There is a view sometimes found among anarchists, anti-authoritarians that racism, sexism, environmental destruction can be eradicated without undermining the essential aspects of capitalism: the development of markets requires the constant expansion of the number of buyers and a certain homogenization which is both a result and prerequisite to participate as a consumer. (Homogeneity within brand environments; what has been referred to as the narcissism of small differences). Without going into details, the problem with this view is that it tends to see the co-opted result as the real thing, when in fact to take racism as an example it persists because once racism is instituted in a particular society it embeds itself in constitutive aspects of the human psyche and which for this reason is difficult to eliminate even when its intensity and extent have been reduced due to a combination of historic struggles and co-optation. This positivistic perspective (which tries to eliminate psychological considerations, a kind of inversion of the psychologism which tends to see psychology as the basic way to explain social phenomena) ends up with a very impoverished understanding of human actions. The resurrection of the religious based discourse in order that it be understood and dealt within the globalized world situation requires that we move away from some of our own one dimensional thinking and blindspots.
For many of us who became politicised in the radical left and anarchist spaces during the mid- late 70s, in Europe, religion had the appearance of a spent force or was on the retreat. Its presence in determining the social agenda for the future was becoming increasingly marginalized. On a personal note, I did not know anyone among my peers who went to church or professed any belief in God. The force of the Church appeared to be waning. (I was actually quite surprised when I moved to North America in the late 70s to come across people who as a matter of course would refer to their Christianity and read their bibles in the busses). I was then very surprised when in the late 80’s I started noticing again a certain resurgence of the place of religion in public life in Europe (together with resurgence of nationalist sentiments) and my first shocking experience was to hear of the public threats by the Greek Church against the showing of a movie based on one of Kazantzakis’s books.
Since then, religion (Christian and Muslim) has been increasingly occupying ground either in its organized form or by the spread of some kind of “personal” belief system (this more with Christians). Again the resurrection and spreading of Christian beliefs (especially in ex-communist so called societies) requires its own analysis, nonetheless the way people believe lacks the passion and prejudice and mutual hatred between different Christian factions that one may have encountered when the witches were being burned and the inquisition was in full swing or when the Protestants were at war with the Catholics. Some of these emotions may still be found in parts of the US south. But among Muslims there seems to be definitely a segment that is much more passionate about their faith and their relationship with their corresponding “others” than anything that is publicly expressed by non-Muslim westerners. (Again this is all very general and religion as Marx noted long ago is never just about religion).
We often talk about passion, but often we forget that anger, hate, are passions. We tend to view as a passion something when expressed towards something we feel at home with. Love, music, even stamp collecting. We forget that passion, passionate desire really, also has moments of devouring and annihilation perhaps. We tend to misrepresent passion to ourselves, remaining blind to our own hatreds often, and also, unable to understand others’ hatreds. They appear as aberrations, as psychopathic. Also in the West, we are formed in cultures whose one fundamental dimension is that of commodified “life-styles” and for those of us who are “normalised” within the cultures, our passions are pale reflections of what a passion can be. (This is not to say that our passions or the energies that go with them do not enjoy a subterranean existence in our psyche).
Globalization and the emergence of political subjects that in the past were either silent or localized, is reopening many discussions that perhaps we in the western countries thought were of lesser significance or had been superseded (i.e. from the point of view of a revolutionary agenda): religion, the belief in God, the sacred, the relationship of men and women, sexual orientation, even debates on the universal application of the very categories by which we look at the world: categories which arose within one culture and spread because of colonialism. This is more than ever the time to be extending our hands to our sisters and brothers all around the world, to build a better world for all of us.
This brings us to the piece that I am re-posting from e-against. The author puts forward for discussion some of the issues in a way which I think is thought provoking.
Jacobinian Islamism: when the subject becomes annoying
This article raises concerns about some, hitherto, unshakable certainties of the left, which are stubbornly negated by reality. Sadly, we have reached the point where such a debate cannot be done without avoiding biased approaches from anyone who discusses this topic; and this means that the right of free speech has already suffered irreparable damages.
In critical thinking the blackmail of the expected response always hangs like the sword of Damocles over our heads. As if to realise that walking on the wrong path should automatically mean one always has another path to propose. It is not so! Some paths should never have been followed whilst somewhere else perspectives have to be formed based in paths that do not carry the burden of previous choices. Obviously democracy and its reinforcement in its structures and content is another uncharted path that we should ourselves open, eliminating certainties (such as “sheltering” freedom from enemies) that, hitherto, have led to dead ends. We must appeal to broadening democracy itself without fearing whether it is not liberal enough for our standards (to invest in its growth rather in its ‘protection’). But the latter is primarily an issue of political action to undertake, and secondarily of political thought to be discussed.
