Bentham's Panopticon

Bentham’s Panopticon, designed is to allow a single watchman to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inmates of an institution without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. Similar to how one feels in religious or ideological communities

There was a time in my life when I followed the religion of Islam in absolutist and utopian terms. Upon “thinking” my way out of  an absolutist left-wing political mind-set in a community of punks, I then found myself drawn to a rigid interpretation of the Islamic faith. All whilst I was still a university undergraduate.

I come from a very secular background. My family is liberal, practical, and anti anything too ideologically heavy or rigid when it comes to life, politics or even personal philosophy. As a teenager I was also very much this way.

So I guess it came as very much of a surprise to my friends and family that I adopted a fairly relgiously rigid outlook. This however was a slow process.

Thinking my way out was equally as slow, but thankfully this eventually happened.

Nowadays I am still, what I guess you could call a nominal Muslim. Maybe even just a cultural Muslim. But I don’t practice anymore. I am not anti-religion, but I am not pro-religion either. Above all, I am a fan of freedom of thought and expression.

A turning point for me in my journey away from absolutist thinking came through a chance reading of Steven Hassan’s book Combatting Cult Mind ControlThere was very little on the internet at that time on mass thinking in a religious context (particularly the Islamic context) other than hyperbolic right-wing or Christian run anti-Muslim sites which weren’t helpful at all (another form of fanatacism right there). I found the book in a bookshop and, once I opened it, I couldn’t put it down because I saw so much of myself in it.

I am lucky I also still had the presence of mind to notice that my world-views were changing in a way that, once I admitted it to myself, I didn’t feel comfortable with. But picking up Hassan’s book really was the last nail in the coffin. I began to realise that, to an extent, I had too been brainwashed. Brainwashed by people I considered my friends too. It was a fairly strange feeling, but it is also the most liberating feelings I have experienced.

Following my ideological detachment came the process of slowly distancing myself from the “community” and my “friends”. I put friends here in inverted commas because, as it turned out, many of these people weren’t really my friends. As I became less outwardly religious, I realised these people were only interested in being close to me either for the religious brownie points they got for shaping me to the mould of the perfect “Muslimah“, or for some weird form of validation of a faith they may be internally questioning themselves. But I’ll never really know.

This blog is not about apostasy or “leaving the faith”. This is just about reclaiming my own mind.

The whole Muslim-Non Muslim dichotomy is damaging and thankfully, it wasn’t such a big leap for me because I managed to think my way out of the spiral to fundamentalism before I had to address that. But I did live there for a while.

What changed me was managing to identify the path which I was going down, and recognising I was becoming unhappy, and that a life of submission to religious absolutism was not me. It was someone elses grand plan that I got caught up in.

The most important part of this “journey” for me, has been the ability to develop strategies over the years to identify ideologically absolutist ways of thinking. Simply in order to protect myself. I have also developed a bit of a fascination with the reasons people still subscribe (or “submit) the these ways of seeing and experiencing the world. And I guess that’s what I intend to share here.


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  1. Pingback: Impossible mimesis | A Sober Second Look

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