I can’t possibly be the only person in the western world who is scared to death when thinking about the future – and I say this as a member of the cozy middle class. The middle class is no longer feeling cozy. Rather, it’s beginning to feel quite tight.
I suspect that there are quite a few of us middle-class folk feeling this way. A once privileged people, many are now finding themselves curiously concerned with class politics while being edged closer to the margins of society – from being members of the ‘haves’ club to facing very real prospects of becoming ‘have nots’. It’s an uncomfortable place. It’s even more uncomfortable complaining about it in light of people who have spent large portions of their lives as ‘have nots’. Why were these same middle class people not outraged long ago?
For those born and raised as members of the ‘haves’, the promises of our hard work paying off are crumbling. Sharing cities and towns with people who have been stuck in these very same margins we middle-class folk are suddenly so fearful of, we should have known better all along. Those living in the abode of ‘freedom and democracy’ are realising that the cherished promises were perhaps only a pretense keeping us patriotic and striving for the good life.
However, as long as I, a privileged American Muslim woman, concerned myself with the post-11th September identity politics that politicised me, I did ok. I still attended university, I still went out for nights on the town with my friends, and, most importantly, I was still in a position where I was able to make choices for myself – all the meanwhile moaning about a bigoted remark here, a few choice words there. Islamophobia sucked big time – it just didn’t suck enough.
10 years and 2 degrees after 11 September – degrees I was privileged enough to accomplish – and my senses have had chillingly cold water thrown at them. My ‘real income,’ despite my increased qualifications, has not kept up with the increased costs of living. I make worryingly less than I did 10 years ago. If I didn’t live in the UK, I suspect that I’d also be unable to afford healthcare in the United States, a privilege I had access to 10 years ago because my job subsidised it. When I visit the US and walk through the aisles of the local grocery store, it makes me quietly panic; I am no longer able to afford the food at these grocery stores.
I am forced to ask myself: what did my lamentations about post-9/11 Islamophobia do to improve my life? Perhaps in the process I’ve managed to build bridges of understanding between people – an important feat, nevertheless. Alternatively, I’ve exposed myself to the ruthless thinking of racists and xenophobes – carrying away with me some crucial lessons.
Frankly speaking, my life as a Muslim in the US or the UK, in the end, is not any better for it. I am certainly not any safer. If anything, the bigoted dogmas have gotten louder throughout the decade since 9/11 – a phenomenon, history repeatedly demonstrates, goes hand in hand with economic decline.
Beneath this bigoted vortex of the War on Terror lays a very dark and disturbing underbelly. Since the 2001 declaration of war on Afghanistan in order to root out terrorists posing as democracy’s greatest threat, the gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ has transformed into a bottomless gulf. This, I do believe, has been the real war.
I cannot help but to reflect back on my years of activism and wonder whether or not my priorities were in the right place. While I challenged the bigoted mantras of 9/11 reactionaries in the US and right wing nationalists in the UK, corporations have been aggressively securing their businesses overseas and simultaneously concluding that western labour was too costly. The jobs have been subsequently outsourced to the poorest nations in the world in order to exploit desperate peoples for pennies a day – a cheap cost us westerners could never compete with. Business executives, as a result, have gotten richer and richer.
In the US alone, 66% of the income growth between 2001 and 2007 went to the top 1% of all Americans. Compare this with the 1950′s when the ratio of average executive pay to average worker pay was 30 to 1. Since the year 2000, this ratio has increased to anywhere between 300 to 1 to 500 to 1. By 2010, 61% of Americans were living from paycheck to paycheck. That number grew from 43% in 2007. I suspect, now that we’re halfway through 2011, the number has probably grown even larger.
I shudder to think what these numbers must look like in the UK. Using the recent riots as a pretext, David Cameron’s proposals to cut back even further on social safety nets, to crack down on social media, and the punitive, humiliating, and collective punishment style sentencing for accused rioters, are terrifying. Brits, too, are becoming poorer, and now their civil liberties waning.
More and more supposedly middle-class Americans and Brits are finding themselves needing assistance from food pantries and soup-kitchens over the past 10 years. While it shouldn’t have taken the faces of a few privileged people sharing soup-kitchen meals with those locked into poverty to cause a moral outrage, the new reality, often dubbed ‘the new normal’, is shocking – particularly for those raised with bourgeois sensibilities and ideals. I raise my hand in shame.
While I certainly don’t deny that Islamophobia is the “opiate of the asses” (to quote a friend), I cannot help but to feel that Islamophobia was the opiate of my very misguided bourgeois politics.
The real material of this fiscal crisis has been a decade in the making. The back and forth bickering between national groups isn’t going to change America’s new credit rating or curb austerity measures throughout Europe. I cannot help but to feel that all these identity politics are fast becoming a real and dangerous distraction. Tea Partiers, EDL members, and British and American Muslims objecting to Islamophobia, are all complaining about the same thing at the end of the day: our governments are not listening to us and it doesn’t appear that they will be listening to any of us any time soon. Perhaps it is this we should mull over as we approach the 10 year anniversary of 9/11.