File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0109, message 82

Date: Thu, 20 Sep 2001 11:25:08 +0100
Subject: Edward Said: Islam and the West are inadequate banners


This was from the CSL list (which I recommend).

After a few readings this seems the most intelligent and interesting response I've come
across in any of the media - including the material flying around the internet.

Worth remembering this is before the USA, secretly but blatently leant on the Israeli's
to ensure a move towards silence in Israel... I think today on Thursday that Bush may
have been underestimated - perhaps violence is better understood by a 'cowboy' than by
his predecessors -

regards and yours in hope


> The Observer, London,6903,552764,00.html
> Islam and the West are inadequate banners
> The United States may too often have failed to look outside but it is
> depressing how little time is spent trying to understand America
> Special report: terrorism in the US
> Special report: Israel and the Middle East
> Edward Said
> Sunday September 16, 2001
> The Observer
> Spectacular horror of the sort that struck New York (and to a lesser degree
> Washington) has ushered in a new world of unseen, unknown assailants, terror
> missions without political message, senseless destruction.
> For the residents of this wounded city, the consternation, fear, and
> sustained sense of outrage and shock will certainly continue for a long
> time, as will the genuine sorrow and affliction that so much carnage has so
> cruelly imposed on so many.
> New Yorkers have been fortunate that Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a normally
> rebarbative and unpleasantly combative, even retrograde figure, has rapidly
> attained Churchillian status. Calmly, unsentimentally, and with
> extraordinary compassion, he has marshalled the city's heroic police, fire
> and emergency services to admirable effect and, alas, with huge loss of
> life. Giuliani's was the first voice of caution against panic and jingoistic
> attacks on the city's large Arab and Muslim communities, the first to
> express the commonsense of anguish, the first to press everyone to try to
> resume life after the shattering blows.
> Would that that were all. The national television reporting has of course
> brought the horror of those dreadful winged juggernauts into every
> household, unremittingly, insistently, not always edifyingly. Most
> commentary has stressed, indeed magnified, the expected and the predictable
> in what most Americans feel: terrible loss, anger, outrage, a sense of
> violated vulnerability, a desire for vengeance and un-restrained
> retribution. Beyond formulaic expressions of grief and patriotism, every
> politician and accredited pundit or expert has dutifully repeated how we
> shall not be defeated, not be deterred, not stop until terrorism is
> exterminated. This is a war against terrorism, everyone says, but where, on
> what fronts, for what concrete ends? No answers are provided, except the
> vague suggestion that the Middle East and Islam are what 'we' are up
> against, and that terrorism must be destroyed.
> What is most depressing, however, is how little time is spent trying to
> understand America's role in the world, and its direct involvement in the
> complex reality beyond the two coasts that have for so long kept the rest of
> the world extremely distant and virtually out of the average American's
> mind. You'd think that 'America' was a sleeping giant rather than a
> superpower almost constantly at war, or in some sort of conflict, all over
> the Islamic domains. Osama bin Laden's name and face have become so
> numbingly familiar to Americans as in effect to obliterate any his tory he
> and his shadowy followers might have had before they became stock symbols of
> everything loathsome and hateful to the collective imagination. Inevitably,
> then, collective passions are being funnelled into a drive for war that
> uncannily resembles Captain Ahab in pursuit of Moby Dick, rather than what
> is going on, an imperial power injured at home for the first time, pursuing
> its interests systematically in what has become a suddenly reconfigured
> geography of conflict, without clear borders, or visible actors. Manichaean
> symbols and apocalyptic scenarios are bandied about with future consequences
> and rhetorical restraint thrown to the winds.
> Rational understanding of the situation is what is needed now, not more
> drum-beating. George Bush and his team clearly want the latter, not the
> former. Yet to most people in the Islamic and Arab worlds the official US is
> synonymous with arrogant power, known for its sanctimoniously munificent
> support not only of Israel but of numerous repressive Arab regimes, and its
> inattentiveness even to the possibility of dialogue with secular movements
> and people who have real grievances. Anti-Americanism in this context is not
> based on a hatred of modernity or technology-envy: it is based on a
> narrative of concrete interventions, specific depredations and, in the cases
> of the Iraqi people's suffering under US-imposed sanctions and US support
> for the 34-year-old Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. Israel is
> now cynically exploiting the American catastrophe by intensifying its
> military occupation and oppression of the Palestinians. Political rhetoric
> in the US has overridden these things by flinging about words like
> 'terrorism' and 'freedom' whereas, of course, such large abstractions have
> mostly hidden sordid material interests, the influence of the oil, defence
> and Zionist lobbies now consolidating their hold on the entire Middle East,
> and an age-old religious hostility to (and ignorance of) 'Islam' that takes
> new forms every day.
> Intellectual responsibility, however, requires a still more critical sense
> of the actuality. There has been terror of course, and nearly every
> struggling modern movement at some stage has relied on terror. This was as
> true of Mandela's ANC as it was of all the others, Zionism included. And yet
> bombing defenceless civilians with F-16s and helicopter gunships has the
> same structure and effect as more conventional nationalist terror.
> What is bad about all terror is when it is attached to religious and
> political abstractions and reductive myths that keep veering away from
> history and sense. This is where the secular consciousness has to try to
> make itself felt, whether in the US or in the Middle East. No cause, no God,
> no abstract idea can justify the mass slaughter of innocents, most
> particularly when only a small group of people are in charge of such actions
> and feel themselves to represent the cause without having a real mandate to
> do so.
> Besides, much as it has been quarrelled over by Muslims, there isn't a
> single Islam: there are Islams, just as there are Americas. This diversity
> is true of all traditions, religions or nations even though some of their
> adherents have futiley tried to draw boundaries around themselves and pin
> their creeds down neatly. Yet history is far more complex and contradictory
> than to be represented by demagogues who are much less representative than
> either their followers or opponents claim. The trouble with religious or
> moral fundamentalists is that today their primitive ideas of revolution and
> resistance, including a willingness to kill and be killed, seem all too
> easily attached to technological sophistication and what appear to be
> gratifying acts of horrifying retaliation. The New York and Washington
> suicide bombers seem to have been middle-class, educated men, not poor
> refugees. Instead of getting a wise leadership that stresses education, mass
> mobilisation and patient organisation in the service of a cause, the poor
> and the desperate are often conned into the magical thinking and quick
> bloody solutions that such appalling models pro vide, wrapped in lying
> religious claptrap.
> On the other hand, immense military and economic power are no guarantee of
> wisdom or moral vision. Sceptical and humane voices have been largely
> unheard in the present crisis, as 'America' girds itself for a long war to
> be fought somewhere out there, along with allies who have been pressed into
> service on very uncertain grounds and for imprecise ends. We need to step
> back from the imaginary thresholds that separate people from each other and
> re-examine the labels, reconsider the limited resources available, decide to
> share our fates with each other as cultures mostly have done, despite the
> bellicose cries and creeds.
> 'Islam' and 'the West' are simply inadequate as banners to follow blindly.
> Some will run behind them, but for future generations to condemn themselves
> to prolonged war and suffering without so much as a critical pause, without
> looking at interdependent histories of injustice and oppression, without
> trying for common emancipation and mutual enlightenment seems far more
> wilful than necessary. Demonisation of the Other is not a sufficient basis
> for any kind of decent politics, certainly not now when the roots of terror
> in injustice can be addressed, and the terrorists isolated, deterred or put
> out of business. It takes patience and education, but is more worth the
> investment than still greater levels of large-scale violence and suffering.
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