About eight years ago, I knew this young man called *Gabriel, while living in London. He was like any of his peers — horny, irreverent, and kept the world in his pocket next to his phone. The details have faded now, but I remember that in a sudden change of course, Gabriel engrossed himself in church. He was at every service and at every meeting. Sometimes, he carried a Bible. Soon, he started wearing the highest medal of piety — “Forgive me, I have sinned.” Donning that medal was a little odd, but I wasn’t going to hate on his hustle. I had gone through my own years previous. Meetings passed and liturgies were offered. Gabriel now had monastic texts glued to his hand and tongue. He wanted to become a monk. Those who knew him pre-Scetis rolled their eyes and walked past him at church.
Last I knew of him, Gabriel was engaged or married. I have no idea now if he is still wearing that medal. It doesn’t even matter because all he wanted was to be something different than what he felt or was told or wanted to be. Gabriel’s story tempers me when I try to be perturbed by the rise of Daesh’s allure for young people. Daesh is about young people finally finding something so tantalizing that they leave everything for it. And purely on experience, those young people had little or perceived to have very little to drive them into the arms of a far-away identity.
This piece is not about Daesh, but about identities we travel to. It shouldn’t be a strange concept. Everyone has the dream of travelling to a different country, city, continent, over there where it’s better, people are better, life is better, less black people, less vagrants, fewer Muslims, fewer Christians, no homosexuals, more people of faith, money, color. When I get there — they reason — I will be more accepted, more understood, no more loneliness, no more exclusion, no more nothingness. But identities are like countries. They have gatekeepers, communities, codes, and rites. You pay taxes by trying to fit in and being ridiculed when you get something wrong. You buy property when you marry into the identity. In time, you set up shop and you would have blended in.
You. Your parents are Egyptian or Sudanese or Indian or Iraqi. You grew up away from your parents’ home city. You picked up a few phrases and in time, you can cajole with the uncles and aunts. Soon, you arrived at a crossroads. Continue down that road, embrace the country or world of your upbringing, or fuck everything and thumb through Instagram until you fall asleep. You made a choice. You continued down the first road, the road of your acquired identity.
Me. I confidently report that that road is a dead end. The taxation system is severe with no breaks. The property market is not open to non-citizens. Setting up shop is welcomed because you can never have too much taxes. You won’t be sent out on a raft if you don’t conform, but you’ll feel it with every stare, pursed smile, and stray missile, aimed at your years of hard work.
Like Daesh, far-away identities are mothers that don’t love their children.
*not his real name