Beyond shame, violence, and terror

By Fedwa Wazwaz, Engage Minnesota

One form of social-control shaming has been the humiliation of Muslims in an attempt to get us to transform into something “more American,” more comfortable, and more familiar.

fedwa wazwaz
Faith, as I’ve said before, is about accepting ourselves as humans and turning to God to help us grow, heal, and be nurtured. This isn’t possible if we feel ashamed of who we are, of our core identities.

Oppressors—who are often themselves suffering from unacknowledged shame—don’t fight us just physically, but also psychologically.

The path to faith and healing is the path to knowing yourself. The more you know yourself, the harder it is for you to be recruited against another person.

When we talk about shame, we often think of public reprimand.  Yet, that is the least destructive of shaming as you know who is doing the shaming and can respond. For example, President Donald Trump’s shaming is faced with strong responses by many groups.  The worst of shaming is the insidious and hidden type which leaves a person or group conflicted of their perception of reality and undermines one’s ability to respond.

These subtle ways include making someone or a group feel guilty, deficient, or less; a source of problems. This type of shame usually happens in private or in secret and denied when a person tries to respond, hence a form of gas-lighting and mental abuse which is destructive as it destroys a person’s ability to process the information and against their will tries to transform them.  They manifest publicly as coded messages as in movies, policies and implicit or unconscious bias.

Read the article, How bullying works: projection and scapegoating and the following excerpt from the article.

Vilifying the target is the most frequently used as a gaslighting tactic in bullying. This is a powerful means of putting the victim on the defensive while simultaneously masking the aggressive intent of the manipulator, the bully then falsely accuses the victim of being an abuser in response when the victim stands up for or defends themselves or their position.

Where does shame come from?

Every group or society needs people to get along. We need people to feel comfortable with each other, to feel a trust in one another, and to do this, we develop social norms.

For instance, imagine somebody eats a great deal of raw garlic: so much that it seems out of their pores and creates a smell that bothers those around them. This person should be invited to see how their behavior is affecting those around them. Being part of a society means caring about the comfort about those around you. You don’t want the people around you to be walking on eggshells: They should be able to say, “You know, sometimes the garlic smell is bothersome, I wonder if there’s something that can be done about it?”

Shame tells the person they’re smelly because of their food, perhaps their culture and identity. In the short term, it might solve the problem, although it also creates a wound inside that person. But they can also be told about the discomfort in a respectful, inviting manner.

The key thing: The language you use to express social norms or manners—which should ideally make us more comfortable with one another—should foster invitation instead of control. If you use control, even if your aims are positive, eventually you will face resistance.

The Qur’an says we must “invite to the way of your Lord,” not shame to the way of your Lord.

When people are invited to something, we feel special. We feel a sense of control and empowerment, and we feel respected. There are certainly times, in a social group, when the person crosses boundaries, then this person must be pushed back, and they should feel remorse. But shame shouldn’t be used as a tool to batter people and control them, to make them try to force their identities into something more comfortable to the dominant group.

If we return to the garlic smell, we could also use shame—insulting the person’s ethnicity, throwing jabs at the food of their culture, suggesting they are less. This creates a wound, and feelings of worthlessness. If a person doesn’t find a witness to their shame, it can also be very dangerous.  

What to do with our shame?

It is important to find a witness to our shame, someone who can hear and see that this shaming was unwarranted, someone to take it from us. If you have a witness, then you can step away from the abuse and understand it was wrong.  When the oppressor masks their abuse, aggression, and intent – it is hard to find a witness.  Abusers and oppressors seek to “isolate, discredit and eliminate” their victim.

If there’s no one else around, we must connect to God as the witness. One of the ways to connect to God is by using His name Ash Shaheed.

If you do not have a witness, you turn to God with His name, bring His presence to mind and heart, and have Him bear witness. This way, you don’t feel alone, and you feel His comfort.

We can see this in the story of Joseph, upon him peace. When his brothers threw him in the well, he had no witness but God. Joseph was bewildered and shocked to find himself at the bottom of the well, and even more so when his brothers returned and sold him for a small price. But he managed to turn this wound over to God, knowing that he would one day tell his story.

