Friday, October 12, 2007

Seduction of Islam

Western discourse about Islam today resembles Western discourse about homosexuality* before Stonewall: if you find "them" attractive, you either are or will soon become "one of them." This discourse imagines the relationship between the Westerner and Islam as if it were a sexual proposition: "One could liken Islam to a proposal of marriage made by a highly eligible if somewhat authoritarian man. In both cases, there is naturally a great temptation to accept the proposal, even if one's mind shyly raises some objections" (Stefan Weidner, "The Mystery of Conversion -- Why Islam Can Also Prove So Seductive to Westerners," Trans. Chris Cave, Goethe-Institut, September 2007). What is fascinating, the West is feminized in this usually Islamophobic, occasionally Islamophilic discourse (this Goethe-Institut article combines both qualities).

What should a historical materialist do about this anxious turn in Orientalism? Take it and turn it against itself. Appropriation is the name of the micro-political game here, in service to the macro-political Great Game to expropriate the empire. A historical materialist literary conceit for that may be, "I am the Western Civilization that ought to have existed but never did, being in love with, and proposing temporary marriage (a quintessentially Shi'i custom) to, the Islamic Republic that is not yet but shall be."

* Quentin Crisp said in a documentary about Hollywood representation of homosexuality: "Mainstream people dislike homosexuality because they can't help concentrating on what homosexual men do to one another. And when you contemplate what people do, you think of yourself doing it. . . . That's the famous joke: I don't like peas, and I'm glad I don't like them, because if I liked them, I would eat them, and I would hate them" (The Celluloid Closet, Dir. Robert Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman [based upon the work of film historian Vito Russo, The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies], 1995).

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