‘Assalamu alaikum, no oink for me’

Stories from the Outside

I hate pigs. I’m still not completely sure why I hate them. I’m sure one of the reasons must be them being prohibited from being consumed or raised in some cases in Islam. I usually ask about the reason for why certain things are prohibited, but when it comes to pigs, I accept any answer, including, but not limited to, “They’re the dirtiest animals ever.” I even accept, without any inquiries for further evidence, the more “rational” and “scientifically based” answers, such as, “They grow worms inside them as long as 10 meters.” 

When my friend said, “Pigs are haram,” it was my first time hearing this phrase. I thought, “Well, duh.” We are both Muslim, and we are well aware of this fact. By pigs, however, she meant cops. And that immediately made perfect sense to me. I may be more skeptical with answers about pigs, but when it came to cops, there wasn’t much to be skeptical about. She then started singing one of Nicki Minaj’s lyrics, “Assalamu alaikum, no oink for me.” We started wondering whether Minaj was embracing the teachings of Islam or calling for police abolition. But in any case, when I bring up abolition, I also call for abolishing internalized police propaganda: your inner pig that surveils, tracks and hunts. 

I wrote a piece two months after graduating from high school; it was a letter to Mama. I told her that my body “neglected the strains of gender.” I still don’t know how I had the courage then to share such a personal piece with the world, but I submitted it to a publication anyway. I didn’t expect much, so when I received the acceptance email, I didn’t know how to react. I just had to learn how to cope with knowing one of my truths would be on display for all to see. I didn’t think about the piece again until my friend texted me about two weeks ago. 

She asked me to be careful. A friend of hers knew she was my friend, and some unspecified “other people” had sent him a link to that piece. He wanted direct confirmation from her about my gender identity and sexuality. Neither she nor I know who those “other people” were. What we did know, however, was that my piece was being investigated and researched, with the use of public evidence and inquiry from close sources, by complete strangers who apparently just couldn’t sit with the idea of me coming to believe, at 18 years old, that gender is performative. 

But whenever policing is brought up, I don’t think first of people my age scouring the internet and prying into my life. Instead, I picture huge facilities and uniformed strangers with guns. What I didn’t recognize is that policing doesn’t just operate through these facilities and people. It’s perpetuated and normalized through individual acts; everyone carries a cop within them. We all know pigs who police and surveil our everyday lives. These people are the products of systems of power they have idolized and adapted to. As philosopher Michel Foucault once wrote, this power “reaches into the very grain of individuals, touches their bodies and inserts itself into their actions and attitudes, their discourses, learning processes and everyday lives.” 

To illustrate how modern societies function, Foucault used the metaphor of the panopticon. The panopticon is an architectural design developed in the 18th century for different disciplinary and control systems, ranging from prisons to schools. This is how it works: There’s a tower in the center surrounded by cells. The guards in the tower can see through each cell, completely unseen by the inmates. In this way, there is no torture needed to enforce discipline — the inmates are forced to police their behavior by knowing they’re always under surveillance. 

We police, censor and monitor the way we think, talk and move. Our bodies, according to Foucault, have become docile; they are completely submissive. This docility is a direct result of our awareness of being surveilled constantly by the panopticon’s guard. The guard can be a cop or an individual imitating and implementing the acts of surveillance and policing carried out by the state. Our assimilation and our submission to those guards aren’t personal choices. Rather, they are ways to ensure our safety in societies where any act against the powers in control can be used to justify our exclusion, torture or imprisonment. 

I can’t think of a better example than journalist and filmmaker Assia Boundaoui’s documentary, “The Feeling of Being Watched.” Boundaoui captures the experiences of Muslim families in Bridgeview, Illinois who were under FBI surveillance for more than a decade before 9/11 and are still being watched. The constant investigations and policing the families had endured left them no choice but to assimilate: shave their beards, take off their hijabs and avoid anything that resembles their association with being Muslim or Arab. This submission is not only a result of the abstraction of state policing. It’s also a result of the policing carried out by individuals who harass and track anyone who refuses to submit to this surveillance. 

All of us benefit from, carry out and perpetuate different systems of oppression. Our understanding of them and our calls for their abolition should go hand in hand with the recognition of our role in upholding them. So no matter how you feel about pigs, don’t be one.

Khaled Alqahtani writes the Wednesday column on decolonization. Contact them at [email protected]