‘Decolonizing the Mind’ - Live Dialogue

Developing Just Leadership

Yusuf Progler

Sha'ban 19, 1425 2004-10-04

by Yusuf Progler

Session Details

Guest Name

Professor Yusuf Progler, educator, writer, cultural historian and political ecologist

Subject

‘Decolonizing the Mind’

Date

Monday,Oct 4 ,2004

Time

Makkah
From... 09:00...To... 11:00
GMT
From... 06:00...To...08:00

Name

Host.. -

Profession

Answer

Dear visitors,

The session has just started. Please feel free to join us with your questions.

After the session has ended you will find the whole dialogue in the 'recent sessions' list.

Yours,

Islamonline Live Dialogue Editing Desk..

Name

Iman - Pakistan

Profession

Question

Would you please give us a brief introduction of the topic and what is a colonized mind?

Answer

Salam Iman, and thank you for the question.

Colonization, as you know, is often formally seen as a period of history when the European and American powers forcibly and physically held colonies throughout what is now called the Third World, and from which they drew fabulous wealth. This organized plunder by the Western powers began with Spain, whose adventure in the Americas was ironically funded by gold from the Islamic caliphate they had just destroyed. Spanish colonial power soon gave way to other powers, so by the end of the 19th century, most of the world was physically colonized by Britain, France, Portugal, Spain, Holland and America (which was a British colony that itself became a colonizing power).

However, two world wars in the 20th century virtually destroyed Europe and greatly weakened most of those colonial powers (except the US, which was strengthened for a time), so throughout the 20th century we see a wave "independence" movements, which is basically what we call it when the colonial powers physically left. However, the systems the colonizers put in place - health, education, science, technology, law - insured that the formerly colonized peoples would not do anything very different from what the colonizers intended in the first place: that the Third World remain subordinate to the West. This condition of continuing the policies and ways of life forced upon the Third World under direct colonization is what is usually termed "mental colonization." The title of this session, "decolonizing the mind," by the way, is from a book by Ngugi Wa Thiongo, a Kenyan author who had identified this problem in his own context, and worked hard to resolve it.

Name

Hamdi - Bahrain

Profession

Question

Is there any relation between colonization of the mind and mass media?

Answer

Salam Hamdi, good question. Sure, there is definitely a connection. As I have been describing the colonized mind, it seems that it was just something left over from the colonial era. That is only partly true, and your question adds another dimension to this issue, which is somewhat more complex. The media do two things: they perpetuate the kind of thinking and inequities that ruled the world under colonialism, but they also introduce new forms of colonialism, of sorts, that are less connected to the original forms of colonialism, but are no less damaging.

For example, consumerism is a form of colonialism, since it introduces an economic system that benefits global corporations, which in many ways have become the agents of colonization today. This is not new, however, as the case of India shows, which was colonized by the British East India Company, an early corporation, and only later did the British government, with its military, become more directly involved. So to understand media and colonialism, you need to understand how media today promotes consumerism and corporate power, and how consumerism benefits, in many cases, the former colonial powers by way of the corporations, and how it enjoins others to partake of those benefits in a very limited and illusory way. There are several ways to analyze this, and I can only hint at a few here. First, it is an illusion to think that regional media like al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya are any different than their Western counterparts like CNN and BBC. Sure, they show more images of mangled Muslim bodies than the Western media want to admit exist, but in the end, they are perpetuating a way of seeing the world through television, a style of speaking and discussing, a format, that is virtually identical to the Western media. They only differ, once in a while on some selected content. Is this not colonization? Is this not removing the possibility to relate information in other ways? Are not the mass media replacing other forms of communication? The mass media are part of what has been called the "mental environment" (see www.adbusters.org for more on that), and to the extent that this mental environment is being controlled and shaped by a few forces that basically think the same way, at the expense of others, it is colonization.

Name

Russell - United Kingdom

Profession

Social Worker

Question

Hi there!!!

This a term from out of the 1960's, a term many I think have forgotten its meaning. Can you for the sake of everyone shows how colonization of the mind shows itself to day?

Answer

Thanks Russell, that is a key question, although I have already addressed part of it in earlier answers. There are some other points that I can mention here, too, but let me say to everyone who is posting questions that there is a long list and I only have two hands and am typing as fast as I can, so please be patient and I will, `in sha'Allah, get to your questions as soon as I can.

