UNCEASING WAVES

Je Suis Robespierre

Posted in International by Karthick RM on August 14, 2016

Originally published on The European Magazine

One should not be cynical here. The protests that followed the Charlie Hebdo massacre, that saw millions on the streets of Paris, were indeed genuine in their concern for Frenchlaïcité and the liberté that emerges from it. But this is not enough. This liberté cannot be sustained without the other two essential ingredients, égalité and fraternité. Which is why we need to revisit the ideas of the greatest European revolutionary whose birth anniversary fell earlier this month (no, Google Doodle did not honor him.)

Liberté, égalité, fraternité ou la mort

The slogan of the Jacobins under Maximillien Robespierre was liberté, égalité, fraternité ou la mort_. That is, there was a political will, almost a passion, to court death for the cause of liberty, equality and fraternity. This was the foundation for modern French laïcité. After the Thermidorian reaction, “_fraternité_” and “_ou la mort” was removed. And under Napoleon Bonaparte, it was reduced to liberté and ordre public – much like the present regime, which seems to want to balance liberty of speech and surveillance for public security. The radical universalism of the French Revolution, represented in its call for fraternité, was to be replaced.

In his speech “On the Trial of the King”, Robespierre said “We invoke forms, because we have no principles; we pride ourselves on our delicacy, because we lack energy; we flaunt a false humanity, because the feeling of true humanity is foreign to us”. We can extend this and say that we preach tolerance for particularities, because we have lost faith in universality; we submit to surveillance, because we do not dare to think beyond the system; we pick sides between majority and minority bigots, because we have lost the will to imagine a united fight against all bigotry.

Where should we stand now? In his last speech, Robespierre emphasizes “When reason is proscribed as a crime, tyranny reigns; when good citizens are condemned to silence, then obviously scoundrels must rule.” Here, both the state that persecutes individuals for treading on too controversial topics (like foreign misadventures) or the multiculturalist liberals who engage in censorship and self-censorship on topics that might be considered as offending minorities (like the Charlie Hebdo cartoons) obey the same perverse logic of criminalizing reason.

State Violence or Islamist Violence?

This again brings to the other problem, of violence. Here too, simple binaries operate. One is either an apologist for state violence, or one is an apologist for Islamist violence. Yes, one can argue that with all its flaws, the French state is far better than the Islamists that oppose it, that secular tyranny is any day preferable to religious tyranny. But this too betrays a lack of political imagination, the desire to create a new world order. It is probably only that vision, a revisiting of Robespierre, and a reinvented Jacobinism that can really safeguard French culture. If anything, the greatest threat to French culture comes not from immigrants, but rather from the general apathy of the French to their own radical past and its significance for the future.

Michel Houellebecq’s recent dystopian novel Soumission, unfairly accused of Islamophobia by some liberal critics, deals precisely with the costs of apathy and cynicism that pervades Western society and politics. Islamism is merely a metaphor in the novel for any dangerous and regressive ideology than can take over a nihilistic society with the promise of order and meaning.

Charlie Hebdo’s sacrifice served as a wake-up call for the values of laïcité and liberté. To defend and to take forward the “Je Suis Charlie” movement and to make it genuinely universal, we need to now say “Je Suis Robespierre”.

Charlie Hebdo Deserves the PEN Honour and Why the Critics are Wrong

Posted in Society and Culture by Karthick RM on May 13, 2015

Originally published on Huffington Post

PEN American Center has decided to give Charlie Hebdo a long overdue recognition – its Freedom of Expression Courage award. On its website, PEN justified its decision arguing, quite legitimately, that “Only a handful of people are willing to put themselves in peril to build a world in which we are all free to say what we believe” and that the journalists of Charlie Hebdo belonged to this category.

Unfortunately, but predictably enough, few writers have decided to boycott the event where the Hebdo journalists will be awarded. One of them, American writer Rachel Kushner, defended her decision arguing that Charlie Hebdo promoted “cultural intolerance”. The others too gave similar arguments.

A most honorable and courageous exception, Salman Rushdie slammed these writers for their “very, very bad move.” He further said that “This issue has nothing to do with an oppressed and disadvantaged minority. It has everything to do with the battle against fanatical Islam, which is highly organised, well funded, and which seeks to terrify us all, Muslims as well as non-Muslims, into a cowed silence.”

