As an MSA Term, Inclusivity is Overrated

“It’s almost like we use one “idol/ideal” to destroy all the others. Our ideals have become so sacred they have become like deities. Ideas have taken the shape of the idols of the past.”

The term “inclusivity” is used oddly by MSA students.

As Daniel Haqiqatjou says,

…being “more inclusive” invariably means being “less conservative.” No one talks about inclusivity in terms of, for example, being more welcoming to the disabled, to black students, to students of different socio-economic backgrounds, to international or foreign exchange students, to people in surrounding communities, to the homeless and the needy who may live near campus and who would love to be invited to an MSA event and would be very grateful for a free meal, etc.

The rhetoric commonly heard in MSA circles about the need to be as inclusive as possible, to accept as many people as possible, to provide a safe and comfortable space where everyone feels validated appears to be a laudable goal for an organization that comprises a diverse group of individuals. Unfortunately, however, “inclusivity” has become instead the sieve through which every other ideal must pass to be worthy of implementing. It seems to be just a thinly veiled (no pun intended) principle used to wipe out any other principle. The way this goal of inclusivity is often implemented is by sacrificing the principle of modesty by hosting mixed events and is the result of misunderstanding an Islamic perspective of community.

The biggest mistake here is not realizing that our relationship with God is what guides our behavior towards other human beings. Of course Muslims believe in serving humanity and love for humanity, but because they are God’s creation and because He has asked us to. We love them because of their relationship to God, not for some abstract selfish purpose, or “because we obviously just should”, or force of habit, or fear of being called a psychopath, or because you want something from other human beings, or vaguely because some social contract theorist claims that human beings need society. We shouldn’t use a horizontal frame of reference, over-privileging human point of view in our relationships. This is the famous, classic mistake that is lauded by our civilization as the start of “progress” in Western civilization and the fall of Christianity: placing a human being where God should be. Protagoras saying “man is the measure of all things” is at the heart of the humanism that started the Renaissance. But it is not a Muslim understanding.

Our standard of reference is not other human beings, but God. This allows us to look up and out of our poor, skewed vision of human beings only in relation to one another or sometimes, in relation to animals. By limiting that frame to the human dimension, you can no longer authentically step outside and look for a source of objective and just truth to the human moral dilemma or to the model for human perfection. We are stuck eternally looking at one another, never able to look up and see the insignificance of our own selves, the silliness of our arguments, how small we are and how little we matter. We have stopped looking up at the sky full of stars alone at night. Instead we are so saturated with ourselves, so obsessed with our own futile lives that they rise up to fill our horizon and we soon can see nothing else of importance. The hole in our heart shaped for God is filled with something hopelessly inadequate. We continually fill ourselves with our selves, stressing ourselves out in the process, sickening ourselves by heightening our own importance to a level that only God in His perfection deserves.  The conversations about identity, privilege, gender – all these conversation have become so monstrously overgrown, like grotesque balloons they threaten to squash any other ideas of possible importance while we pump them with more and more of the hot air of our self-importance. We are almost worshipping ourselves – the self. Not a perfected self, but the lower self. Out of necessity it must be the lower self that we worship, because ideal human character can only be thought about through God’s standards of perfection, otherwise we end up affirming our crude, undeveloped, ugly selves as deserving of “acceptance” and “validation”. Instead of aspiring  to a noble or lofty ideal of human character, we celebrate “just the way we are”, remaining in a state of imperfection and ugliness, shouting at those who may suggest there is room for improvement. 

This human frame of reference leads to immense problems in society itself. If we can only use ourselves as a standard, the meaning of gender (and actually the meaning of anything) breaks down. Everything is meaningless if we are to be the ones assigning meaning. There is no objective reality, no true meaning, no truth at all. In today’s college world, this is particularly easy to see now in regards to gender. As Shaykh Murad says,

Muslim thinkers have been unconsciously secularized into assuming that gender is all about society. And this is not ultimately the religious understanding. Because, unlike the modern secular understanding, our understanding is that every principle has a meaning and that Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) is never guilty of ‘abath or randomness or futility in any of the consistent principles which He has built into the structure of the universe and our lives. Everything has a meaning. Every surah has a ma’na and the attempt of modern Muslim feminists, in many cases very committed religious women to reflect upon gender in Islam has been drastically handicapped and even crippled, by this forgetting of the fundamental principle that gender has to mean something and it is only when you can grasp what are Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala)’s purposes in instituting this bifurcation of all of the higher animals and certainly humanity into two poles. Only when you have grasped that can you really start to understand what the shari’ah’s agenda is in its allocation of roles and spaces and ideals differently to the two sexes…

If we only compare human beings to each other (or animals), and this is the crux of the problem – we make two mistakes. We can choose to say that differences in what we have observed about ourselves physically are unimportant because we choose to assign value to make it so. However in this world of physicality, manifestation and diversity the many necessarily means differences, which means hierarchy. We can keep pretending our physical traits are meaningless while we privilege physical strength by overemphasizing the importance of physical observation of the universe. This means we will always privilege males in secular society in the long run, however much we claim otherwise. In matters of brute strength and physical prowess, which allows better access to physical wealth and wordly power over other human beings and visible resources, men are inherently in a position of superiority. When we have already shut out the vision of anything beyond the material in our views (a secular understanding) then we cannot help but consider this the better of the two human types. There is no other claim you can make without appealing to something beyond the material.

