La cultura y las identidades musulmanas ante los ataques terroristas en París

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Después de los ataques terroristas del 11 de septiembre de 2001 en Nueva York, los sentimientos de ‘shock, ira [y] miedo’ (Flint, 2002: 77) se generalizaron junto con el reconocimiento del impacto global y local de los eventos (Smith, 2001). Desde entonces, tal y como Fred Halliday (2002: 31) observó,

“La crisis desatada por los acontecimientos del 11 de septiembre es global e involucra a todos. Es global en el sentido de que une diferentes países en conflicto, más obviamente los EE.UU. y partes del mundo musulmán. Como en ninguna otra ocasión en, esta crisis internacional afectó a una multiplicidad de niveles de la vida, política, económica, cultural y psicológica.” (Halliday, 2002: 31)

Más recientemente también, los atentados en la ciudad de París hace algunos días; y el recuerdo de Bali el 12 de octubre de 2002, el tren de Madrid en los atentados del 11 de marzo de 2004 y los atentados en el metro de Londres en julio 7º 2005 han contribuido a estos discursos de peligro, el miedo y el riesgo (Bauman, 2006; Beck, 1992, 1999). Además, estos eventos también comparten una asociación con terroristas y atentados suicidas que están casi siempre identificados como de fuente islámica.

En los últimos años, los signos y significantes de identidades musulmanas tienen cada vez más el estigma de significar “el otro”; lo que causa que muchos musulmanes se conviertan en “las víctimas de discriminación, acoso racial; perfiles religiosos; asaltos verbales y físicos “(Peek, 2003: 271). La cultura de estos individuos es demonizada y su corporeidad y expresiones físico-vestimenta-corporales de identidad estigmatizadas a pesar de que el Islam no es en absoluto una categoría homogénea. Tal y como Halliday, (1999: 897) señala, el “Islam” nos dice sólo una parte de cómo estas personas viven y ven el mundo; y “El Islam puede variar mucho ”. Tariq Modood (2003: 100), por ejemplo, ha buscado aclarar la diversidad y heterogeneidad de la categoría de “musulmán”. Según explica Modood,

”Los musulmanes no son un grupo homogéneo. Algunos musulmanes son devotos pero apolíticos; algunos son políticos pero no ven su política como “islámica” (de hecho, incluso puede ser anti-islámica).”

Algunos se identifican más con una nacionalidad de origen, como la turca; otros con la nacionalidad de los asentamientos y tal vez la ciudadanía, como el francés. Algunos priorizan la recaudación de fondos para las mezquitas, otros las campañas contra la discriminación, el desempleo o el Sionismo. Para algunos, el ayatolá Jomeini es un héroe y Osama bin Laden una inspiración; para otros, lo mismo puede decirse de Kemal Ataturk o Margaret Thatcher, quien creó una franja de millonarios asiáticos en Gran Bretaña, reunió en la capital árabe y fue uno de los primeros en llamar a la acción de la OTAN para proteger a los musulmanes en Kosovo.

La categoría de “musulmán” es, entonces, igual de diversa internamente como lo es el “cristiano” o “belga” o “clase media”, o cualquier otra categoría útil para ordenar nuestra comprensión del mundo… (Modood, 2003: 100)

Frente a los eventos terroristas ocurridos esta semana en Francia es necesario y urgente que REFLEXIONEMOS sobre las las diversidades de las identidades musulmanas, su especificidad geográfica y la variación, y las formas en los que se resistieron, impugnados y manipulados en los estigmas de identidades culturales “musulmanas” a través del tiempo y el espacio.

Es urgente que “… si queremos entender la forma en que las identidades sociales y culturales se forman, reproducen y delimitan por unos y otros entendamos la compleja historia global que las constituyó”(Smith, 1999: 139). Unido con la importancia del lugar y la importancia de la localidad son otros diferenciadores de la diferencia social que es importante recalcar en este momento: “aparte de las disputas por los significados, la política de los espacios religiosos también está atada con el género, la raza y la clase política, y la política entre las naciones ‘(Kong, 2001: 217).

Pero esto no es todo. Junto (y a pesar de) la influencia del lugar y de la localidad en las identidades musulmanas, hay también otras y múltiples identidades que influyen en las personas, las trayectorias del curso de vida y las experiencias del día a día. Así, entender los eventos terroristas en París de manera aislada es un error que ningún académico debería cometer. Mucho menos, intentar aislar estos eventos de la interacción, producción y reproducción de las identidades y geografías musulmanes y sus increíbles similitudes y contestaciones con las identidades cristianas, occidentales, locales, nacionales, ateas, entre otros que existen y coexisten en este mundo globalizado.

