Wednesday, March 13, 2019

PhD: Some notes on identity

Akeel Bilgrami has written a chapter on the notion of identity in a recently published lexicon on political concepts. He mentions the idea of Islam as an identity to quite a great extent. For me, this is interesting because my research is on the extent to which Islam (in a sense of membership of the global umma) is deemed or chosen as a primary identity by young people in Australia who identify in some way as Muslim.

Bilgrami distinguishes between subjective and objective identity, the distinction based on deliberate as opposed to not quite deliberate identification.

Subjective identity exists when a person deliberately chooses to identify with a particular characteristic, be it religion or race or language.

Objective is when a person doesn't necessarily identify with a characteristic.

Generally a subjective leads to political action. Hence we have identity politics which is so often criticised.

The sense of belonging to the umma can be subjective in that it relates to characteristics that a person actually has and with which that person chooses to identify with. It can also be objective in that it may relate to characteristics that a parson may or may not identify with. Identity of membership of the umma can be accidental or a deliberate act of identification.

Or must it be one or the other?

Bilgrami also mentions nationalism which he describes as a ...

... self-conscious majoritarian identity-formation ...
... involving the identification of some kind of internal enemy (usually a minority with something in common with an outside enemy) and causing it to be subjugated. This usually causes the minority to react.

The existence of multiple identities in a person does not mean that a certain identity cannot come to the fore and lead to political action. Though I wonder if it is really about choice and deliberation. What if the choice is forced upon you? What if you are a reluctant Muslim which your interest is more in your profession or your language? What if you, act as an act of defiance to majoritarian pressure, feel a moral obligation to set aside your preferred layer of identity in favour of Islam?

And to what extent does this make you feel part of some kind of umma?

 JM Bernstein, A Ophir & AL Stoler (2018) Political Concepts – A Critical Lexicon, Fordham University Press

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