The mosque near Town Hall.
Mohsin Hamid, author of How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia, has a nice op-ed in the Guardian. Money quote for me was ‘Individuals are undeniably real. Groups, on the other hand, are assertions of opinion’. If you go buy news reports Muslims or Jews or Sri Lankans or any number of groups can appear monolithic and uniform. When you meet people, however, you find that they’re not. If you meet enough people you hopefully become aware of that tendency and judge people less by group identity in advance. Muslims, however, are quite publicly tarred with the same brush these days, and it really isn’t fair. Or accurate.
Islam is not a race, yet Islamophobia partakes of racist characteristics. Most Muslims do not “choose” Islam in the way that they choose to become doctors or lawyers, nor even in the way that they choose to become fans of Coldplay or Radiohead. Most Muslims, like people of any faith, are born into their religion. They then evolve their own relationship with it, their own, individual, view of life, their own micro-religion, so to speak.
There are more than a billion variations of lived belief among people who define themselves as Muslim – one for each human being, just as there are among those who describe themselves as Christian, or Buddhist, or Hindu. Islamophobia represents a refusal to acknowledge these variations, to acknowledge individual humanities, a desire to paint members of a perceived group with the same brush. In that sense, it is indeed like racism. It simultaneously credits Muslims with too much and too little agency: too much agency in choosing their religion, and too little in choosing what to make of it. (Hamid, Guardian)
In Sri Lanka groups like the BBS and even sensible people discuss Muslims like they’re one coherent thing and they’re not. It’s a bunch of individuals, which is basically the most complex group of objects you could imagine. Any group of a billion people is so diverse that it’s just foolish to make any generalizations about them. This is not to say that you can’t talk about Islam – both good and bad aspects of it, as practiced – but you always have to be aware that there are real people involved. This is easy for me cause I have many Muslim friends and I can’t think of these abstract arguments without literally seeing their faces. But it’s also something we should all try to do in general, when talking about large groups of people who are perhaps more different than they are the same.
I mean, we make group judgements naturally. Those heuristics (rough guesses) are how we’ve long survived. One of the benefits of civilization and education, however, is that we can question those assumptions in relative fight-or-flight safety and be aware and try to give a little and understand.