It is true, as you say Russell, that the term decolonization came about largely in the 1960s, which was a peak of the kind of independence movements from colonialism that I had described earlier. There are some classic books out of the period that, ironically, are more relevant today as ever. I would highly recommend to read, or re-read:

"The Colonizer and the Colonized," by Albert Memmi an Algerian psychologist, who makes the argument that colonization destroys both the colonizer and the colonized, and in the end is of little benefit to both.

Jalal Al-e Ahmad's classic book "Occidentosis" describes what can be seen today as a form of mental colonialism. He puts forth the idea, in an Iranian context, that Third World peoples have been struck with or infected by a disease that leads them to become infatuated with the West at the expense of their own traditions.

There are others, that I might mention later, and they all lay out what we might call mental colonization, which, as I believe, is just as relevant today, in the media age, as it was then. And, sadly, much of what those books described thirty years ago, has not really been improved; in some cases, it has gotten worse. If you are interested in reading some of these works, but don't have access to the books themselves, some excerpts are available online in the Multiversity Group (groups.msn.com/multiversity).

Name

Mahmood -

Profession

Question

Dear Yusuf Progler,

In an environment poluted with toxic materials, every new idea may be contaminated in a way. In such an environment how can we differentiate and subsequently decolonize system parts (including the mind itself). Also please how can we eliminate the major role which is played by the language itself (English I mean).

Answer

Before answering, let me just say that all the questions so far have been very interesting and there is a lot to say about all of them. At the moment, there is a back log. I am taking questions as they come, and they are coming fast and furious, so please be patient, read the other answers to ensure that your question has not already been answered. I promise I will answer all the posted questions as soon as I can.

Now, on to Mahmood's question. First off, good point. It is only an illusion that we can treat one part of the problem and ignore the others. That is why, above, I have tried to make connections between mental and physical colonization and to show how media and corporations are part of this issue as well.

But you add another key issue, that of language. We are all, at least most of us, participating in this dialogue by way of what was once a colonial language. However, English has also become a global language, which means it has been coo-pted and influenced in different ways and in different places (read the article in the Multiversity Group about "Global English" for more on this point). But there is a more subtle dimension to this, which is more difficult to deal with. All languages encode reality in a particular way, by using metaphorical and rhetorical structures to represent physical objects and life experiences. To truly become decolonized, then, one would have to learn, or re-learn, another language. This is what Ngugi Wa Thiongo, the African author I noted earlier, recongnized many years ago. He decided to stop writing in English, and to use the local African language of his people, and he was involved in establishing schools in Kenya that promoted local language and culture. The problem was the Kenyan government, although "independent" from its former colonial masters, say his movement as a threat to national hegemony, so he was run out of the country. In any case, his story demonstrates two things:

First, there are people who recognize that language, in the end, is a key feature of colonialism and who decide to act on that, and

Second, that national governments, even independent ones, fear true decolonization.

Name

mulim -

Profession

Question

The only solution is to have an Islamic life so that all Muslims can be united and migrate to Islamic countries. However, because Our Islamic nations follow their enemies rulesthrough the passport system, we can not be united.

You see All enemies of Islam can freely move to and from each others countries without a visa. Why is that the Muslim rulers can't understand this. How does Israel get Jews from all the over world into Israel....We can think but who will take action and when just after we leave our seat we are busy with our daily activities again .................

Answer

I think I understand your point, but I am troubled by seeing Israel as a model for uniting Muslims. There should certainly be another way. But your point is valid, and sadly apparent today, as evidenced by most governments of states in which Muslims now live are falling over themselves to cater to the fickle whims of the US, surely a sign of colonization.

But just because Muslims are trapped in those places with their passports and all that, does not mean they cannot act. There are myriad of ways to decolonize your mind, and I have already alluded to some in previous posts, and I'll keep it mind as I go through the rest of the questions.

Name

Khawla -

Profession

Student

Question

As-salamu `alaykum Dr. Yusuf.

I must say I liked your observations.

I wonder, what do you think prompted those Western countries (Britian, America, etc.) to colonize in the first place? Surely, they must have had something in their mind aside from greed and discrimination.

Answer

Salam Khawla, thanks for the question.

