Sahar Ghumkhor sees the world through the distorted post-colonial lense of a Glass Darkly.

 “I am talking of millions of men (women and children) who have been skilfully injected with fear, inferiority complexes, trepidation, servility, despair and abasement(Cesaire, 1986)

Sahar Ghumkhor (Ghumkhor, 2019) claims that New Zealanders (the whole 4.5 million or so of us) hold a “narcissistic self-view” of the world, that we are inherently a racist country due to our colonial past, we reject shame and responsibility, are a dishonest people, we consider ‘the other” {whatever she means in invoking the late Edward’s Said’s argument on Western Conceptions of the Orient) as barbarians. In other words, we view all other races as savage, uncivilized, barbaric, primitive, heathen, wild, brutish, Neanderthal, and uncivilized.

Moreover, she attacks the country as a place “which has systematically portrayed Muslims as inherently violent and “backward”, and Islam as an ideology justifying violence and the subjugation of women” (Ghumkhor, 2019). She claims that Muslims in New Zealand have been depoliticized and that through this wilful political act the “younger generations have internalized Islamophobia stereotypes and engaged in self-surveillance…” (Ghumkhor, 2019)

Ghumkhor further claims that the killer responsible for the 15th March attacks is “not an aberration, he’s not an exception’ he is an integral part of the collective “we” in New Zealand, Australia and the West-just like the followers of Trumpism are part and parcel of modern-day America” (Ghumkhor, 2019). Not to see the world through her eyes, Ghumkhor argues is to live a life of denial and “a cowardly flight into white liberal sanctuary of the “third way” from the discomfort of reality” (Ghumkhor, 2019). Islamophobia, Ghumkhor claims is “an everyday practice and the political reality of New Zealand” (Ghumkhor, 2019).

It is important to deconstruct the opinions and analysis of Ghumkhor, through the dark lenses of post-colonial and psychoanalytical literary theory, which she uses to launch her unprecedented attack on our country, and people who are reeling in shock and mourning, following the horrific events of March 15th, 2019.

Ghumkhor opinion and analysis are framed within several broad and generalised questions:

  1. How did the event of March 15th 2019 symbolize either explicitly or allegorically New Zealand’s history as a former colonial power and a post-colonial power of oppression?
  2. What did the event and its aftermath (including the way the New Zealand Prime Minister, her government and the men, women and children of New Zealand, who represent 160 different cultures and have over 200 different languages, reveal about its post-colonial identities, its personal and cultural identities, and its double consciousness in terms of individual vs. collective and country?
  3. To what extent have New Zealanders, and the New Zealand Prime Minster expressed their secret unconscious desires and anxieties on culture and religious racism, and is their mourning a manifestation of their own guilt and neuroses?

New Zealand has acknowledged and continues to acknowledge its colonial past, and how this affected both the original indigenous peoples of New Zealand, and the immigrants and refugees who’ve arrived in the country since the late 18th century. However, this acknowledgment isn’t framed within the revisionist histories of Ghumkhor as the post-colonial critic. They go much deeper, and are as Homi Bhabha describes when writing about Frantz Fanon:

Fanon is the purveyor of the transgressive and transitional truth. He may yearn for the total transformation of Man* and Society, but he speaks most effectively from the uncertain interstices of historical change: from the area of imbalance between race and sexuality; out of an unresolved contradiction between culture and class; from deep within struggle of psychic representation and social reality” (Bhabha, 1986)

Jacinda Ardern, along with all of her compatriots are struggling with the deep psychic reality of what occurred on March 15th, 2019, and how this social reality has been reflected in our society in the present and the past. Unfortunately, Ghumkhor has been too quick to jump to judgment here, and portray herself as the victim of a racist and Islamophobic society, because she grew up in New Zealand, and perceived people as patronizing because she “must be glad to be living in New Zealand” (Ghumkhor, 2019). In understanding the deep struggle within the psychic reality of our country, she has failed to articulate in her opinion piece, the authentic and genuine grief felt across New Zealand by children in particular, and women and men from across the class, religious and cultural divide. She has indulged in what many post-colonial critics do; impose a flawed and dark theory onto events in the present in an attempt to offer an alternative historical narrative and rewrite history. It is a shameful and selfish attempt at academic self-aggrandizement.

Her claim that New Zealand as a Nation holds a “narcissistic-self view of the world” (Ghumkhor, 2019) has no substance. It is at the very worst psycho-babble. She demonstrates no understanding of the term if she is referring to our national grief and mourning in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on Friday 15th March, 2019. Far from being a nation that indulged in self-centeredness arising from a failure to distinguish ourselves from others; New Zealand society was genuinely thrown into a national psychic trauma. It brought strangers together, hugging, sharing tears of grief, sharing stories, paying tribute to the families, and lost loved ones, and symbolized their unity of purpose in demonstrating to the country, and the world, such a violent act wouldn’t divide us or define our national and individual identities.

