imperialism and racism of the west is not helping! I did acknowledge that fact early on. But my point is, most problems are multi-faceted. While it’s true that racism more often than not hijacks valid criticism and utilizes it for mere bigotry against a set of human beings, you consistently evade admitting that the criticism itself can be valid despite the latter being *inexcusable*.

      What further clarification of my position can I give?

      As for being “othered” in Sri Lanka. That I can readily sympathize with as I have repeatedly stated. But this is why I keep suggesting – Muslims must make it clear that they do in fact stand in stark contrast to the fundamentalist ideology that is being espoused by the mullahs. The louder and more vocal they are – the better! This is what will help abate the fear that there is no such “other”. This is what will bring about a renaissance in Islam – introspection from within. Instead, they just keep declaring that those who dare raise these concerns are “racists” – even while this nonsense unravels before their own eyes. Yet, when they themselves accuse the west of imperialism, or racism, that’s all fine and sophisticated – and not at all racist! White guilt can only get you so far.

      If you think the problem of “othering” is better served by halting criticism, or if you have any better suggestions regarding the issue – let me know – I’m happy to listen. But rest assured, I will never “other” races – only ideas.

      • SD

        And while you are at it Sumathy, you must explain the following issues, instead of simply labelling the people who highlight them as racists and bigots.

        1. Why are people who draw cartoons threatened with death? Why was Theo Van Gogh murdered?

        2. Why is Lars Viks being attacked at Uppsala university, surely a bastion of free speech, while ironically enough, giving a lecture on free speech?

        You do not consider this at fundamental odds with the values of people in Sweden – and not merely a result of western prejudice against Arabic people ala orientalism?

        3. Why do Salman Rushdie, Ayan Hirsi Ali any many other prominent critics of Islam have fatwas on their heads and walk about with body guards? In Rushdie’s case, amounting to $2.8 million?

        4. How do you explain the following goings on in Birmingham?

        5. Do I even need to get started on the middle east? Would this snippet from Saudi TV be too euro-centric?

        6. And last but not least – can you answer the question that Hejaaz avoided? Why do women feel more “empowered” by wearing a burka in the hot burning sun, but men do not gain similar empowerment by the same act? What is the underlying rationale?

        I don’t understand why you consider opposition to these things as tantamount to racism?

      • SD

        And a final note Sumathy, I will take efforts to go through the reading list you gave me. But so far, all their work seems centred around condemning “Islamaphobia” – a coined dirty word that immediately halts further criticism of a religion – with the possible good intention and fear that there will be consequences for its adherents (which I can share and agree with). However, they appear to shoo away or excuse all evidence that shows that not all Islamic criticism is rooted in myth or prejudice – as I’ve highlighted by the examples above. Please go through the work of Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Dan Dennett, Ayan Hirsi Ali and Salman Rushdie for differing perspectives.

        No issue is one sided. I am doing my best to consider both sides, which is why I find myself more in agreement with you than not on most issues. But the question is, what is your position on the opposing side?

        This is why I suggest we identify common ground that modern Muslims can share with others, by identifying the grounds that are very simply, not compatible, as BalangodaMan has done. What do you propose we do for those issues? Pretend they don’t exist? Use multi-culturalism for some forced compatibility that is a zero sum game by definition – the equivalent of keeping matter and anti-matter in the same room?

        Multi-culturalism cannot succeed without certain shared values.

        However, in the process of identifying shared values, I certainly agree that we must not marginalize, demonize or “other” innocent Muslims.

        What is your proposal for resolving this dilemma?

  • sumathy

    We could continue with our discussion once we have more of a common ground.
    let me first state something unequivocally before I proceed. I am not condoning nor did I ever condone acts of aggression against any person. I have written against the Fatwa against Rushdie and other similar things, like homophobia in Sri Lanka etc. etc. And I am in total agreement with you that under no circumstances can hate speech and acts of violence against persons and peoples (for want of a better word) be condoned. But for me this has little to do with the practice of Buddhism, Islam, Christianity. A lot of it or almost all of it has to do with the politics of the present.

