Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Complacency's Frankenstein

Yesterday, the Guardian printed a fantastically scattershot piece of comment entitled I'm a believer by one-time (and maybe a couple more times, depending on her mood) Muslim, Zaiba Malik. So scattershot, in fact, that it runs dangerously thin on point ... Who am I kidding: either I’m very stupid, or it has no point at all. (Except the one that all pointless stuff inevitably defaults to: despair.)

She begins by saying that she hasn’t practiced her religion for more than twenty years—indicating that there is some kind of an, albeit as yet, rather fuzzy reason for this. (But it doesn’t get any less fuzzy, let me assure you.) Then she describes her first time (on the day following the London bombings it should be mentioned), since she was 12, attending mosque—in, as she says, the capacity of journalist rather than as faithful—where she was surprised to find herself, mid-prayer, weeping for her “faith.”

Sorry … You haven’t been into a mosque in over twenty years, and yet you feel comfortable enough with the religion to be capable of some kind of genuine emotion for it? Are you sure this mightn’t be the intrusion of some sort of sentiment here? Say, nostalgia? (As opposed to the intrusion of actual faith, I mean.) Are you sure this mightn’t be the sort of superficial inner turmoil many, many, many people felt immediately following the grisliness of 7/7?

She then proceeds to describe the very unremarkable (and if I may say so, quite banal) sequence of events that led to her original separation from Islam—interspersing her account with a set of fairly indifferent reminiscences about her nominal Muslim upbringing (e.g. she confides, more than once, that the very language of her faith, Arabic, was and continues to be a complete mystery to her)—culminating in a chunkily sweet kind of eulogy for her father.

Now, while I can sympathize with the feelings of confusion sprung from conflicting ideological loyalties, and the excessive, reason-confounding emotion that Ms. Malik is clearly suffering from right now, I do have real trouble going so far as to allow these afflictions to excuse the pervasive and tepid any-point-but-an-actual-point character of this piece.

For instance, what are we supposed to make of this: “I know I haven’t lost my religion. I may not always display outwardly signs of it by, for example, going to the mosque and fasting but I still have a deep connection with the faith of my parents”? Okay, so: you’re saying that by not practicing the Muslim faith you can still be a Muslim? That is, you can continue to be “connected” with the “faith of your parents” without actually bothering to actively and directly connect with the faith itself? Um … No, actually. This happens to be the only surefire indicator of a person’s religiosity: whether or not they actually practice a religion. I mean, by all means say you’re “spiritual,” or whatever other cant term is trendy these days to describe this commitmentless vapidity, but, for God’s sake, don’t say you’re religious. You’re not.

But, of course, Ms. Malik’s (unconscious, unquestionably) real motives for sewing together this Frankenstein of a complacent apostate’s credo show through only too tellingly in this (and it’s not the only instance) reference to the Islamic faith, not in terms of its being Islamic, but in terms of its being the bequest of her parents. Something of theirs that she will keep safely in storage against, not so much its decay, as theirs. And so “I’m a believer” is not, ironically, a defense of the faith—which, as I say, she is at considerable pains never to call her own (which, theologically speaking, actually destroys faith ... but whatever)—but a defense of the considerable time and energy her father spent practicing it. It is at once an apology for what she clearly considers to be the slightly barbaric practices of Islam (by an obviously Western standard—see paragraphs 9, 11 and 12) as well as a tearfully self-indulgent trip down memory lane ... It is, of course, also a statement of her radical—that is to say, dogmatic—West-inspired empowerment. (The sort of solipsism that (conveniently, for her career as a journalist) precludes the need to communicate with an audience, rather than just with herself.)

There is such a thing as defending religion for the wrong reasons, and this is unquestionably a prime example. With faithful such as Ms. Malik, Islam need no infidel. For, Ms. Malik’s statement of belief presupposes precisely that element of deference to current secular mores that all religions have most to fear: the reduction of faith to psychology; the reduction of faith to worship of self.

The image I have in my mind’s eye, of Ms. Malik weeping away as she recites the words of the da’wah, that she admittedly does not even understand, is only too fitting ... Moved to tears by lip-service. Crocodile tears, I think that makes them.