If, as Talal Asad reminds us (2003:169), Islam is the primary alter of Europe, then “Muslim” is the site of that primary alterity. Alterity is the meeting place of two opposites, not just one. It is where the Other’s signal quality – whether irrationality or backwardness or fundamentalism or religion – gives rise to the very quality of the Other’s Other (that is Europe). The “I” and “us” and “we” of Europe, and of Euro-American provenance, reflects into itself, by means of the Other, qualities – whether rationality or progress or enlightenment or secularism – that are essential to its identity (since the Hegelian master is constituted out of the slave’s recognition, in a dual movement). What I am saying is a re-articulation of the some of the ideas that have gone before us to take account of our present moment in history (as we know, a la Foucault, that every new historical period is configured by specific conditions of possibility that have continuities and discontinuities with the past). Euro-America cannot conceive of its central (imaginary) qualities without its Other. Euro-America (whose Other gives birth to these qualities from its hapless bosom) depends on its very existence – philosophically, ideologically, existentially – on its Other. Euro-America’s very identity is based on acts of Othering.
Now, to consider for a moment the history of this binarized approach to the world, it is rooted in the modern approach to knowledge and to the self. The modern self is derived from Descartes’ cogito ergo sum. When Descartes declared “I think, therefore I am,” which followed from his radical skepticism, he declared his own self as the source of all knowledge. This was in contrast to a premodern understanding of the self as being rooted in God as “the ground of Being,” whereby there was a fundamental inseparability of the known, the knower, and knowledge (Nasr 1989:49). Descartes marked the modern break of the object from the subject and the birth of the modern self. According to Heidegger “at the heart of [Western] modernity is the rise of an absolute subjectivity, such that the world appears to man as if it were ‘for’ him […] as picture” (Seth 2007:67) - that is, as an externalization.
Muslim, therefore, becomes the externalized object par excellence of the modern, Western self, and its knowledge of itself. And Muslim, at this particular moment of history (and a moment becomes a concatenation of innumerable past moments and ones to come) is the center and the most externalized periphery of modern, Western consciousness. At this particular moment, discourse is ceaselessly inflected by 911. It is a moment that acts as a cypher for a heavily mediated (and medicated), anxious public imaginary; and to pose the question as to whether this anxiety is felt as a result of other factors – no doubt. For, anxiety as a (modern) constellation of unresolvable feelings (and “senses”) about things is interminably inflected (and inflicted) by forces that are not fully known.
The anxiety of the (post)modern condition is that of a dis-ease within oneself, at the same time that it is an anxiety that is read into (and onto) our interactions (real and mediated) at the political level. This political moment, then, brings into its anxiety the anxiety of the presence of the Other. The Other is interminably a source of anxiety and neuroses (Kristeva 1982). However, what is different about this anxiety (if, indeed, this is the appropriate term to use) regarding Muslim as a political concept, is that the anxiety turns in on itself and recoils outwardly with the thrust of (unending) negation – which is productive of a more satisfying self affirmation (Daniel 2009).
Thus, Western modernity has defined Muslim as a political concept, particularly since colonialism. For instance, within the Indian context, the census of 1871 (and subsequent censuses thereafter) definitively constructed Muslim as a political category. And while it is true that the colonial project of demarcating “religion” was in contradistinction to the modern, post-Enlightenment project, there nevertheless emerged a hierarchy of religions within this construction (Olender 2009:85, Masuzawa 2005:120). This hierarchy continues today. Islam therefore becomes the quintessential religion (Anidjar) in relation to other religions, and Muslim becomes the quintessentially religious object of the modern world, which, as a political concept, is posited as fundamentally religious and is therefore the polar opposite of all that is Western – where “Western” is understood as the measure of all that is secular, rational, progressive, and modern. And, when all is said and done, the modern West has become “the measure of all things” having arrogated and reinterpreted for itself Protagoras’s “man is the measure of all things.”
