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The flawed logic of either/or – Creating spaces for intervention
black/white, straight/gay, women/men, left/right, us/them, American/Un-American, nativist/humanist, legal/illegal, liberal/conservative anti-corporate/anti-labor, capitalism/communist, butch/femme, inside/outside, developed/undeveloped, top/bottom, public/private…
Our world is tainted in simplistic, dualistic undertones since we are young and we grow up conditioned to think in this manner. It starts from the household where pink is for girls and blue is for boys going all the way to the President where you are either with him or against him and there is no middle ground, no space to negotiate and intervene.
This blog is a reflection of my personal and political philosophy. I am not concerned with whether anyone subscribes to it or not; for me, it is about building a space without the pervasive duality and dichotomy of everyday discourses. And if that space is only occupied by the presence of few, that is fine with me as well. The point is to make ruptures and disruptions in these hegemonic continuous, cyclical modes of thinking.
The intellectual work that tested my limits was Saba Mahmood’s Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject.
Saba Mahmood rejects secular liberal feminist theory and practices that cast religion (in this case, Islam), as opposed to the interests of women. Through her particular field study of the grassroots women’s piety movements in the mosques of Cairo between 1995 and 1997, Mahmood aims to provide a stark contrast to the often secular liberal depictions of women’s movements. In doing so, she questions the age-old ethnocentric notions of secular liberal feminism that requires feminism and women’s movements to be framed as opposed to structures of patriarchy and power i.e. religion and going a step further, the nation-state project. Mahmood does away with these notions of ethical norms, agency and freedom, thereby posing conceptual problems for secular feminists who would otherwise continue to push for the liberation of women from Islam and actual structures of power in order to achieve their warped-up notions of liberal emancipation of women.
I wrestled for days with this book. Essentially Mahmood was saying that feminism and being political need not denote the emancipation of women from patriarchal structures like religion and the nation-state. Women do not have to completely reject structures of power to actually carve a space and voice for themselves, and thereby work towards transforming it as the women in the piety movement carved spaces for themselves within a traditionally male sphere. I finally realized that juxtaposing Mahmood’s text with secular liberal feminism need not mean that I had to choose or submit to one. I did not and neither do you. Sometimes the questions are more enlightening than the answers to them.
So when I read comments like “how can you be anti-corporate and still pro-exploitation of cheap labor from the Third World?” it is immediately marked as spam. Maybe I should take the time to respond, to expose conditioned minds to different ways of thinking about issues, to bury the either/or in an intellectual manner. Then again, the title of the blog should be clue enough — I do not do either/or and will not submit to that discourse.
You do not need to choose between being pro-amnesty and pro-American. You need not choose between an “illegal alien” and a U.S. citizen. And you definitely do not have to be pro-migrant or anti-migrant. Focus on the becoming, not the being.
When I speak about bridges, I am referring to a metaphor for fluidity, change, channeling, multiple levels of positioning that culminate into a meeting point. I am not speak of ONE compromise or middle point–I am comfortable with no resolutions. Call it folly or postmodern emancipation. I am comfortable in-limbo; after all, that is my conditioning, no?
I realize I am flawed — There are certain categories I hold dear that I did not choose for myself. At times my patience is tested and I do slip up with the anti-_______. And I will not offer love or compassion to those who hate me because of some category, label, classification, documentation, physical feature, or preference. No, I am not a Gandhi or MLK and do not wish to go down that path. It is a tit for tat when it comes to me. But I will agree to disagree heartedly.