What Do You Do With Baggage?

You unpack. As I mentioned in a previous talk, baggage is not necessarily a bad thing. Its use, in relation to those who’ve either come to America, or come to Islam as Americans, is all too often used as a pejorative. But consider the following:

“How many Californians ponder routinely about the Spanish names of their streets and towns? How many Italians today do not see the tomato as an intrinsic part of their cultural heritage? How many Native American leaders would dare to reject the horse as culturally foreign?” Michel-Rolph Trouillot, North Atlantic Universals: Analytical Fictions, 1492–1945.

Baggage allows one to make the trip; to survive the voyage. But if one does not unpack, such parcels, real or imaginative, can become a cumbersome burden, inhibiting the natural course of indigenization. As Trouillot — a renowned Haitian anthropologist — points out to us, life is liquid and dynamic. I see the overindulgence in nostalgia, be it for a homeland (Pakistan, Egypt, etc.) or a time, such as al-Andalus, detrimental to the necessary hybridization process that needs to take place between American soil and Muslims. The self-imposed cosmic exceptionalism of Islam and America (they are mutually incompatible) is not only irresponsible, but flies in the face of (Islamic!) history itself.

Simply put, it’s time to unpack our baggage. And while I know this is easier said than done, the consequences of not doing so will mean the castigation of a generation and its progeny to a no-man’s-land. And that is a destiny none of us wants to fulfill.