File spoon-archives/postanarchism.archive/postanarchism_2004/postanarchism.0403, message 15

Subject: Re: [postanarchism] The Agreement of Zizek and Katsiafiacas on Multiculturalism
Date: Thu, 4 Mar 2004 13:11:20 US/Eastern

> As for Sasha's argument that "*nowhere in the text you
> quote does he call for coexistence with Islamic
> fundamentalism in any way*" I really disagree here,
> because, just as with the issue of Cultural Studies,
> which he seemingly 'flatly rejects' but at the same
> time turns around and says that actually, it should be
> our central concern (and certainly Cultural Studies
> folks are using his critiques *all the time* these
> days), here too he is not saying just that either. 

Hmmm. Zizek appears to embrace and reject cultural
studies more or less simulataneously, so we should
understand all of his rejections as at the same time
embraces of some sort...? 

It is precisely correct that *nowhere* in the text is
coexistence with Islam even the issue. If you wish to
draw out an argument based on other parts of Zizek's
work, then go for it, but it simply *isn't* in the 
text we were discussing. 

> His
> argument is basically that in the West we believe that
> we are multicultural, liberal and tolerant, but oddly
> enough, the one thing we are really intolerant of, is
> other societies that we percieve to be intolerant,

To be intolerant of intolerance is hardly strange, is
it - assuming the "other" really is intolerant? At 
issue is whether that intolerance of the other is real,
or whether it simply a manifestation of racism. 

> such as what we dismiss as Islamic 'fundamentalist'
> societies, thus resulting in what he calls an
> 'anti-racist racism', which is what Katsiaficas says
> as well - in this way I would say he is in fact
> arguing for a coexistence with Islamic
> 'fundamentalism' with the caveats endorsed by
> Katsiaficas.

This assumes that what is *identified* as 
"fundamentalism" is actually something else - perhaps
more tolerant than our own belief systems. At times,
it appears that the arguments is that there is, in
*fact*, no fundamentalism within Islam to coexist

But it also assumes a number of things about what 
is objectionable about fundamentalism. I'm not
sure "tolerance" is the most useful way to talk about
what's at issue. 

> For a little textual support of this assertion, I
> would refer you first of all to 'Welcome to the Desert
> of the Real', where on page three he argues, after
> critiquing a Hollywood film in which a boyfriend won't
> take no for an answer from his girlfriend after asking
> if she will marry him, demonstrating that it really is
> not a 'choice' that it is the same thing with the
> juxtaposition of democracy and fundamentalism in
> contemporary world politics (whether by the State,
> liberal multiculturalists or well meaning radicals):
> as he argues, "is it not that, within the terms of
> this choice, it is simply not possible to choose
> 'fundamentalism'? What is problematic in the way the
> ruling ideology imposes this choice on us is not
> 'fundmantalism' but rather democracy itself, as if the
> only alternative to 'fundamentalism' is the political
> system of liberal parliamentary democracy". 

I'm guessing most "well meaning radicals" aren't holding
up "liberal parliamentary democracy" as the alternative
to "fundamentalism." Certainly there are probably damned
few anarchists holding it up as the only "possible" choice.
What Zizek claims about "ruling ideology" may or may not
be true, but the situation with radicals and particularly
anarchists is certainly, as the man said, more complicated
than that. "Tolerance" in the "liberal" sense is as much
at odds with anarchist aims as various kinds of 
"intolerance." But those of us here who have objected
to fundamentalism are critiquing it one a rather 
different register. My piece from last night on options
for inheriting traditions of wisdom ought to foreground
the differences as i see them. 

> Another example from the same book would be the many
> places where he almost endorses the terrorist actions
> of September 11 (which I totally disagree with of
> course), arguing "is not so-called fundamentalist
> terror also a passion for the Real?" (p. 9) (which he
> then compares to the German RAF). 

Perhaps "so-called fundamentalism" is a "passion for
the real," but, honestly, so what? Are we going to 
celebrate every act of rupture, however misdirected
or ill-considered? I'm willing to grant that, like
many of the RAF members, many terrorists are acting
from some potentially laudable impulse. An old friend 
of mine committed murder this last weekend, then turned
himself in. The small town where i live is in the 
throes of confusion and denial. Neither the killer nor
the victim was exemplary - just human beings, with
the usual collection of virtues and flaws. Part of me
understands completely how, for a moment at least, the
act of taking another life becomes possible, how, 
perhaps, all the lines of force in one's life aim in
just that direction. But then there is the inescapable
waste involved in the act, an expenditure that opens 
no new spaces we would want to enter, and one which
none of us can make without stepping over lines i
suspect most anarchists feel the need to hold onto. 

