A while ago, I wrote an article about How and Why I Left Islam. I felt as though I had made my points quite clearly, but feedback from the article in conversations I had online and offline made it very clear that the crux of the article, i.e that politics and religion are inseparable evidently flew over many people’s heads. What better way to clear the air than to have a dedicated article to this maxim?
Let’s be very clear about what I mean when I say “politics.” The standard definition of politics, according to the Oxford Dictionary is as follows:
“ The activities associated with the governance of a country or area, especially the debate between parties having power.”
It isn’t that surprising therefore that my use of the word “politics” could be read to imply I dislike organised religion because of what kinds of government(s) it entails. While that is indeed a juicy point, that doesn’t just cover the whole definition. Behold! Another definition that complicates things:
“ A particular set of political beliefs or principles.”
This is the definition I am more interested in.
Your Life is Always Political
Politics doesn’t end at the voting booth. Every action of our lives has a political consequence. Like economics, there is a macro-political and micro-political synergy that naturally exists; one feeds into the other and changes it.
A macro-political decision like a policy change has a drip-down effect that on the micro-level, which changes how safe you might feel at night, for example.
A micro-political decision like reading news has a big macro-political impact by giving more power for media to shape your outlook on the world.
This stems from one very useful axiom that is worth remembering:
The family unit is the building block of society.
What kind of family you want to create automatically writes your own notions of class, culture and power into the decision. That isn’t exclusive to people who want to bear children; creating a tribe or a clique is a bit like making a family as well. It gets really interesting when you involve things like race, culture, wealth and other things that people want to wave off as “preference” but is anything but preferential. It is always political.
That means your choice of partner is always underwritten by a political subtext. What purchases you make is underwritten by a political subtext.
Therefore what you believe and and practice is inescapably political. Why? Because the family you create with those beliefs are the ripple-effects of your choices. These ripples are the manifestation of what version of society you were pre-programmed to replicate.
Eventually, your family, friends and children will be in a voting booth. They will always have opinions, they will always make purchases. Your family is your most powerful vote.
Dogma as a System of Control
One of the most interesting ways I get dismissed about my views is that I overthink. While it’s true I do overthink many things, I don’t think it’s a crime to overthink about things that have real impact on people’s lives. But where does that impulse to assassinate my character come from?
The easy answer is dogma.
Dogmatism is all about comfort. It’s about wanting to use tradition as an excuse to not do any intellectual heavy lifting. Doing something for purely symbolic reasons without actually understanding why you do it is one of the easiest ways to show your participation without having to put any effort in.
It’s a bit like those drunk people who sing gibberish without actually knowing any of the lyrics. They can be part of the fun, without having to really try.
This would be all fine if it was kept on an individual level.
But let’s extend my metaphor: We all accept people who don’t know the lyrics because they’re not busy trying to correct others on how the song should be sung. They accept that their knowledge is limited.
This is one of the paradoxes of organised religion. The principles of Islam preach the value of humility, but other people are so vocal in enforcing what they think is true, either through intimidation, shame or gossip, that a tacit system of control is created. It bears repeating : this is purely political.
You can’t accept that your knowledge is limited and then go onto to intimidate, disrespect, shame, gossip about someone who makes their own choices. Where is the humility?
That system of control exists because of an Orientalist fantasy of a “Muslim community.” So many people conveniently forget that the origins of Islam lie in a tribal tradition; that Prophet Muhammad was trying to reverse the damage caused by the ignorance and violence of tribes. And you know what the biggest antidotes to ignorance and violence are?
Education, and tolerance.
Neither of which I’m sorry to say, are in good supply these days in the Muslim community.
So when I get accused of “overthinking” it’s because REALLY I’m being told to shut up for saying something no one wants to talk about. I’m expected to tow the line and just accept what I’ve been told is true. How is that an educated response? How is that an example of tolerance? The irony is overwhelming.
Organised Religion and Biopolitics/Biopower
My suspicions in the “Islamic” way I was brought up actually began with understanding biopower. And what better way to understand that term than the person who coined the phrase:
“ [A] power that exerts a positive influence on life, that endeavours to administer, optimize, and multiply it, subjecting it to precise controls and comprehensive regulations.” — Michel Foucault
Put very simply, the history of many civilisations was regulated through force. Death was the way in which power flowed through society. When we made it difficult for death to become an option to regulate power (the rule of law, human rights, morality) we replaced it with life instead. And unlike death, which is instant, life has an infinite temporal quality; it goes on and on. You cannot multiply life without “precise controls” and “comprehensive regulations” as Foucault says.
The Muslim body is a regulated body. It is hidden, cut and domesticated; it is a vessel. In ethical terms, there is nothing immoral about this. To enlist on the army, or to work as a dentist also regulates your body in some terms.
Biopower is entirely neutral, it is simply a force.
The million-bitcoin question, as with all politics is:
What society are you trying to create?
You may think my answer is something wacky and rhetorical like “Extremist Muslims Trying To Create a Caliphate!” but that’s a cop-out like most catchy and rhetorical statements.
The answer is not straightforward. Not all Muslims want a “Sharia Law” society. You’ll find most Muslims just want the freedom to practice their religion openly without discrimination. That is their human right and I still believe in that strongly.
The version of Islam I am acquainted with is the British-Islam hybrid that doesn’t really know what it wants. It wants the liberal freedoms granted by a secular model of society, but isn’t quite comfortable with accepting implications of freedom of speech. It’s okay to talk shit about corrupt western culture, but don’t talk shit about our religion and expect us to tolerate it. Can’t have your cake and eat it right?
The British-Muslim body is regulated by contradictions. That’s why you’ll find weird anomalies like grossly overweight Imams talking about the importance of patience and moderation. You’ll be hard pressed to find regular sermons that talks about the importance of recycling. Do mosques have built in rehabilitation functions for drug addicts? You’ll find gender-segregated sections in a wedding but all is up for grabs on WhatsApp. Despite the importance of humility, everyone’s talking about what is forbidden and what is allowed. Everyone is ready to question how the West does things, but not so ready to question their own way of doing things.
The classic rebuttal is “but that’s how people do things, that isn’t Islam.” And I agree.
The only difference is, I don’t listen to those people anymore. I don’t want to take part in tribe that is obsessed with control and poisoned by culture. When the limb is infected beyond repair you amputate it. I only want to contribute to a version of society based on these two important things:
Education and tolerance.