Friday, May 19, 2006

The Importance of an identifiable minority

Reports by Human Rights groups are raising alarms about legislation purportedly passed by the Iranian parliament: this legislation stipulates that a Muslim dress code be implemented, whereby persons adhere to a strict code of similar "Islamic" clothing items, and that non-Muslims wear badges that identify them as such (Jew, Christian, Zoroastrian are the major non-Muslim groups identified). It appears obvious that this is a tactic designed to further implement an ideal Muslim state in Iran, which poses a unique problem. Culturally, non-Muslim advanced or developed societies, such as the United States or France, see such cultural identifications as "closed" or "undemocratic." What's unique is that many Iranian clerics counter arguments about their state's "undemocratic" procedural politics with arguments about the inherent democratic participatory norms of Islam--an Islamic state, for many Muslims--is inherently democratic by participation in the laws of God passed down to man. These completing claims about participation, and the types of legislation that follow, are quite difficult to measure against one another.

A larger problem emerges from this purported situation in Iran: the identifiable minority. In many cases, states that wish to impose a particular form of association--the slave economy, the national socialist regime, the Indian reservation, the refugee camp--depend upon an easily identifiable minority that is in fact clearly powerless--which means that such persons are easily outside of the structures of power that dictate "inclusion" and "exclusion." "Exclusive" politics is the norm in most states; this much is clear; what is troubling is figuring how to measure various points of exclusion.

-The Illegal Worker. The inherent contradiction in American society is building an economy of free exchange upon the tenets of exploitation of a marginal group. This has occurred multiple times in various points of history: the slave worker, the Chinaman on the railroad, the industrial laborer in the age of Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie, etc. The point is to build productivity and societal prosperity upon the backs of a group that is in a twofold position: (a) in need of basic survival (obtaining food, shelter, etc. depends upon the conditions of labor, whether that labor is voluntary or involuntary); (b) “other-than” or “different-from” the society at large. This helps keep such groups in positions of inferiority even long after the terms of labor are void; the image of the other remains clearly in tact, in our minds, as we understand that such a person is clearly identifiable as our inferior; our politics of equality of opportunity thus depend upon our providing an opportunity that strengthens our position or status in the state, while keeping the status of the other in relative flux (e.g., politics are equal if there is one official language through which the state conducts its language; politics are equal if there are persons that can be identified as “illegal,” which means that their status as persons, their status for existence, rests outside of the weights and measures of political process.

(The contradiction, of course, is that if the pressure by Americans to exclude illegal immigrants and rid America of illegal laborers succeeds, one of the major tenets of free exchange will disappear, and slowly the exploitative jobs filled by undocumented and clearly powerless, illegal workers will need to be filled by either (a) a newly excluded, identifiable minority group, or (b) non-minority workers—this possibility is incredibly interesting in my mind. Will non-minority workers, legal workers with access to political process, take such marginal positions of labor?)

-The Religious Other. In the realm of cultural practice, as viewed in Iran, based upon religion, the terms of exclusion (the same terms, on the other side, as political equality or participation within/access to political process) are determined through Muslim status. The unique point of this sort of exclusion is its relative separation from linguistic, ethnic, or racial minorities. There is no Jewish race, there is no Christian ethnicity; these entities, and their exclusion or identification, are based upon practice and affirmation/denial of beliefs. This type of exclusion is equally as dangerous as brute exclusion based upon ethnic or linguistic minority status (which is an easier status to determined); and thus, the exercise of exclusion depends upon the introduction of new symbols of oppression: the star of David; the Swastika; and in Iran, blue cloth for Zoroastrians, yellow badges for Jews. The contradiction of equality are here the juxtaposition of a certain participatory status offered to Muslims over and above these other groups, based upon a new symbol. What’s difficult to swallow here is the defiling of a great religion; for, what occurs when one religious group introduces new symbols that they impose upon other groups in order to exclude them from some participation in society? Will the yellow badge of the Jew become a new symbol of worship in Iran? Marginalized group, marginalized worship/cultural practice equals, on the other hand, the strengthening of the mainstream political process, one of worship and democratic participation beneath the laws of God as dictated to man—here a contradiction in terms.

This contradiction is a cultural equivalent to the American economic contradiction of legal, free exchange versus illegal worker on an exploitative jobsite (marginalized group, marginalized labor equals, on the other hand, the strengthening of the mainstream political process, one of “free and equal democracy”—here a contradiction in terms).

Beware of the terms of your equality, the terms of your participation in society. Beneath your status of inclusive politics resides its contradictory counterpart, the exclusion of a group that in turn solidifies the mainstream order. This is a destruction of politics. Politics cannot exist in such a situation; inclusivity cannot be maintained by exclusivity and remain political; such is the politics of coercion, the politics of repression. If we are concerned about democracy, we will not only criticize Iran and demand truly equal terms of participation; we will work on our own contradictory “democratic” participation, the participation of free exchange above marginal labor and illegal workers.


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9:37 AM  

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