It’s hard to begin to get a handle on white converts. Even if I limit myself to North America—though I’m not sure that doing that would be entirely accurate. Even back in the stone age (aka pre-internet days), when communications were so painfully expensive/slow, our experiences as white converts were affected by whatever contacts we had with the experiences or ideas of white converts elsewhere (particularly in western Europe). It seems that ours is a transnational experience.
There really is no “white convert community” in the sense of a fixed entity. It’s more like a flowing river… or less poetically, a revolving door, with people entering and exiting all the time (and some still whirling around and around). The convert population is forever in flux. There don’t seem to be many statistics available, presumably in part because it must be hard to study such a small population that is geographically dispersed. One study in Illinois by a Muslim researcher in the late ’90′s found that about 75% of American converts (race not mentioned) leave Islam, but how applicable these numbers might to elsewhere in North America or to the situation now even in Illinois is unclear. But speaking from experience, the converts I knew were often highly mobile in more ways than one: Some left Islam. Some left conservative Islam for much more liberal interpretations (which for us at that time meant pretty much that they had left Islam… and we lost contact with them). Some moved across the continent… or to the other side of the world. Some moved repeatedly.
The recent news items involving converts and extremism continue to really bother me. I mean, wtf??? What on earth is going on here?
Part of the problem is (for lack of a better word) the horror. Who on earth would have thought that it could be in any way appropriate to hack anyone to death? Some things are just beyond belief. Young men barely out of high school going somewhere half-way across the world to blow sh*t up and kill people they don’t know much if anything about, inspired by apparently little more than… propaganda videos with men in fatigues with Arabic slogans on their headbands and carrying guns while nasheeds play in the background??
There’s that type of horror, and then there is the quieter, yet somehow even more chilling horror. The stories of converts who get sucked into the role of enabler for extremists. Whether knowingly or unknowingly… or somewhere in-between. Extremists not only in the narrow sense that tends to dominate media coverage—those who use violence—but extremists in terms of social and/or political attitudes.
Part of the problem (again for lack of a better word) is the shame factor. In the public eye, these are my people.
In the last post, I talked about how “The Thaw” reminds me so much of similar North American Muslim discourses that I encountered when I converted. In particular, “The Thaw” reminds me of a particular Muslim rap song by Native Deen that I encountered well after I converted, but when my kids were young and thirsting for all the worldly things that we were trying to censor or prevent their access to.
For us, worried about keeping our kids Muslim (meaning, very conservative and inward-looking Muslim), the cassette tapes of “Muslim rap” and nasheed boy-bands and folk-y stuff that were slowly becoming available in the place we were living in the late ’90′s and early 2000′s seemed like a godsend. At least, Muslim songs with English words for a change that went beyond kindergartener-sounding stuff like “A is for Allah.” Music that sounded cool enough that it could engage our increasingly restless preteens and teenagers. We were perennially short of money, true, but we bought those tapes whenever we could get them, and played them for the kids (and to be honest, also for our own musically-starved selves…) at home and in the car.
Some of the lyrics of these songs disturbed me to varying degrees, but I tried to shove my reservations to the back of my mind. Here we were, after having endured years of music drought, making do with a few Arabic and Urdu nasheeds that we either didn’t completely understand or understood too well (and didn’t like their message…). We now had something half-way decent in English, that the kids would actually listen to. Far be it from me to start raising picky questions about lyrics. I’d better just be grateful, and hope that they’d keep on writing and performing, and that the writing would get better.
We didn’t have that many tapes, so as we played them, the same songs would come up over and over. I soon unwillingly learned the words to Native Deen’s “M.U.S.L.I.M,” and tried to suppress a twinge of… I wasn’t quite sure what… whenever it came on:
I often read blogs belonging to others who are at various points on the recovery-from-a-highly-conservative-religious-movement process. Partly, because sometimes I run across things or stories that helps me think more clearly about the issues that I am trying to sort out. Partly, because some of these bloggers are damn good writers. And partly… to feel less alone.
Much of what I read, I can identify with up to a point. But it’s rare—very rare—for me to read anything online and to feel that it describes my situation so well that it is almost as if I am seeing my reflection in a mirror. All the same, that is what reading Lynn Beisner’s post, “Why I Don’t Tell People I was in a Cult” was like for me. (I found it via Libby Anne’s take on it.)
“How can you tell someone the truth about your past when there’s a good chance they won’t believe you?
I am part of a minority group that I call “People with a Big Story” for lack of a better term. People with Big Stories have two things in common. First, something has happened in their lives that is so outside the range of the ordinary that it seems unbelievable to most people. The second thing is that this unbelievable event impacts their lives so greatly that they cannot keep it private.
For People with a Big Story, the most private and painful part of our lives, the stories we would want to share only with those we trust the most, cannot be hidden from people who know us. [....] What makes my sojourn in the cult different from other traumatic life events is that it created such a gaping hole in my personal history that I do not have a choice to keep it private. What makes it necessary for me to tell the Big Story is not the trauma of drills or the physical abuse that I survived. It is all that I missed…..
You cannot know me very well without having to know this. You would be surprised at how hard it is to go more than a few good conversations with a person that I like without hitting on a subject where an honest response would require knowledge of The Big Story….