I was watching Bill Maher interview Maajid Nawaz the other day and was very impressed with the Quilliam Foundation he and others had founded. I will probably not do justice to the interesting and necessary work they are doing, but in essence, they are creating counter narratives to the narrative of extreme Islamism so prevalent in the world today. What resonated with me was that they recognized that directly attacking or criticizing Islamism, was not productive and in fact, echoed the communication and behavior they did not want to emulate. Instead of taking a critical approach and chastising followers, they are creating alternatives, so that people have choices away from extremism. Instead of pushing against Islamism and developing more resistance, they are leaving it where it is and building something new.
In many situations, we know that our current state of affairs may not be satisfactory and when alternatives are presented to us we want to take the alternative even if it brings with it a whole host of other difficulties. We know the suffering we have now and so we escape into this meta-narrative that promises us relief. This does not develop or generate agency in us to make critical choices about our lives. Creating alternative narratives allows us opportunities to exercise our thinking muscles and provides ways to enhance our self-esteem, as we take more control of our destinies with viable options.
Alternative narratives allow us the opportunity to make a different type of social world within which to live. We can recreate our identities as we let go of the qualifiers that spiral us down into further despair and instead, we can identify those critical moments that provide us the choices to take different paths that spiral us upwards into a more hopeful and generative space. The support of a network of others in the same struggle allows for strength in community.