Through making God a witness, Joseph, upon him peace, knew that one day, he would be elevated to a position where he would be able to tell his story. He was able to comfort himself, to survive the trial and prevent it from turning into trauma within, knowing God was with him.

If we don’t have a witness to the shaming we undergo—among family or from the wider culture—all we have left is our own wounded ego. We can turn to other people for protection, we can turn to God, or, if we don’t, we end up turning to our own ego. Unfortunately, the ego’s defense is pride, and that’s what it will turn to. In order to restore one’s pride after suffering from shame, the easiest way out is to harm others to make ourselves feel bigger.

That’s how the ego, unchecked, responds to shame, oppression or humiliation.

If you turn to God as your witness, on the other hand, you will absorb the light from God, instead of the darkness from a controlling or xenophobic culture. In many controlling cultures, there is an obsession with being powerful in the eyes of others and wanting people to fear you more than you want them to respect you.

The psychologist James Gilligan uses the language of disease to talk about shame, calling it a “psychological pathogen” spread by “social, economic, and cultural vectors.” In Gilligan’s view, shame is the primary cause of violence, and with the core purpose of violence being to “diminish the intensity of shame and replace it as far as possible with its opposite, pride.”

Some cultures and groups which obsess with power-over view shame and humiliation as pro-social.   To be a member of their group, they put you through a tornado of ritual
humiliations and shame to transform you and grant you membership and belonging. Such behaviors nurture a cult-like group which uses shame when engaging people who are new and different.   One telling sign of this internal reality of a group or individual is how likely they are to use violence or shame to solve social and political problems.

In order to stop the spread of this disease, we must do two things. We must heal as individual cases, and we must inoculate through our faith.

The shaming of Muslims

One form of social-control shaming has been the humiliation of Muslims in an attempt to get us to transform into something “more American,” more comfortable, and more familiar.

This is likely a transferred shame, a shame that is spreading because it is rooted in other, older shames, a way to regain pride. But it is also rooted in guroor, one of the prime drivers of Islamophobia. In a lesson, a spiritual teacher once said that the more guroor a person has, the more harm comes out of this person.

Guroor is a belief in one’s moral superiority over another. It is a hidden desire to deny the “other” a right to exist unless they accept this moral superiority of the “us,” visible both in the belief systems of ISIS supporters and Anders Breivik. This stance of moral superiority—whether about clothing choices, food, gender relations, or other behaviors—is itself toxic.

But just as we shouldn’t shame the oppressed, little good comes of shaming the oppressor, even when it feels therapeutic. We must, like Moses, upon him peace, with Pharaoh, invite and remind the oppressor of their better self. We must remind them of their values and invite them to God.  A case in point is the phenomenal work by ACLU and their attorneys for leading such a great response against the Muslim-ban.  They pushed President Trump’s executive borders back by citing they are “unconstitutional.”

Moses, upon him peace, didn’t go to Pharaoh to shame or humiliate him, but to remind him of his values. Pharaoh didn’t listen—there is no guarantee of that—and an oppressor who won’t listen must be forced back within his boundaries.

You can’t be in denial that there are people you have to fight. But it can’t be your first resort and it can’t be based on emotion. And shaming only creates more shame, a greater need for the facade of greatness.

Whenever someone doesn’t heal from shame, they may not be conscious of it, but they’re going to further spread it. They might not be the main architect of guroor, of superiority, they might just allow it to flow past them. But shame begets more shame. Instead, we must accept our humanity and our limitations, and we must turn to God.

This is an excerpt from a forthcoming book, currently titled Reflections of Faith: Lessons from the Prophets.

Fedwa Wazwaz is a Palestinian-American born in Jerusalem, Palestine and raised in the US.  She was the chair for the Interfaith Relations at Islamic Center of Minnesota.  She has completed training in restorative justice at the University’s Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking.  She was a 2008-2009 policy fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.  She is a public speaker and writer and lives in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.

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© Copyright 2005-2017.  Fedwa Wazwaz, All rights reserved.

About engagemn

A Voice for Minnesotan Muslims

Posted on March 27, 2017, in Engage Minnesota, Fedwa Wazwaz. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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