In attacking our national and individual psychological health (with no evidence), and naming the attacker, against the wishes of our Prime Minister and general population, Ghumkhor has shown contempt and disrespect to the children, women, men and the Government of New Zealand. She is guilty of fueling the same kinds of divisive rhetoric she accuses New Zealand and the West of using against Muslims and other peoples of different races and religions.

Her allegation that we are a Nation of hypocrites is a perfidious claim to make against over 4.5 million people. There have only ever been a few despots in the political annals of human history to target a whole Nation and population with such a claim. It is an untruthful and fictitious accusation to make.

Yet, it is her allegation that the Rt. Honorable, Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand is basically a dishonest person which requires closer scrutiny and analysis. Ghumkhor pads this allegation around the argument that the global and local perception of New Zealand and New Zealanders is wrong. She argues that the perception of us having a welcoming nature, open to diversity and are a “provincial shire with a small tight knit community” (Ghumkhor, 2019) is false. She claims that it is only in the aftermath of the massacre that New Zealand has become inclusive of its Muslim population as “we” and that such a facile claim made only last week “only emphasized them as the “other” (Ghumkhor, 2019).

Edward Said argued that through the process of Othering, the colonizing powers treated the colonized as ‘not fully human’, and as a result, dehumanized the indigenous peoples of colonized countries (Said, 1978). Ghumkhor imposes this questionable theory onto Ardern, and argues that the Prime Minster codified herself as the true compassionate, humane person, and the New Zealand Muslim community as other than human. The assertion in itself is paradoxical, because in making the claim, Ghumkhor privileges herself above her erroneous understanding of Said’s definition of the “other”. She portrays herself both as a victim of New Zealand racism, and an academic saviour, whose mission is to ‘set the record straight and tell the truth”. The problem is her version of the truth is sullied with untruths, and she articulates the same kind of misinformation, convoluted arguments, and lies with which she accuses those who remain politically loyal to the master of misinformation and lies, The President of the United States, Donald. J. Trump.

She writes:

Although Islam has a century-long presence in the country, Muslims continue to be portrayed and treated as immigrant and refugees – ie inherently “foreign”. They are either “welcomed” or told to “go back” to where they came from – with both sentiments demonstrating that they are not really seen by the majority as an integral part of New Zealand’s society” (Ghumkhor, 2019)

This claim seems to have been rejected fully by the first-hand verbal accounts of members of the New Zealand Muslim community, and their experience as citizens of the country. Certainly, the Muslims I know and have met in New Zealand, have not conveyed a feeling of being foreign or of feeling caught up in a state of either “being welcomed or told to go back where they came from”. Moreover, no Muslims community leaders have supported her claim prior to and subsequent to the Friday March15th massacre.

What is considerably conceited in the Ghumkhor opinion piece is her cut and paste of various global events, and the selective inclusion of comments made by Foreign Minister Winston Peters pursuant to the London Bridge attacks in 2017. The perpetrator of the Friday March 15th attacks in Christchurch is an aberration and not the norm. It is not an act by which anyone in New Zealand should be defined. Similarly, the terrorist’s attacks across Europe, United States, Canada and Australia are aberrations and do not define the Muslin populations of these countries. And while condemnation of the perpetrators has been swift, at the same time leaders have assured their populations that those who carry out such attacks do not represent the Islamic faith or the values and ideals of the world’s Muslim population. This is an important fact left out of the article. In citing various right-wing politicians and conservative politicians for the vitriol and distorted world view on Islam as a faith and cultural practice, Ghumkhor chooses to accuse the whole western population of being guilty of the same sin, and in doing so commits her own sin of presumption.

Ghumkhor said she grew up in New Zealand. To attack the country and its executive branch of government, and the Prime Minster at this time suggests an over identification with the global narrative on right wing ideologies, and religious and cultural racism. Perhaps it also suggests there are unresolved issues surrounding her personal life, and her own understanding of Afghanistan. While it may be the case that media reports out of Afghanistan offer a grim portrayal of life in the country-it isn’t the case that 4.5 million plus New Zealanders see “Afghanistan…as the land of “burqas, intolerance and fundamentalist violence” (Ghumkhor, 2019). Most people would have an informed understanding of the geo-politics of the region, and of the cultural nuances in Afghanistan at the very least as their starting point.

The overall tone and themes in her opinion piece are of anger, and passive hostility towards New Zealand, and its people, who’ve suffered one of the greatest national and individual personal traumas in their history. A more conciliatory tone and a deeper understanding of the human psyche would have taken the scathing edge off her views and offered a more objective argument.

Grief, and the process of grieving is complex. The emotional logic of grief is only partly understood, and across cultures death is associated with customs and rituals created to help the trauma of loss. In the West guilt is often an emotional derivative of loss; whether with a close loved one or the loss of large numbers of people in a community, such as the trauma and loss experienced by a whole community and country in Christchurch on March 15th, 2019.

