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We Are Our Own Worst Enemy: A Psychoanalytical Take on Islamophobia

Posted on the 22 August 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
Muslim men at prayer. Muslim men at prayer.

“We have met the enemy and he is us” – Pogo comic strip, Walt Kelly.

For as long as there has been black, there has been white. Ying and yang. Things that are somewhat alike, but at the same time seem to be polar opposites. Things that appear to be contradictory, but also balance and even define each other. ‘Can’t live with it, can’t live without it’ sort of idea.

In psychology this is said to go a long way in establishing one’s identity. I am a girl therefore I am not a boy; I am black, therefore I am not white, and so on. But it is often the case that that which we are not comes to wholly overtake that which we are. Or, that’s what we have been led to believe.  It’s almost as if we need someone to blame for all our shortcomings, for the things in our person that we dislike; that we need a scapegoat of sorts to feel better about ourselves.

Int the world of politics, this concept of ‘othering’ has always been used in the statesmen’s favour. At various points, especially in times of social and economic strife, that ‘other’ has been the Jew, the Communist, the Irish, the black person, and the immigrant in general. Today, that ‘other’ is personified in the figure of the Muslim.

Islamophobia plagues much of the Western world today, defining people’s reactions and performances.

Islamophobia plagues much of the Western world today, defining people’s reactions and performances. Sure, we have seen terrorist acts, committed by only a small number of people who were, among many other things, self-professed Muslims. But acts of verbal discrimination, hate crimes, and sporadic mosque and Quran burnings are on the rise worldwide, and it seems that we are using the actions of the few to justify targeting a whole population. It is the excuse we use to justify our inherent need to be afraid of something, or someone, and I can’t help but wonder, just what are we so afraid of? Why is that we need to fear them so much?

It all comes down personal insecurities. We fear that which we call ‘different’, because in the end, he is so similar to us. We are afraid of him, because we have a potential to be him. Psychological readings, such as Vamike D. Volkan’s, have described this process as one that is present in our minds even from early stages of development, for example, when a child faults his mishaps on ‘suitable targets of externalization’. A broken vase is blamed on a pet or doll, because of the latters’ inability to retaliate and defend itself. But if this continues to be what defines us at this late stage in our lives, I’d say we’re having an identity crisis.

It is sad that humanity’s very existence has always hung by a thread on this pseudo necessity for division and separation. That definition of oneself depends so heavily on the need to not be, rather than be; to say ‘I am not’, rather than ‘I am’.

We have been led to believe that there can be no beautiful without ugly, no good without evil, no me without you. But I am much more than what I am not. My existence does not depend on yours, and neither does yours on mine. We might help define each other, but without you, I’d exist nonetheless. Instead of just recognizing our differences and learning to co-exist, we are caught in a perpetual struggle to prove black better than white, me better than you.

We might help define each other, but without you, I’d exist nonetheless.

When I see myself, in my reflection, I can see traces of you and others, who have helped make me into who I am today. But at the end of the day, I am the one standing at the other side of the mirror, looking back at myself. That’s who I have to face my inner demons. There is no enemy-other; only me.


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