    This where we fundamentally disagree. For me religion is irrevocably historical. A very interesting book, Colours of the Robe by Ananda Abayasekera on the Sangha in Sri Lanka demonstrates this very ably. If you of course do not agree with me then we cannot continue.

    2. Very few of the people I cited, Gilroy to Coates talk about Islamophobia in the way you talk. they are talking about the formation of the self and other. Alan Sked does talk about it, but because I suppose he had to address that within his own liberal rightwing party. But people like Gilroy and others talk about Asians and Muslims as being a part of cosmopolitanism. For them, dominant white ethos lacks the kind of cosmopolitanism demonstrated by minorities (this is not a particularly accurate description, but this is where most of them are going anyway).
    A really valuable and yet enigmatic statement on how fraught and torn any notion of solidarity is comes from Gayatri Spivak.
    Deploying the term planetarity (which Gilroy also uses in a slightly different sense), she says that if the self does not unmake itself, (the dominant ethos) then there is no point in solidarity. She puts it thus: “Today, I would suggest that, by attempting to write the self at its othermost and blurring the outlines between that graphic and globalization, [we might be able to] stage the lineaments of the planetary”. This is what I find really enabling and poweful. Where is the other in you? Unmake yourself, myself, understand your/my privilege as loss, another saying of Spivak

    3. I did not know that Uppsala was a bastion of free speech. The impression I had was that it was a very conservative place. In any case, I’m not sure that the dominant ethos in Sweden is very welcoming toward immigrants. For them all non white immigrants are svartskalles,
    black haired fellahs, and often this includes Muslim and Christian central Europeans.

    Please do not cite the names of people of the ilk of Christopher Hitchens.I see that we inhabit very different kinds of worlds and that’s why we do not seem to communicate. Not even in my dreams woudl I cite somebody like Christopher Hitchens as any kind of authority. For me he is pulp. I know this is a bad classist term. But I cannot help saying this, because I see that we think so very differently. If that is the kind of reading you undertake and my reading is that of Talal Asad, Spivak and Gilroy, then how can we talk to each other? This sounds awaful, doesn’t it? But awful as it sounds, that seems to be the ‘truth.’ BTW: I have a lot of respect for Rushdie. ‘Midnight’s Children’ is great. ‘Shame’ is good/great. ‘Satanic Verses’ is middling though my friend Kareema who did her dissertation on it thinks it’s an amazing novel. But I would not hold Rushdie an expert on Islam or the Muslim peoples, just because he had a fatwa placed on him.

    I don’t understand the meaning of ‘innocence.’ So, innocent Muslims, Tamils, Sinhalese does not carry much meaning for me. However, I am a little familiar with the meaning of innocence in Christianity, and that is, man, a highly loaded term. and it is about demonizing the other. The serpent, the woman, the disobedient etc. etc. Of course it is an ahistorical reading of innocence I deploy here. But, the use of the word innocence in western literature, over the years, particularly English literature, from the early modern period to the present is about demonizing the Saracen or the Irish Catholic. And we see that from Edmund Spencer to Virgina Woolf to Enoch Powell to so many others. At times, you do not find too much of a difference between teh writings of Sydney and Spencer and modern day writers, like Christopher Hitchens or even a celebrated scholar like Julia Kristeva. So, I dont know what you mean by innocence. Putting it differently, for me there are no innocent people. We are all part of a political map.
    About Birmingham; please do not cite you tube uploads here. There are areas in Birmingham where Asians are scared to go to. if you are interested in a debate, you need to have done some research, thinking, interaction and substantive reading on the subject. And for me that does not include you tube except by way of it being research object.

    I am not interested in shared values if the sharing act means minorities have to say that we are as good as the ‘you’.
    I am interested in the play of power in the making and unmaking of nations, communities, classes, genders and sexualities.

    • sabbe laban

      I havn’t told anything about a “free world”;it’s somebody else! My point is about “unquestionable God’s word” in Islam coming into conflict with human intelligence!

      Oh! Even that intelligence was also given by God, isn’t it? So praise the Lord!(or THE ONE AND ONLY GOD ALLAH!)

