Episode 01 - Building Decolonial Solidarity
Hello everyone, and welcome to the first episode of CKX Questions: The Podcast. My name is Alexander Dirksen, and I’m the Program Director here at CKX.
For our episode, I’m excited to bring you a portion of the season’s first digital dialogue, which focused upon building decolonial solidarity with guest Aslam Bulbulia. In this first segment, we discuss his decolonial journey and the concept of decolonial solidarity.
Aslam is a dear friend and mentor whose groundedness, thoughtfulness and articulation of the possibilities that lie before us continually inspire, and we’ve shared a number of conversations over the past year that have led me to reflect deeply upon my own decolonial work - not only out in the world, but of myself.
Aslam is a new settler on Coast Salish territories from South Africa, with Indian heritage. With a background in planning, political science and philosophy, he currently leads community engagement initiatives at SFU’s Centre for Comparative Muslim Studies, is a faculty member at InnerActivist and co-host of the RADIUS SFU Fellowship in Radical Doing.
In this first segment, we discuss his decolonial journey and the concept of decolonial solidarity.
ALEXANDER: I’d love to begin the conversation with an exploration of the term “decolonization.” For those that are newer to the conversation or just beginning to explore this, it can be a big terms. It is one that requires us to reflect deeply both on how we are carrying ourselves in this space, but also the space itself. Decolonization suggests a dismantling of some of these systems that have dictated and structured and dominated our lives. So, I guess maybe we can just open with some of your thoughts and reflections on how you hold the term decolonization, what that means to you. And maybe just a little bit as well about how you first came into this conversation? How you first began to engage with the concept of decolonization and what that’s meant for your own journey?
ASLAM BULBULIA: Yeah. So I was born in apartheid South Africa and I was 6-years-old when apartheid ended. Part of what apartheid did was racially segregate different communities and I grew in an Indian area, lots of Muslim people around, but also different migrant groups — as well as apartheid ended and we started moving into democratic South Africa. When apartheid ended, my parents wanted to afford me the best education that they could and their understanding of the best education was, you know, the one that was denied to them for so long. So it was the very British private school and that’s where I went for the majority of my schooling.
But in my mind I had this disconnect between the area that I was growing up in, with rich traditions, customs, heritage of Islamic knowledge, combined with this very Western, British, white education system that I was being raised in. And in my mind I always had to hold that tension by myself. When I got to university, I grappled with a similar tension. I did a philosophy degree in political science and after my first year, I was like, “There’s something missing. Why am I just reading a lot of these European, American, white men in all of these courses as if they’re the only ones that have contributed to the knowledge of the world.” And knowing that at least one other point of reference that I had in my mind was this rich tradition of Islamic scholarship.
So I had that tension and I even wanted to dropout of university at one point and go study traditional Islamic studies and then that didn’t quite work for me because I also had this other part of me that was pulling in a different direction that had this more critical engagement of ideas. And I was probably in my mid-to-late twenties when I first heard the word ‘decolonization’ and in my mind it just made sense. All of those disconnects lined up. The fact that we are living in a world that has a system of power that privileges one from our knowledge and one form of knowing and one form of being about all others as the result of this colonial conquest.
So when I heard the term, I think it awakened something in me, I felt it in my body. I just remember hearing a lecture by Ramon Grosfoguel at the University of Johannesburg talking about the way that feminine knowledge has been destroyed over time, the way that Indigenous knowledge in the Americas has been destroyed over time, the way that Islamic knowledge has been pushed to the side after the Spanish Inquisition, and the way that African ways of being and knowledge have also been destroyed and marginalized, in addition to many other forms of knowledge and ways of being around the world.
And when I look at the world around me today, I see a lot these groups being at the forefront of trying to reclaim their way of being, reclaim their knowledge. And decolonization for me is just like opening the door so that more voices can speak into conversations that are so critical about the way that our world is structured and the way that we can and should be living.
ALEXANDER: Where are you now in this work? What sort of things are you holding around decolonizing practices and how is it starting to show up in some of your work and in your life?
ASLAM: I think for me it’s moved a lot from that structural understanding that was very much in my head towards a much more individual responsibility, as well as a community responsibility. And I can speak to each of those.
At an individual level I think a lot of it is trying to recognize the ways that this system and structure has privileged me in some ways, as a man, as someone who can speak English, without an accent. It’s afforded me many privileges in the way that I’m heard in certain rooms is very different from how I’m heard in other rooms. The way that I show up in my personal relationships requires me to do a lot of work in understanding my own emotional intelligence and the emotional support that I offer to people around me. And that’s like a personal journey that I am really grappling with at the moment and it hadn’t been easy. In some ways, I think I understand how difficult it is for the powers that be to give up power because when I’m trying to grapple with these things, I am also really challenged by it.
And at a community level I think...I’m working a lot with the Muslim community and trying to come to terms with this fact that we’re so particular around the food that we eat sometimes and making sure that it is halal, that it’s from animals that are sorted in a particular way, that we don’t eat pork, don’t drink alcohol, yet we’re eating food that’s grown on stolen land and we’re praying on land that is stolen and we’re working on land that is stolen, so it takes — and I think there’s a spiritual cost to that. And I think that it takes the responsibility of “reconciliation” — or making our presence on this land right — it takes that responsibility away from the state and actually puts it on me as an individual or us as a community. Because I think about “what is my accountability to a higher power?” when I say that I knew that I was on stolen land, but I did nothing about it. Actually, the Koran and my understanding of Islam calls me to pursue justice at every cost, so even if it is towards yourself, justice is the higher priority. So I need to really think as a community and as an individual, “What am I doing in pursuit of that justice?”
On behalf of the CKX team, I want to express my gratitude to Aslam for joining me in conversation for CKX Questions. Please see the show notes for links to some of his ongoing work.
CKX Questions is a podcast from CKX — Community Knowledge Exchange. And we’d love to keep the conversation going. Join us on Twitter with the hashtag #ckxquestions, or send us a note at email@example.com.
More from Ramón Grosfoguel, Professor of Chicano/Latino Studies