It is not immediately clear, however, why Muslim, and not some other religious-political object, should come to occupy this fundamental position of alterity vis-à-vis the West. One explanation might be extracted through a misreading (in the Bloomian sense) of Freud. In Moses and Monotheism Freud accounts for religious (Christian) history as being an act of erasing memory, which, for Freud is the memory of the murder of the primal father by the horde – a murder which was reenacted over the centuries and repressed, and which later emerged in Christianity in the form of original sin (and the ritual reenactment of the originary murder through the Eucharist). If we consider that Europe was historically dependent on – and in fact Enlightenment thought is significantly indebted to – Muslim thought (Garcia 2012), the act of repression (which is another way of reading history) – the act of erasure of the history of modern, Western thought that occurs through the symbolic (and sometimes not so symbolic) murder of the Muslim father, begins to make more sense. This murder is an act of guilt twice over. First, it is an expulsion of the memory of history; second, it is expiation from history.
Muslim as a political concept is irrational, for, in the schema of reason versus unreason, where reason is the defining aspect of Europe and modernity, and modernity is fundamentally European, then unreason belongs to Muslim (and to Islam). However, this is not unreason in the Foucauldian sense where it is equated with madness (Foucault 1988, 2002). To attribute madness to the Muslim is on a fundamental level to still include him within the fold of “human” experience. Consider the fascination with madness in art, film and music (and I am not merely pointing to the fascination with “the mad genius” (Jamison 1996, Healy 2008)). Much of post/modern art is an exercise in “approximating madness,” where the real and the unreal blend and merge and reconfigure each other.
While it is true that madness proper has become defined and solidified – meaning that there is a clear demarcation in modern medicine between the sane and the insane (Healy 2008) – the endless fascination with madness and the soma-induced trips of an anxious, (new?) Huxleyan world are here to stay. What I am saying then is that “Muslim” as a political concept cannot be brought into the fold of modern, Western, Euro-American humanity by attributing unreason, in the form of madness, to it. That is why the question of insanity is never, and could never be, raised with regard to “terrorism.” To be clear, I am not arguing that those who are dubbed “terrorist” or “extremist” are or are not insane. Their in/sanity is not what really interests me. Rather, what I am interested in pointing to is the grammar within which individuals or people are located, wherein “Muslim” is a central political concept, and within which grammar the question of insanity is not a functioning or admissible term. The logic here is that Muslim as “terrorist”/“extremist” – and extremist is at one end of the scale of (racialized) Othering, “moderate” being at the other end (Tyrer 2011:93-110) – is irrational in relation to modern, Western notions of rationality and reason. However, Muslim is embedded within its own system of rationality, which is insidious and must necessarily be stamped out.
“Muslim” as a political concept cannot be permitted differentiation and complexity and fragmentation – as well as madness – for this undermines the question of radical alterity: the porosity of the (schizophrenic) subject allows for too much space as far as our knowing of it (to misread Deleuze and Guattari). The Quranic principle: “We have made you into nations and tribes in order for you to come to know one another” cannot be allowed, insofar as knowledge allows for rapprochement and conviviality (as saccharine as such notions may sometimes be) as well as tension and difference – as all knowing must entail at the best of times. Rather, knowledge is only insofar as exteriority and power and exclusion are concerned – knowing as far as “our knowledge is ultimate knowledge” because it is couched in the fundamental principle of human achievement, “rationality.” The Other’s knowing is archetypically irrational.
Muslim as a political concept is outside history, for history is that very European science of self-conception, self-awareness, and self-knowledge that simultaneously allows Europe to transcend itself, so to speak – to overcome the shackles of the past – while at the same time charting its future forever forward (Blaut 2000). It is the science that is at the root of progress (Bury 1920:viiix), the idea that: We are forever moving forward because we have learned all there is to know about our past (and their pasts), and since we are now at the pinnacle of human achievement, to continue is to necessarily march forward and upward (even if there is the occasional mistake, it is simply a matter of minor readjustment, for the essential principles upon which our knowledge is based are correct). The idea continues: History, as it has been said, is bunk. This is because the West has attained to the limits of human achievement and realization.