A key impetus for colonization has always been plunder, plain and simple. However, to all those who participated in colonialism, it was not necessarily the most personal reasons.

  • For Christian missionaries, colonialism offered access to previously unavailable "heathens," thought to be ripe for the "civilizing" mission of Western style Christianity.
  • For others, "adventure" (today known as "tourism") was a key feature of the colonial goal. So, although greed and racism were always there, and plunder was the end result, these other factors played an important role, too.
  • And, in a historical context, there might be different reasons for different colonizers to act at different times.

It is a fault, perhaps, to talk of all this only in terms of "colonization," which implies it is the same for all time and places, but in reality we could un-pack colonialsm in different times and places. Japan, for example, entered the colonial game late, and had a somewhat different way of going about it (no less brutal, however). In fact, Japan's competition in the colonial game was a key feature in what was to become World War II, at least in East Asia. This, therefore, is a question of history, and it is a great question that deserves further investigation, and to which I will return at some point.

Name

Zahra - Iran

Profession

Question

Historically the period of colonization ended many years ago, how can we end the impressions of that period from the life of both the colonized and the colonizers?

Answer

Salam, and thanks for the question Zahra. I'm glad you recognized the point that colonization, as Memmi said years ago, was equally destructive to both the colonizer and the colonized. I think the answer to getting out of that has to come from local traditions.

The decolonization movement today, in many places, is a movement toward the local. Of course, nothing can be completely local in the age of globalization, which means that it is important to maintain perspective. But a sure way to begin decolonization of body and mind, is to think beyond the trap of national governments and national liberation, and all that. The lessons of history have shown that once physically liberated from the colonizers, the newly "independent" states often just continue on the same line established by the colonizers. This is what has been described by John Mohwak,a Native American (Seneca) philosopher in terms of three degrees of subjecthood.

First, there are "good subjects," those who continue, without question, the ways of thinking and activing imposed by the colonizers.

Then, there are "bad subjects," those who seek physical liberation from the colonial yoke, but who for the most part act in the same way once they are in control, using the same sciences, economics, educational systems, etc., as under colonialism. Most national liberation movements fall into this category, the goal being just to gain control, complain a little, but not really change anything.

Finally, Mohawk sees possiblities for become "non-subjects," which means finding ways to think and act outside the whole Western way, outside colonialism, and these ways might even be incomprehensible to the West, which he sees as a positive feature. The first evolves around the West, while the third evolves evolution its own sphere.

Name

Hwaa-matu - Antigua and Barbuda

Profession

Educator

Question

As-salamu `alaykum Professor Yusuf. I was a community and cultural activist during the 1970's and 1980's. It was a time when everyone it seemed was aware of how colonialism affected our daily lives, now most of those people do not even see that today or have bcome passive, or do not see that many of the problems that we are experiencing is becuase we no longer have any resistance to what is in fact a colonization of the mind. Please, how does Islam help us in our daily lives to overcome this difficulty?

Answer

Thanks for the focused question, Hwaa. Islam can be a way of life, not just a religion, so within that way of life there are many features that can become part of living the decolonized lifestyle. This should not, however, be offered in a simple, da'wah oriented set of prescriptions, or only in terms of halah and haram, as many Muslims, unfortunately, have done. Outside that context, Islam has much to offer the decolonizing wayfarer. For example, look closely at the way we eat, the clothes we wear, and the dwellings in which we live. Seen in terms of halal and haram, they might be perfectly acceptable. But how close are these foods and clothes and homes to the overall way of life that Islam suggests for the believer? Beyond halal and haram, what does it mean to be a Muslim in the world today? Does it mean acclimatizing to what ever situation we find ourselves in, and pulling out a few ahadith to justify that, or does it mean really taking a hard look at things like modernity, civilization, and progress, and interrogate these in terms of the over all system of Islamic wisdom.

Now, this can be a tremendous project, which is why I recommend food and clothes as ways to get started on the path toward decolonization, since, as several interesting thinkers have show, what we eat and how we dress does have an imapct on our physical as well as mental being. (A good article on the connections between clothing, colonization and spirituality is available in the Multiversity Group, to which I have been referring people for further learning). I would also suggest learning from the experiences of others who have tried to decolonize, and also sharing the lessons you have learned in your activities. Again, not as da'wah, but as a way to help Muslims themselves to understand the situation they are in and to link up with fellow travelers.

