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Charlie Hebdo: Shun the liberal politics of condemnation

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Attacks, not merely on free speech, but on freedom of life itself, and yes, in all its myriad, multiple forms, can be effectively countered only if one begins thinking in terms of interventions that will radically shift the ground on which politics currently happens. And that, in my opinion, will have to begin with the effort to move away from the politics of condemnation as critique. For, regardless of whether the outrage that evokes such condemnation is in the idiom of majoritarianism(s) or minoritarianism(s), the politics of condemnation as critique is, in the face of such outrage, patently reactive and defensive. One that is, therefore, stuck on the political ground of precisely the enormities it purports to counter.

The politics of condemnation — or, to be more accurate, condemnation as politics — is thus stuck in the entirely ineffectual stance of insisting that it is equally critical of both minoritarian and majoritarian violence, notwithstanding its apparent, declarative vigour. Such horizontalisation of various forms of otherising violence, which have as their condition of possibility the structure of differential inclusion (productive inclusion through hierarchical exclusion), serves, in the final analysis, to reinforce and reproduce that structure and the abominations it makes possible. Therefore, such ‘even-handedness’ that condemnation as politics proudly displays, nay is compelled to display, is actually equivocation. In other words, the fight against various expressions of otherising hatred can hope to be effective only when it’s a subtraction from the reactive terms of responding to the operations of otherising violence.

Such subtraction, however, cannot occur as long as one is caught within the universe of the juridico-legal and its conception of peace, and thus fights shy of reclaiming and operationalising violence in a law-unravelling mode that is overdetermined by the will to solidarity. That is revolutionary violence, or what Walter Benjamin affirmed as the messianic “divine violence”. After all, the abominations and enormities one speaks of here are abominations and enormities not because they are violent. Quite the contrary, they are abominations and enormities precisely because their violence is otherising, and thus law-preserving.

Therefore, if one agrees that such “divine violence” is the only possible way in which attacks on free speech, and freedom of life in all its forms, can be effectively countered, one will have to begin thinking on how to make such divine violence possible in the concreteness of the here and now of history. And that is contingent on grasping how divine violence in its incipience, and thus also thwarted in that incipience, is objectively the heart of every action (repeat action), not ideology, of otherising violence, whether majoritarian or minoritarian. But one can begin to make sense of incipient divine violence in concrete socio-historical terms only when one starts redirecting one’s political-intellectual efforts towards patient and persevering inquiries into the concrete interplay of concrete causes behind various kinds of otherising violence in their concreteness. Alas, such redirection of intellectual politics cannot happen as long as one continues to think that writing articles for mainline newspapers and magazines in predetermined liberal terms of condemnation-as-criticism contributes in some measure towards countering different forms and kinds of expressions of otherising violence. If anything, struggles against such expressions, and their structural condition of possibility, and writing such well-meaning, heart-in-the-right-place kind of vigorously outraged articles are now at cross-purposes. And no this is not meant as an attack on radical elements among journalists, who have to write to earn their keep. This is the best they can manage within the constraints of such a compulsion. It’s meant for those ‘radicals’, and liberals, who strut around exhibiting such signed pieces of theirs as their badge of honour.


Charlie Hebdo: Religion is opium, it’s heart of the heartless world too

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True, religion is opium of the masses. And the struggle to abolish the situation that makes such opium necessary in the first place will have to include criticism, even criticism with weapons, of not only the purveyors of such opium but even a section of the opiated masses that refuses to kick the habit. And yet, the bearded chap who discovered the opiate that is religion also saw it as the heart of the heartless world, the soul of the soulless condition and the sigh of the oppressed. So all those Hindu and Muslim liberals and leftists, who can well afford their liberalism and leftism, would now do well to wonder what will come of attempts to take such hearts and souls away even as the heartless world and the soulless condition are left intact, and the oppressed continue to be where they are but only with their sighs suppressed? Those liberals and leftists would, in such circumstances, also do well to consider what good their outraged expressions of solidarity with those who seek to suppress the sighs of the oppressed by taking away from them such hearts and souls is doing. Especially, since those expressions of solidarity are, as far as one can see, contributing in no concerted way to abolish the heartless world and the soulless condition that has made the opium of religion(s) necessary in the first place. Or, is all this sheer grandstanding that has less to do with actually changing the world and more to do with cementing their identities as radicals, secularists, atheists, whatever.

Perhaps it will be more productive, particularly at this juncture, to see religion as a dialecticised and dynamic terrain of politics always internally divided between materiality and mystification. The duality that is integral to the identification and designation of religion in terms of the personal and the organised — or the religion(s) of the majorities and religion(s) of the minorities for that matter — must be grasped as no more than an appearance that in the immediateness of such duality is meant to mediate ones access to religion as that internal dialectic of the material and the mystificatory.

Written by Pothik Ghosh

January 8, 2015 at 3:21 pm

Charlie Hebdo Attack: Who will criticise the critics?