From the suburbs to Nazism
Perhaps few noticed the under-story of the murderous attack in Paris; “the two perpetrators of Charlie Hebdo were born and grew up in France from Algerian parents”. The “Islamic terrorists” who extended the western Islamic war-front a few hundred kilometres west of Kobane were French-born citizens, nourished in the bowels of the French Republique. The Algerian state, home of Camus and Zidane is not an Iraq or an underdeveloped Afghanistan cut off and isolated from Western values ??(the markets), that fell into the obscurantism of fundamentalism, but a genuine child of French colonialism.
Even fewer are those who might combine the fact that the people we denounce as obscurantist terrorists or “Nazi fascists” nowadays, are the same people who during the “uprisings of the Banlieue” of the Parisian suburbs were viewed as the revolutionary subject. We have to admit – no matter how inconvenient it is – that the brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi are typical representatives of this youth whose wrath (la Haine) was so sang and praised by the left. Both were born in the east suburbs of Paris from Algerian parents who died when the two brothers were still children. They grew up in an orphanage in the city of Rennes. They held “precariat”jobs, like Pizza delivery etc., they followed the fashion of Rap and have always had problems with the police for minor crimes. However, Umberto Eco, expressing a general feeling, did not hesitate to classify them as neo-Nazis, apparently judging them by the actions, rather than by their class or their ideological beliefs.
It is common to classify as “Nazist” anything unpleasant for the liberal Western culture, and not necessarily as heinous as mass murder. Yet, perhaps for the wrong reasons, Eco rightly reflects a kind of truth, as indeed “the apocalyptic desire of ISIS to conquer the world” – as the most expressed form of politicized Islam in the world – is a kind of inverted Enlightenment, or to stress it differently, it is part of modernity; a modernist reaction to modernity rather than a pre-modern revival of barbarization. In essence, the ISIS has more to do with the cultural revolution of Mao than with some historical continuity of caliphates of the past. In this sense it is more post-modernist rather than a conservative revolution, and is diametrically opposed to the religious mosaics and genuine multiculturalism upon which the caliphates of pre-modernist world were structured.
This hypocritical contradiction of the ISIS as the most advanced stage of political Islam in the 21st century, shows that the objectives of politicized Islamists are not a guarantee of their religion or even a form of cultural autonomy (as in the case of the Zapatistas and other indigenous groups) but rather the creation of a nation-state, i.e. the epitome of modernist culture, and even a clearly colonial-imperialist nation-state (“Islam should prevail over all”) which is similar not only with the totalitarian deviations but also with the colonial domination of market liberal culture in the whole world. In a perverse way the commitments of the Islamic Jihadists to the ultimate goal are quite similar to that of the Jacobins and the Narodniks, and this historic comparison, especially for anyone who falls into their hands, should not be considered a farce.
The privileges of the really poor
It is much more convenient for liberal Europe that demonstrates these days in grief for the victims, to ignore the causes and the past, pretending that the Kouachi brothers is a postmodern “moment” fell from the sky, an incomprehensible product of distortion of Islam, or a mission of terrorists from the “mountain of the Assassins” instead of accepting that they are Parisians just as their victims.
But there is something more that the Kouachi brothers and Stéphane Charbonnier, Georges Wolinski, Jean Cabut and Bernard Verlhac shared equally. They are all victims of the modernist world; the victims as exponents of the ‘right to freedom of expression’, whilst the perpetrators of the” right to cultural identity”. And here is one of the innumerable conflicts the modernist world produces, where one right negates the other but together constitute the same world under the undisputed roof of the market. It is very difficult for leftists to understand another reason beyond blind fanaticism (whose right to cultural identity was so much supported by Charlie Hebdo) which pushed Kouachi brothers to render them bullets instead of gratitude. And it is much easier to believe that anyone who lacks undeniable rights should automatically be sensitive to the rights of others. According to this pourtousissisme to struggle for the right to cultural identity and religious faith is equally progressive with fighting for the right of expression to mock this faith in their face. In the psychic world of a European leftist, the rebellious hatred of the Kouachi brothers towards this progressivism is understood only as a product of a ruthless ingratitude.
How is it possible for the “rebellious proletarians‘ of the suburbs to become transformed into “Nazi-jihadists”? For a bleeding-heart leftist such a reduction is unthinkable. The oppressed identity that rebels, throwing stones at police officers and setting its neighborhood on fire seems to be a legitimate uprising against capitalist exploitation that has turned the contemporary youth into metropolitan pariahs, especially if the pariahs are not European indigenous. Therefore denying European chauvinism is positive in itself, even worse (why not?) if such pariahs constitute “the damned of the earth”, the new messianic subject that came to replace the proletariat in its historic role. But when the subject acquires a face and a name, when it becomes Cherif and Said, and turns his wrath on the whole system that gave birth to the “capitalist exploitation” including all the values of the Enlightenment, ??then this subject that we used to approach with instrumental sympathy automatically becomes a “Nazi jihadist”.