Name

Mohammad -

Profession

Question

Edward Sa`id's seminal work 'Orientalism' was no doubt a significant contribution to heighten Third World scholarship vis-a-vis the West. Since then, is there any significant work or movement in this regard? We do not hear much after the Cold War like New World Information and Communication Order(NWICO).

Answer

Mash`allah, the dialogue time already nearly over, and still there are at least a dozen more questions. I will stay as long as I can answering them.

I am happy, Mohammad, that you asked this question, and there are a lot of works to recommend. Rather than listing them all here, I invite you to join the Multiversity Group (groups.msn.com/multiversity), and to also visit the website for the Multiworld Network (www. multiworld.org), both of which are dedicated precisely to your question.

Name

Fatima - United Arab Emirates

Profession

Student

Question

Salam! I am a student of Dr. Progler's and I am a huge fan of his views and teaching techniques.

So sir, how do you suggest to someone how they can go about "decolonizing" their mind? I realize it's not an overnight process, but how would someone start?

Answer

Salam Fatima, nice to see you here, and thanks for the kind words.

I already addressed some of this question in other answers, but let me reflect on it a little more here. It is, as you say, not an overnight process, but there some things we can do right away, once you understand the nature of the problem. So, let me state the problem as succinctly as I can:

We are, all or most of us, thinking and acting in ways that are destructive and often not even logical, but which continue to benefit a small global elite. We have been denatured from our humanity, our environment, our traditions, and our religions, in the name of progress, civilization, globalization and a host of other euphemisms for colonialism. It is in the interest of that elite for us to not understand the nature of this problem. So, the first step is to learn to recognize how colonialism is impacting your daily life. For example:

  • You can ask, "who benefits" from the acts in which you participate. You can watch less TV, and tell more stories, you can eat organic food, you can wear handmade clothes, you can get involve in some sort of movement that is acting on behalf of the environment, or the disenfranchized.
  • You can sit in from of a computer or stand in front of a classroom for hours on end pleading with people to wake up from their colonial slumber. There are too many things to do, and no one can do them all, but pick any one, or come up with your own, and you can start right away.

Name

Nassir - India

Profession

Clerk

Question

Thanks for your session.

How would we be able to keep our children's mind from becoming colonized? Is possible with the current education systems etc.?

Answer

Thanks for the question, Nassir. You have correctly identified a key feature of the kind of colonization I have been describing in this session:education. The short answer is to take your kids out of school as quick as you can! I am not kidding, and there is a growing movement in India today called the "School Walkouts." Check with the Multiversity Group for news on that, and also visit the site for Shikshantar, an organization in Rajasthan that is involved in this movement. The process of "deschooling society," as Ivan Illich put it in his classic book of the same name (which is available online if you search for it), is an essential feature in recovering our humanity, from those who have stolen it, who are the same people who continue to steal our resources.

Name

sulaiman - Nigeria

Profession

civil servant

Question

Why are Muslims reluctant to be counted as Muslims in today's world?

Answer

Interesting point, Sulaiman. I am not sure if all Muslims feel this way, but I can certainly detect the tension with being a Muslim in the world today. I think part of this is the result of colonization, that we have lost confidence, we have become uncertain of ourselves, even ashamed of who we are, with constant bombardment telling us we are backwards, respressive, violent and a host of other accusations. But who is making these accusations. No one in the history of humanity has been more backwards, repressive and especially violent than those who are telling us what to do today, the proponents of Western civilization and modernity. How many people did they kill in their world wars last century? 100 million? 200 million? I think they ought to look at themselves before they accuse Muslims of anything.

But your question is important, though not easy to answer. So then let me leave this as an open question, for reflection, and hope that you will all think about it more.

Name

Fatima - United States

Profession

Question

I think the first step towards decolonizing the mind is to know a colonized mind. Would you please explain the characteristics of a colonized mind? How many people in modern world are infected?

