Friday, February 17, 2006

Against the Panoptic God

Y’see, this bigwig called Bentham comes up with an architectural design he calls the Panopticon. It’s like a circular prison with individual cells around the circumference, so each prisoner is isolated from the other prisoners, unable to see or hear anyone at all, y'see. But there is this one bloke who sees you, there aint a place in your cell where he can't see you. He sits in a tower in the middle of the circle. He’s called the observer, or some such title. Clever lighting and blinds and stuff means you never know when you’re being watched by this observer, but the way things work in this panopticon, you soon realise the observer could be watching you at any moment, because he catches you out. Yeah, before long you start to act like you might be caught in his glare at any moment, until the fear of the isolated moment becomes your own special terror and then the observer’s assistants don’t even need to discipline you because you are disciplining yourself.

And after a bit, the observer says to you, “You can go, you are free!” But you aint. His glare is your glare, you looking at yourself, watching yourself, making sure you conform to the discipline of the panopticon, working and buying. Being docile. Docile and free.

And the whole idea turns out to be a treat for capitalism. It is so efficient and anyone can be an observer as long as he or she knows the ropes. Guns and truncheons are only required once in a while, y'see, not so often to make it feel like a tyranny, but just enough to keep us in check when we step out of line just to remind us there is no escape from the glare of the observer, whether he/she be an officer or a constable or a school master or an intellectual or a manager of a foreman or a doctor or a psychiatrist or a health visitor. There is no escape from capitalism, no sir, the observer makes sure you are a part of it through and through!

Before long, most of the rabble are sufficiently schooled and apprenticed and socially skilled and educated and mentally healthy and obedient to the law and sufficiently moral, all disciplining themselves to be docile bodies and work and spend and work without complaint.

Those calling for the integration or assimilation of Muslims into this capitalist panoptic, including those Muslims dazzled by the city lights of the new civilization, the Muslim elite who call themselves modernists and who are deeply impressed by the technology emerging from the panoptic workforce, they come up with the idea that each Muslim is a human being alone before God’s unflinching glare. God becomes the observer in the middle of the Panoptic Universe, looking constantly into the soul of the believer.

Muslims defeated by colonialism and fragmented by the postcolonial settlement are sucked into global capitalism's panoptic hegemony, and the suction doesn't just distort the light, it sucks it out, creating and nurturing a new, dark puritanism, which rushes like the virus through the conquered flesh of the Muslim ummah, its zombie soul even setting up house in Makka and Medina. Like a canker, it poisons even the extremities because the panoptic God and global capitalism and the observer soon become indistinguisable.

But the one true God is not a panoptic god. The purpose of humankind is not to work and buy, blind to the source of one's wealth. The purpose of humankind is to learn, it is to worship the One, it is to love that alone which is Real. Global capitalism may rise or it may fall, God alone knows, but God alone will never be housed in the architecture of greed. His sees all, but looking upon us and through us, our hearts are filled with forgiveness, and love, and mercy. And when we look thus enlightened at the world, and see the armies of greed, and the tutors of hate, and the doctors of domination, our hearts are filled with anger. And we rise.


The Muslim Anarchist

2 comment(s):

  • Salaam,

    Good post. I've been thinking a lot about slavery lately, and how slavery never really died here in the US. After 1865, slavery metamorphized into a form of constant sociocultural pressure that could be applied to ever-widening circles of people, both nationally and internationally. Depending on the given situation in which this force is being enacted, its ever-present manifestation is perpetually backed up by various and multiple forms of force in varying degrees, up to and including the threat of slavery itself.

    Reason I mention this is that the panopticon (in an architectural sense, as well as a social and memetic one) seems to be an active agent of this form of neo-slavery. You have your ever-present surveillance cameras, and if you live in one of those "bad" neighborhoods, you can count on the omnipresent eyes, ears and batons of law enforcement (note the grammatic structure of the term) to keep you in line, both young and old, and increasingly, black and white alike, to cite only two examples among many. It's as if the overseer never went away, but as KRS-One notes, became an "officer" -- ever present with the whip and gun (or tazer,) ready to strike if you don't work hard enough, or worse yet, dare to talk back.

    Of course, every time the net widens to include more people on the historically right side of the fence (in terms of race, gender, sexuality, class, etc.) as suspects, undesirables, potential terrorists, et. al., the people who are already being eyeballed are gazed upon with deepening scrutiny as well. Even the suburbs aren't safe anymore! (Oh the horror.)

    So it goes, here in the belly of the beast.

    By Blogger restive evolutionary, at 2/18/2006 11:22:00 AM  

  • The influence of slavery on contemporary social attitudes is given considered reflection in T. Zeldin (1994) 'An Intimate History of Humanity' (London: Vintage). Zeldin states an intention at the beginning of the book to pursue this causal theme with other historical phenomena and attitudes, but I'm not sure he realised this aim. In my mind, the book eventually morphs into a discourse on how Oxbridge historians see the world, itself almost an unintended argument in favour of interdisciplinary approaches! But like many esteemed historians, Zeldin is very readable.


    The Muslim Anarchist

    By Blogger Julaybib, at 2/18/2006 01:51:00 PM  

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