As a New Zealand national living and working in Pakistan, I am fully aware and cognizant of the reaction and response here to the massacre of the Muslim faithful at their mosques during Friday prayers. The whole country of Pakistan is in mourning. Yet; I have only received and heard messages of condolences and words of love and support around New Zealand’s response to this horror. Yet it concerns me that Ghumkhor has negated this response, and found a following among those who find it difficult to understand the nature of reality from the distortion of their own inherent bias across the religious and cultural divide.

In New Zealand  this tragedy will raise questions and elicit a Nation’s soul searching around cultural and social integration, and identity, and ask if more could have been done to ensure the safety of our Islamic communities.  However, our Nation as a whole, the Prime Minster, and the Islamic community cannot be blamed for the actions of a killer who took advantage of the safety and sanctuary of our overall peaceful and diverse multi-cultural Nation, even though we co-exist with him.

Fanon argues that:

Man is not a merely a possibility of recapture or negation. It is true that consciousness is a process of transcendence, we have to see too that this transcendence is haunted by the problems of love and understanding. Man is a yes that vibrates to cosmic harmonies uprooted, pursued, baffled and doomed to watch the dissolution of the truths that he has worked out for himself, one after another, he has to give up projecting onto the world an antinomy that coexists with him” (Fanon, 1986)

Ideologies, whether religious, secular, political or cultural, pit the collective against the individual. A timely awareness for publication by Al Jazeera, along with a deeper more insightful analysis and understanding of the human psyche from Ghumkhor, would have enabled everyone to better understand this point within the context of the tragic events of March 15th, 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand. Moreover, it would have certainly helped each New Zealander, regardless of their cultural or religious identity to work through their grief process before being told they are hypocrites.

The kinds of deep divisions around culture, religion, ethnicities, migration and intellectual discourse which we haven’t seen since the 1930s leading up to World War Two, have only been further highlighted and exacerbated through Ghumkhor’s largely misinformed and inflammatory article, published through the Al Jazeera media network.

Bibliography:

Bhabha, H. [. (1986). Black Skin White Masks. London: Pluto Press.

Cesaire, A. (1986). Discours sur lke Colonialsime cited in Fanon, F. Black Skins White Masks. London: Pluto Press.

Fanon, F. (1986). Black Skins White Masks. London: Pluto Press.

Ghumkhor, S. (2019, March 20). Opinion: New Zealand Attack: The hypocrisy of New Zealand’s ‘this is not us’ claim. Retrieved from Al Jazeera .com:

https://web.archive.org/web/20190320081033/https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/hypocrisy-zealand-claim-190319104526942.html?fbclid=IwAR0Jb-tsZncKNLit3WDLw-hpxgw2OU-3mWm1PImMPvAODRd3M1B-oa14KR0

Said, E. (1978). Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient. Haryana: Penguin Random House.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are many paths to God as there are Stars in the Universe: In Memory of the Sufi Mystical Qawwal Musician Amjad Sabri

multifaithThe ineffability of the mystical state isn’t known to many. Across all the major and minor religions we can find reference to a ‘consciousness of the Oneness of everything’; it’s an innate knowing that one is an integral part of existence, beyond just knowing through the external self-it’s an extraordinary experience but they seldom last for long unless one chooses to practice along the path and follow a particular way of life to enter the state again, again and again. It requires self-discipline, dedication and commitment.

In the West we have the history of the Christian Mystics-long lost in the 21st century- today found mainly in the cloistered corners of the lives of contemplative monks and nuns-very few left now. Mysticism’s secular counterpart is sometimes found in the works of poets like Wordsworth:

A motion and a spirit, that impels

All thinking, all objects all thoughts,

And rolls through all things

Or in the lines of Shelley:

That light whose smile kindles the Universe

That Beauty in which all things work and move

In the East among other religions is the deep insight and beauty of the Islamic Sufi mystics, poets and musicians. Amjad Sabri’s soul based mystical renditions of Qawwal crossed sectarian religious lines in Pakistan-he was much loved by the population. His assassination in Karachi on Wednesday is another deep wound in the psyche of this culturally rich and diverse nation.

I must utter what comes to my lips by Bulleh Shah

Speaking the truth creates chaos.

Telling a lie saves one scarce.

I am afraid of both these.

Afraid I am both here and there.

I must utter what comes to my lips.

He who has this secret known.

He must peep into his own

Lives He in the shrine of peace

Where there are no ups and downs

I must utter what comes to my lips.

It is indeed a slippery path.

I take precautions in the dark

Look inside and see for yourself

Why this wild search afar?

I must utter what comes to my lips.

It is a matter of good form

A norm to which we all conform

It’s God in every soul you see

If he is in me why not in you?

I must utter what comes to my lips.

The master is not far from me

Without him there none could be

That explains the suffering and pain

But mine is not the eye to see

I must say what comes to my lips.

Rest In Peace Amjad Sabri

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dppCsWFTsc