Collective Guilt of American Muslims
Guilt is an interesting feeling. Everyone I know has felt guilt, guilt as a feeling is hard to identify, and we may not even be aware that the unsettling feeling we are vaguely aware of is guilt. Guilt in psychology is defined as a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person believes or realizes—accurately or not—that he or she has compromised his or her standards of conduct or has violated a moral standard and bears significant responsibility for that violation. It is closely related to the concept of remorse.
Donald L. Carveth, Ph.D. from York University in Canada in his abstract of his article on Guilt states: “In Civilization and Its Discontents and other writings, Freud equates the unconscious need for punishment expressed in various patterns of self-torment and self-sabotage with the unconscious sense of guilt. But there are cogent clinical and theoretical grounds for distinguishing between genuine guilt and the unconscious need for punishment that serves as a guilt-substitute the function of which is precisely to ward off an unbearable sense of guilt.”
You can feel guilty about many things, eating an extra bar of chocolate, letting your kids watch TV while you do work, about breaking your spouse’s tool, scratching their car, forgetting to pack the kids’ lunches, fighting with your mom or dad over some ridiculously unimportant reason. I also feel guilty when I read about starving refugees who have no food, shelter and medical care. I feel guilty about the dying Syrians while comparing their destinies with my fortune in escaping the atrocities in Bosnia at least physically unharmed.
I can tell you, I felt and still feel guilty about all these things, this guilt that has various degrees of hurt inside my gut. When people tell you that you feel something inside your gut, women probably can relate to it more than men. Women carry their emotions in the tightness of their stomach muscles, not realizing that they are holding all their frustrations close to their center. Perhaps, it is because they are meant to carry children, there, under their hearts, so by nature their carry all their emotions there too. There are days when I come home after a long and stressful day filled with dealings with annoying, obnoxious and unproductive work colleagues, dealings with annoying customers and bank operatives (dare I say refinancing process) stressed and exhausted. On those days, when my husband hugs me, and I felt some of the tension leave my body, I feel that my stomach muscles are sore as if I managed to do a hundred sit-ups during the day. Free exercise?!
So I felt guilty about these little things, in my center. But feeling self-imposed guilt (even if the reasoning is false) is a different thing. People tell you,” Hey, don’t feel guilty. It’s ok. Your children will survive one day without that special lunch you forgot to pack for them.” These are well-meaning people, your peers and friends on social media who post various opinion pieces how things we feel guilty about are small change when it comes to things of greater importance (such as life, death, and health). Feeling guilty about something that you could not have influences and stop is another matter. And here lies my dilemma and what has been occupying my thoughts in the wake of the Orlando shooting.
Earlier I mentioned Freud and how he was claiming that human beings would go to great lengths to avoid feeling the unbearable guilt, through feelings of the unconscious need for self-punishment. I would risk a guess that many Muslims in the US have been feeling guilty, consciously or unconsciously about what has happened in Orlando and Paris and Brussels and what has been happening in the areas of the world that don’t get reported that often (Turkey, Nigeria). As intelligent beings, we understand that this feeling of guilt is unfounded and that Islam and our beliefs do not support in any way this senseless destruction of innocent lives. But Freud knew that our unconscious selves often guide our conscious feelings and that this feeling of guilt that develops from trying to apologize for our entire belief system is something that we cannot control unless we confront it with reasonable arguments founded in logical thinking.
I see Muslims in media trying hard to blog and write articles about how they stand with the families of victims and how they condemn this act of violence and all the other terrorist acts that we are made aware of through media portals (mostly western-based). This collective feeling of unconscious guilt is manifesting itself through this collective narrative “Sorry world! We are Muslim, but we promise we are not bad”.
I wonder if white Christian Norwegians were feeling this collective masochistic guilt or need for self-punishment when in 2011 Anders Breivik shot and killed 69 people and bombed various government buildings. Not sure, but I do not recall massive outpour of articles and opinion pieces stating that they are standing with victims’ families and that Christianity is a peaceful religion.
Islamic scholars have given us contributions in philosophy, mathematics, and medicine and it was not until the Sykes-Picot agreement, and the division of the Middle-Eastern lands including Palestine did we see a true decline in the cultural illumination of the Islamic regions. Now we have war-ridden territories with power-driven dictatorships that curb any efforts of cultural growth and the human rights awareness. These territories are ripe grounds for terrorist development and growth with the help of the Western countries that are consciously taking sides and sometimes even arming those exact people who want to cause the destruction (remember America arming Taliban to fight the Russians). And through this, Muslims are blamed for the present status. Perhaps the white Christian population should start feeling guilty about the entire colonization fiasco that is now unfolding years after it has ended. White Christian population should perhaps feel guilty about the slavery and the racism that we still feel today. But they know better, they cannot be guilty of the sins of their fathers, but they should be guilty of casting judgment and blame on the entire Muslim population for the actions of the few.
So, my conscious self is now taking charge of my unconscious feelings, and I am putting the stop on this emotion of guilt that I feel in my gut about something that I had nothing to do with. I urge all the American Muslims to do the same thing. You are not to blame for the acts of some deranged individual who killed all those innocent people in the name of something that everyone is telling you is your faith. Go and feel guilty about not packing nutritious lunches for your kids (when you only had time to give them chicken nuggets), feel guilty about that second slice of that cake that you ate during Eid. Teach your children well, love them and trust each other. Extend a hand to a white Christian neighbor and invite them for a slice of that baklava or whatever else your traditional meal might be. When they see you and your warmth, they will no longer be afraid, and maybe they will feel this hidden sense of guilt for never trying to get to know you before casting judgment.