Is it time that we called them something else?
A few weeks ago, I rolled over in bed on an ordinary Tuesday morning, and checked my phone. I may never do that again.
“Bad News!” my friend Anna, another journalist, wrote in one of our dozens of WhatsApp groups. “POLITICO Scoop of the century: SCOTUS overturns abortion rights.” Of course, I did what any healthy adult who cares about their mental health would do. I opened Twitter.
“I don’t know if I can face my female students tomorrow, knowing that their rights are being stripped away,” wrote one particularly compassionate Professor that I follow—my heart sank a little bit more, imagining the world that the next generation is inheriting. “I’m thinking about whoever is the poor shmuck that handed a flash drive over to POLITICO” – I laughed. As a journalist, I know I can always rely on a little bit of shop talk to get my mind off of just how abysmal the news can be.“What is the point of voting?” said someone else—and while I normally would have protested, at this point, I agreed with her.
Most of all, my heart was broken because I was not surprised. Even though I knew it was a leak and not yet a law, a piece of me knew that this was always the end game—or more terrifyingly, a stop on the road to the end game—but I would try to convince myself that I was being dramatic. Abortion will never be illegal in the United States, I would tell myself, as if I was trying to convince myself that it was true. It will always be accessible! Too many people have fought for that right!
A few hours later, my friend Rashad contacted me—he’s an British-Muslim Islamic Scholar, and whenever I go over to his house, I feel like I’m in the presence of a genius, with bookshelves that take up the entire walls, and books in Arabic and Urdu, casually lying around the way that I might have a few trashy magazines on my kitchen table.
“Would you like to write a piece with me about Islam and abortion? It would be about how Muslims are being dragged into the culture wars in the United States…and I really think a woman should take the lead on the article.” (My guy friends are real ones)
Of course, I said yes—and while he combed through his tomes, I researched the latest in the crackdown on reproductive rights (and learned that maybe I’m committing homicide by having an IUD) and discovered pro-choice Christian pastor TikTok, which I highly recommend for anyone who needs to reignite their faith in the world.
Through Rashad, I learned that in Islamic theology, life begins at the moment that the soul meets the body, and I tried to consider this in light of the ongoing debate that feels so much less hostile and more holistic. Our piece has been published at Newlines Magazine, and you can read it here.
But mostly, I found myself thinking about this term “culture wars”— which, at least to me, seems to be an appropriated term to describe the far right’s ongoing assault on LGBTQ, immigrants and people of color, that even since that conversation resulted in ten people being murdered in a white supremacist terrorist attack in Buffalo, New York. It comes on the heels of several other conversations surrounding the “culture wars”—universities shutting down critical race studies departments, and school districts across the country purposefully banning books by authors of color. Is it a coincidence that a terrorist whose fear is fueled by the Great Replacement Theory—the idea that the dominant race or religion will be “replaced'“ by others—went on a murderous rampage? He is not a lone wolf; he is a product of his environment.
Our so-called “culture wars” have also resulted in the state of Texas investigating families with transgender children and accusing teachers that discuss LGBTQ families in class of teaching children how to perform gay sex. For me, it isn’t a culture war when people are contemplating fleeing the state where they live, have anxiety about being in public because of the color of their skin, or exercise their right to control their reproductive future. It is a real war, with real hostility and aggression, and real consequences that extend far beyond the tiny bubble of social media pundits.
Sometimes I can hold the so-called “culture wars” at a distance long enough to analyse them intellectually, rolling my eyes at the way that misinformation is weaponized to argue that emergency contraception is an abortion pill or believe that banning books will magically make all of the Brown people disappear. I can write a seething op-ed, or make long-winded arguments where I am often accused of being part of the polarization. Why can’t I just be a moderate?
But when I let the culture wars wash over me, I can feel the way that the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, when everything I have ever loved about my country feels under attack. It is a place where women, LGBTQ and civil rights leaders have fought for their place, for our place, paving the way forward for immigrants from around the world and people of all gender expressions to call our country home. For me, America is a halal taco truck with a rainbow flag—a place where we do not just tolerate our differences but celebrate them. When I see this under attack, it feels like culture war is too light a term, one that has been devised to convince us that this is the product of online polarization, rather than a real threat, trying to quash everything that we love.
What do you think we should call it instead?