Neo-Something: And It Ain't So Good
“My earliest childhood memories are of helpless muteness and the suffering it caused me. I remember being four years old on a lovely sunshiny day, standing outside in our yard. Two little boys came by and spoke to me. I understood what they said. They wanted to be friends. I stood and watched them, hoping they could see in my eyes how much I wanted to be friends too. But when I did not answer them out loud they walked on.”
Emery goes on to mention her visit to a University of Washington clinic, followed by a diagnosis, and a regimen of speech therapy that fixed the matter. Although she doesn’t say it explicitly, I don’t think those little boys came back. She lost that shot at friendship. That’s the disaster of poor-timing. When two towers collapsed in September 2001 and the post-trauma decisions and dramas ensued, it became apparent that an opportunity was lost, maybe irreversibly. The cultural paralysis of a burgeoning Muslim community beforehand had been the result of complicated meshes of psychology and forged paradigms introduced by the energy and minds tutored at the knees of post-colonialization vehemence in the Muslim east. But that analysis was rendered no longer relevant. Things quickly became political—poison to authentic art. Whatever Muslim Americans had to say was now either part of a continual apology and genuflection or forced effrontery against Islam and the concept of "tradition" and thus insure the interest of publishers. Or they were Pollyanna “introductions” to the faith that pined to prove the humanity of Muslims. But there is something else, perhaps more difficult to overcome, neo-puritanical angst, the steroid-pumped Muslim reaction: a tough line that is not scaleable, not attached to a valid sacred paradigm, nor able to exist beyond pixels or any mental holodeck. (Please consult your Star Trek Federation Manual.)
The forgettable presence of Jerry Springer short stories notwithstanding, the literary voice that is uniquely Muslim American is slow to rise. The underpinnings are not complicated. Religion cannot survive as an abstraction. As soon as it alights itself someplace, there is a pressure, almost sacred, to produce along with it a culture. Throughout the Muslim world, we see this as clearly as the sky: from the squared towers of Muslim Spain, the domes of Istanbul, the pointed minarets of Cairo, the majestic symmetry of monuments of Muslim India, and the pagoda roofs of Beijing mosques. (And this only speaks of architecture.) Oppression never destroys a religion, Seyyed Hossein Nasr once said. It is “indifference” that threatens it the most. A religious presence without a culture is indifference, a severe and impossible understanding of the relationship between religion and culture—between the heaven and the earth, the hidden and the manifest.
This neo-puritanical insecurity will certainly attract many and can only delay or kill what is desperately needed. (More to come, God willing.)