Charlie Hebdo demonstrated a moral and intellectual courage that most media in the Anglo-Saxon world refuse to show – the willingness to stand up to bigots of all types and colors. While the liberal-left here mostly only engage in White-guilt trips blaming Europe for all ills in the world, the Hebdo journalists, in the true spirit of the tradition of Voltaire and Moliere, mercilessly lampooned all those who wielded power, be it the French government, the Le Pens, or the Islamists.

Now, the Islamists might hail from ‘marginalized’ communities but they definitely are not an ‘oppressed’ community. A group which has the ability to strike journalists at will, which is responsible for the vast majority of anti-Semitic attacks creating a climate of fear causing an exodus of Jews from France, which intimidates members of its own community to follow archaic cultural practices is neither an ‘oppressed minority’ nor its representative, but a death cult.

And the writers who are boycotting the PEN event are inadvertently legitimizing the ideology, politics, and actions of this group. This only serves as an encouragement to Islamists that instead of being hauled up for their crimes, it is rather their victims who will be targeted for being ‘racist’, ‘intolerant’ and what not. This also discourages genuinely progressive intellectuals from both Muslim and non-Muslim communities from having a much needed dialogue on the structural problems within Islam. By placing Islam beyond criticism, the liberal-left may pander to their own guilt, but they are doing nothing to help the oppressed.

Europeans should not be guilty about the claims of discrimination that Islamists and their apologists frequently shell out as an excuse for Muslim extremism. We must be bold enough to recognize that Islamism is not a legitimate reaction of an oppressed group, but a powerful world movement funded by petrodollars, arms trade, drug trafficking and sex slavery. If there is anything writers in the West should be guilty about, it is the sordid history of how the Western powers funded these movements in the past to counter secular and socialist movements in the Middle-East and in the countries of the former Soviet bloc.

Unfortunately, what the liberal-left is practicing here is a worse form of Islamophobia – the fear of offending Muslim extremists. And White writers assuming that all Muslims get offended by Hebdo’s cartoons – as if there are no secular, sober and sane individuals and political movements in the so-called Muslim world – is also a form of racism.

But to further contemplate on Kushner’s comment that Charlie Hebdo promoted “cultural intolerance” – should we tolerate primordial savagery that is anathema to all forms of civilization? Can the French Partisans in World War II also be accused of “cultural intolerance” towards Nazism? GK Chesterton’s statement holds true here – tolerance is the virtue of those who believe in nothing.

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Excerpt from my Review of Slavoj Zizek’s “Trouble in Paradise”

Posted in Politics by Karthick RM on April 13, 2015

Originally published at The Oxonian Review

This drawing of simple binaries on unqualified distinctions of oppressor and oppressed is precisely what afflicts the Left political spectrum today, especially in Anglophone countries. Of course, the right-wing discourse that every Muslim is a potential terrorist is downright racist. But what does one call the equally problematic response of the multicultural left that any criticism of Islam, or the cultural practices of Muslim communities, is tantamount to Islamophobia? If one can excuse away the Charlie Hebdo massacre by reference to the brutality of French colonialism, then one can also excuse Nazism by reference to the brutal political and economic stipulations laid on Germany post-World War I. There is a monopolization of the discourse on Islam by Islamists and liberal Muslims which is being actively, or passively, assisted by the Western multicultural Left at the cost of those within the so-called “Muslim world” who care little for the Islamic religion, and the real or imagined offences against it, and who are instead working towards radical political struggle and social reform within their communities. This is the “Third” that is being ignored. An honourable exception, Žižek is miles ahead of his leftist peers in his insistence that Islamism is not a legitimate response to, but rather an inherent part of, global capitalism–an illegitimate child.

The Multicultural Inquisition of Our Times

Posted in Society and Culture by Karthick RM on April 13, 2015

Originally published on Huffington Post

In a sense, the Stalinist persecution of political dissidents was a lot more brutal than that of the fascists. Dont get me wrong, if the option was only between Hitler and Stalin I would gladly prefer Stalin, despite all the atrocities that he committed. But it is also important to recognize that the leftists who were murdered by the fascists knew that they were being martyred for a noble cause. Those murdered by the Stalinists, especially through the show trials, underwent a double murder. A spiritual one, followed by the physical. As Orwell put it in 1984, they were compelled to believe, against all reason, that two plus two was five. Their spirit of dissidence was broken, they were forced to confess their infidelity, and later unglamourously executed or made to rot in a gulag. In comparison, the greater moral crime was not the political genocide of leftists by fascists, but rather the mass murder of dissident leftists by the Stalinist dogmatists. One can say that Stalinism was a continuation of murders of heretics by the Inquisition.