But why do all these ideological and class interpretations matter, since the “subjects” change constantly? All the above do not significantly differ from the way the left viewed the indigenous European proletariat in the early 20th century when the working class immediately and hurriedly ran to embrace the fascist call. So today a minority that embraces anti-modernism is itself an incomprehensible development, such as when the factory worker registers himself in the fascist party of his neighbourhood. The usual reason that explaining the phenomenon in both cases is still the same and is attributed to a lack of understanding on the part of the oppressed of the root causes of their oppression. On why the subjects do not follow the revolutionary call, the usual answer is more and thorough study of the texts of Marx
And, indeed, why not? If the angry minority person expresses a critique of the hypocrisy of the Enlightenment, as Adorno and Horkheimer set the theoretical foundations of this interpretation. Moreover, the above observation means that the ideal of an international Enlightenment (a global western socialism pourtousissisme [for all]) constituted from its birth a chimeric monster. We Westerners should be the last to preach at those “murderers”, “fascists” and “totalitarians” since we ourselves have taught them the charm of political assassination, and terror that rises from the punishment of collective responsibility and the ideal of totalitarianism. Even more, it is us who sanctified their predicament. For the left, it is enough to be oppressed to be classified as a rebel in order to express your righteous anger.
The young lumpen of the Parisian suburbs have received an unspoken education of the new-left of post-colonial studies and have learned from it constantly to blame the West for their dire position in the class pyramid, but ultimately they themselves do nothing in order to organize and fight against this situation. Instead they persist only in victimizing themselves aiming to claim some extra benefits. The only time we see a massive “response” is through political Islam. With the announcements of multiculturalism along with the urban divisions of the metropolitan planning, every suburb managed to establish itself in “autonimised” micro-communities that do not interact with each other. The result is every minority living in a “bowl” ignoring par excellence the other communities and, of course, the Republique tout court.
The liberal Janus
The inability of the left for non-abstract thought has made all liberals to think in a “lame” fashion, and to perceive only half of reality, or to put it clearly, to perceive only the dimension that follows their imaginary ideology. In exactly the same manner (but perhaps with the other leg) the right’s thinking is also “lame”. For both the “other” is absolutely good or absolutely bad; from this lame thinking derives the trend of the era regarding ‘islamophobia’ either in its right-wing version as a racist jam or in leftist as ‘antiracism’.
For leftists the issue is fixed. If something is haunted by the right then the left has a contracted responsibility to defend it. This position consolidated since the Dreyfus affair has so much infused the essence of being a leftist, that defense is now provided to “anything” uncritically and unconditionally as long as “it” is prosecuted by the right. The cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo up to their tragic death “always remained irreconcilable enemies of racism” and “all of them convinced atheists”. The only difference is that never before did all this match together, because if we think in terms of combining together the above, that is of an “anti-racist atheism”, then something is wrong with similar campaigns against Islamophobia, and this “something” is our thinking.
For the right-wing the issue is simpler. The best problem is the ‘no problem’. So it would have been better to have no Muslims in Europe or any other person if possible. Historically the right likes to ask the impossible, secretly wishing for a new final solution for Muslims. Therefore, they one more time wish the self-destruction of Europe and of themselves. But the desire of the left is no less childish. The enlightened Muslim, namely the Muslim without Islamism, can only find its counterpart in the Christian hypocrite who acts contrary to his beliefs. The solidarity embrace of the European liberals to the Muslims is the entry ticket to a Europe which, in contrast to the left, has a clear condition: the only Islam acceptable in Europe is the “liberal Islam”; this is simply impossible!
In order to become European citizens Muslims should first become like us, people without a serious faith, without values ??apart from an unlimited commitment to individual rights… everyone lives his dream in a world that digests everything. We invite immigrants and Muslims in Europe to lose anything good or bad that defines their existence, to get a job like all of us, a house like all of us, a color TV like all of us, and the right to go shopping like us all without the being asked for their documents by the police, and we call this multicultural society?
What remains after all this? The most certain is what already exists. Liberalism will continue to fight for the rights and freedoms of all of us, annihilating us at the same time as human beings. And most likely it will eventually digest Islamism as it did with Christianity. The standard of the “good European Islamist” has already been formed and this is carried out everywhere by European antiracist groups. Personally I find it hard to see in this any distinction between left and right. There are countless ways to uproot a man from himself. The right use fear, the left adopt hypocrisy. Let each of us prefer what hurts the least.
If we understand the above, however bitter they may sound, we may realize in the end what is the charm that we are no longer able to offer ourselves, which they young Algerians from Paris have found in the Jacobin Islamism.
1. See. Charlie, from what God died? George Mitralias
2. See Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment.
3. See John Gray, Black Mass. Apocalyptic religion and the death of utopia.