An Approach to Alternative Mapping


“The beauty of a landscape resides in its melancholy” (Orphan Pamuk)

morocco-fes-fes-el-bali-tanneryAs a Westerner about to travel to Morocco, I already anticipate that impressionable first intake of non-Western soil. I imagine disembarking the boat and being bombarded with all the colors, sights, sounds, and smells of a single first experience, eager to catalogue random tidbits of anything giving off a foreign vibe. But how can I cultivate a conscious resistance to generalization and stereotype prior to this introduction? How can I develop an alternative mapping, not limited to tourism? By educating oneself! Though that’s the simplified solution. More than following up with the news, more than charting boundaries based on political regimes or catering to any single idea of democracy in light of Arab Springs, look to see how people name themselves in creative forms in response to sites of trauma, of collective memory, of atrocity, resistance, and injustice – in effect, acknowledging the sacred spaces that define a community of people. The inherent difficulty behind this acknowledgment resides in the blind spots that arise from the hegemonic social paradigm promulgated by Western media. To name a few: there needs to be an active relinquishing of post 9/11 racism. In the context of our own sturdy wall separating church and state, we need to admit that we are nervous and dislike the idea of hybrid religious and political identities that in turn inhibit recognition of internal religious disputes. To continue, it is not the case that mass media has an exclusive globalizing effect and people need to accept the very prominent existence of Islamic feminism that deviates from the widely circulated image of the oppressed Muslim woman. And furthermore, we need to seriously relinquish the notion that the West has monopoly over an objective democratic recipe by which we measure the merit of external democratic pursuits (although it’s more like we don’t acknowledge other democratic efforts unless they are a direct offspring of our influence). As a traveling Westerner, I need to begin asking myself the question of “What groups are dismissed, labeled, or excluded by the Western press from this idea of democratic desire” (xix)? Upon entering a region, there needs to be a conscious effort to try to avoid the “dangerous fiction of a unified culture” while listening for the pluralistic voices in local protest that redefine democratic performance.  In regards to nations in mid democratic bloom, it helps to become consciously aware of these restrictions, biases, and generalizations characteristic of one’s own social paradigm as a means to better hear and become acquainted with the true authentic nature and hopes of another non-Western culture.

From a political state of melancholy, there stems social change and a need for creative emotional forums to reclaim identity and move toward communal healing. Segall’s Performing Democracy in Iraq and South Africa seeks to illuminate these “alternative spaces of communication and reception” (xvii). She adds three correctives: amid these creative spaces, there is a connected reimagining of gender locations, social contestation, and artistic revision. Flowers handed to guardsAs travelers, we need to attempt to see the beauty behind the overarching vision imagined by the people, the fodder for the community’s fight for justice and change. New cultural forms are emerging to lend all kinds of people voices and platforms to incite action, challenging previous gender roles and finding artistic outlets to encourage the impetus that is ushering in both political transformation and an excitement shared by communities over having so many creative venues to communicate through.  We need to ask ourselves what types of storylines do we dismiss as anomalies and which testimonies do we disregard on the grounds of not complying with the single stories Western media feed us?  Because those stories are very likely the ones we need to start paying attention to.



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