Lo ocurrido en París no es culpa de ninguna cultura y mucho menos de un “choque cultural” (una contradicción de términos). Lo ocurrido en París es un terrible atentado terrorista producto de la falta de entendimiento cultural, histórico y político de un grupo de personas que decidió tomar en sus manos la venganza por causas irracionales, místicas y filosóficas que no comprendieron a cabalidad. El uso de la fuerza por los jóvenes terroristas es un ejemplo más de los peligrosos alcances que tiene la búsqueda irracional de la individualidad y superiodad de “mi” cultura y creencias en contraposición con la “otra” cultura y creencias que el sujeto no comparte. Este acto terrorista es un terrible recordatorio más del poder que nuestra mente tiene para crear una conciencia colectiva racional, consistente con la vida y con la solidaridad inter/intra-cultural que urge en nuestro siglo XXI. Como académicos tenemos la obligación moral de fomentar estas ideas. ¿Seremos capaces de hacerlo?

Referencias:

· Bauman, Z. (2006) Liquid Fear, Polity, Cambridge.

· Beck, U. (1992) Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, Sage, Londres.

· Flint, C. (2002) Initial thoughts towards political geographies in the wake of September 11th 2001: an introduction, Arab World Geographer, 4 (2), 77-80.

· Halliday, F. (1999) ‘Islamophobia’ reconsidered, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 22 (5), 892-902.

· Halliday, F. (2002) Two Hours that Shook the World: September 11, 2001: Causes and Consequences, Londres: Saqi Books.

· Kong, L. (2001) Mapping ‘new’ geographies of religion: politics and poetics in modernity, Progress in Human Geography, 25 (2), 211-233.

· Modood, T. (2003) Muslims and the politics of difference, Political Quarterly, 71 (1), 100-115.

· Peek, LA. (2003) Reactions and Response: Muslim Students’ Experiences on New York City Campuses Post 9/11, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 23 (3), 271-283.

· Smith, SJ. (1999) The cultural politics of difference, en D. Massey, J. Allen y P. Sarre, (editores) Human Geography Today, Cambridge: Polity Press, 129-150.

Islamic Murders in Paris

Twelve people have been confirmed dead in a shooting at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical publication. Armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, the gunmen forced their way into the building by coercing a mother with her child to give the key code. They then went from office to office, asking for staff members by name, before gunning down each in turn. The attackers are reported to have shouted things like “Allahu Akbar!” and claimed to have been members of al-Qaeda. They then fled the scene in a stolen car, dumping it in the vicinity of Pantin, an impoverished African and South Asian neighborhood in the suburbs of Paris – where, incidentally, I spent New Years one year with an ex-girlfriend – and then hijacked another car before fleeing from the city. As of now, they are still at large.

The natural question most people ask in reaction to these sorts of events is “why?” Why did these three people decide to kill all these other people, over a cartoon? Answers always fall into four categories: their fault, our fault, nobody’s fault, and squid ink. As you might expect, the distribution of responses breaks down fairly neatly along ideological lines.

1. Their fault puts the blame on “radical Islam,” Islamists, terrorists, or sometimes just “Islam” plain and simple. This article from National Review Online argues that Islam is against freedom of expression at its core. Another article, also from NRO, seems to intimate that this is the beginning of some sort of clash of civilizations. CNN lists responses from the journalistic profession, all of which express solidarity against the “forces of unreason” that are on the warpath and have “corrupted the heart of Islam”

2. Our fault puts the blame on our collective intolerance of others, or on our governments’ foreign policy. We in general, or the victims in particular, somehow have it coming to us. This article by Slate does not overtly state that the employees of Charlie Hebdo asked to be murdered, but the author asserts that they have a “long history of courting controversy.” This cyclical from AP states similar claims. If we, or at least Charlie Hebdo, should have expected this, what is the implication?

3. Nobody’s fault straddles the line, asserting that such a colossal crime is the result of nothing in particular. Crazy people warped the tenets of their faith to justify their evil actions, and only they can be blamed, not the social environment that produced them, nor their creed, nor the laxity of Western society, nor any other sort of causal explanation. It just “happened.” I have not yet found an example of this in the media, but I am sure it will be offered sometime between when Europe goes to sleep mourning this tragedy, and America wakes up to ponder it.

