Modern Muslims

When one thinks about the vilification of the Islamic community following 9/11, there is an overriding sense of terror and revulsion, directed not just towards extremists but also towards moderate followers of the religion. In many ways the rejection of Muslim ideals was a whole scale one, a separation dictated by a mentality of ‘us’ and ‘them’. In other words, Muslims were seen as outside of Western culture and in many ways opposed to it despite the fact that only a few fanatics had carried out the attacks. This complete rejection and dehumanisation of the other can be seen to have striking parallels with Kafka’s Metamorphosis. In the novel, Gregor’s transformation is not inherently negative and though he may struggle to adjust to his new physical restraints, his mind is very much the same as it was before. This is highlighted by his attempt to follow his usual routine and his worries about the everyday aspects of his life His new form is instead made negative by the reaction of his family and his employer. Gregor is a creature that invokes fear and loathing in his former kin because he is unknown to them, because he is different. Although his appearance seems horrifying to the reader, it is only because those are properties they do not expect to see in themselves and in this respect he can be seen to be an embodiment of the Other. This can be seen further in the fact that Gregor’s form is never clearly defined- he is simply a man – nor is there any exact replica of him in the entomological world. This could represent the hatred of the Other in that it has no root except difference. It is unnecessary to describe every detail of his twisted form because the simple fact he is not human is enough. Gregor is therefore both described and treated as something lesser, sub-human, as a pet or a nuisance whose rights are forfeit when they conflict with the interests of his ‘owners’. This would seem to bear a striking resemblance to the treatment of the Muslim community following 9/11. Just as Gregor’s parents shut him away in order to try and maintain their own happiness, America didn’t just defend its own values: it attacked the root of what it saw to be undesirable and imposed its own system upon another state in an effort to remove this threat of the Other.

This irrationally generalised hatred of Muslims was not a temporary shift and there has been lasting aftermath from the attacks. The principle backlash is the dejection of the customs of Islam simply because they are different. The Burkha, is a prime example of this and its ban in France shows an attitude of contempt towards Islamic tradition. It is criticised for its compulsory nature yet the Bible itself states that: “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this”. Can that not be seen as just as compulsory? Then there is the idea that concealment or modesty is somehow degrading. There is no logical reason why concealing a face is any more ‘wrong’ than concealing the genitalia, yet because the former is not the social norm it is perceived as a form of degradation. In reality, the berkha is simply a public symbol of faith like a crucifix or a kara. Despite that, there is an implied sense that following the Muslim faith in a manner which is not ‘normal’ in Western society is shameful. There is a similar dejection of the abnormal because of its deviation in Metamorphosis, when Gregor feels the need to hide himself from his family yet they are allowed the freedom of the house. There is nothing intrinsically lesser about him, nor greater about them, yet they are allowed prevalence because they are the norm.

In fact, the great tragedy of the work is that Gregor’s eventual loss of humanity isn’t because of his metamorphosis but because of his family’s attitude. Their perception and treatment of him as something lesser is ironically what causes his degradation. If Muslims were not being persecuted, shunned and treated with disdain, would they have felt the need to become radicalised? The extremity of one party creates a counter reaction of equal of extremity and that in turn creates a counter and so on. If Gregor was treated as human, then he wouldn’t have become a monster.Because of the prejudice the Western world shows towards those that are different, Islam is treated with disdain: as something that should be tolerated rather than accepted. In both cases, it is those that seem most human that act in the most monstrous manner.

April 11, 2018


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