> A few pages later he
> says that like the emptiness of contemporary
> capitalist society, in which we have beer without
> alcohol, sweetness without sugar, sex without contact,
> etc. the liberal version of multiculturalism gives us
> "an experience of the Other deprived of its Otherness"
> (11) - precisely the 'fundamentalism' being denounced
> here as not conforming to 'our' ideals - as
> Katsiaficas argues, if we really respected the
> Otherness of the Other, we would be taking a rather
> different approach, supporting internal struggles
> within, without imposing our values as the immediate,
> thoughtless, knee-jerk reaction.

First, dismissing the response to fundamentalism as
*necessarily* "thoughtless, knee-jerk reaction" is
a bit thoughtless and jerky in its own way. 

Beyond that, however, there is something going on
in this celebration of terrorist "otherness" that
looks pretty suspect. First, there is something 
oddly nostalgic about this concern with *real*
experience. Why should we elevate the sweetness of
sugar over that of artificial sweeteners - in the 
realm of sweetness? Probably we can all think of
reasons we are nostalgic in some of the same ways
for more "natural" or "authentic" experience, but
we also all know the cautions about fixing notions
of the "natural" or "authentic." Now think about 
the argument that justifies 9/11 on the same basis
as our preference for "real sugar." Ugh. I'm not
sure i want to go there. Terrorists are more 
"authentic" than we are, sitting and killing people
at our video game terminals. Are "our" soldiers
"more authentic" than we are? Doesn't this all lead
far away from anarchist aims and values? It's
not hard to see how this stuff fits with Zizek's
elevation of Lenin - and Lenin is elevated even
over Marx in Zizek and Badiou - but what's in it
for us?

> And like Katsiaficas, Zizek argues too that Jews,
> Christians and others have more often than not been
> much better off the cultural umbrella of
> 'fundamentalist' Islam than they have under
> self-righteous 'tolerant' Western secularism, for
> instance, one could point to his argument in the
> conclusion of 'Weclome to the Desert of the Real' in
> which he argues that "Sarajevo...had by far the
> largest Jewish community in ex-Yugoslavia, and,
> moreover, was the most cosmopolitan Yugoslav city, the
> thriving center of cinema and rock music - why?
> Precisely because it was the Muslim-dominated city,
> where the Jewish and Christian presence was tolerated,
> in contrast to the Christian-dominated large cities
> from Jews and Muslims were purged long ago" (p. 137). 

But the question of what happened in Yugoslavia is
not one that can be answered by recourse to categories
like "Jew," "Christian," or "Muslim," or by simple
recourse to greater or lesser degrees of "tolerance."
One of the issues i have seen repeatedly addressed in
accounts of the ethnic cleansings was the apparently 
sudden shift from tolerance to conflict. This is 
certainly one of those conflicts where "fundamentalism"
or "old ethnic hatreds" have been trotted out to 
explain what we haven't taken the time to understand. 
That doesn't change the fact that a recourse to dogmatic,
"fundamental" beliefs seems to have eased to the road to
human catastrophe. 

> Earlier in the same text we find him arguing that the
> reprehensible elements of Islam today are not
> 'fundamentalist' at all but are, as Katsiaficas
> argues, direct products of the reaction to global
> capitalism as imposed by the West; 

Here it appears that fundamentalism is *real*, but
not *traditional.* The same might be said of christian
fundamentalism. It is a decidedly modern reaction to
other forces. But faiths evolve, and we put ourselves
in a weird place arguing, for example, that what is
taught in the Madrassas is not "authentic" Islam,
however much of a push it may have recieved from the 

There's not much point in more point-by-point 
commentary. There is, i think, some value in noting 
that there are in the world: 

1) Real fundamentalists, who rely for key elements 
of there direction in life on what they believe are
divinely inspired, inerrant doctrines or text. These
may put forth principles that inspire tolerance 
towards others, or they may inspire holy war. What
they clearly don't inspire is radical nonconformity.
Coexistence with these real fundamentalists may be
possible and desirable, for currently existing 
political formations or for anarchist societies. 
That won't be determined by fundamentalism per se,
but by the content of the fundamentals. 

2) Folks identified as "fundamentalist" because they
have beliefs that appear outside the range of 
possibility in our own cultures. To the extent that
these people do not actually espouse a recourse to
fundamentals, we would certainly be doing a good 
thing by correcting and clarifying the mistaken
perception of them as "fundamentalists." 

It's also probably worth noting that criteria like 
whether or not an act shows "a passion for the real"
don't give us much useful grounds for determining
our critical responses. Just as "difference" as such
can't be our prime criteria for valuing things -
since "differences differ" in type and implications -
"passion" as a yardstick threatens to elevate "crimes
of passion" and other "real," but misguided attempts
to connect with the world. 


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