Modern Islam And The Disease Within

Even a country like Turkey can't find its way into the modern era. What remains is a negative, aggressive "discount Islam" that creates problems around the world

Inside a mosque in Dhaka on July 28
Inside a mosque in Dhaka on July 28
Zafer Senocak*


BERLIN â€" A Turkish newspaper recently reported that there isn't a single internationally patented pharmaceutical product that has been developed in Turkey. This is despite the fact that Turkey is one of the most advanced Muslim countries, technically and scientifically speaking.

The Muslims of our world don't develop remedies. They spread diseases like radical Salafism, and these diseases are both chronic and incurable. Even though the art of healing rose in the Orient during the Middle Ages, with Muslim and Jewish doctors at the forefront of medical developments in their profession. But the "healing" Islam of the Middle Ages has, over the centuries, turned into a diseased Islam that now poses a worldwide threat.

The incurability of the Muslim psyche is directly linked to the loss of Islamic culture's creative forces. Muslims grow up in a world that is dominated by dependencies. Women are dependent on men, young Muslims are dependent on their elders, and the entirety of the Islamic world is dependent on the rest of the superior world.

Still, dependency is not the cause of this deficiency, especially in these days of global networking, even if Muslims perceive these as forms of subordination, causing them to always feel inferior and not in control.

The incurability is a direct consequence of this permanent inferiority in comparison to a foreign culture that is superior in all areas. The disease prevents any kind of reconciliation.

Every civilization will, sooner or later, be measured by its sensitivity towards its surrounding environment. That environment is part of the world that provides protection and security. In the Islamic world that connection between humans and the immediate environment has been destroyed, and with it urban culture in Islamic metropolises has collapsed and left catastrophic living conditions.

There can be no humility where humiliation reigns. The Islamic culture has lost all its humility because it is subjected to constant humiliation. A part of the incurability of the Muslim complex is the belief in conspiracy theory. Everyone else but them is responsible for their misery. The U.S., the West or Israel are favorite targets of Muslim paranoia. And nowhere else is the fragility of these conspiracy theories more evident than in Turkey.

Turkey has been practicing democracy and secularism for more than a century, and yet too many Turks suffer from the same incurable disease as the rest of the Muslim world. The same newspaper that reported that no medicine has been developed in Turkey also reported that more than 10,000 people joined ISIS in the last three years. To me, these reports are two sides of the same coin. Turkey, a NATO member state, somehow managed to come under suspicion to have supported ISIS logistically.

The Turks have more than enough reason to be proud of a secular system that has given them relative stability in a volatile region. But instead of cherishing that stability, they hanker for a Muslim society, send their children to religious schools and stand idly by while the most atrocious crimes are committed in the name of their religion.

There are many people in Turkey who believe that the West is behind all of the misfortune of the Middle East. Books about World War I and the era of imperialism are in great demand. It nearly seems as if World War II never even happened.

But then again, in the consciousness of many Muslims, it never did happen. The abattoir that was Europe barely touched the Islamic world. Instead, memories of the colonial era have come to life again and are being kept alive by a psychological deformation that disables any kind of rational analysis.

Modern Turkey is increasingly trying to fight Islamism, but the European elites have left them more or less to deal with the problem by themselves. Is that a tribute to the melancholy postmodernism or is it the beginning of a rejection of the ideals of the Enlightenment?

The desire of Turkish intellectuals to act as a bulwark against Islamism might save the Turkish Republic from becoming an Islamic state, but that doesn't in itself solve a single problem in the Islamic world. This is because Muslims from Morocco to Malaysia and the diaspora spreading by the whims of migration are immune to intellectual discourse that may cause them to view their own position in a critical light. The Islamic world is immersed in a phantasmagoria of their own cultural, moral and social decline, and turning back is not an option.

The path to 21st century healing is barred to Muslims. The disease they suffer from is incurable because their poisoned thoughts, encumbered with the prejudices of centuries, have formed a fateful alliance with their damaged psyche. The pathogen of the disease has nested in the thought processes and contaminated their very thoughts.

