An agonising feature of writing is the knowledge that, particularly in our digital age, once a piece of work is ‘out there’, there is no taking it back. This is true of any online presence (and at this point I cannot emphasise enough the relief of growing up before social media rendered teenage tantrums digitally indelible). An unfortunately worded and polemic tweet by a 17-year-old Twitter user that may compromise their career ten years later, or a casual ‘like’ of a Facebook or Instagram post that turns out to have dubious unintended inferences, all have the potential to wreak havoc with a carefully curated reputation.
Could this be because we are in denial of the capacity for the written word to embody space for growth? It is assumed that an argument presented in print or online is a firmly held position, an immovable declaration of all that resides in the writer’s mind and heart, not an engagement with discourse that invites interrogation. In the Narratives issue of Critical Muslim, Nicholas Masterton of the Turner Prize-nominated research agency Forensic Architecture, an independent organisation that investigates human rights violations, discussed how the findings of their investigations are disseminated into the public realm, through courts, reports and social media. ‘The output forms the advocacy, and it is here that the work takes on a life of its own, generating criticism and feedback.’ A huge part of the project, Masterton says, ‘is how it lives outside the laboratory and continues to inform narratives relating to the crime scene’.
Rafia Zakaria, Against White Feminists, Hamish Hamilton, London, 2021
Whether it is a collection of paragraphs, images, or a set of data, the assumption that what is being presented is a fleeting stop-off point in a journey of continual evolution, usually prompts resistance. Often it is assumed that we must have a fixed position on an issue, or an idea that we will eternally clutch to. How many times I am asked to offer my position on a particular issue, or state the Muslim Institute’s position on the same issue, or explain where Islam stands on such and such. But to be liberated from dogma we must be open to having our minds expanded and our opinions challenged to a point where re-assessment is not an impossibility. A re-appraisal of an idea that we once held on to, perhaps even strongly, is a constructive way to navigate the complexity and contradictions of what it means to exist in our often-incomprehensible world.