The Myth of the "Other"
The world today is plagued by all kinds of atrocities ranging from bloody wars, horrendous terrorism; the last of which is the killing of the American Journalist, Steven Sotloff who was murdered by the blood-thirsty terrorist group QSIS. Some people would say that these terrorist acts must have roots in the Islamic faith since these people are claiming deep association. The fact of the matter is that through out history religion in totality has been subjected to an abuse by few minorities which lost contact with their humanity and were blindly dedicated to their own pity personal gains beyond which they simply failed to acknowledge any values. These people along history had common features of hatred and hostility towards those who do not share their ideological beliefs or dare to show their rejection to the illusions and fallacies which these terrorist groups miserably aim to achieve. One of the sources of inciting hatred which if exploited leads easily to terrorism is labelling each other with titles most of which are merely stereotypes. More deeply labelling is designed to condemn people who are of a different religion or ethnicity by calling them "the other". I kept thinking of the phrase "the other" and how it is used in our contemporary world so frequently among politicians, chiefly by former president George Bush Jr for his "war on terror" propaganda. His words kept echoing in my ears, "You are either with us or with them", though I miserably fail to understand how thousands of Iraqi civilians who were shot dead could possibly be the enemy. Then I realized that this labelling is only the tip of the iceberg beneath which lies a harsh theory which was well promoted and unfortunately well received by some politicians. The clash of civilizations theory and the remaking of the world order was introduced by Samuel Huntington who simply by a draw of a pen divided the world merely into civilizations. "The Western civilization" versus "the Islamic civilization" and the " the Hindus civilization" versus "the Buddhist civilization" and boldly claimed that no relationship can exist among them, but severe competition and mutual enmity. Though many voices were raised to reject as false that civilizations clash in the first place, they blindly fell into the trap of accepting the fact that the only valid classification of people is based on civilizations. The fatal fallacy in this classification is the daring assumption that the religious identity is the only identity that people have and it is the only way of how we should perceive ourselves and others. This means that we are forcing people into these closed concrete boxes of one dimensional thought and put horse blinders on the many other possible multiple identities that people have. For example, there can be someone who has Pakistani heritage, comes from Bengali descendants, was born in India and was raised in the United States, Muslim, a big fan of soccer, eminent university professor, supports women’s rights, environmentalist, vegetarian, and an activist for world peace and he finds no contradictions whatsoever in managing all these identities. This means that a person can have many affiliations to several different groups and the religious affiliation is only one of many. Therefore, it would be extremely unreasonable to narrow down all these identities and perceive a certain person only as a Muslim disregarding any other possible ways that he can be perceived as. The confinement of a person into only one identity that he has to belong to, deprives him of his right to have multiple affiliations which would result in shaping several identities, and is an outrageous crime against humanity. The danger of promoting one single identity that people should adhere to and be identified with, is that one fail to see any further than your own identity let alone perceiving any kind of common grounds between you and people who have different identities. You find yourself locked up in the poisonous notion that your identity is far superior than others therefore you enclose yourself in to your little cocoon with people who share your identity and who represent your one and only comfort zone. This simply results in distancing yourself further away from people of different identities. As the distance grows further, your ability to entertain the idea of seeing any potential identities that might intersect with others becomes minimal. This eventually infuses futile hatred towards anybody who is different from you. Things get worse, if this dominant identity takes a violent form or leans towards bloody confrontations with others. Especially if this, one identity was nourished in you by proper education and empowered by planned strategies and acute tactics, the instinctive feelings of compassion and empathy towards other people which are naturally embedded in you can be easily silenced. According to Huntington ’s definition of the “Islamic civilization", we would have to start identifying people according to their religion only. So if an act of terrorism occurred, then it was done by a Muslim regardless if he was Indian, American, Arab or European. Since when do we target a whole religion and place it as the enemy? How can we have rampage on religions like that? When there are more than 2.5 billion Muslims around the world, how logical would it be to smear them all by an act of a few? Unfortunately, the smearing does not stop at the religious affiliation level, but it goes deeper to one's ethnicity and geographical background. These prejudices are practiced by Arab Muslims for example against non Arab Muslims. Same goes for non Muslims who discriminate against Muslims. Muslims, are discriminated against by the ethnic people, because they have a different religion and ethnicity. In Denmark for example, if you are a Muslim from second generation immigrants, you are likely to be the perfect target for discrimination by some ethnic Danes. If you were born in Denmark, raised in its suburbs, went to Danish schools, are totally loyal to Denmark, speak the language eloquently, pay your taxes on time and you are an activist in your community, you might think this would be enough for you to proudly hold your head up high as a Danish citizen, right? Well, wrong. It would be very likely to be invited to a gathering and you are simply mingling and suddenly, you find an ethnic Dane asking you in curiosity " where are you from? " so on the top of your head, you will say "i am a Dane" mistakenly thinking that by this answer the conversation is over but little did you know. The ethnic Dane will be shaking his head as he realizes that you didn’t understand his question, so he will try once more “no... no, what i meant was, where are you originally from?". This simple question makes you realize that it actually doesn’t matter if you have done everything you can to prove that you are a good citizen and deserve to be treated as one. Whatever you do won’t cut it because you simply failed to have the look. This is exactly what happened to Turkish immigrants who went to Germany as workers. The German people failed to see them as proper citizens even when the Turkish workers stayed in Germany for many decades. Germans still call them "guest workers". The fatal perception of any person as one sided led to terrible consequences in the history of the world. The Jews in Europe were isolated, but they thought that after the French revolution and with the declaration of human rights summed up in “freedom, equality and fraternity", they could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel which would save them from their disintegrated life in their ghettos. Consequently, Jewish leaders started