All attempts to conquer this disease have failed so far. But have they really tried? The well-educated and philosophically versed Muslim scholars consider themselves immune to the disease that has infected their faith. But that is a mistake! A disease that has infected your thoughts is not going to stop at the supposedly safe realms of the intellectual world. Quite the opposite. The disease searches for a culture ripe for thoughts to be born and developed.

In this day and age of digital communication, the medium of culture reaches into all areas of the globe and the spread of the disease cannot be controlled. The simple Koranic schools of the Islamic world, which are often no more than a hole in the wall, have long since achieved dominion over the teachings and the practicing of Islam of elaborately fitted university theological departments.

Especially in the diaspora, educational distance is passed on from generation to generation, and it is in this society that the ‘discount Islam’ rapidly gains ground.

The free world will, sooner or later, have to react to the breakdown of civilization within the Islamic world just as it reacted to Nazi Germany in 1941.

But shouldn’t there also be dissemination of a life-affirming mentality beyond the military response? When young democracies such as Tunisia are attacked, we need an answer that will support the civilian society of that country. But not just in that country.

Are dissidents, who want an open-minded society within the Islamic world, getting enough solidarity? Is Saudi Arabia truly an ally in the fight against Islamic extremists? Why is it not possible to give our community of shared values a face that doesn't shy away from asking these questions?

*Zafer Senocak is a Turkish-born German writer.
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Where Lockdowns For LGBTQ Meant Moving Back In With Homophobic Relatives

The confinement experience could turn brutal for those forced to live with relatives who would not tolerate a member of the family living their sexual orientation openly as a young adult. Here are stories from urban and rural India.

At a Rainbow pride walk in Kolkata, India

Sreemanti Sengupta

Abhijith had been working as a radio jockey in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, 2020. When the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, Abhijith returned to the rural Pathanamthitta district , where his parents live with an extended family, including uncles, cousins and grandparents.

Eighteen months later, he recalled that the experience was "unbearable" because he had to live with homophobic relatives. "Apart from the frequent reference to my sexual 'abnormality', they took me to a guruji to 'cure' me," Abhijith recalled. "He gave me something to eat, which made me throw up. The guru assured me that I was throwing up whatever 'demon' was possessing me and 'making' me gay."

Early in 2021, Abhijith travelled back to Thiruvananthapuram, where he found support from the members of the queer collective.

Inspired by their work, he also decided to work towards uplifting the queer community. "I wish no one else goes through the mental trauma I have endured," said Abhijit.

Abhijith's story of mental distress arising from family abuse turns out to be all too common among members of India's LGBTQ+ community, many of whom were trapped in their homes and removed from peer support groups during the pandemic.

Oppressive home situations

As India continues to reel from a pandemic that has claimed more lives (235,524) in three months of the second wave (April-June 2021) than in the one year before that (162,960 deaths in March 2020-March 2021), the LGBTQ community has faced myriad problems. Sexual minorities have historically suffered from mainstream prejudice and the pandemic has aggravated socio-economic inequalities, instigated family and institutionalized abuse, apart from limiting access to essential care. This has resulted in acute mental distress which has overwhelmed queer support infrastructure across the country.

Speaking to queer collective representatives across India, I learned that the heightened levels of distress in the community was due to longstanding factors that were triggered under lockdown conditions. Family members who are intolerant of marginalized sexual identities, often tagging their orientation as a "disorder" or "just a phase", have always featured among the main perpetrators of subtle and overt forms of violence towards queer, trans and homosexual people.

Calls from lesbians and trans men to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns.

Sappho For Equality, a Kolkata-based feminist organization that works for the rights of sexually marginalized women and trans men, recorded a similar trend. Early in the first wave, the organization realized that the existing helpline number was getting overwhelmed with distress calls. It added a second helpline number. The comparative figures indicate a 13-fold jump in numbers: from 290 calls in April 2019-March 20 to 3,940 calls in April 2020-May 2021.

"Most of the calls we have been getting from lesbians and trans men are urgent appeals to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns," said Shreosi, a Sappho member and peer support provider. "If they happen to resist, they are either evicted or forced to flee home. But where to house them? There aren't so many shelters, and ours is at full capacity."