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What would criticism of heaven be without criticism of the earth? And what does one do when criticism of heaven fails to be a criticism of the earth and becomes complicit precisely in conserving and/or reproducing the earth as it stands? Is that not the question that comes to us via Marx’s critique of Bruno Bauer’s secularist criticism of Jewish religioisity, or Feurbach’s (liberal and partial) atheism? Shouldn’t, therefore, the criticism of heaven begin with criticism of the earth — a criticism that is as much a critique of heaven as a critique of those whose criticism of heaven serves, unwittingly or otherwise, to conserve and reproduce the earth as it stands?

To paraphrase and slightly modify comics-artist Alan Moore in Watchmen:who will criticise the critics? In other words, shouldn’t criticism of murderous fanaticism in the name of Islam, if such criticism has to be really effective, locate it in its condition of possibility that is capitalist modernity, even as it unsparingly condemns the concrete operations of such murderous fanaticism. In the event of criticism of murderous religious fanaticism failing to achieve such comprehensiveness, which would admittedly be a tortuous and complicated articulation, it becomes no more than liberal breast-beating. In the current instance of the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo, such liberal breast-beating and the attendant politics of condemnation from an Archimedian point participates in, whether it admits to itself or not, the prevailing climate of Islamophobia. However, the class culpability and complicity of such politics of liberal-secularist breast-beating, which smacks of utter political irresponsibility, is equally in play when such politics seeks to confront the mobs of lumpenised unwashed masses rallying out in favour of majoritarianisms of different kinds.

Such liberal, secularist politics, which is supposedly pacifist and for peace, is against the violence of fanatical mobs — whether minoritarian or majoritarian — not because such fanaticism is religious but because through opposition to such fanaticism this politics seeks to ensure that the utterly unequal and iniquitous class structure, and its inherent structural violence, is left undisturbed and in peace. Clearly, what bothers the purveyors of such politics most is how such violence openly manifests the violence and inequality always inherent in and foundational to the structure that makes possible their privileged peace. It’s precisely on account of the adoption of such secularist politics of dubious peace by even those who project themselves as champions of revolutionary leftist politics of social transformation that the eruption of structural violence into the open inevitably comes to have a mystified-fanatical direction, whether in a minoritarian or a majoritarian idiom.

In having adopted such liberal secularist politics of dubious peace in their fight against majoritarianism(s), our so-called revolutionary leftists have been rendered incapable of nurturing the violence internal to the iniquitous structure of capitalist-modernity against that structure. And that is at the root of their failure to mobilise and articulate the open eruption of structural violence in a revolutionary-messianic, structure-unravelling direction.

It’s, therefore, only to be expected that most such liberals in revolutionary-leftist garb should ambivalently oscillate between unwitting (if not deliberate) Islamophobia, and condemnation of majoritarianism(s). That many of those liberals in revolutionary-leftist clothing should, in the context of the Charlie Hebdo affair, be found making statements that are serving to strengthen the prevailing Islamophobic consensus, is thus not surprising at all. In fact, even those who are not exactly doing that are being driven to make weak, ambivalent statements such as we condemn the attack but we also condemn the fetihsation of secularism and so on and so forth. What more can a politics impelled and guided solely by the registration of condemnation of iniquities of modernity be expected to deliver? To say that such ambivalence, and ambidexterity of ‘on-the-one-hand-and-on-the-other’, is no good for forging an effectively concrete politics of anti-capitalism is a no-brainer. An effective anti-capitalist politics would be one that in the face of iniquitous multiplicity that is modernity targets capital as the structural condition of possibility of those historical iniquities in the process of targeting those iniquities in their empirical concreteness. The politics of condemnation as criticism, driven as it is by the tendency to horizontalise all iniquities wrought by the global and globalising system of modernity as the manifest operation of the capitalist structure of differential inclusion, can do precious little than reproduce precisely that structure and its iniquitous systemic operation in and through history.

So, yes condemn the murderous attack on the French satirical periodical by all means. Because the condemnation of all such vengeful acts of violence — which are immersed in ressentiment, reactivity and slave morality — is the first step of divine violence. But what is perhaps more important if we truly wish to begin abolishing such vengeful violence is to focus on making sense of such acts of violence in terms of elaborating their structural causality, which ought to also include the elaboration of how the western phenomenon of satire of Islam — and its liberal, supposedly anti-fundamentalist mediatic ideology — is a key enabler of that differentially inclusive structure of capital that as its realisation in and through history is the systemic iniquity of modernity. Without such elaboration divine violence gets hypostatised as its first step of condemnation to undergo an absolute reversal to become an integral dimension of the law-constituting and/or law-preserving violence that is as vengeful, if not more, as the overtly murderous violence it is meant to be a criticism of.

And yes, this is roughly how I would want to approach not only the recent massacre of children in Peshawar by the TTP but also, and more importantly, the global outrage and condemnation that followed.

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