About the Post

Author Information

Vampires ‘Я’ Us

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.

5 Comments on “Vampires ‘Я’ Us”

  1. Mustapha Roumani June 17, 2010 at 4:46 am #

    loving the observations… comparing iraqis to vampires is a brave move and it paid off!

  2. JA June 17, 2010 at 10:09 am #

    Wonderful comparisons.

    Although it does seems that many Iraqis try to maintain all their cultural identity and not even review their negative sides, this phenomenon seems to largely exist with Iraqis who remain as part of a large Iraqi community. There are of course benefits of large communities, yet at the same time, some negatives will also be passed on from generation to generation.

    If one cannot acknowledge and respect people from different backgrounds, faiths and colours, and finds themselves laughing at those who are different as opposed to trying to understand, then how will we develop individually, let alone as a community? Maybe there is a fear that if we, as a community, accept those who are different, it somehow means we lose our own identity and values, yet this is mere weakness of character.

    Having said that though, this is not always true the younger generation of Iraqis who have been educated here. We find that often the younger ones are those who have more open minds while the elders tend to not want to open their minds.

    Shame really, but something needs to change.

  3. Shkara June 18, 2010 at 12:29 pm #

    A unique analogy, and you write exceedingly well!

    However, in the effort to try and integrate Iraqi/Arab/Muslim people with British society I would like to highlight a major hurdle, and this hurdle is one of the main factors (I believe) behind the difficulties in integration between these two different worlds (i.e. East meets West). This hurdle is the secular nature of the Western world which has also been the flag bearer of modernism. The secularisation of life which began around the time of the Renaissance and increasingly gathered momentum over the last 300 years played a fundamental role in reshaping and forming the identity and culture of the West and the way they engaged with the world. From a macro/civilisational level, this ultimately led to the effect of man’s needs taking priority over anything else, giving rise to an increasingly materialistic outlook. The secularisation of life led to ‘desacralisation’ i.e. a loss of the sense of the sacred and any higher forms of reality, and has contributed significantly to the decline in the status of morals and values in the governing of people’s affairs (I am referring to these trends as products of the modern world which has reached nearly every corner of the world, not as something intrinsically Western).

    Contrast this with the people of the East, who traditionally have always held onto religion, acknowledgement and awareness of the reality of the soul and the order of nature as an intrinsic part of their identity. These factors played a deep influence on their cultural values, their ethical and moral views and how they see the world. Although they are becoming more secular, the Arabs and East in general never had secularism naturally evolve and develop in their world to the extent that it directed the way they were governed nor their economic system, and was actually enforced onto them as a result of colonialism and, later, globalisation (interestingly, one reaction to this has been the sharp rise in fundamentalism).

    With regards to Iraqis, because their Arab or Kurdish culture and traditions as well as their religious views are so intwined with who they are, it will be very difficult for them to integrate into Britain’s culture to the level that the British will accept them FULLY, unless they are willing to compromise on some of their beliefs (not necessarily of a religious nature). I for one would never compromise my principles and values just so that I can be liked by others. But I also believe that we have many ideas and values that Britain can fundamentally benefit from e.g. our emphasis on modesty, a strong sense of ‘karama’ i.e. dignity and self-respect as well as others (not sure about bamia though!). And I certainly believe we can learn (and have learnt) much from British culture.

    We Britsh Iraqis have the advantage of taking the best of two worlds. However this does not help resolve the differences in the foundations of these two worlds. The secular character and origins of Britain and the West means that it would be near impossible for full-on integration for those of us who wish to uphold our principles, but we can certainly engage more and adopt ideas that fit into ‘our world’ and make a positive impact on Britain as well as the lives of others.

  4. Asrar December 11, 2010 at 9:58 am #

    There is a HUGE difference between integration and assimilation that you seemed to have missed. One can still integrate into society whilst holding onto their cultural and religious traditions. You write really well mashAllah but i cant help but draw a sort of ‘othering’ from your own writing, you seem to place yourself above other British Iraqi’s because they don’t assimilate? Assimilation is unnecessary, we don’t need to assimilate to fit in, you don’t need to speak the language of the Empire to be accepted. By language, i don’t mean language literally, i just mean that we don’t need to be dictated by the Empire, they have taken enough from us as it is.

  5. Asrar December 11, 2010 at 9:59 am #

    There is a HUGE difference between integration and assimilation that you seemed to have missed. One can still integrate into society whilst holding onto their cultural and religious traditions. You write really well mashAllah but i cant help but draw a sort of ‘othering’ from your own writing, you seem to place yourself above other British Iraqi’s because they don’t assimilate? Assimilation is unnecessary, we don’t need to assimilate to fit in, you don’t need to speak the language of the Empire to be accepted. By language, i don’t mean language literally, i just mean that we don’t need to be dictated by the Empire, they have taken enough from us as it is.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: