Friday, January 4, 2008
The left does have a part to play in emancipation, but it needs a large dose of historical consciousness and cultural humility
By Soumaya Ghannoushi
".......This left is humane, heeds the cries of the downtrodden, but does not appoint itself as their guardian or benefactor. It does not assume moral superiority, does not see the oppressed as a mass of passivity awaiting its help, does not wish to fill her role, speak on her behalf, or dictate to her how she should be liberated.
It is not culturally arrogant but humble, puts itself at the service of the oppressed, and allows them to define their own priorities and agendas and chart their own paths to liberation. Its solidarity is not conditional on a list of requirements - like those imposed by the World Bank on poorer nations in need of assistance. It does not expect the Muslim woman to model herself after its image, nor does it expect to see its reflection in her face.
A few years ago, I had an interesting and rather irritating encounter with a group of socialist women picketing in front of my university against veiling (I was later to make friends with some of these when we worked together in the anti-war movement). Without consulting me, they had decided I was a victim, without my authorisation they appointed themselves my liberators. When I argued with these white middle-aged women, one of them shouted "If I were you I'd tear off that scarf of yours and be free". Her comrades cheered.
I was later to meet the same condescending attitude of cultural smugness and euro-centrism from many leftists - albeit expressed more quietly and less explicitly. They seemed to have absorbed their dominant culture's certainties and prejudices unquestioningly. I was and continue to feel intrigued at this paradox of a left so critical of what it sees as economic and political imperialism yet blissfully oblivious, and often party to imperialism's cultural side. In the name of universality, progress, and liberation it wants to impose its own parochial norms and experiences as an absolute, complete and ideal model for others to emulate......"