By Gabriele Marranci
Associate Professor Gabriele Marranci, Anthropologist. Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore
I wish to thank Dr Duderija for the extend book review of my two books and hence for providing an occasion to correct some of his misunderstandings of my approach to identity and „fundamentalism‟. Although I appreciate Dr Duderija’s efforts to summarize and engage with my theory of identity, which, I wish to highlight, finds its basis within neuroscience (something that I admit is an unusual field for an anthropologist) and in particular Antonio Damasio’s work (1999; 2004), I find it difficult to understand how Dr Duderija may fully appreciate and make sense of my overall argument while leaving much of the discussion „aside for those who are more familiar and better qualified than [he is] to deal with.‟ Hence, it does not come as a surprise that many points of both my theory and overall approach have been not only misunderstood, and therefore misrepresented, but twisted to serve as background to Dr Duderija’s own analysis, which, as we shall see, shows exactly those weakness that I have criticized in detail, particularly in „Understanding Muslim Identity: Rethinking Fundamentalism‟. Dr Duderija, I suppose because of space limitation, Middle East Studies Online Journal- ISSN 2109-9618- Issue N°4. Volume 2 (2011)2 tends to collapse some of my theoretical points, one on top of the other, when in reality they represent more complex dynamics.
This brings him to represent me as saying things which I never said, as any reader of both books may observe. I provide below, because of space considerations, only a few examples. Dr Duderija has for instance stated: „In the words of the author “It is what I feel I am that determines my identity for me” (Marranci 2006, p.10). Marranci refers to this phenomenon as “Emotional Islam” (2009, 20-24)‟. I never defined „Emotional Islam‟ as „what I feel I am determines my identity for me‟. Indeed, the latter is the natural conclusion of a very complex theoretical discourse, which defines „identity‟ and not „emotional Islam‟.
This brings Dr Duderija to commit the first epistemological mistake as far as my argument is concerned; a mistake which flaws much of the review provided. The fundamental issue is that my „I feel to be Muslim‟, where „feel‟ refers to the differentiation that Damasio makes between emotions and feelings, addresses „personal‟ identity and yet does not at all deny „social‟ identity. In all my works, I have never said that „culture‟ or „society‟ do not have a role - quite the contrary, as also my ethnography indeed shows! However, I have claimed that it is by focusing on that „feel to be‟ more than on the symbolic „Muslim‟ that we can understand how Muslims express, form and develop their identity beyond the imposed stereotypes. In other words, the discourse here focuses more on what comes first: identity, influenced by the processes I have described in my books and then interpretation of text, or, as Dr Duderija seems to argue, hermeneutics and then identity. The debate and differences between our approaches would have been easy to discuss in these terms.
Yet Dr Duderija has decided to provide a lengthy, and rather unclear, review of more than four-hundred pages. My criticism of certain culturalist approaches of Muslims in general and religious fundamentalism in particular, Middle East Studies Online Journal- ISSN 2109-9618- Issue N°4. Volume 2 (2011) 3 does not aim to remove „society‟ or „culture‟ from the discourse. Rather my work attempts to correct those approaches, as for instance the one advocated by Dr Duderija himself, which through the over-emphasis of social structure has ended in representing the self of individuals as the direct consequence of the „structural logic of that individual’s social circumstances. If I am a Nuer, then I must think like a Nuer‟ (Cohen 1995: 1). The rejection of essentialism and the illogicality that an „Islamic tradition‟ exists per-se is deeply different from the social-cultural nihilist position that Dr Duderija has adduced to me and which is very distant from my own approach. Hence, since Dr Duderija misunderstood my position, or better, bent it to the second part of his review, he has naturally found many „contradictions‟ between my analysis and fieldwork.
I am not surprised that he has found such „contradictions‟ since in his review he has radicalized, if not actually transformed into a kind of „freak show‟ of illogicality, my own analysis. Dr Duderija has affirmed, with a cunning selection of both some parts of my theoretical analysis and some parts of my ethnography, expressed throughout more than four-hundred pages, that I fully deny that Muslims (or non Muslims, for that matter) use, refer, quote or try to manipulate texts (included the Qur’an) to form their arguments, while of course, my respondents indeed use them. Yet I never stated that they do not do so, but rather I have advocated the fundamental role of emotions and feelings in the understanding of the „scriptures‟ and of course, jihad. Again, the matter concerns what comes first: the „hermeneutics„ and then the emotions and the consequent cognitive operations; or as I suggest, the emotions, neuro cognitive processes that form self and identity, and then the interpretations of text and the derived hermeneutics. This is very different to forcing upon me a social scientific position which, had he represented correctly my analysis and views, would be not only untenable but also rather stupid. Quoting from Hadith, or a verse from the Qur’an to make Middle East Studies Online Journal- ISSN 2109-9618- Issue N°4.Volume 2 ( 2011) 4 one’s argument, or even repeating what a scholar may have said, is never a neutral action, aseptic and self-defined by the text or the „charisma‟ of the scholar.