      “Those who disbelieve are the worst people. Try to change them; distance yourself from them;if you can’t change them,kill them”

    • SD

      Dear Sumathy,

      Your analysis is astounding – it is simultaneously brilliant in the way it trounces issues that are at best, orthogonal to the point and needlessly lacking in the way it drowns out the issue with a profusion of self-indulgent jargon. I think you can put the knowledge you clearly possess to better use, by dismantling the points BalangodaMan, Saban and I raised one by one, and not by altogether failing to understand or acknowledge them. Please do not make your knowledge irrelevant through an inability to grasp the point, a common ailment in the arts and humanities world – as Sokal and Bricmont demonstrated first hand. It would be a great misfortune to us all because I can see we can benefit from that knowledge.

      Here’s the issue. I pointed out several examples to show you that there are specific problems within the Islamic community. I highlighted examples. You dismissed them. I highlighted more examples. You dismissed them again.

      On what basis can we establish common ground, if we don’t even agree that there’s an issue in the first place?

      For example, I cited the problem faced by Lars Vilks at Uppsala. You say Uppsala is not a bastion of free speech and Swedes are racist. How is that relevant? What made you fail to acknowledge that the problem I highlighted (with video evidence) really is in fact – a problem that occured in the real world and intimately tied to the Islamic community?

      I showed you real world Islamic preachings in Birmingham – you say there are areas in Birmingham where Asians fear to tread. How can I make a response when your own response has no relevance? Did or didn’t the preachers say that at Birmingham and is that not valid evidence for my claim?

      You blithely skip over Van Gogh, say you have written against Rushdie’s fatwa, no mention of Hirsi Ali’s genital mutilation, skip the tv clip from Saudi TV, and ignore wholesale the many other issues highlighted so far in a dazzling failure to acknowledge the point – that these are all examples which are specifically tied to the Islamic community.

      I can keep providing an endless array of evidence, but I fear they will all meet the same summary fate as those that preceded them. At what point will you recover your intellectual courage to admit openly that there is in fact – a problem?

      We can then proceed to discuss how that problem came about – how irrevocably historical it is – and whether or not the specific tenets of Islam have an effect – but let’s start by honestly acknowledging that there is such a problem to begin with – and that the people who highlight that problem are not delusional (or racist). [In fact, you already admit to this unwittingly as you speak about historic oppression in the middle-east and its spill over effects, you just need to find enough clarity to state it openly]

  • sumathy


    We are missing each other’s points, because as I said, we are approaching the issue from completely two different angles.

    Whatever the the preacher said in Birmingham and whatever happened in Uppsala has nothing to do with Islam. That was my point.

    I did not condone what happened in Uppsala. You said it was a bastion of free speech and I said, really? That was all.

    My overall point in plain speak is this: Everything is historical and contingent and it is important to understand that in interrogating a situation. Blacks and Asians including Muslims operate within a racist situation in Europe. When dominant Muslim feeling in Malayasia said that Christians cannot use the term Allah to denote God then I see it as a different problem. That denial arouses from a hegemonic feeling among the Muslims and the Muslim state. There’s no denying that. It is rather similar to the fact that in Switzerland, there is a full or partial ban on minarets being built. What I am trying to say SD
    is look at where power lies.

    I am not saying for one moment that fanaticism does not exist among communities. What I am saying is that it exists differently in different contexts. Muslim sentiments in Malaysia is different from teh dominant Muslim sentiment in Europe.
    And in order to understand that we have to look at power and the play of power.

    I distrust cameras as much as I distrust the word. I think the camera is very powerful and I use it myself. I distrust the writers that you cite, because they are not analytic. I did not say that the people in Birmingham are racists; what I meant was that there is a huge race problem in Britain and in Europe. Minorities operate under that. So do majority communities. We have to understand any kind of minority religious movements which have majoritarian ambitions, in that light. That is not to say do not criticise them. But the solution is not to fall into the trap laid by right wing white fanatics.

    Our discussion has a long way to go before we can reach any kind of agreement.

