Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Connect ... Disconnect ... Hang Up ...

Those who remember having used this type of telephone

Stolen from http://mylusciouslife.com/retro-vintage-antique-phone-pictures/

would understand the importance of patience when calling someone. After all, it is often located in a stationary position (unlike mobile phones that you can take with you all over creation including the bathroom, ew ...) and if the person we call did not pick up, we don't go all paranoid android that the person we are contacting is trying to avoid us.

We understand that the person we call is probably:

1) Not at home
2) In the shower
3) Running out of the loo but was too late to pick up the phone.

We work at trying to call people because dialing itself is an effort (no speed dials or automatic calling from phone book function), not to mention requiring little grey cells that store a string of numbers of the person(s) with whom we wish to connect.

Human connection is beyond one individual calling another individual for conversation, be it amiable or a screaming match. Human connection extends to the pesky neighbours whom you think are whispering about you behind their lace curtains, the colleague who always share stories about his colicky baby and sleepless nights, your best friend in school who still go out to get drunk with you and many other people who make up the social fabric into which you are knitted.

This connection reinforces our personal identity and helps to orient us to our position in this world and our community. Unless you are a survivalist nutter who thinks that the aliens/government/whatever is out to get you, you are likely to live in a community (be it urban, suburban or rural) where you are required to interact with people at some point in your day.

But what happens when your sense of personal identity somehow does not mash with the community in which you live? What if you feel disconnected, disjointed, the jarring note in the harmony, the nail that sticks out and keeps getting hammered? What if you feel like all your life and actions are totally meaningless in the grand scheme of things? What if you feel like you never knew what acceptance feel like; even something as mundane as an automatic smile from the bus driver never comes your way because you feel that your personal identity is not acceptable to others?

All this came to my mind as I was listening to Prof. James Piscatori at the Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies yesterday. Prof. Piscatori has been studying Muslim politics throughout his academic life and had shared his views on "Muslims in Europe: Towards a New Civic Pluralism".

He kinda reminds me of the dad in Numb3rs.
Muslims in Western Europe are largely recent migrants who moved en masse in the middle of the twentieth century, thanks to liberal immigration laws of the time. Like all immigrants, they had to adapt to life in the decadent West and try to reconcile it with their faith and culture. Some have been successful, as evidenced by the rising number of the Muslim middle class. Others are stuck and unable to achieve social mobility due to lack of education, discrimination in the job market and other factors.

Prof. Piscatori explained that Europeans shouldn't fear that they'll become Islamised by 2030 (or whenever); the numbers of Muslims in Europe are often exaggerated and are actually just about 15% at the greatest estimate (he quoted numbers polled by the Pew Forum). He also mentioned something very surprising: terrorist acts by Muslims in Europe from 2006 to date are actually LESS THAN ONE PERCENT.

This is definitely not the sort of thing that we see or read on the BBC, CNN, Deutsche Welle or Paris Match. Prof. Piscatori was quoting figures collected by the Europol in their annual report on terrorism. Apparently, most acts of terrorism were actually perpetrated by leftists, separatists and eco-anarchists.

The strangeness of Muslims and Islam make them a convenient target to fresh and old fears about the changing landscape of European society, thanks to globalisation. They look and sound foreign; their women are wrapped up like birthday gifts! You can't bond with them over a glass of bitters at the pub after work, and they have this strange habit of washing their face and hands and feet and falling on their face several times a day in the same direction.

There is this concept in Islam about strangeness and being strangers in the land. It is not regarded as a bad thing to not conform with those who are corrupt. It is, in fact, an ideal. However, there is a fraction of a fraction of a percent who, in their failure to participate in the society on their terms, respond with misanthropic reactions such as bombings in public places and killing people one perceives as the enemy combatant.

It makes non-Muslims think of Muslims this way:

Stolen from http://harvardhumanist.org/2012/12/19/the-misanthropic-humanist/
when they are actually:
Out to support the slain soldier by the ravening mad fellow in Woolwich.
But to go back to the figures, LESS THAN ONE PERCENT of the terrorist acts are committed by Muslims. We don't quite see the sensationalisation of Basque separatists (have you even heard of who they are?) or Italian anarchists (aren't they busy doing fashion-related stuff and/or eating pasta?). Because to the European, these people are not the weird OTHER as Muslims are in their society. So they don't make as good as a boogeyman as these Quran-quoting, hijab/bearded people who speak with a funny accent.

As rightly pointed out by Kenan Malik,

"The real issues we need to confront are issues such as the contemporary sense of social disengagement, and not just among Muslims, the corrosion of the institutions of civil society, the lack of a progressive counter-narrative, the collapse of the organizations of the left, and the continual attacks on liberties in the name of security."

*read the rest here.

Towards the end of his talk, Prof. Piscatori touched on the crisis of multiculturalism in Europe: is it a choice between imposition of liberal values on a conservative society or tolerance of difference? Would tolerance of difference actually promote segregation? What is real integration? Is it better to choose assimilation and conformity or empowerment for social participation?

I am sure I was not the only who think that this is a mirror to the social situation in Malaysia. We pride ourselves on being Truly Asia; we are a hodge podge of culture, language and appearance. But as we could see after the 13th general election, we still have a great deal of suspicion towards one another, we poke and whisper behind each other's back, we still clutch our nasty thoughts about the "Others" close to our breasts.

Hence, this song is sincerely apropos to our situation.

Communication is not a threat. We should start talking to one another and not just lambast and share inflammatory stuff on Facebook and Twitter. We should actually connect in the real world, find out what the other fella eat, drink, watch and which football association he/she backs. We should learn about their faith and customs, and share with them our own practices so that we will no longer be strangers to one another.

So we will stop being "Others" to each other.

Written while listening to this.


Goh LinLin said...

I have to admit it's hard not to turn into Grumpy cat when I try to turn a blind eye to nasty,inflamatory stuff posted by people intent on fanning hatred but communicate we must...in a positive way of course.

Sarah said...

req to share....

Snuze said...

Absolutely, Ms. Goh! *hugs*

Sarah, do share away! And thank you for feeding a comment whore's habit.