Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Scapegoating in Tafsir Al-Jalalayn & Shahrastani

Both the late 15th century Tafsir Al-Jalalayn and the earlier 12th century exegesis by Shahrastani of the verse in al-Fatiha:

Ghayr al-maghdubi 'alayhim wa lal'-dallin

reference various sources which claim that those against whom is wrath implies
the Jews and those who have gone astray implies the Christians. Without correcting these limited interpretations with Shahrastani's esoteric commentary which claims that those against whom is wrath implies those who oppose the ones who know and guide such as the Prophets and the Saints, while those who go astray implies the adversaries of those who have received instruction and the believers, it is useful to examine the more restricted interpretations from a psychological perspective. Why would these two groups have been identified specifically by the commentators when the verses do not specifically mention these groups. The answer is best articulated by Ann Belford Ulanov, Professor of Psychiatry and Religion at Union Theological Seminary in New York in her book entitled

"Religion and the Spiritual in Carl Jung:"

"What then is scapegoating, psychologically? This mechanism is well known to us. It forms a distinct chain of reactions that leads from personal repression to social oppression. Its defined sequence begins when we repress contents we dislike and dread. We disown them. We keep consciousness from such contents, and we eject such contents from consciousness. Our ego recoils from connection to contents we feel are destructive to our ego position and from the disordered chaos from which such contents spring. We refuse consciousness to the annihilating forces we call evil. We either throw such contents out of consciousness into unconsciousness, or we leave them blocked in unconsciousness, refusing them admittance to our awareness. Such refusal brings relief to our egos; we get rid of, we think, disturbing contents.

But such contents do not go away. They go unconscious. They remain in us as live bits of being, as volatile forces now out of reach of our ego and its restraining, civilizing effects. These contents regress and achieve still more powerful form, as a hungry dog we lock in a closet becomes a savage beast bent on killing to satisfy its hunger. A repressed content is like a tiny alligator we bring back from a Florida vacation that becomes increasingly inconvenient as it keeps on growing. We flush it down the toilet into our sewers. There it not only continues to grow, but now, out of sight and out of reach, it joins all the other alligators flushed away by the neighbors. What we repress accumulates more life to itself, growing stronger, bigger, contaminating whatever else is in the unconscious. pressure builds up that demands release into conscious life. Such contents burst out finally in projections onto others - usually those different from us, alien, because of physical appearance or sex or background, or distant from us because deem them inferior or superior to us. All that our egos judge unacceptable hurls itself in projection onto our alien or distant neighbors. We identify our neighbors with that bit of ourselves we put onto and into them. Thus we inaugurate a relationship of projective identification with our neighbors. We feel we must control them because we carry a feared bit of ourselves, and we fear them because we cannot control them. They carry the package of unconscious contents we dread in ourselves. Rather we want to see ourselves as identified with the values and ideals we hold most precious. We contrast our good to our alien neighbors' bad. We draw a boundary around the good with which our egos identify, outlawing the bad with which we identify our neighbors.

We can understand that the initial function of such repression and projection is to differentiate good from bad, to become conscious of what we hold as good and to bind our group into a community, distinguished from other groups. Such initial differentiation and group consciousness might be all right, even furthering consciousness, if it did not go further, but it always does. For the repressed material, the howling dogs and snapping alligators, press to get out, press for contact. What begins as differentiation only too soon leads to a wide gap between our conscious ego identification with the good and our projective identification of our alien neighbor with the bad.

The line is drawn, from repression to regression and contamination of unconscious contents to projection and projective identification onto our alien neighbor, to attitudes of prejudice from which grow acts of oppression, persecution, and finally, scapegoating. Like one or the other of the original scapegoats, the alien neighbor is seen as the carrier of sins we must get rid of to keep intact our commitment to the good. In the ironies of opposing consciousness and unconsciousness, we can indulge, even act out in frenzy, all the badness we disown in the name of defending the good. The disease attacks those who attack the disease. In the name of our ideal we attack, violate, persecute, and kill those on whom we have projected our badness." (1999, pp. 44-45).

~ Excerpted from "Religion and the Spiritual in Carl Jung" by Ann Belford Ulanov

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