We need to distinguish between two contrasting narratives of Culture Talk. One thinks of premodern peoples as those who are not yet modern, who are either lagging behind or have yet to embark on the road to modernity. The other depicts the premodern as also the antimodern. Whereas the former conception encourages relations based on philanthropy, the latter notion is productive of fear and preemptive policy or military action. The difference is clear if we contrast earlier depiction of Africans with contemporary talk about Muslims. During the Cold War, Africans were stigmatized as the prime example of peoples not capable of modernity. With the end of the Cold War, Islam and the Middle East have displaced Africa as the hard premodern core in a rapidly globalizing world. The difference in the contemporary perception of black Africa and Middle Eastern Islam is this: whereas Africa is seen as incapable of modernity, hard-core Islam is seen as not only incapable of but also resistant to modernity. Whereas Africans are said to victimize themselves, hard-core Musims are said to be prone to taking others to the world beyond. There is an interesting parallel between the pre-9/11 debate on terrorism in Africa and the post-9/11 debate on global terrorism. As in the current global debate, African discussions, too, looked mainly or exclusively for internal explanations for the spread of terror. Premodern peoples are said to have no creative ability and antimodern fundamentalists are said to have a profound ability to be destructive. The destruction is taken as proof that they have no appreciation for human life, including their own. This is surely why Culture Talk has become the stuff of front-page news stories. Culture is now said to be a matter of life and death. This kind of thinking is deeply reminiscent of tracts from the history of modern colonization. This history stigmatizes those shut out of modernity as antimodern because they resist being shut out. It assumes that people’s public behaviour, particularly their political behaviour, can be read from their habits and customs, whether religious or traditional.
Culture Talk from Mahmood Mamdani’s ‘Good Muslim, Bad Muslim’
Correct. False, exaggerated talk of a dichotomy works in favor of hegemonic military structure(s). Mamdani is worth reading.
Love this book!