Brexit Wexit: Two Giants of The West are Burning and No One is at the Wheel

“Soon it may be a consensus. Britain could be thrust into talks under a lame-duck leader with no clear notion of what Brexit should look like or mandate to negotiate. All against a background of intensifying economic turmoil and increasingly ugly divides on Britain’s streets. The country is sailing into a storm. And no one is at the wheel.”  This quote from The Economist (June 26, 2016) puts me in mind of the upcoming American election and the unthinkable possibilities in this part of the world that have now become a reality– to wit, the rise of Donald Trump to the Republican candidacy:  basically another no one at the wheel situation.   The similarities between a rudderless Great Britain and the possibility of an America led by a raving lunatic are too striking to ignore.  Something is happening here; we are at a juncture of history  unprecedented in the trajectory of what I shall call Western colonial-and-post/neo-colonialism.  Donald Trump and his ilk are right about one thing:  the glory days of America and the British-led West are coming to a close.   Like Trump and Brexit supporters, we can try to deny the obvious; we can try to will back those “glory” days which, if you happen to ask people of Aboriginal, Asian, or African extraction, were really not all that glorious.  In fact, they were a nadir in terms of our histories– brutal and violent for a great many of us who were on the receiving end of the savage and shameful shadow side of Western “democracy.”  Those shadows are emerging fast now.  Britain and America will have to reckon with them.  So will the rest of us, whether we like it or not, simply because of the size of these behemoths in the global arena and the global imagination.

In the meantime, many countries of Asia, and many African-descended, and Aboriginal peoples all over the world are approaching a new period of possibility and agency in terms of global markets and/or self-mobilization.   Witness the Black Lives Matter movement across North America.  Or the Idle No More Movement and initiatives on the part of Canada’s Liberal government in conjunction with Aboriginal peoples across Canada to finally begin to honor the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.    Or the unsteady but inexorable rise of markets across East and South Asia.  I don’t speak in terms of any kind of utopian futures here– just in terms of what facts seem to be emerging, as the West burns and some of its most prominent leaders fiddle.   We might take interest in some of the new directions we see emerging.  This isn’t the end of the world– an America potentially led by a lunatic, and a Britain unmoored and alone in a sea of uncertainty.  It’s just the end of the (colonial and postcolonial) world as we know it.  We need a new word for this age.


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I just read the Modern Language Association’s declaration against Islamophobia today:

The Executive Council approved the following statement in December 2015.

After the terrible shootings in Paris and San Bernardino, we have witnessed a sharp rise in Islamophobia, the intense hatred and fear of Islam and those identifying with the religion and its culture. This includes, but is not restricted to, targeting Arabs and Arab Americans. In the United States there has been an upsurge in attacks upon and censorship and harassment of those who, as part of their scholarly work, teach about Islam. The MLA condemns any and all violations of free speech and academic freedom, including those based on race, religious affiliation, and ethnicity. We especially deplore the firings and intimidation of those teachers who aid in our understanding of Islam.

Kudos to the MLA on taking a stand; I’m concerned, however, about this word “Islamophobia” which I’ve seen popping up more and more frequently of late.  I’m concerned, because, like the word “homophobia,” “Islamophobia” suggests an irrational, personal, and non-political fear (phobia).  But what we are dealing with here is more than just a phobia.  “Homophobia,” and “Islamophobia” are misnomers, which work to cover up the historical, political, systemic and very purposeful targeting of a group of people for the purposes of discrediting, oppressing, demonizing, and othering them.   We eventually coined the word “heterosexism” to expose the systemic and deliberate nature of the subjugating of queer people in the service of what Adrienne Rich called “compulsory heterosexuality.”  Similarly, we need a word to accurately capture the systemic and deliberate nature of the subjugation and demonization of Muslims that we are witnessing across the “civilized” (read “Western”) world.  We need a word to suggest the dogged refusal of many of us in the West to understand the complex and historical reasons behind the difficulties of our current engagement with Muslims, a word that would encourage us to dissect our own ignorance and complicity in our othering of Muslim people.  That word is not “Islamophobia.” Christian chauvinism?  Western chauvinism?  That’s a beginning.

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