So I’m reading Frantz Fanon for my philosophy class, and one of his ways of resisting colonialism /colonization is/was resisting assimilation. This made me think about, “Call Me American,” and Abdi’s quest of assimilation and how many Somalis were calling him a sellout, and other choice words which will not be repeated here.
Resisting assimilation during colonial times obviously has its purpose, but even then assimilation could also have an important purpose: survival. Think about natural selection.
In fact, Darwin said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. … but rather, that which is most adaptable to change.”
This does not only apply to physical traits, and surviving the elements, but also to social situations.
Somali waxay ku maah maahdaa,” Haddaad tagto meel lagu il la’yahay ishaa layska ridaa.” (If you go somewhere where people only have one eye, you should take out one of your eyes.) Very gruesome proverb lol…But the idea is assimilation can be good.
It also makes me think of one of the narratives surrounding the hijab discourse ; that the point of the hijab is that you don’t stand out, and where hijab is not the norm, one would obviously stand out, and that would defeat its purpose. (There are various ideas/narratives about the hijab, and its an endless discussion, but this one related to assimilation, and that’s why I used it). Conversely, if you are somewhere (ehem… when I find myself in Somalia some day soon) where the majority of women wear it, then one would stand out if they didn’t. Again, assimilation.
Now, here in the West we, immigrants from Muslim majority countries, speak about being brave against tyranny and standing your ground and not changing in the face of oppression. Aasiya bint Muzahim, who is often used as an example to Muslim women, stood strong against her husband’s tyranny by secretly praying to her God, and practicing her faith. She was eventually killed by her husband. She’s lauded as a martyr for her faith.
However, if one was to be back in their homeland and stood fiercely against the oppression there, whether its the patriarchy or religion, one would be chastised for following gaal (infidel) ways, and be considered a disgrace to her family’s honor. Something terrible would most likely happen to her, more likely than not death, but no one would call her a martyr until much later when society changes and people (generations after) realize how much she sacrificed for what she believed in. Like Aasiya.
In both these examples, they were lauded for their actions much later. They probably had a better chance of survival if they played by the rules made up by the dominant group in the society they lived in.
But having the strength to stay true to oneself ( to thine own self be true) is an admirable trait, now and when we look back at history. Well, if you were on the right side of history, that is. Who admires Nazis?
But for the most part, we do admire people who stay true to themselves. This mantra is also used by ethnic people to hold on to the cultures and traditions of their forefathers. Here assimilation comes across as an affront, a personal betrayal to your ancestors.
In the practical sense, however, I’m always thinking in terms of progress, and I don’t believe its reasonable to hold on to all aspects of our ancestors’ lives. In fact, in our own short lifespan, we know that we’ve wasted ten years if we remain the same person we were at 20 when we are 30. Progress is a consistent theme in human history.
I can’t help but wonder then, how can this apply to our own individual characteristics, our philosophies on living, and even to our belief systems?
How can we make progress there? These are the kind of things I think about. Defining morality, for example, is one such thing that comes up often in my own line of thinking. If one doesn’t go to church or bow down five times a day towards Mecca, are they debased and immoral?
Such simplistic ways of explaining morality make no sense to any thinking being.
For example in Abdi’s book, his white friends who were practicing Buddhism helped him, a black Muslim man, out of sheer humanity. Are those people immoral? Are they going to hell for simply not worshiping Allah? Where is the space in religion for people whose actions define their goodness, although they have not uttered words of tawheed?
How our ancestors would’ve dealt with this question is not the same way we can deal with it today simply because our lived experiences are different than our forefathers and mothers.
In some ways, we are a product of our environment.
Is there any progress in faith where one can not only acknowledge human beings of different faiths but also challenge their own faith to be inclusive and understanding?