a movement called"HASKALAH" which is a call for integration in the European societies but the Jews did not succeed in engaging themselves in their communities so the end result was that the Jews decided they can’t live with others and they needed to have their own land. This was the start of another call to immigrate to Palestine and make it their homeland. The idea of basing an entire identity on religion to the extent of establishing a new homeland only for the people of a certain religion is fatal as it hinders from seeing any other possible associations with others who are not Jews. The 16th century brilliant Shakespearean play “the Merchant of Venice" summarizes the dangerous consequences of seeing no other identities but the religious one. Shylock, a Jewish creditor and money lender, was living in a Christian society which he resented. when he was asked to dine with Antonio, the wealthy Christian merchant who borrowed money from Shylock, he adamantly refused, explaining that while he will do business with Antonio, walk, buy, sell and talk with him, he will not drink, dine or pray with him (Lines 32-40). Shylock punished his Christian opponent, Antonio, when he failed to repay him the debt by asking for a literal pound of his flesh. Shylock’s request was brutal, yet he adamantly refused all the pleas for mercy. When he was asked what benefit this piece of flesh will offer, he said, "if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge". This vengeful answer reveals the horrendous consequences of being filled up with only one identity, which is the Jewish identity, to the extent that he could not see any other common identities that he might share with others in the Christian society that he lived in. Therefore, the recent shocking news of Israeli soldiers who were bragging about their horrific atrocities on Gaza by wearing printed with pictures of a Palestinian pregnant woman, titled "one shot two kills", is a plain example of how confining yourself to one identity infuses hatred towards others. With accurate training and education, it can reach a level with which you fail to see others as human beings who have the basic right to live. The same line of thinking was ironically used by Hitler in 1920 when he thought of his Aryan race as superior. He actually described his obsession for Aryan superiority in his famous book "Mein Kampf" by saying that he used Swastikas as a symbol of his struggle for the victory of Aryan man. Surprisingly enough, the Jewish claim of being "the chosen people ", is the driving force behind replicating on the Palestinians the same racism that they once suffered in Nazi Germany. Also further back in history in the 15th Century, the Incas Empire was the largest and the most sophisticated to be found in the new world but not for long. As soon as the Spaniards invaded Latin America , the quick destruction followed. Pizarro, the Spanish leader, brutally wiped out the whole Incas civilization because the Incas king refused to convert to Christianity and to give in to the Spanish invasion. The Same was done by the Crusaders in the 12th century when they claimed that they were going to the Middle East to save Palestine . They took up arms under the banner of "the cross" claiming to establish the Christian flag over Jerusalem . So they ended up killing more than 70,000 Muslim civilians in cold blood. Also the Christian White English and French human hunters were enslaving people in Africa and shipping them as animals in confined cages to work as slaves in their farms back in their home countries. Ironically, in the beginning of the 17th century, the Spanish law allowed the shipment of "Idle" Africans to Latin America to be forced to work in the mines there. Moreover, the discovery of the new world in 1492 C .E. led to the wiping out of the Indians, the original inhabitants of America . Also the Ku Klux Klan established in 1866, where White men wearing masks, dressed in white cardboard hats and draped white sheets, called for the superiority of whites over blacks in the US and claimed it was in the name of Christ. The American policy of segregation between blacks and whites that lasted for decades is a smear in the face of the history. Thinking of the white race as the superior race had dreadful consequences. When white people are favoured to sit in the front of the bus whereas blacks are forced to sit in the back, when black slaves are forced to convert to Christianity by their white masters, when black children have no right to go to school with the whites, and when black workers are underpaid because they have the wrong skin colour, this is called racism. The sign that was hanging on the door of restaurants and diners saying "no dogs, Jews or blacks" is an indication of how far one identity can go in excluding anybody who does not fit into their racist classification. We can’t forget to mention the apartheid system in South Africa where the dominant whites treated the blacks with a despicable sense of inferiority. The education system practiced in black schools was intended to prepare blacks for lives as a labouring class. When you find yourself being perceived according to a certain identity be it a man who is black equals a slave, be it a Muslim with a beard equals terrorist, be it a woman with a veil equals oppressed, you try hard to push back refuting being labelled according to these pre designed stereotypes. When Shylock was forced by the Christian judges to convert to Christianity, he cleverly reminded his audience that regardless of his religious affiliation which may differ from the people of Venice , yet he is a human being. And he went on saying “Hath not a Jew eyes; hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer that a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? "(act III, Scene i, line 63). So this is usually what labelled people do. They remind others that they all still have a common identity which is that they are all humans. So the danger of cornering people in to one affiliation by setting sharp lines between different civilizations is not only heinous but false. The history of world’s civilizations is a standing witness on how the beneficial integration among different civilizations has helped immensely in the development of humanity. For example, the Western classical books especially in ancient Greek time would not have survived unless for the efforts of the Muslims in translating them in to Arabic and then they were translated in to Latin right before the European Renaissance. So where does that leave us? Should we say that we are all the same and there are no differences among us all whatsoever? Obviously not, because this will only turn us to copycats. Difference is what actually enriches the human life and adds a new flavour to it. But what endangers it, is failing to see different people as anything but enemies. What threatens it, is to draw sharp lines of classifications where no intersections are even possible. What erodes it, is inciting hatred towards certain groups based on racist ideologies and erroneous beliefs. We need to realize that though we don’t have the same skin colour, we don’t share the same nationality and we don’t embrace the same religion, we do still have much more in common than what can possibly divide us apart. Maybe what we lack is the courage to think outside the box and break through these concrete borders which limit our abilities to reach out for others. We need to allow our multiple identities to find its way to intersect with others. Striving to release the voice of humanity suppressed inside of us and trying to win over the roaring voices of separation and division is our way to regain back our lost humanity.