Tuesday, July 24, 2007

De colonising the Mind


Maryam Sakeenah

With our newfound zeal for whatever we define as ‘progress’, we have sadly come to assimilate the word with and limit it to whatever is strictly ‘Western’, strictly ‘foreign-made’. The cult that we warmly (and so blindly) espouse, involves a scorn for whatever reeks of an ‘un-Western’ origin. This sneering denigration of the indigenous comes with all the razzmatazz of ‘made in the developed West’. And so, eyeless and dazzled, we take it up as a convincing attitude of ‘progress’_ simply because we cannot see a deeper, more creative definition of the word.

This enthusiastic adoption of a tawdry commercial culture and utilitarian value-system reflects the malaise of servile and blind imitation that we are all infected with. After all, we are only the mass-produced factory-made products churned out of “Macaulay’s, Inc.” Well-pruned, docile, ready to be ordered, neatly packaged, labelled and bottled-up_ like jam jars, perhaps. Yes-men trained to be efficient clerks, at best: ‘Brown sahibs’.

Colonization of the mind perpetuates colonialism in a more insidious way. For us, it has left a chaos in its entrails, leaving behind a muddle of values and a void of identitylessness. In choosing to toe the lines drawn out by the colonizer so blindly, servilely, mindlessly, we chose the bondage of a self-ridiculing ‘apehood’ and forgot even to see how ridiculous we looked. We lost our sense of reality, our very eyes. Just as Iqbal sums it up: “Reality grows blurred to eyes whose vision / Is servility and parrot-ways.”

So the colonizer capitalized on our starry-eyedness and crept in to perpetuate the imperialist hegemony in a newer, wickeder, more treacherous guise_ colonization of the mind. We welcomed it because it came all labelled up: ‘Progress’.

And we began to invent ‘progressive-sounding’, ‘civilized’, ‘educated’ jargon to reassure ourselves that this, after all, was what ‘progress’ in the 21st century was all about. We made up a new philology that laid down (oh, so beautifully!) our ideal to be ‘enlightened moderation.’ But what is this enlightenment, and where does it seek its source, may we ask? A mind that cannot see beyond the dazzling lure of ‘Made in the Developed West’ stands in danger of confusing the blinding dazzle with enlightenment. And ‘moderation’? Is it only a word-cover for a half-heartedness, a lukewarm association with the ideology you live by? The ‘educated’ words clothe up an ambiguity that hovers on the edge of a dangerous certainty.

Iqbal could see that identifying progress and development with the Western definition of it only was the symptom of a dangerous narrowness of mind. He saw that such ‘enlightenment’ that refuses to see its own self is mere darkness. And the future of a nation that loses sight to see through it is enshrouded in that darkness. He says: “Your light is only Europe’s light reflected: / You are four walls that her architects have built, / A shell of dry mud with no soul, / An empty scabbard covered in beautiful patterns.”

Servility, passivity, uncritical acceptance, pettiness, duplicity, cowardice and confusion are all characteristics of the colonized psyche created out of the conflict and confusion of loyalties that colonialism brings. Iqbal said: “Only Unity of thought keeps the faith thriving / A doctrine by which duplicity is brought / Is fake.” The colonized psyche is in outright opposition to the upstanding Muslimhood created out of ‘La ilaha ill Allah’. Iqbal strove to create an appreciation of the Muslim character, and presented it as a paragon for us to emulate in order to get rid of the clutches of psychic colonialism. He said: “Awe, magnanimity, fastidiousness and firmness: / These four elements go into the making of a Muslim.”

The concern with the Muslims’ intellectual enslavement occupies Iqbal’s poetry. He deals with this theme in two ways: Diagnosing the problem through criticism and satire, and curing it by presenting a glorious ideal of our own culture and civilization that we could turn back to for winning back our lost pride. Iqbal’s satire on Western values and the Muslims’ mindless aping of them has a directness that makes you sit up and see: “Is this Western civilization’s highest rung_ / A childless woman and a jobless man?” And again: “ Can Muslim civilization suck new life / From Europe’s culture which (as I see), is at the grave’s edge?

On the other hand, Iqbal shows through his verses what is truly valuable about our past, our values and civilization which we must turn back to for inspiration. This gives the colonized mind a sense of history, a sense of rootedness in a glorious past and a sense of pride that can help lift him up to being himself.