Muslims avoid this problem altogether because we never compare human beings to one another. We begin with God and end with God, and we think about the individual in relation to God. As Yasmin Mogahed succinctly points out

“What we so often forget is that God has honored the woman by giving her value in relation to God—not in relation to men. But as Western feminism erases God from the scene, there is no standard left—except men. As a result, the Western feminist is forced to find her value in relation to a man. And in so doing, she has accepted a faulty assumption. She has accepted that man is the standard, and thus a woman can never be a full human being until she becomes just like a man…”

Please Invest in a Pair of Glasses

I am no longer officially part of the Muslim Students Association and I don’t know how you officially send out press releases, but if I could and did, with more polish and less sarcasm, this would be one.

I as Muslim Students Association president received several requests and emails from different campus-based initiatives that had names and purposes like “countering violent extremism, countering the recruiting success of violent extremism, preventing radicalization through social media”, and other such titles. When individuals with such initiatives would meet with me to propose some kind of partnership with the Muslim Students Association, I would recoil.

Look, I know (well, I assume and think kindly of other human beings) you have good intentions. To take a generous view of things, in real life, you made the effort to come and speak with a Muslim. I’m grateful that you realize how even more silly and repulsive this would be if there were no Muslims involved in a project entirely ABOUT MUSLIMS. I know you have been raised in a society that is brainwashed entirely by your own media and your half your fellow citizens can’t find New York on a map, let alone a place outside of America. But please. Consider for a moment how frankly offensive you are.

Your first thought of Muslims has an association with violence. You have a set of images that you are recalling when you think of the words Islam and Muslim. You have reduced my entire community of human beings and people into a problem. Muslims are something worthy of a school project: to be studied and analyzed for potential harm like a vaguely revolting bacterial strain that we (the civilized and innocent) human beings just have to live with because it’s so common on the earth. You have clearly bought into and believed the entire false and disgusting narrative about Muslims that your own media and upbringing has fed you and now you expect me to be thrilled that you’re interested in solving a problem that you’ve created in your own mind. This may surprise you, but YOUR PERCEPTION OF A PROBLEM DOESN’T MAKE IT A REAL PROBLEM. Just because media and cultural history and your sense of superiority as a civilization depends on this myth that YOU created about Muslims being a problem, please do not expect us to buy into it. I don’t associate myself or my community with images of violence. This is your own stereotype that you are projecting on to me. I would look at you like you were a little crazy if you were trying to tie shoelaces on your own bare feet, but I am going to be more than a little annoyed if you’re insisting on tying the shoelaces on MY bare feet.

Benevolent white guy – “I thought you might want some help tying your shoelaces.”

Me – “Wait a sec I don’t even HAVE anything on my feet-”

BWG – “Don’t you even worry, I’m willing to spend $$$ on tying your shoes for you and I’ve got a team of experts studying how best to tie your shoelaces. I KNOW YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THOSE SHOELACES! I’VE SEEN IT ON TV OVER AND OVER!!”

Me – “Look, maybe you should be using your resources on buying yourself a pair of eyeglasses because you clearly aren’t able to see that I’m not even wearing any shoes.”

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How would you feel, white-guy-doing-school-project, if I put together a school project and tried to partner with you on an initiative to train you to stop white people from going on murderous rampages and school shootings. The purpose of this project is “to promote goodwill and friendship towards white men and all other people.” I don’t know any white men personally, but I can clearly see from the media that they have a serious, serious problem when they see children studying in schools. I don’t see any programs put in place to promote the end of this kind of systemic and intrinsically white male violence. My entire view on white people has been formed by the images of school shooters I have seen on the news. I have become convinced this is parter of a larger trend and attack on education in general, and I don’t want white men to feel uncomfortable in my neighborhood – they should KNOW how scary they look to us – I’ve seen a few walking around while my family shook in fear. All I’ve ever seen white men do is hold guns or leer from their mug shot on TV, and I’m not really sure they perform other normal life functions. I myself was quite terrified to see that pale and unusually light-toned flesh in the area recently at the grocery store – I mean, since when do white men go to the grocery store and buy donuts, I’ve never seen them do that kind of thing on television – but I have now become culturally sensitive enough to know it’s not ALL white men who can be school shooters. (But the rest should work on getting rid of the ones that are. I mean, come on, can’t they see the media reports nearly every other week showing us that white men + school = shooting. There’s some serious connection here that I don’t know how they’re missing.) I really have the most noble and lofty aims to end this cycle of violence in the world and I don’t want my family members to fear you, dear white men. I will come to you after discussing this with my several other non-white classmates, and decide to be generous enough to even share this idea with the other white people in the area, because they weren’t smart enough to come up with this on their own. Really, we’re so benevolent – we have the solutions to solve the clearly urgent problems of their community that I’m not sure they’re able to spot.

And what’s more, I’m sure they’ll be grateful for our help.

Look, my advice to well-intentioned fellow students who want to promote goodwill between Muslims and others, please concentrate your energies on investing in your eyesight. You can’t see clearly.

I know you can’t believe this, but maybe American Muslims already have goodwill. Maybe there is no vast, systemic problem of so-called “radicalization” amongst our community. Maybe you should try promoting goodwill on your end by ending racism and your foolish prejudices in your community. Maybe you should meet a Muslim or read a book. Maybe Muslims are not irrational people who suddenly inexplicably want to murder people. Maybe they just want to live and eat ice-cream and go to med school and write poetry and drink coffee and tell stories. Maybe you should read a map and travel outside WENA (hat-tip to Karl ReMarks). Maybe colonization caused problems that your history books wanted to forget and so they discuss the inherent backwardness of the Muslim world – don’t even get me started on this one. Maybe the problem is that you have believed the lies your media, your history books, and your uncle tells about people who look like me.

Get a pair of glasses and stop expecting me to be thrilled you’re tying my nonexistent shoelaces.

PS

There’s a great quote I can’t remember who said or what book or article it came from, but the gist of it was that actually the discourse about Islam and Muslims in the West has nothing to do with Islam at all. It is an internal discourse that the West is having with itself.