Shreosi says that the nature of distress calls has also changed. "Earlier people would call in for long-term help, such as professional mental health support. But during the pandemic, it has changed to immediate requests to rescue from oppressive home situations. Often, they will speak in whispers so that the parents can't hear."

Lack of spaces

Like many of his fellow queer community members, life for Sumit P., a 30-year-old gay man from Mumbai, has taken a turn for the worse. The lockdown has led to the loss of safe spaces and prolonged residence at home.

"It has been a really difficult time since the beginning of the lockdown. I am suffering from a lot of mental stress since I cannot freely express myself at home. Even while making a call, I have to check my surroundings to see if anybody is there. If I try to go out, my family demands an explanation. I feel suffocated," he said.

The pandemic has forced some queer people to come out

Sumit is also dealing with a risk that has hit the community harder than others – unemployment and income shortage. He's opened a cafe with two other queer friends, which is now running into losses. For others, pandemic-induced job losses have forced queer persons from all over the country to return to their home states and move in with their families who've turned abusive during this long period of confinement.

Lockdowns force coming out

According to Kolkata-based physician, filmmaker and gay rights activist Tirthankar Guha Thakurata, the pandemic has forced some queer people to come out, succumbing to rising discomfort and pressure exerted by homophobic families.

"In most cases, family relations sour when a person reveals their identity. But many do not flee home. They find a breathing space or 'space out' in their workspaces. In the absence of these spaces, mental problems rose significantly," he said.

Not being able to express themselves freely in front of parents who are hostile, intolerant and often address transgender persons by their deadname or misgender them has created situations of severe distress, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.

Psychiatrist and queer feminist activist Ranjita Biswas (she/they) cites an incident. A gender-nonconforming person died under suspicious circumstances just days after leaving their peer group and going home to their birth parents. The final rites were performed with them dressed in bangles and a saree.

"When a member of our community asked their mother why she chose a saree for someone who had worn androgynous clothes all their life, she plainly said it was natural because after all, the deceased 'was her daughter,'" Biswas recalls.

The Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling

David Talukdar/ZUMA

"Correctional" therapy

In India, queer people's access to professional mental healthcare has been "very limited," according to community members such as Ankan Biswas, India's first transgender lawyer who has been working with the Human Rights Law Network in West Bengal.

"A large majority of the psychiatrists still consider homosexuality as a disorder and practice 'correctional therapy'. It's only around the big cities that some queer-friendly psychiatrists can be found," Biswas said. "The pandemic has further widened the inequalities in access to mental health support for India's LGBTQ community."

Biswas is spending anxious days fielding an overwhelming amount of calls and rescue requests from queer members trapped in their homes, undergoing mental, verbal and even physical torture. "We don't have the space, I just tell them to wait and bear it a little longer," he said.

Medical care is dismal

Anuradha Krishnan's story, though not involving birth family, outlines how the lack of physical support spaces have affected India's queer population. Abandoned by her birth family when she came out to them as a trans woman in 2017, Anuradha Krishnan (she/they), founder of Queerythm in Kerala who is studying dentistry, had to move into an accommodation with four other persons.

Isolation triggered my depression

"I am used to talking and hanging around with friends. Isolation triggered my depression and I had to seek psychiatric help." Living in cramped quarters did not help with quarantine requirements and all of them tested positive during the first wave.

What is deeply worrying is that the Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling, placing more and more pressure on queer collectives and peer support groups whose resources are wearing thin.

During the 10 months of the first wave of the pandemic in India in 2020, Y'all, a queer collective based in Manipur, received about 1,000 distress calls on their helpline number from LGBTQ+ individuals. In May 2021 alone, they received 450 such calls (including texts and WhatsApp messages) indicating a telling escalation in the number of queer people seeking help during the second wave.

As India's queer-friendly mental health support infrastructure continues to be tested, Y'all founder, Sadam Hanjabam, a gay man, says, "Honestly, we are struggling to handle such a large number of calls, it is so overwhelming. We are also dealing with our own anxieties. We are burning out."

Sreemanti Sengupta is a freelance writer, poet, and media studies lecturer based in Kolkata.

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