4. Squid ink is the attempt to divert blame from targets that the speaker or author believes will likely be blamed. This article from Salon attempts to divert blame from an assumed target, Islam, by diverting it onto the onerous figure of Richard Dawkins. This article, also from Salon, has nothing to do with the current controversy, but by framing other articles on the front page of the site, acts as an implicit tu quoque: Christians are murderers too! Islamic murder isn’t that bad!

It’s always popular to say that the truth lies somewhere in between, or beyond, the options the media offers us. And so I too will follow convention. Perhaps the truth is somewhere in a combination. It is undoubtedly true that there is a great deal of resentment in the Islamic world over Western policy over time, and I don’t doubt that this played some role in the minds of the murderers. I also don’t doubt that the reactions of Westerners to increased immigration to their countries has also factored in. Resentment against the encroachments of a foreign group on one’s territory is always resented, leading to friction between the natives and the implants. In France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and elsewhere, car burnings in immigrant neighborhoods are a frequent occurrence.

Personally, I think that, like all things, this is merely a struggle for power. The governments of the West have allowed large numbers of immigrants from poor countries with inimical social systems to immigrate to their countries, often for legitimate reasons. The Belgian government, for example, entered into an agreement with the Moroccan government to allow vast numbers of Moroccan citizens to immigrate to Belgium for work purposes, as the country lacked the amount of labor it needed. However, when any new population comes to an area that is already populated, there are many ways to deal with that population. Assimilation was the dominant strategy in the United States for some time: “if a Pole is made into an American with American habits and American values, great!” In Europe, however, there was precious little done to assimilate the immigrant populations, so that they instead formed large communities of their own folk that did not interact with the natives. In Germany, for example, many Turks have lived there for decades without being naturalized, and as Germany follows jus sanguinis, none of their children are citizens either, despite having no immediate connection to Turkey except on paper.

As these immigrant populations have grown in size, many of the younger generations have learned the local tongue, assimilated into the social patterns of their host nations, and fanned out into the country as a whole. One of my friends, a Belgian of Moroccan ancestry, speaks little Berber but perfect French, and has much more affinity for the country of his birth than the country of his ancestors. Many have also become more entrenched in their immigrant communities, and have agitated for special rights and privileges for their people; not only the social services they are always alleged to be parasites on, but also special zones for sharia, halal meals in schools and prisons, the right to not view objectionable material such as cartoons they do not like, and so forth. As they grow in size, they also grow in power, and like all people will assert that power to mold their environment in the ways that they choose – ways that are not compatible with Western society. What we are seeing is, I think, the latest installment in the slow bleed of the West, its slow transformation into a multicultural, and finally a non-cultural, entity.

Or, I could be full of it. Such is a consequence of immediate reactions and thinking out loud. Dear reader, please let me know thy thoughts in the comments.

Scholarly Conspiracies, Scholarly Corruption and Global Warming: Part One

97 % of scientists, blah, blah…. Ridiculous, pathetic.

Thus challenged, some people I actually like throw reading assignments at me. Some are assignments in scholarly journals; some, sort of. Apparently, I have to keep my mouth shut until I reach a high degree of technical competence in climate science (or something). I don’t need to do these absurd assignments. I am not blind and I am not deaf. I see what I see; I hear what I hear; it all sounds familiar. Been there, done it!

A long time ago, I accepted a good job in France in urban planning after receiving my little BA in sociology from Stanford. I was a slightly older graduate and I had no illusions that I knew much of anything then. I had some clear concepts in my mind and I had learned the basic of the logic of scientific inquiry from old Prof. Joseph Berger and from Prof. Bernard Cohen. I had also done some reading in the “excerpts” department including the trilogy of Max Weber, Emile Durkheim and Karl Marx. Only a couple of weeks after I took my job, my boss sent me to a conference of urban sociologists in Paris. Having been intellectually spoiled by several years in the US and conscious of my limited knowledge of urban planning, I asked many questions, of course.

In the weeks following the meeting, I became aware of a rumor circulating that presented me as an impostor. This guy coming out of nowhere – the USA – cannot possibly have studied sociology because he does not know anything, French sociologists thought. I had to ask how the rumor started. I was aware that I knew little but, but, I did not think it was exactly “nothing.” Besides, most of my questions at the conference had not been answered in an intelligible manner so, I was not convinced that my comparison set – French sociologists working in city planning – knew much more than I did.