To open a parenthesis: While Fukuyama’s pronouncements on the end of history are the most (in)famous, his thinking that in liberalism the West has achieved the limits of intellectual and moral development, and that any nonconforming ideologies will necessarily, inevitably be blotted-out, he is not alone in thinking this (although, perhaps the extent to which force may be used is a topic of debate). This is a significant line of thinking within mainstream liberal discourse in the United State. This point is poignantly made by Talal Asad in On Suicide Bombing (2007, p.32):
Despite humanitarian principles that forbid torture […] the use of painful methods remains important. Whether the systematic torture of captives is always inefficient is a topic of considerable debate in the liberal media, but what it certainly does do is produce two categories of human being: torturables and nontorturables.
Put differently, violence is not violence when it is used to bring “extremists”/“terrorists” into line; for theirs, after all, is an unconscionable position, while the liberal position is the position of a global conscience. Asad again: “[W]hat is especially intriguing is the ingenuity of liberal discourse in rendering inhuman acts humane. This is certainly something that savage discourse cannot achieve.” (Asad 2007:38) End of parenthesis.
Thus, history is nothing but the narratives of the past. It is the “tales of the ancients.” And religion in particular, in a move that is at once historical and transhistorical, is relegated to the ultimate tale of the ancients. To consider for a moment how and why this move occurs: History historicizes the beliefs of the past as being a necessary means for coping with the pain of life, as though “the pain of life” is universally and transhistorically comprehensible. Thus, history plays a paradoxical (and ironic) role in relation to the West’s self-conception. As we saw, history allows the West to place itself at the apogee of the global arc of progress, while at the same time transcending history. In the case of the most paradigmatic religion, Islam, and the most paradigmatic embodiment of religion, Muslim, it is somewhat paradoxically outside of history. Expressed differently, if the West transcends history, then Muslim as a political concept, and as the fundamental alter of Euro-America, is below history.
Muslim as a political concept embodies the religious in all that the modern, Western political subject does not. Muslim as a political concept is posited as fundamentally religious, and is therefore the polar opposite of all that (to state the obvious, but which nevertheless bears restating) is “secular” – where the secular is understood as being the measure of everything that is modern, rational, progressive, and Western. What follows therefore, and from the logic of what has gone before, is that Muslim as a political concept must itself be erased from contemporary history.
Erasure occurs on both the “external” level and the “internal” level. Externally, perhaps the most obvious example is the banning of the hijab from schools and the niqab from public spaces in France (while debates surrounding the niqab and the hijab are occurring in the UK, as well as much of continental Europe). The internal forms of erasure are less immediately obvious, and perhaps that is what is to be expected. Since the banning of the hijab from schools in France, there has been a concerted effort on the part of school teachers to insist that Muslim school girls wear shorter, more revealing skirts; while mothers who wear the hijab have been discouraged from participating in school events, the claim being that their presence encroaches upon laïcité. Most recently, French Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, has announced that school cafeterias will no longer serve non-pork substitution meals to children living in towns won by FN candidates – the argument being made that it is to ensure that laïcité is protected (Titley 2014).
Asad writes: “When terrorists are seen as people engaged in conspiracies, one is induced to look for signs that point to something hidden (their motives are unexpressed).” (2007:30) Here he is gesturing to the complex interplay of the outward and the inward. In human interactions of all kinds, we are constantly reading people’s outward comportment to try to guess at their inner thoughts and feelings. When it comes to the enemy – and here “enemy” may be read as “terrorist,” which may be read as “extremist,” or as “the radically other” – reading the enemy is always already an act – or acts – of decoding the signs that have been encoded onto it from without from the beginning. Thus, for example, the Friday Islamic prayer (jumu’ah) becomes a signifier of suspicion within Euro-America – not least because it is congregational, and because there is a sermon.
Related to this is Asad’s argument in “Muslims as a ‘religious minority’ in Europe” (Asad 2003:159-180) that the reason why Muslims as Muslims cannot be fitted into Europe is because of their conceptions of time and space – history and geography – are fundamentally different from secular, Western notions of time and space. The contemporary curtailment of Muslim prayer spaces at UK universities ought to also be seen in this light. The prayer is not merely a marker of Muslim difference, it is at the same time seen as an inward fashioner of a different, supposedly “secret” selfhood which cannot, in the end, be countenanced in Europe. (Incidentally, time and history are seen by Muslims as sacred. Thus, their religious teachings instruct that God speaks in the first person in a hadith qudsi: “Do not curse Dahr for I am Dahr” (dahr meaning time stretched-out) ; and it is in the collapsing of space and time through prayer that the Muslim ascends to God.)
