When a family member took me to watch New Moon for my birthday several months ago (for the second time I’m not ashamed to add), I found myself clashing with my nearest and dearest. For those of you who don’t know, New Moon is based on the Twilight Saga; a group of vampires who although live in ‘taqiyya’ nevertheless coexist harmoniously with humans, surviving on animal blood. The story is essentially centered around a cultured, warm hearted albeit cold blooded, God fearing heart throb of a vampire who falls in love with awkward, clumsy but empathetic human girl. Meet Edward and Bella. I discovered, after the movie, to my dismay that my companion not only had not appreciated the film (the reviews were pretty bad anyway) but was utterly sickened by the mere concept of a vampire- human relationship. Whilst many people I had met had enjoyed reading the book, I started to realise that friends and relatives who had spent the majority of their lives in Middle Eastern countries were repulsed by the idea of vampires. So I got to thinking, if, IF vampires really did exist, even if they had been peace loving, law abiding citizens, would they be accepted by the Iraqi community? I can’t help feeling that they would most likely be shunned. This vampire repulsion may denote a general disregard for the ‘other’. That is, other ethnic minorities, races, communities or British society at large.
The vampire analogy is quite useful in making numerous connections, for instance, vampires contaminate blood; this draws on cultural Iraqi anxieties over miscegenation. It could also touch on the issue of ‘Najaasa’ or so called impurity of “non-believers”, this particular attitude impedes integration as it creates a clear and severe us/them divide which is alienating and could generate and intensify xenophobic sentiments that are not consistent with the true values of Islam.
However, let’s flip the argument. Traditionally vampire literature has provided a nexus of discourses on ethnicity and nation, immigration and integration. The vampire as a minority would therefore mean that the roles are reversed and that it is us as British Iraqis that are in fact the ‘other’; the Vampire!
Conventionally vampires represent inassimilable immigrants, which admittedly, may be true for a portion of the Iraqi community. The vampire narrative has, however, reallocated from horror movies and gothic horror novels into the gothic romance genre. The old time vampire is an ungodly parasite seething with hateful malice and mindless blood thirsty callousness. Enter the modern vampire who comes sweeping, suave, kindly, exploding with altruistic humanitarian sentiments, riddled with existential questions on the nature of his soul.
This shift in modern cinematic and literary representations of vamps may reflect changes in public perceptions of immigrants. Stereotypes of immigrants as parasitic scroungers are being deconstructed and replaced with positive depictions. Modern Vampires, rather than being blood sucking leeches have changed their feeding habits and are instead contributing members of society; Twilight’s Dr. Cullen, the head of the Cullen Vampire coven is an extremely skilled doctor that has become an asset to the town of Forks. This is also increasingly true for second generation British Iraqis who instead of feeding off British taxpayers money have become active professionals that contribute to the socio-economic development of the country.
But it’s not all applause for British Iraqis. As a minority we tend to stay closed off from society at large, we remain an introvert community that harbours fears of losing its heritage and in a bid to cling to a romanticised cultural identity resists integration into mainstream society. Although complete assimilation wouldn’t necessarily be desirable, biculturalism; combining both cultures while maintaining some differences would be more ideal. Twilight vamps have adapted human customs whilst retaining their own practices and preserving their vampiric culture. For instance, they still drink blood as it is necessary for their survival but compromise by feeding solely on animal blood. In the same way, British Iraqis, particularly Muslim British Iraqis are able to retain their cultural identities and fulfil their religious duties whilst at the same time attempting to assimilate into dominant British culture in a way that is congruent with cultural and religious values. Of course we must acknowledge that it’s easier said than done and many complexities arise when trying to combine bamia with chips.
When I first set out writing this post, my original line of argument was that British Iraqis have a long way to go in order to catch up with the Cullen’s vampire coven in terms of assimilation, yet on drawing the comparisons my original view has been contested and I have come to realise that the community has made significant progress. However there is still much space for improvement and we can still take a page or two out of Edward and Bella’s books. Our community still harbours residues of racism, chauvinism, sexism and ethnocentrism.
Whatever side of the allegorical human/vampire dichotomy we place British Iraqis in, it seems that there is a lot of progress to be made when it comes to accepting the other or being the other. It’s about multiculturalism; it’s about how we view the other. When Iraqi attitudes towards other minorities change, when we stop seeing others as alien, we may then cease to be alien.