Soon afterward, I wrote a “white paper.” It was about the eastern region where I had been tasked to plan for the future until 2005 (the year was 1967) as part of a multidisciplinary team. The white paper gave a list of social issues city planners had to face at this point, the starting point of the planning endeavor. As young men will do, I had allowed myself short flights of speculation in the white paper, flights I would not have indulged in a few years later. My direct supervisor, an older French woman who was supposed to be sociologist, read the whole ambitious product, or said she had, and made no comments except one. She took exception to one of my speculative flights in which I made reference to the idea that much societal culture rises up from the street. It was almost an off-hand remark. Had that part been left out, the white paper would have been pretty much the same. The supervisor insisted I had to remove that comment because, she said exactly, ”Marx asserts clearly that culture comes from the ruling class.” She told me she would not allow the white paper to be presented until I extirpated the offending statement.

In summary: The woman had nothing to say about the many parts of the report that were instrumental to the endeavor that our team was supposed to complete, about that for which she and I were explicitly being paid. She had nothing to say about the likely mistakes I exhibited in the report because of my short experience. Her self-defined role was strictly to protect what she took to be Marxist orthodoxy even if it was irrelevant. There was a double irony there. First, the government that employed us was explicitly not in sympathy with any form of Marxism. The woman was engaging in petty sedition. Second, Karl Marx himself was no lover of orthodoxies. He would have abhorred here role. (Marx is said to have declared before his death, “I am not a Marxist”!)

In any event, I was soon rid of the ideological harridan and I was able to do my job after a fashion. For those who like closure: I went back to the US to attend graduate school, at Stanford again. Two years later, my old boss called me back. He had come up in the world. He was in charge of a big Paris metropolitan area urban research institute. He begged me, begged on the phone to go back to France, and take charge of the institute’s sociology cell. He said that he understood not a word of what the “sociologists” there said to him. He added that I was the only sociologist he had ever understood. I yielded to his entreaties and I promised him a single year of my life. I interrupted my graduate studies and flew to Paris. In the event, I gave the sociologists at the institute one month warning. Then, I summoned each one of them to explain to me orally how his work contributed to Paris city and regional planning. (“What will it change to the way this is currently being done?” I asked.) They did not respond to my satisfaction and I fired all six of them. I replaced them with people who could keep their Marxism under control. My boss was grateful. I could have had a great career in France. I chose to return to my studies instead.

Three years later, having completed my doctorate, I found my self at critical juncture common to all those who go that course. You have to turn your doctoral thesis into papers published in double-blind refereed journals. (Here is what this means: “What’s Peer Review and Why It Matters“)

That’s a lot like leaving kindergarten: no more cozy relationships, no more friends assuring you that your work is just wonderful; the real world hits you in the face. The review process in good journals is often downright brutal. Anyone who does not feel a little vulnerable at that point is probably also a little silly. To make matters worse, the more respected the journal, the harder it is to get in and the better your academic career. As a rule, if you have not achieved publication in a first-rate journal in the first three or four years after completing your doctorate, you will be consigned forever to second-tier universities or worse.

Be patient, I am just setting the stage for what’s coming.

Much of my early scholarly work happened to take place within a school of research dominated by “neo-Marxists.” It was not my choice. I was interested in problems of economic development that happened to be largely in the hands of those people. My choice was between abandoning my interests or buckling up and taking my chances. I buckled up, of course. My first article to be published was innovative but a little esoteric. (Delacroix, Jacques. “The permeability of information boundaries and economic growth: a cross-national study.Studies in Comparative International Development. 12-1:3-28. 1977.) I presented to a specialized journal and therefore not one that could be called “first tier.” It happened to contain nothing that would offend the neo-Marxists. It took less than six months to have it accepted for publication.

The second published paper out of my dissertation struck at the heart of neo-Marxists convictions. It demonstrated – using their methods – that the parlous condition of the Third World – allegedly caused by capitalist exploitation – could be remedied through one aspect of ordinary good governance. I submitted it to one of the two most respected journals (the American Sociological Review). All the reviewers who had the technical skills to review my submission were also neo-Marxists or sympathetic to their doctrine. The paper reported on a study conducted according to methods that were by now common. Having the paper accepted for publication took more than three years. It also took a rare personal intervention by the journal’s editor whom I somehow managed to convince that the reviewers he had chosen were acting unreasonably. (The paper: Delacroix, Jacques. “The export of raw materials and economic growth: a cross-national study.American Sociological Review 42:795-808. 1977.) No need to read either paper.