Answer

Thanks Fatima, I have described this in early answers, so please check those. In the interest of time, which is running out, and because there are still many more questions waiting, I will not say much more on that topic here. However, to put it simply, a colonized mind is one that thinks what is in the best interest of the greedy elite running the world today is actually in the best interest of everyone. The easiest way to find this is to ask the simple question, "who benefits" of even the most ordinary activities. We can take a lesson from other people who have already recognized this problem. You are in the US, where there are examples, such as some Native American peoples (Haudenosaunee to name one group), ask the question, "How will my actions today impact those seven generations from now?" That seems like a useful way to open up our minds to decolonization.

Name

md. - Bangladesh

Profession

Question

Thank you for replying my eariler question and it is nice to see that you are looking at things from a global and humanistic perspective. You have mentioned about indigenous knowledge and educaton systems. But how can the developing countries fight against MNCs. this is ver important. For instance Homeopathy or Alternative Medicine can cure very complicated diseases like heart disease, blood pressure and even cancer. But I have read in one book that heart surgery is a global business where billion of dollars are invested, so it is very unlikely that corporate interests would support any alternative medicine, which is cheap and easy as their business will be affected. So what can the global citizens do in this regard?

Answer

Corporate interests will support whatever makes them money, since that is what they want. You are right, there is a global tourist industry today for rich people to get bypass operations and other surgeries all over the place, from Europe to the Persian Gulf. It is big business. That should not involve us at all, except is useful to observe that the most opulent people are often the most sick, in both mind and body. So, we can practice or learn alternative medicine or homeopathy, or traditional healing beyond the sway of global corporations, for now. More important is protecting these traditions and medicines from things like patenting, which has been studied very careful by many scholars in the Third World (Vandana Shiva in India, to name one). You can learn more about this by hooking up with the Third World Network in Malaysia and the Consumer Association of Penang. Both have programs and publications that I find useful, so look up their websites.

Name

muslim - India

Profession

Question

Why do Muslims give so much importance to the laws of the United Nations when we have full complete laws from Allah, the Qur`an and the Sunnah?

Answer

Short answer? Our minds are colonized. But in a global context, in a world where not every is a Muslim, and where not all Muslims follow the Sunnah, the UN and other transnational organizations continue to hold out some prospect for global action, once they are liberated from the clutches of the "security council," which act like (and often are) former colonial powers.

Name

muslim - India

Profession

Question

When will Muslims understand that the UN was created to Unite enimies of Islam. Muslims never benefited from the UN. The UN benifited with tricks used by enemies of Islam and Muslims.

Answer

True, to an extent, though in the 1960s and 1970s the Third World almost gained control of the UN. As I said before, in the absence of other transnational entities through which to work, some still hold out some hope for transnational actors, the UN being only one, though it is seriously hampered by the USA and other colonial bullies.

Name

Khalid - South Africa

Profession

Question

As-salamu `alaykum wa Rahmatullahi wa barakatuh dear respected brother! May we see Ramadhan together `in sha'Allah!

This issue is a most important one as most Muslims don't even realize that their minds are "under occupation". This is evident in the thinking and un-Islamic culture that is adopted by most. What suggestions do you have for us to get this process of decolonization underway? This is sorely needed here in South Africa.

Jazak Allahu Khayrun - Wa-salam

Answer

Salam Khalid, I like the way you put it, ... our minds are "under occupation." It's true, and I have mentioned several ways to decolonize our minds in previous posts. What I would add here is that this problem deserves constant vigilence, and needs to be thought about and acted upon daily. From another perspective, less materialist oriented, we can also decolonize our minds by focusing on the higher realities, those that all religions teach, since the ultimate colonizer is the life of this world itself.

Name

Ali - India

Profession

Question

I saw the questions and answers from this dialogue - a really interesting topic. As you mentioned in your replies, usually they talk about how colonization was against the interests of what is called the 'Third World'; but I think someone should talk about how the poison of the colonizer's mind affects human societies causing so many wars and murders in the world in the name of terrorism today.

Answer

Time's up, I just noticed, so no more questions coming in, but I will hang out for a while and answer five more, inviting you all to stay and read on, and also thanking you all for your participation.

You bring up an interesting point `Ali, that of the violence in the world systems today. We cannot limit this to the retail violence of the "terrorists" and "insurgents" and other bit players and bystanders. The real violence is done by the wholesale terrorists, who kill with impunity hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people. We should all be troubled by the scale of killing in the past century, most of it perpetuated in the name of civilization. We have just departed from what I have called a "millennium of murder," the scale of violence and our complicity in it is staggering when looking at the wider picture.

