Scary other people

About a week ago, a friend posted a clip on “muslim demographics” on his Facebook-feed which, quite predictably, really got me going. It is 7 minutes of ominous-looking illustrative computer graphics with even more ominous-sounding voiceover that aims to demonstrate how Europe in particular and the Western world in general is facing a muslim onslaught and is about to be engulfed by the tidal wave of hostile culture within next couple of decades, lest we, the people of the free and enlightened world, start reproducing like rabbits and preaching gospel to infidels.

Not surprisingly, the source of this “call to action” is religious itself. One of the underlying assumptions of the grand and dark picture that emerges from the clip is that – while christians seem to be giving birth to people who are endowed with reason and capacity of free choice, and who can subsequently become not only christians but also citizens of the state they live in, doctors, drivers, writers, athletes, and yes, sometimes even muslims – muslims are begetting only muslims, always and over many generations. So if christianity (or belonging into Western culture) is a, supposedly enlightened, state of mind, being a muslim is akin to dominant gene. Many claims that are being made in the clip do not of course stand any closer scrutiny (here is an excellent recent article from FT that deals with most of this stuff), but that’s the thing – most of the people watching it and then forwarding it to others apparently do not feel that there’s a need for any closer scrutiny to something that is already evidently clear. After all, isn’t that what Spengler and Huntington said? Who cares of details such as muslim birth rates in Europe plummeting way faster than average western ones? Isn’t it a lot easier to talk of “muslim crime” than deal with the cultural and racial discrimination of immigrant population in European countries?

This, however, led me to reflect back upon something that we ended up discussing with students in a seminar a couple of weeks ago – and namely, why is it that we feel threatened by people who are somehow markedly different from us? Of course, we may perceive them as a threat to our way of life, we may feel that if church bells tolling are being taken over by prayer calls from mosques then our worlds will be changed too. But in many cases, this doesn’t go very far to explain our fears. Why, for instance, do many heterosexual people feel threatened by homosexuality? After all, their fertility rates should lead us to believe that the threat of homosexuals taking over the world is non-existant and indeed, that the mere fact of their survival thus far is nothing short of miraculous. Why can’t we, free people, tolerate someone’s choice to wear ḥijāb? Why is the only way to make sense out of such choice that the person so choosing must be deluded in that being her own free will – and should be subsequently forcibly liberated from such tradition?

But maybe it is because the existence and presence of someone markedly different simply undermines the notion of our world being the best or even the only possible one? This is what Judith Butler has argued with gender and sexuality – as long as gender is defined through the discourse of heterosexual practices (such as woman being defined as an object of heterosexual male desire, or marriage being a union between man and a woman), a homosexual person stands as a challenge to the clear and unambiguous notion of gender of everyone so defined. Similarly with muslims – the presence of people in our midst who do not necessarily adhere to our deeply held notions of what it means to be free or what constitutes a life worth living, but appear, against all odds, still be able to lead fulfilling lives, is a threat to our way of life in a way that runs much deeper than we would like to acknowledge.

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