Iqbal clarified that the impregnable Muslim civilizations of the past sought their essence from the Quran’s civilization-creating spirit. He takes care to make it clear that: “They were honoured in their times for being Muslims / You are disgraced because you have forsaken the Quran.” It is turning back to the Quran and making it a vital source of guidance for our lives that can win us back our Muslimhood and make us stand up to our own feet.

Dispossessing history, identity and values in the mad fanaticism for a newer, more ‘fashionable’ alien identity is not progress. Progress is to keep abreast of the new and enrich it with the insight and wisdom that the treasury of our heritage has to offer. The past is full of clues that can inspire and enlighten. It is full of the potential to generate out of itself a future. Like the little community of Madina can teach us so much about civilization, statehood, social and communal relations. Like ‘La ilaha ill Allah’ can give us a whole new attitude to life so important in helping us fight off the false gods the world is littered with.

To truly progress, we need vision and insight. Insight is to avoid blind-following, insight is being positively critical. Insight is sifting out of the past wisdom that has endured, and learning from its experience and mistakes what we ought to avoid. Insight is to take from the West the wisdom they reached and, using the ‘furqan’ (discriminating criterion) of Islam, being able to see the glaring loopholes in their civilization. Insight is to keep vigilantly at par with the times and the spirit of the age while guarding the treasure of our values and all that is exclusive to and special about us.

Iqbal thought, as an important part of his strategy of cure, to show the colonised Muslim what was so great about him and his ideology. He showed the Muslim all that was beautiful about his identity and all that was wrong with the colonizer’s glamourised cult, so that he could keep his selfhood intact when the colonizer told him “You’re bad, dirty, ‘barbaric’”. It was important to tell him that: “A falcon’s eyes were yours by Nature’s right”. It was important to tell the Muslim that his religion was a recipe of the most enduring Peace that can be attained personally through its spiritual content; the Peace that can socially be established through the universal standard of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and the permanent basis to morality that the Shariah gives; that the Law of Islam aims at making morality hold forever and for all, so that mankind is saved from the chaos and degradation of time-conditioned / relative morality.

And this is just what is wrong with the West. Having discarded absolute morality with the fall of the Church, it seeks its ideological premise from Utilitarianism, according to which, ‘good’ is that which is materially useful, pleasurable or expedient. This doctrine sees humankind as a mass entity shaped by economic forces_ a commodity and a cog in the utilitarian machine to help it run smoothly. To better the material quality of life is the utilitarian ideal, and whatever is not useful to that purpose, has to be discarded. The inherent flaw here is that Western thought ignores completely the spiritual and emotional side of human nature, defining happiness as material or sensual pleasure, reducing life to a bare struggle for survival under the cutthroat Darwinist maxim of ‘survival of the fittest.’

Iqbal saw the bare bones of this system and identified the terrible danger inherent in it. He exploded the myth of this sham ‘enlightenment’ the Muslim blindly and uncritically looked up to the West for. He sums up all that he saw to be wrong with the Western mind thus: “Love fled, Reason stung him like a snake; / He could not force it to the will of vision…/ He tracked the orbits of the stars, yet could not/ Travel his own thoughts’ world/ Entangled in the labyrinth of his science, / He lost count of all good and ill.”

Iqbal saw the costly lack of the vision to see through the eye-catching façade of Westernism among the Muslims, especially the educated youth being churned out of pseudo-Westernized institutions. He saw that the Muslim mind was passive and completely off-guard against the dangerous tide of intellectual colonization. And it pained him, when he said: “ Mortgaged to the alien, soul and body_ / Alas! Enslaved to the West, you are content / It is not the West I hate, but you!” One can sense that same pain and longing coming out of a sincere heart when Iqbal wishes aloud: “Lord, this alone is my wish/ Make common the light of insight I have attained.”

And this remains the strongest need today as we choose a mere tawdriness and sordidness over an insightful, liberating, ever-expansive egalitarianism we have in Islam, mistakenly identifying the losing bargain as ‘progress.’ We need to de-colonise the mind by drawing on the undiscovered treasury we have with us, so that we can cope with the future. We need to develop the ‘Khudi’ of ‘La ilaha ill Allah’ to make ourselves complete, to fight off the tide of perpetual colonization. We need to get eyes to see the promise of a world in the humble dust of Madina. Only then can we become the ‘Ummatun wusata’ (middle-nation) for others to emulate_ rooted firmly at the centre with integrity, firmness, steadfastness:

“Sabaq phir parh sadaqat ka, shuja’at ka, amanat ka,

Liya jaye ga tujh say kaam duniya ki imamat ka.”