The Unbearable Toxicity of “Native Informant”

The Unbearable Toxicity of “Native Informant” January 1, 2016

I wish this wasn’t something that I felt I need to say. But it keeps coming up again and again. People, stop calling moderate Muslims and Ex-Muslims things like “native informant”, “porch monkey”, “House Muslim”, “Black Skin White Mask”, etc. Stop it.

The idea behind these racial slurs (yes, they are slurs) are simple. They are post-colonial in root, and this is simply the most toxic idea coming out of that ideology, with all its merits and demerits. And I believe it’s an idea which goes against the core professed goal of post-colonialism.

Of course, like all bad ideas, there are some good things about this idea where it originated. It originated in a book called Black Skin, White Masks by Franz Fanon. Wikipedia summarizes the book thus:

He applied psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic theory to explain the feelings of dependency and inadequacy that Black people experience in a White world. That the divided self-perception of the Black Subject who has lost his native cultural origin, and embraced the culture of the Mother Country, produces an inferiority complex in the mind of the Black Subject, who then will try to appropriate and imitate the culture of the colonizer. Such behavior is more readily evident in upwardly mobile and educated black people who can afford to acquire status symbols within the world of the colonial ecumene, such as an education abroad and mastery of the language of the colonizer, the white masks.

At this stage, I believe, the concept is not wrong, without merits, and harmful. While the potential for the corruption which later happened is there, it’s still useful in asking the members of the marginalized groups to take a look at their ideologies and see if they are not reinforcing a system which benefits people other than them. It is undeniable that marginalized people end up supporting marginalizing ideologies all the time.

But then, this idea morphs into “Native Informant”. It seems that now the idea has evolved into something much more insidious. Now it seems that it has become a way to shut up internal dissent in cultures and marginalized groups by ascribing it to aiding the “colonizers”.

And since I have encountered this as an Ex-Muslim a lot, and I have seen the topic brought up again and again by Ex-Muslims, and I have seen this line of attack against moderate Muslims too, it’s time to put an end to it.

There are many examples one can name. For example one can point out to Deepa Kumar who talked about Neoconservatives, Zionists, the Christian Far Right, and of course Ex-Muslims and other Native Informants as some kind of alliance against Muslims. She said – in typical racist fashion – that she did not mean “all Ex-Muslims”, only those aligned with the Far Right. Are there such Ex-Muslims? Yes. There are such Muslims too. That said, one can only take a look at the wider context of her works to see that she is basically intolerant of Islam being criticized, for example her attack against the Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad and her “Marxist” analysis of the rise of political Islam, in which we learn the rise of political Islam is the fault of anyone and anything, especially imperialism and the West, but not Muslims themselves and the tenets of Islam and its scripture and tradition.

Of course when it comes to Deepa Kumar people like me would be the allies of the Far Right and a thorn on her side, because we want to shift the blame from the external factors into our internal factors. I strive to have a nuanced view of things, and I don’t deny the importance of Western factors such as redrawing the maps after WWI or the Iraq invasion, but the fact remains that people like me point out that Islam itself, in its many ideological forms, in its scripture, and in its traditions, provides a very fertile ground for political Islam, which is basically a theocratic Islam.

But that doesn’t make me an ally of the warmongers and Islamophobes, nor a self-hating Muslim nor a “Native Informant”. It makes me an internal dissident.

This issue keeps coming up. Maajid Nawaz is a frequent target, for example he was called a porch monkey by a Muslim journalist Murtaza Hussain for the crime of writing a book with Same Harris, and Nawaz is not even an ex-Muslim, but a liberal Muslim.

The most disgusting example of this behavior is CJ Werleman, renowned plagiarist and anti-New Atheist activist, who has shown this attitude in the most revolting way possible. He keeps going after Nawaz with this angle. In this tweet he says “Maajid Nawaz is a Muslim in the same way Dick Cheney is a Christian”, (which is technically true, because Nawaz is a Muslim and Cheney is a Christian), in which he feels quite able to ex-communicate a professed Muslim for the crime of being critical of his own culture and not being afraid to hold honest conversations with those opposing his religion.

In this tweet, Werleman says “If [Sam Harris’s] “House Muslim” [Maajid Nawazis an actual Muslim, I’m an OB-GYN.”

Let’s pause and think about that. House Muslim is a play on the racist slur “House Nigger”. It refers to a slave who works at the house rather than the plantation. Now like all other racist slurs, some African-American activists like Malcolm X have used this slur for their own goals, but just stop for a moment and imagine a white person calling a progressive Christian black person a “House Nigger” because they are critical of Christianity as it is practiced in the world today. What would you call that person?

You would call that person a racist. And CJ Werleman is racist. It’s racist for a white man to call a Muslim person of color a “House Muslim”.

And it’s not only CJ Werleman’s racism. There’s something deeply reactionary and regressive about Deepa Kumar and Murtaza Hussain. They might appear to be coming from a position of defending equality and rights, but they don’t, they simply create barriers against criticizing religion and culture. Kumar’s attack against Danish cartoons and her attempts to pin the situation in the Middle East completely (rather than partially) on Western influence is simply an endeavor to make sure Prophet Muhammad remains this figure that cannot be ridiculed or criticized, that no critical eye examines or self-examines Muslims culture. Murtaza Hussain’s insult toward Nawaz basically does the same.

Calling progressive Muslims or ex-Muslims “Native Informant” or “House Muslim” are not only attempts to shut down criticism – they make the original goals of post-colonialism moot as well. Stereotypes, colonialist attitudes, and Islamophobia are wrong because they reduce the individual to a cliche of how their culture is perceived. But in the world of people like Werleman and Kumar, individuals born into Muslim cultures either have to accept their culture or they are not “authentically” of that culture, but Native Informants.

Doesn’t this define a stereotype of how a Muslim should be, and doesn’t this commit the same crime as Islamophobia, that is, to erase the person in the favor of the culture?

Anti-colonialist activists must avoid a pitfall. If they want to stand against colonialism and Islamophobia, they should refrain from creating a black and white image in which the Islamic culture is the absolute good guy, and the internal dissidents and critiques become a blind spot of such a worldview, and brushed aside as “Native Informants”. This will ignore the multitudes of people oppressed within those cultures – women, LGBT, apostates, minority religions, etc – and instead of a liberating movement, this type of post-colonialism ends up being the first line of defense in favor of totalitarianism.

Many have asked in recent days if there’s such a thing as “Regressive Left”. There is. It’s the kind of Left that attempts to silence the internal dissidents of cultures by calling them “Native Informant”.

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