The language of the “guts” and racism

Tariq Ramadan

Posted Dec 24, 2009      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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The language of the “guts” and racism

by Tariq Ramadan

Along the way, there will be joys, happiness, tears, pain and many doubts about the meaning of life, signs, absences and death. When we begin to look around us, to observe individuals and societies, and to study philosophies and religions, we realize that our loneliness is shared. Our solitude is plural, and our singularity is the similarity between us. And yet, from the earliest times down to our own day, there have always been many ways and an infinite number of paths through our cities, streets and neighborhood: the distinguishing feature of this one humanity is its diversity and differences. Ultimately, we have no choice.

And yet, is this intellectual disposition all it takes to make us accept the real and its diversity? Is observing and knowing that our quests and hopes are the same all it takes for us to come to terms with our differences, actually recognize our similarities and manage our differences in a positive way? Sitting at a desk, at a café, over a meal, in our classrooms, our lounges, our living rooms, our lecture halls or conference centres … all that is possible has been said over and over again with all the conviction and wisdom of our intellects and our humanities. In theory, or when our day to day life or wealth exposes us to the other’s difference to only a very marginal extent, the magnanimity of human beings is certainly welcome, but it tells us nothing about life and does nothing to resolve the difficulties of diversity. When our ways of life trap us into a closed world of friends who look, look, or believe like us, elaborating great and beautiful philosophies of tolerance and pluralism is a highly virtual petition of generosity, an extremely subtle way of avoiding the need to be open-minded. Those are but good intentions that amounts to making a show of being anti-racist in intellectual terms, even though we come across no –or almost no—Blacks, Arabs or Asians (or White, or others, if you are Black, Arab or Asian) in our day to day lives. Being opposed to anti-Semitism or Islamophobia whilst living, deliberately or otherwise, at a respectable distance from Jews and Muslims is certainly an honourable intellectual stance, but basically it tells us nothing about the real personal attitudes of the human being who theorizes in that way. Ghettoes have their own characteristics and consequences: be they physical, social, intellectual or mental, those who live in them always nurture projections of themselves or the world around them that are more imaginary than true. In the ghettoes of the intellect and idealistic theories, there are a lot of intolerant and racist people who do not realize that they are. There are quite a few indeed.

Observing the horizon and apprehending, consciously and intellectually, the necessary diversity of human beings, and of ways and paths, is merely the beginning of the challenge. It is not enough; it never is. Facing up to and handling diversity requires us to abandon our high-minded theoretical and idealistic notions and to plunge into real life; it requires us to free ourselves from the ghetto of our noble, secure mind in order to enter the world of raw, tenacious, and sometimes mad and dangerous emotions. It requires us to move from the controlled order of the mind to the chaotic tensions and disorders of the heart and entrails –of ‘the guts’, to use an ordinary but a far more expressive phrase. Living with and meeting the other, with his differences in terms of skin-colour, dress, beliefs, customs, habits, psychology and intellectual logic, refers us back to ourselves, to our inner horizons and to our subjectivity. Our minds do not control everything: our certainties and habits may be merely unsettled, but our emotions too react and express themselves. Away from our lounges and lecture halls, they can easily take possession of us. The other, all ‘the others’ and all their visible and/or supposed differences, reveal both the light and the dark dimensions of our humanity. When ‘the others’ seem to be confident and serene when we ourselves are unsure of our truths; when their visibility disturbs our living space and their presence upsets our habits; when whey seem to steal the few jobs available; when their prosperity reminds us of our difficulties or even poverty .. then they stir up within us emotions that are to human beings what the survival instinct is to animals. The reaction is almost uncontrollable: all our fine words become meaningless, and we are back to our raw humanity. We have to come to terms with emotions, dispositions of the heart and our ‘gut’ reactions that colonize our minds with fear, suspicion, rejection and prejudices. Purely intellectual racism is a minority, and often, marginal phenomenon. The rejection –conscious or otherwise—of the other always feeds on a mixture of doubts, fear, insecurity and habits that have been upset, combined with real or fantasized rivalry for wealth, numbers or strength: the day to day problems of immigration, unemployment, poverty, of the feeling of being dispossessed, invaded and so on. We are indeed at the heart of humanity and of life: we may well despise and denounce the dogmatists and the racists in our cosy spaces but it is most unfair not to take full account of the often highly instinctive fears and doubts which, in concrete situations, produce the worst rejections of the other. This is not a matter of justifying or minimizing racism, intolerance and xenophobia, but rather a matter of understanding where they come from, how they develop and how, finally, they can be fuelled and instrumentalized. The strength of the populist discourses that reject the other lies precisely in their ability to arouse and touch upon raw emotions, fears and ‘the guts’, and to provide them with simplistic reasons and explanations. Idealistic theoretical discourses must reconcile themselves to life and must not scorn the realist dimensions of the human in any sense.

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