It is instead filtered by the specific neuro-cognitive capacity of an individual. There is no direct passage of information, without the powerful distortion of emotions and feelings, identity processes as well as cognitive elaboration, between a text containing ideas and a reading subject’s acting upon them. There are other weaknesses in Dr Duderija’s review of my work, but for reasons of space, I shall not review each of them, especially since a majority derives from the above foundational ones in any case. I wish instead to concentrate on Dr Duderija’s argument that we can find in the second part of the review, which at the end appears to be the real reason for discussing my work. I believe that Dr Duderija’s position suffers from some of those flawed arguments that indeed I have criticized in my two books, but this possibility remains unwritten in his review. Dr Duderija has observed, „the interpretational process is on strained by a number of factors most importantly the nature of the text itself‟ and one of the most important factors of this „constraint‟ is „interpretive communities‟, which limit the freedom of the individual in his/her own understanding of the text by „some reading uniformity‟ derived from social factors such as shared class and religion amongst other elements. These „interpretive communities‟ appear to go beyond face-to-face sharing and have some kind of inscribed universality that derives from sharing the same culture. If we accept Dr Duderija’s viewpoint, we have to find a cognitive tool somewhere in the human brain that allows for such „reading uniformity‟ based mainly on hermeneutics. However, we cannot start from the text and move to the brain, as Dr Duderija suggests.
We are rather forced, by acknowledging nature instead of cultural determinism, to start from Middle East Studies Online Journal- ISSN 2109-9618- Issue N°4. Volume 2 (2011) 5 where the information is created and processed: the brain and its mechanisms. Evidence of the impact that memory, emotions and feelings (in Damasio’s terms) have on how we perceive texts, objects and how even simple changes of the environment can alter one’s understanding of text, so that we do not really read twice the same text in the same way, is confirmed by recent neuro scientific research. This, however, does not mean that people do not influence each other of course. Dr Duderija risks in his approach to embrace a strong form of „culturalism‟, in which the culture, as a symbolic object, is supposed to be capable of shaping and controlling the human mind. This idea suggests that a text may be able to control the individual and the collective behaviour of those whom see it as an inspirational or holy text. In other words, the text and its rules of „interpretation‟, enforced by what Dr Duderija refers to as „interpretive communities‟ that are represented by charismatic scholars, provide people with a certain unified „mind‟ as far as their views of jihad for example, or even Islam, are concerned. In doing so, Dr Duderija cannot other than espouse the concept of „Muslim minds‟, which then can be, as a species, subdivided according to how the interpretive communities „elucidate the interpretational mechanisms and assumptions underlying certain interpretations‟.
In his case, the subspecies are Neo-Traditional Salafis (NTS) and Progressive Muslims (PM), both of them, of course, with a unified mind defended by their scriptural mode. Dr Duderija provides in his analysis a good example of what Mamdani, in his renowned book Good Muslim, Bad Muslim (2004), calls „Culture Talk‟. Muslims, in this way, can divided into „good‟ and „bad‟, into NTS and PM, into normative and exonormative, into everything except the individual human beings that they actually are and whom we meet in our everyday lives. Despite having conducted years of research, I have never spent my time with NTSs and PMs, for instance, although Dr Middle East Studies Online Journal- ISSN 2109-9618- Issue N°4. Volume 2 (2011) 6 Duderija would likely label some of my respondents as such. Instead, I have encountered only single individuals whom, yes, in some respects may share some aspects of, say, Salafism, but whom also have peculiarities, convictions and interpretations derived from their own identities that made them very different from even the members of their own group of reference. Nobody can meet NTS and PM Muslims since these are labels (i.e. maps instead of territories). It is clear that for Dr Duderija, although acknowledging the relevance of emotions and other cognitive aspects, Muslims‟ means of making sense of their religion is based on maps that have some sort of ontological essence.
If there is strong scientific evidence of the impact of emotions and feelings (in Damasio‟s terms) on the capacity of understanding a text and the impossibility of sharing „feelings‟, ideas and conceptualizations directly so as to reproduce the same result in each individual through hermeneutical exposure, no evidence is today available of the constraint imposed by „interpretive communities‟. In conclusion, while I never, as Dr Duderija has suggested, played down the usage of Islamic language, texts and charismatic figures, I do not consider them to be the main engine of how, at a personal level, Muslims make sense of their own autobiographical selves. References Cohen, A. P. (1995), „Introduction‟, in P. Cohen, and N. Rapport (eds), Questions of Consciousness, Florence, KY: Routledge, pp. 1–20. Damasio, A.R. (2004), Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling
Brain, London: Vintage. Damasio, A.R. (1999), The Feeling of What Happens: Body and motion in the Making of Consciousness, New York: Harcourt Brace. Mamdani, M. (2004), ood Muslim, Bad Muslim, New York: Pantheon Books. Middle East Studies Online Journal- ISSN 2109-9618- Issue N°4. Volume 2 (2011) 7 The articles do not express necessarily the pinion of the Journal.
The Middle East Studies
Online Journal 2011