January 03, 2006

The white man's burden, ever so much the same

More than a year ago the debate about Turkey entering the EU was big in Sweden and all across Europe I should imagine. Elections for Swedish representatives to the European parliament were on the go and each political party had something to say about Turkey entering a predominantly Christian Europe.

The liberal party here invited me to one of their debates in the Swedish parliament and there alongside me was their candidate for the EP, a man with roots in Iran, and another guest debater, a secular Turkish man who called himself an agnostic. On the agenda was "Islam and Europe: Turkey's role in forming the new EU". I confess I reluctantly agreed to participate seeing as in general these sorts of happenings are not only monotonous but also seldom borne out of a true wish to understand Islam or Muslims in Europe.

There had recently been an article in the Swedish papers about the mosque in Stockholm preaching out doubtful messages at one Friday sermon. I had not attended that particular sermon so I could not vouch for it nor attack it. However it's not the first time media takes things out of their context nor the first time a Muslim imam (leader) messed up, so I kept an open mind.

Naturally the first question that came up during the debate was regarding the Friday sermon, and I answered plainly that I had not attended it and had not read the article where the sermon apparently had been written and translated from Arabic by a journalist working at the newspaper. So, like a good, objective, critically thinking, indpendent "western girl", I simply answered that since I had not done the above, I could not be sure as to what exactly was said and in what way it was said nor if the newspaper article had accurately understood what was said (mind you it was a tabloid and not a newspaper).

The first reactions that came from my fellow debaters were "so you mean that the journalist who wrote that was lying?"
I quickly reassured them that this was not what I meant but that I don't make judgements on things I have not myself read and even then it is not easy to make such a judgement without having been there and hearing it for yourself. There is something called language-, cultural- and religious context.

More did not have to be said... the civilized world had spoken and the rest of us should know our place. Mind you, being half white/Swedish myself, it is of course harder for them to exercise their "intellectual veto" on me, however being Muslim compensates for that and I get the full civilized man's blow; censured, misunderstood, guilty till proven innocent.

Before going to the debate, which in all other ways ended well (because thankfully the audience had more sense than my fellow debaters and moderator), a poem by Rudyard Kipling had come to mind which I think defines the world timelessly. The idea of a Eurocentric world, the first world, the world of the "civilized" (read Europe and North America) whose ideas "far surpass" those of any other third world religion or philosophy. Colonialism still exists, perhaps not in a geographical sense but very much in an ideological sense.

"You are either with us or against us". If you happen to have an opinion about matters that go against that of the present dominating super power, it would be deemed, per se, uncivilized, alien and even in some cases terrorist. Forgetting that the civilized world once introduced the idea of democracy, difference of opinion, agreeing to disagree in a peaceful manner.

Iraq, Afghanistan the whole of South America not to mention Africa, have all had to suffer being "saved" by the west who, like the British, French, Portuguese and more, always felt this need to spread their ideology to "primitive peoples" with inborn "evil" in them that needs to be exorcized out of them through bombing them and making sure they realise how so much better the "super size me" culture is. Because you see, the third world just doesn't know what's best for them, just like children in need of a Super Nanny.

From colonialism, the period when the poem was written, to post-colonialism, the world we live in today, one set of values based on who the ruling party is, still are deemed superior to another and people still take on The white man's burden .

An excerpt from the poem:

Take up the White Man's burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild--
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.

Take up the White Man's burden--
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain
To seek another's profit,
And work another's gain.

"The white man's burden"
By: Rudyard Kipling

1 comment:

BuJ said...

hmmm interesting.. do you participate in these kinds of debates regularly? I think debating is great, but you need to know your subject inside-out and be quite a confident orator.

sad about them using this "intellectual veto" on you.. by the way how does it feel being half Swedish/Pakistani brought up in Sweden (I assume)? Must be a struggle, but makes life more interesting and worth living. The more painful the birth the more beautiful the child.