- View From Within
- Against Erasure
By Adem Carroll
Could our identity be erased? Using software tools apparently stolen from the US National Security Agency, the massive hacking attack currently underway around the world is a wake-up call for all of us. Our global “net” is more fragile than we imagine. Would you or I pay “ransomware” payment for the return of files? What if all family photos were uploaded and then lost forever? Memories gone?
The social impact of losing personal information as well as financial records might be widespread depression and confusion, even a sort of collective Alzheimer’s. But in fact, we are always forgetting the past, as our brains fill up with data and trivial information. Memories are buried.
When memories can be re-discovered there is hope for recovery and return—not only to what was, but to a sense of wholeness and even a deeper social justice. Communities that have suffered attempted erasure—the Jews of Europe come to mind—make great efforts to ensure survival when they can. Their former persecutors also sometimes find a path to truth and reconciliation, though the healing process has varied greatly in Germany, Rwanda, Argentina, Cambodia, Indonesia, as well as the United States.
The deadly“disappearance” of government critics, intellectuals and free-thinkers also takes place in some “Muslim” nations when governments are guided by rigid ideology or exclusionary power relations. Activists and governments alike urge unity with slogans like ‘United We Stand, Divided We Fall” but falling may last generations and whole societies may imagine they are rising when in fact they are in moral free fall. Do material improvements mask the other losses, not only of historical memories but our basic humanity?
Besides arresting tens of thousands of Turks, The Erdogan Government has also fired over 150,000 teachers, law enforcement professionals and civil servants that the government believes may possibly be somehow linked to the 2016 Coup attempt or who oppose its policies in some way. This is a form of political and social erasure. These people become non-persons unable to continue careers or get any jobs at all. What kinds of suffering is this for a government to impose so widely on its own people? Indeed, one may recall the sinister Gulag Archipelago; for over a hundred years the Czarist and then the Soviet authorities exiled critics to hard labor and an early death.
One also thinks of the Crimean Tatars, a Muslim minority that Stalin exiled far from their homeland for over a generation, now again facing existential uncertainty in Putin’s annexed lands. One remembers the Rohingya, stateless in Burma, and confined to refugee camps, fields and forests throughout Southeast Asia. The Yezidis. The Palestinians. The list is long… and growing to include all those “illegal” immigrant men and women working in the shadows to survive.
The “global order” is cruel and in most cases Muslim nations are no more compassionate than others. For example, what do Rohingya families face now from their fellow Muslims in Bangladesh? Though the Bangladesh Government has been unable to prevent waves of refugees, it refuses to recognize more than a tiny percentage as refugees, refuses access to healthcare and emergency food, even when these resources are provided free by international donors; and seeks to relocate many Rohingya to a far-away island named Thengar Char, a regularly flooded mud plain without trees or food or infrastructure. We humans really know how to create hell on earth.
As we prepare for Ramadan, we Muslims might do well to remember those made invisible by politics and by poverty. It is difficult to turn people’s lives around when there are so many obstacles including trauma and mental health impact. But as people of faith we are called to make the effort. We are called to actually see the homeless in front of us, to look them in the eye-- even when we fear their dirty hands and their despair. Our money is needed to flow towards their care, but this does not take the place of human contact, respect, inclusion and at least a moment of visibility in human society.
Who else is not at the table? We cannot only consider the needs of fellow Muslims, but there are many American Muslims whom we do not see, not only because the community is fragmented but because they may feel alienated from mosque culture. Who are we to judge? Is it OK that a majority of Muslims are becoming invisible to the community? We are left with media and social media networks offering the illusion of community without the cohesion of reality.
Cohesion in Trump-era America-- why not make this a goal?No one wants to feel under at risk of invisibility or erasure, and even the White Supremacists rallying with torches in Charlottesville this week cried out, “We will not be replaced!” Instead of engaging in fear and blame we can build bridges among ethnic communities, religions and generations—as well as among ourselves. Surely we are called to this struggle as Muslims and as human beings.
Haters may call for people to go back from where they came from. But the tides flow in and out and eventually each of us will eventually face that moment of Return. For now, we are all here together. And if this imagined community of faith and fellowship is to become real, you and I must see each other without intervening judgement, without the distraction of our likes and dislikes that control and censor our conversations.Let’s not build prisons in our mind or in the world. Freedom begins with Love.