    So, till then,


    • BalangodaMan

      Sumathy, your interest lies in analysing the power play between warring factions. Therefore, if I may be direct, the more conflict there is the more juice there will be to fuel your intellectual needs.

      SD on the other hand has a different interest – it is the opposite of yours. And that is, to discover how to bring about a result. To discover how such conflicts (like between the Free World and Islam, internal conflicts in SL etc) can be resolved so that we may have a better world, for us and for future generations. That is my interest also. Yes, it also involves understanding the historical build up to such conflicts but for the purpose of ending it. Shared values is a good point to start with.

      Perhaps we can agree that you have no wish to engage in the latter discussion?

    • SD

      Dear Sumathy,

      I acknowledge and appreciate the point you make about understanding a minority religious movement (with majoritarian ambitions) in light of where the locus of power lies (within an oppressive environment).

      Unfortunately, that mono-causal explanation (oppression) ignores other obvious aspects of this problem, and it also provides no pathway to solving the problem.

      For starters, let’s take your statement: “Whatever the preacher said in Birmingham and whatever happened in Uppsala has nothing to do with Islam. That was my point.”

      To be honest, it beggars belief that you can even get yourself to believe that notion. I suspect Sumathy, that your desire to be sensitive and understand the problem in a “non-bigoted” way, is interfering with your analysis. Islam has everything to do with it.

      Beliefs matter. And beliefs have consequences. We see this all around us daily. How would you explain Sumathy, the anti-evolution movement? How would you explain the anti-abortion movement?

      Now, some people would explain such issues as a battle between “conservatism” vs “liberalism”, and provide convincing evidence. All of this may be true, but it ignores one obvious problem – if this belief was not in conflict with some “holy book”, the basis on which that belief is justified, very simply – disappears.

      This is why these books are intimately tied to the problem, as well as the solution. Much of the specific pathologies in the Islamic world can be directly explained with reference to the Quran. The reason adulterers are stoned to death in the middle east, is because the Quran says so. If the Quran said that adulterers should be imprisoned for 30 days instead, that’s what would be done. Why do you think, say ultra-conservative Buddhists, don’t stone adulterers to death – although they too might be in opposition to adultery?

      Now, you may argue that as oppression reduces, education increase and so on and so forth, these practices will gradually disappear, as it has in the Christian world. But such an ideal world may never come about. In the meantime – these primitive books circulate about, are eagerly lapped up by the fundies as the “word of god” and very simply – cause havoc.

      Now consider the corollary. What if the Koran said the following:
      “Thou shalt draw many images of the prophet, in many amusing forms” or
      “Love between two human beings transcends gender”.

      Immediately, there would be a transformative effect. Theo Van Gogh would be celebrated as a holy crusader. Lars Vilks would be embraced, not attacked. This necessarily debunks your claim that what happened in Uppsala has “nothing to do with Islam”.

      And that’s where the whole issue ties in with your own explanation. Even the slightest oppression, the slightest excess of religiosity – and the text written in the Koran lends itself immediately to these Islamic pathologies. I don’t understand why you fail to acknowledge this?

      Now – how this issue can be solved – I don’t know! That is open to debate, but I somehow doubt that it will involve capitulating to the demands of fundies or endless apologetics. If you want to know where endless apologetics gets you in the face of oppression – think Tamil Tigers, child soldiers and suicide bombers. The west cannot implement Islamic sharia law in atonement for the oppression caused to Muslims and/or to appease their fears. That’s where the conversation ties in with what BalangodaMan said, with his usual ability to impart clarity to a conversation – understanding the causes of a problem and understanding remedies are two different things.

      What are your suggestions for the latter?

    • SD

      BTW, Sumathy, I want to thank you for infusing a much needed perspective to this discussion, and your commentary is much appreciated. I have no doubt that we need to be compassionate and understanding. I just fear that the general rise of religious fundamentalism world-wide is increasingly having its effects and I too find myself drawing battle-lines in response. Perhaps it’s rooted primarily in this power play as you suggest. Others also suggest that it is the inevitable clash of ideas in an increasingly connected world – i.e. 2 billion internet users.

      I would like to understand both things – why is this happening? and how do you put a stop to it?