Because America is founded on violence (built on land stolen from Native Americans and on the backs of African slaves, millions of whom have died in the process), it is leading the gore-fest in the world today. Americans even see violence as a form of entertainment, screaming "awesome" as they dismember another Iraqi, much like Rambo and other "heroes" have done in Hollywood.

I would suggest visiting the website for "Killology" to get more about this very important timely topic, and for suggestions on how to escape violence.

Name

Tarek - Egypt

Profession

Question

One of the problems we face in some Muslim countries is education.

An increasing number of young students are going for international high school diplomas (whether British, American, French, ... ) for a better education.

Do you think this trend is positive, or does it worsen the "colonization" mentality?

Answer

In my view, this contributes to colonization. I know it is hard to speak against getting an "education," but the crucial point is "what kind of education?" Answering that question is answering the bigger question, indirectly, of "What kind of person do I want to be?" Some people want to be Americans, or French, or whatever, so they choose education for that. Fine, let them, but it may not be the best for everyone, and it is certainly an illusion of colonialism that the schooling one gets in the West is some how better. I think that is a lot of colonial baloney, and urge everyone in the Third World to think long and hard about the education they are pursuing.

Name

mona y. -

Profession

Question

Thank you for this valuable seesion, you see in such a world dominated by values constructed mainly by the mass media, how is it possible to raize our kids with open minds, with decolonized minds , with a sense of judegement and their own identity ( cultural , religious, ethnic ) loyal , or is this just mission- impossible?

Answer

Not mission impossible, though it may seem so.

Throughout this dialogue, I have mentioned people and places that are working towards decolonization. Seek them out, and learn from each other. School and TV, as sole sources of knowledge, are virtually useless in this prospectus, though we all still use them because we don't have any idea of something different. Well, guess what? We are not going to find those alternatives in school and on TV, but they are available and activities are going on all over the world today.

Name

Ross Kent - Australia

Profession

Student

Question

How do we Muslims defend ourselves from being further colonized (in mindset)? As we know, we are being colonized through our way of life and the way we think. Not only that, the nafs and shaytan are becoming colonized in the Muslim community because of poor practicing deen. Is there any savior for Muslims at the End of Time?

Answer

Big question, Ross! I know there are a lot of "end of days" predictions floating around today, but in historical perspective, people always thought the current problems were portents to the end of the world. I'm not sure, except in knowing that only Allah knows when that day will come, or when the Awaited Savior will arrive.

Just because Western civilization has been exposed in all its barbarity in Iraq and Palestine, by complicity or direct action, or just because the American economy is faltering, or Americans are realizing they are living in a miserable policed state, this does not necessarily mean the end of the world for everyone else. I would suggest looking outside the weird West and its spheres of influence, and you will find hope in a variety of ways.

Name

mohamad zaki - Malaysia

Profession

student

Question

As salamu `alaykum Professor.

I think, all the present 'Islamic governments' around the world assist the western countries to colonize the mind of Muslim youth. They allow excessive entertainments from the West to flood via TV, printed media or in concerts. they have power, but intentionally they do not prevent the hedonistic culture which has had cultivation in Islamic communities whether in the Middle East, North Africa, Malaysia or everywhere.

I`m so sad to see intimate relationships between opposite sex (lovers) become so common in my country. The muslim youth are really in trouble. They know everything about artists but ignore or lack knowledge about Palestinian struggle so annoying!

Why do our government keep their eyes, ears and mouths shut? What should we do?

Answer

Salam Mohamad, thanks for the comments and question. Let me first say thank you to everyone for giving me the opportunity to reflect on and try to answer your quetions. I hope you all found this useful, and I urge you all to continue this kind of discussion any way you can.

To answer your questions, looking toward governments to solve our problems is part of the problem, since most of the governments today are part of the colonial system, either as good subjects or bad subjects, as I noted earlier. The hope lies, then, with the non-subjects, those people who are thinking and acting beyond the sway of colonialism, modernism, globalism and all the systems invading our lives. At the same time, governments wield some power, by way of controlling the guns and money, to some extent, so we have to deal with them one way or another. As to why some governments keep their mouths shut when facing barbarities, I think that is a rhetorical question.

Courtesy: www.islamonline.net

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