Sunday, January 11, 2015

How to fear Islam without Islamophobia!

Yesterday, a friend asked: how can you fight Islamophobia while at the same time maintaining your position against the atrocities that are committed by the Islamic States? 

It is really hard! It is particularly hard for people like me who have no religion; who find ALL religions a source of mayhem and misery; who have no god, no angels. Nor any hell or heaven, other than history and hope, respectively. 

But I feel compelled to defend Islam these days; Islam in the way it was taught to me in the Islamic Republic of Iran, first by my grandmother, and next by the state. 

From my grandmother, I learned how to pray, I learned how to have faith in a greater power who sees over me and who protects me if I stay within the path laid out before me by that greater power! As a kid, I read a lot of biblical stories. They are good stories, just as good as the greek myths are, but maybe a bit better for they have moral clarity and happy endings for the good guys--which the greek ones don't often--and in my view therein lies the crux of the occidental.oriental misunderstandings. 

The schools became Islamic when I turned 8! The first two years were virtually indifferent, we just tore out the picture of the Shah and his wife and son from the three pages of our book. Iran was a Muslim country during the Shah too, so nothing really needed to change--other than the bars and dance clubs shutting down.

In those early post-revolution months, I watched my mother and my aunt let go from work. On the surface, it was because they were deemed "unislamic", because they did not dress in an Islamic way or behave in an Islamic way. But the truth was that they were powerful and independent-thinking women and had made enemies of the previously lower-ranked men (and also women) who had bubbled up with the revolution to grow beards and veil their earlier prostitution under thick black chadors, in order to take the higher positions--just the regular revolution stuff that happens everywhere). Both of these role-model women in my life said that they would "suffocate" with a scarf; both of them chose home rather than the Islamic uniform. Not that they were given a choice, but that they refused to conform so they chose the consequences of non-conformism. 

There were many women who chose a different path, who chose to stay. They put on a tight scarf and continued working just as before. In the hindsight, I think they are the ones who reformed the system and kept it from falling apart (the likes of Shirin Ebadi, for instance). 

When I turned 10, we moved to a more conservative place, where the school made us wear a scarf. My mother, scarf-unfriendly and Hijab-naive, ordered us two "fashiony" but funny scarves that I now see commonly worn by the Moroccans in Holland. They covered the forehead fully and then had two wings that you would cross over your chest. Later on, this was the fashion worn by the flight attendants. On the first day to school in Kerman, I was introduced to a Bahai girl to take care of me! She was frightened by the scarf and how COMPLETE my 'hijab' was; "why have they given the Muslim girl to me to babysit?", she reminisced many years later. 

Soon, my pink and hair covering scarf changed to a more normal one, a blue square scarf which I fold into a triangle and tie it up under my neck. In those days, I had soft long hair so the scarf would fall often. I also had long hair, so the scarf could never really cover my hair fully and I got warnings about that in school from the principal, often. 

Then we were forced to pray once a week in school. We did, reluctantly; but we also created fun events around that, like staying in school for lunch and picnicking under the tree! The ISlamic indoctrination also included a few hours of religious lessons every week, they included reading and reciting and memorizing some verses of Quoran, as well as lessons about the history of Islam, the early converts, the wars and why they began. 

In the version of Islam that we were presented in school, the running theme was that ISlam is a religion of justice, of egalite and equality of men and women, irrespective of race or wealth. We learned that the only thing that distinguished humans was their degree of faith. No where in any of those lessons were we told that women are 'inferior' to men; au contraire, we heard often that women were more special, that the heaven was under the feet of mothers, that Mohammad's wife and daughter were an example of HOW IMPORTANT women were in Islam. 

There were teachings about Hijab, and how it is to protect women from the random gaze of the lusting men; and I really cannot recall anything more sticking that that. None of these stories were to impress us Islamically! 

The circle in which I lived despised the Islamic and the Republic together; for this reason my family and most of my relatives were outcasts from the state order. But no one really bothered us; we did what we wanted at home, and there was peace and safety and food and fun even at the time of the war. The biggest Islamic burden we had to deal with was the Hijab. I remember that we often got 'stopped' for it when we went to the mall; and my mother would take the "arresters" aside and lecture them by reciting to them segments of Koran that protected us from their vigilantism; and who could argue with Qoran? 

Other than this, there were virtually no other limits for us as women in the society--if they were, they were imposed by tradition and by chauvinism; and often by other women. 

We did have a funny religious leader then, by the name of Imam Khomeini, whose religious 'superiority' was questioned by many religious people, but by curious events in the history he was flown to Iran, from Paris, to hijack a revolution that had three elements in it, nationalism and communism as well as Islamism. His Islamism posed a less threat to the material interests of the West than did nationalism or communism and so before you know it, he declared the republic as Islamic. A referendum was held, "Islamic Republic? Yes (greed)/No (red) /Abstain (white)). There were gun men, angry gun men, who meddled with those elections, and the vote came out as yes and then mayhem and misery ensued. First there was the hostage crisis (which landed Reagan his victory). 

Next was the war (and the Iran gate). Then, there was the mass execution of political prisoners on Khomeini's decree. Followed by the Salman Rushdi Fatwa. And with all this, every day, Iranians grew less and less Islamic. 

I grew more Islamic though! I went to university right after Khomeini died. Being in Tehran, and in a highly politicized university, and hanging out with the 'writers and artists' in the university, I was drawn to reading about Islam in a philosophical way. And then, I left the country and stopped paying attention to Iran (until I Started this blog 8 years ago), for I had to deal with life as an immigrant plucked from the comfort and protection offered to me in my patriarchic country, and planted in a country where I, as a slim girl had to push my broken car in the snow into a gas station, because there were no "chauvinist muslim man" to lend me a hand! We give one, we gain one. 

At the time that I was not paying attention to Iran, the country was becoming less Islamic, but there were also more acute/radical forms of Islamism emerging. This was because new political factions were emerging in Iran, all Islamic but distinguishing themselves in interpretation of it, depending on what economic interest was espoused by which group; and then there were killings and assassination of dissident political activist, writers, and artists (by the decree of unknown or obscure mullahs with harsh interpretations of Islam). (So this Paris event is like a deja vu for many of us Iranians.) 

But in ALL this, the real Muslims of Iran have no share. They see all these factional fights as politics; and as geopolitics. Islam is a name that is protecting the economic interests of a few, and we are still experimenting with the best way to circumvent this 'plague'. 

And I really think the world needs to pay attention to Iran and to Egypt and to Syria and Iraq, to understand the delicate interplay between rationalism and political Islam as it unfolds today. (This is why I say knee jerk reactions are useless). 

When countries and cultures are under siege, one needs motivation to DEFEND them. Religions provide that. No wars are ever fought by rationalism. Wars need emotional stimuli; and the more the assault on a culture, the stronger the emotions become. 

The western folks will not just go to fight muslims without emotional stimuli. This was provided by the 911 attacks and by the Paris attack. 

Today, I am finding myself emotionally engaged in defending a religion that I don't care for, but I feel obliged to defend because I can see how it is being mispackaged into a certain consumable that leads to nothing but war. Islam Is a political religion; but all religions are political. I am sorry to say this, but the adversaries of Islam, today, have no moral ground to stand on. If I were the king of the world, I would recommend to people to, instead of fighting Islam by defending the "western values" (which judging from the history of the past 400 years, are pretty unjust and violent!), launch a campaign for FAIRNESS and JUSTICE FOR ALL ... This "clash of cultures" is the precise war-scenario in which the lords of the ring have invested.