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Inconvenience Store

by Brandon Edmonds, images by Filipa Domingues / 28.05.2010

I live quite happily in Woodstock for the moment. It has about equal amounts of dogshit, dreadlocks and dreamcatchers. It also has people of the Islamic persuasion, Muslims. I just felt a chill writing that. Not really. Journalists love to imply that it’s dangerous and edgy to go there but, really, Salman Rushdie’s ordeal is a flare long since sputtered into tedium. Which brings us to the supposedly outlandish size of Zapiro’s balls. He just got the Mail & Guardian into more of the kind of rinky-dink uproar they clearly court, by publishing a cartoon of Allah on the analyst’s couch in heaven, saying, “Other Prophet’s have followers with a sense of humor!” The inevitable patter of ire and death threats rained down on that paper’s well-situated offices. Lawyers were engaged. A council of Muslim whatever got involved. Well-paid men uttered into top notch cell phones and the name of God seemed to have conjured a cyclone as ominous and elemental as the bravura ellipsis in the Coen Bros nervily bleak disquisition on faith, A Serious Man. Then nothing else happened. No divine intervention. No word from above. Just more hours billed. As a thoroughgoing disbeliever may I remind you that there is no God – Allah, or otherwise. Only cartoons, yummy Marlboro Lights, old carved chess pieces, bobbly breasts, and other good things – things that exist.

Anyway, it’s certainly one of the cartoonist’s weaker conceptions, unfunny, straining to be provocative, poorly drawn, and drearily calculated. It doesn’t work because it has too many bristling subtexts that go unacknowledged by the image: other Prophets (Jesus, Buddha) each have strains of evil in their faithful, there are killers, haranguers, and maniacs, in the mix of most any religion’s flock, for one. Plus the premise itself is weak. It values something it shouldn’t: an invitation to literally contravene one of the tenets of a faith. In this case, the prohibition against creating or distributing images of the Prophet Mohammad. The cartoon was inspired by “Everybody Draw Mohammad Day” (May 20). Another pointless evanescent online ‘meta-cause’ apparently in the name of freedom of expression, tolerance and blah blah. But really a time-wasting little aggregating meme, amassing all those who think a censored episode of South Park matters more than the outrageous BP oil spill, made possible by the deeply disappointing Obama regime’s easygoing approach to drilling protocols, belching death into the Gulf coast as you read this, or that Detroit police murdered a little black girl for no apparent reason (as if there could be). The cartoon is a plea for laughter but it’s half-assed execution is just laughable. But back to Woodstock.

Shops tend to shut down around here an hour for prayer between 1 and 2pm daily. It’s occasionally inconvenient. You get there and the door is closed. A hand-written sign declares “Closed for Prayer” or more brusquely: “Sorry back at 2”. In the grim instant it takes to internalize the smack of rejection, being on the outside looking in, money redundant in my hand, commerce foregone for faith, I’m replicating on a small scale larger currents at work in the ‘clash of civilizations’ – the intense 21st Century arm-wrestle between Islam and the West. I want to trade. But the door is closed. I want to know what prayer entails in the family space hidden behind and above the shop. Yet I resent the imposition of “another world” (the world of adherence and belief) onto my own, a life very much depleted of credible spiritual options. I want to cross the threshold into “Muslim ritual” and get to know the Other. I’m envious of devotion more than I’m wary of blind faith. The closed door symbolizes a series of closures.

There’s the closed door on refugees and “economic migrants” heading with little more than hope and hype daily for countries alien to their faith and habits. There’s the closed door on rational constructive dialogue in the Middle east (thanks chiefly to Israeli bellicosity and the Papa Bear backing of the United States). There’s the closed door of fundamentalist leaders in ‘arab countries’, indifferent to the populace, perpetuating ancient prejudices holding back progress. There’s the closed door of racism and ‘structural violence’ which ensures jobs and opportunity, education and remuneration, sail suspiciously close to ethnicity. There’s the closed door of belief and what I have. The other thing: a dreadful, pitiless nothing which turns being into a kind of game of distractions before the grave.

Then the door opens, and I’m let in.

All images © and courtesy Filipa Domingues.

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