Am I telling you here a story of conspiracy or a story of academic corruption? Yes, I faced a conspiracy but it was not a conspiracy against me personally and it was mostly not conscious. The only people – but me- who had the skills to pass judgment on my paper were not numerous. They were a small group that shared a common understanding of the reality of the world. It was not a cold, cerebral understanding. Those people formed a community of sentiment. They believed their work would contribute to the righting of a worldwide injustice, a “global” injustice committed against the defenseless people of underdeveloped countries. Is it possible that their ethical faith influenced their judgment? To ask the question is to answer it, I think. Did their faith induce them to close their eyes when others from their own camp cut some research corners here and there? On the contrary, were their eyes wide open when they were reviewing for a journal a submission whose conclusion impaired their representation of the world? In that situation, did they overreact to an uncrossed “t” or a dotted “i,” in a paper that undermined their beliefs? Might be. Could be. Probably was. Other things being equal, they may have just thought, it would be better if these annoying Delacroix findings were not publicized in a prime journal. Delacroix could always try elsewhere anyway.

So, yes, I faced corruption. It was not conscious, above-board corruption. It was not cynical. It was a corruption of blindness, much of it deliberate blindness. The blindness was all the more sturdy because it was seldom called into question. Those who would have cared did not understand the relevant techniques. Those who knew them shared in the blindness. This is a long way from cynical, deliberate lying. It’s just as destructive though. And it’s not only destructive for the lives of the likes of me who don’t belong to the relevant tribe. It’s destructive of what ordinary people think of as the truth. That is so because – however unlikely that sounds – the productions of elite and abstruse journals usually find their way into textbooks, even if it take twenty years.

Are the all-powerful editors of important journals part of the conspiracy? Mine were not but they tended to adhere to imperfect rules of behavior that made them objective accomplices of conspiracies. Here is the proof that the editor of the particular journal tried to be impartial. Only a month after he accepted my dissenting paper, the editor assigned me to review a submission from the same neo-Marxist school of thought that trumpeted another empirical finding proving that, blah, blah…. After one reading of the paper, my intuition smelled a rat. I spent days in the basement of the university library, literally days, taking apart the empirical foundation of the paper. I found the rat deep in its bowel. To put it briefly, if you switched a little thing from one category to another, all the conclusions were reversed. There was no imperative argument to put that one thing in one category rather than in the other. The author had chosen that which put his labor of love in line with the love of his neo-Marxist cozy-buddies. If he had not done it, his pluses would have become minuses, his professional success anathema. In the event, the editor agreed with my critique and dinged the paper for good. Nothing worse happened to the author. No one could tell whether he was a cheat. Or, no one would. No one was eager to. The editor was not in appetite for a fight. He let the whole matter go.

Myself, I came out of this experience convinced that it was likely that no one else in the whole wide world had both the skills and the motivation to dive into the depth of the paper to find that rat. It’s likely that no one else would have smelled a rat. It’s possible that if I had not still been smarting from three years of rejection of my own work, I would not have smelled the rat myself. The editor had the smarts, the intuition fed by experience, I would say, that he could put to work my unique positioning, my combination of competence and contrariness. He put it to work in defense of the truth. That fact is enough to exonerate him from complicity in the conspiracy I described. To answer my own question: Do I think that powerful scientific journal editors are often part of a conspiracy of the right thinking, of an orthodox cabala? I think not. Do they sometimes or often fall for one? Yes.

For those who like closure: My interests switched later to other topics. (See vita, linked to this blog’s “About me.”) I think the neo-Marxist school of thought to which I refer above gradually sank into irrelevance.

After that experience, and several others of the same kind, do I have something better to propose? I don’t but I think the current system of scholarship publication does not deserve anything close to religious reverence. Even if there were anything close to a “consensus” of scientists on anything, that should not mean that the book is closed. Individual rationalism also matters. It matters more, in my book.

What does this story of reminiscences this have to do with global warming, climate change, climate disruption , you might ask? Everything, I would say. More on the connection in part Two. [Update: Here is part 2, as promised! – BC]