At the time of writing, graffiti in the toilet of the “Hungarian” coffee shop near Columbia University – which is a popular place for students to study – captures, perhaps unintentionally, the liberal dilemma and contradiction vis-à-vis Muslim. The graffiti originally read: “I do not agree with your beliefs, but I will fight for your right to believe them.” As is not uncommon with graffiti, it was modified by someone else. “Believe” has been crossed out (although it is still discernible), and it now reads: “I do not agree with your beliefs, but I will fight for your right to say them.”
The question in relation to Muslim is: are differing “beliefs” permitted within a liberal context? The first writer of the graffiti, while uncomfortable with differing belief(s), at least claims s/he will fight for the Other’s right to believe them. The second person – the editor, and in some way fulfilling the role of the superego (making the first author representative of the ego) – will allow only the saying of/expression of them. But what is to be done with the Muslim – not as a political concept, but as s/he sees her/himself? His/her religion entails both belief (internal) and expression (external). Muslim as a political concept must be incrementally erased (which appears to contradict the West’s need of “Muslim” for its self-knowledge and identity; however, the Other is maintained in its Otherness by erasures of various kinds). Muslim as a political concept – in its history of “teaching” the West during the Enlightenment – is the site of the West’s (radical) self, which is captured by Roxanne Euben’s idea of the “enemy in the mirror.” Hence, Muslim must be erased, expunged, eviscerated.
The inmate of Guantanamo – Camp XRay, as it was initially dubbed – is perhaps the postmodern realization of such an “evisceration” (by which the internal machinations of the terrorist are rendered legible) as it is far removed from premodern forms of punishment of the kind described by Foucault at the beginning of his Discipline and Punish (and it ought to be recalled here that the Panopticon’s power lies in its all-pervading sight and reach). Camp XRay applies the Panopticon’s logic in its effects: inmates are disciplined but never punished; they are occasionally waterboarded (to extract information), which is not deemed as torture; they are force-fed under “strict medical supervision” if they go on hunger strike (The Guardian 2013); “[they] are some of the most pampered prisoners on the planet” (Sperry 2013); the designation of the inmates as “enemy combatants” renders them illegible to “the Law,” and removes them twice over from the status of common (Western) humanity – once as terrorists/extremists, and another time as being beyond the realm of reason and unreason, which is symbolized by their location in this actual no-man’s land, where none has jurisdiction – a location that the US is renting from Cuba . (It should be remembered that even if remote, the very possibility of the Muslim being sent to Guantanamo serves to self-discipline him/her in ways which are below the level of everyday consciousness, but are for that reason all the more insidious.)
As for the other “exceptional”/“extraordinary” contemporary form of discipline, it is in the drone strikes in the Muslim world. The drone also utilizes the logic of the Panopticon. It uses the “distance” of the observer (by way of remote operators); “precision” (the logic of the panopticon is that it is precise, and not indiscriminate in how it contains and disciplines (and precision is claimed by the US government, no matter how wayward their “targeted killings” may be; and, in the end, any imprecision is written off as collateral damage in the US ledger of “infinite justice”); and “discipline” (since the drones are capable of being maneuvered anywhere and everywhere and against anyone, the threat of being a potential target – of being watched at any and all times, which is central to the Panopticon’s success – the drones enact an inherent disciplinary mechanism within “Muslim.” (Incidentally, drones are also being used in the US, but “only” for surveillance purposes – the disciplinary mechanism in this case an extension of what is already in place in innumerable ways.)
Muslim as a political concept – as the alter of Europe – is to be sacrificed (or is executed the correct word?) upon the altar of modernity, of reason, of rationality, of progress, of history. Muslim must be eviscerated and its entrails hung before the entire world to see as the Other that never acquiesced to modernity’s (insuperable) logic – the clash always already etched in stone.
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