Historically, the brutal and absolute power of the Inquisition lay not just in breaking the body of the heretic, but in breaking their soul. It was necessary to show the heretics as sinners against a divinely established body of truth, by virtue of which they had to be excommunicated and purged. In a sense, this is what the multicultural liberal-left is doing in the name of ‘defending minority cultures’. By default, any one who criticizes these minority cultures is considered a White patriarch/racist/Islamophobe etc and publicly shamed. There is a tacit assumption that these cultures matter to all individuals from non-Western societies and that they need not be integrated into Western Enlightenment standards. And while this liberal-left does not have the power to physically murder like the Catholic Inquistion or Stalinism, they still have a power to enforce censorship and mark labels on individuals in the media. So in place of the “heretic” or the “traitor”, we have the “White imperialist capitalist patriarch” or the “Islamophobe”.

As a “minority within a minority” (Tamil) in the West, I find these uncritical approvals of minority cultures frightening. Worse, I find it hard to get my articles published because they do not criticize the West and/or Israel enough. I can claim a triple discrimination here – racists here detest me because I am a “bloody immigrant”, my “fellow South Asians” hate me because I unconditionally oppose their cultural bigotries, and the liberal-left Whites censor me because I do not fit into their “lets blame the West for everything and exonerate the rest from everything” dogma. And several of my progressive ‘Muslim’ friends from Kurdish, Turkish and Iranian communities face the same problem.

It is dark humour that for all their ire against Samuel Huntington’s ‘clash of civilizations’ theses, in fact, it is precisely the multicultural liberal-left who are the true Huntingtonians of the modern times. Why? More than the right-wingers, it is they who believe that there is something called a ‘Muslim world’, as different from the other worlds, whose inhabitants prioritize the Islamic identity over all else, and that it is a liberal duty to respect this identity. A critical interrogation of the ideology that nurtures this identity or the bigots that it privileges is to be avoided, well, because it would be Islamophobic. Obviously, the right-wing belief that “Everyone from the Muslim world is a potential terrorist” is wrong. But what do you call the left-liberal dogma that “Everyone from the Muslim world loves their Muslim identity and we must love them remaining that way”?

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, a collective of writers, artists, lawyers, academics and activists – most of them ‘Muslims’ – from across the world signed a petition urging governments to not recognize “moderate” Islamists, but instead combat Islamism through “political means and mass mobilisation, not by giving extra privileges to any religion.”

Of course, the right-wing media did not cover any of this. It would undermine their theory that anything progressive would elude the Muslims. But the general silence of the liberal-left in engaging with these viewpoints from the ‘others’ in the ‘Muslim world’ was painful. Isn’t their privileging of both “moderate” and “hardcore” Islamist voices contributing to the further silencing of those who reject the Muslim identity politics and seek alternatives in radical emancipatory political projects?

In an interview, Neil deGrasse Tyson commented on the three phases of the life of a scientific truth – First people say: “It can’t be true”. Second they say: “It conflicts with the bible.” Third they say: “It’s true all along.” The same applies for political truths. The great political truth of our time is this – Islamism is a problem by itself and there are progressives from various Muslim communities across the world waging a life-or-death struggle against it. It cannot be excused or explained away by blaming Western imperialism. Western liberal-leftists now say that this can’t be true. They will next say that it conflicts with the multicultural gospel and censor all those who reject this thesis. Eventually they will say that it is true all along.

But by then, there will be many more victims of terrorist attacks like the Copenhagen shootings which the European Right will cynically manipulate to further their indiscriminate xenophobia. And if we do not stand up to the Inquisition that the politically correct multicultural left have forced upon us, we might as well embrace a century of competing fundamentalisms.

J’accuse: Charlie Hebdo and the Rank Stupidity of the Infantile Left

Posted in Society and Culture by Karthick RM on January 20, 2015

Originally published on Huffington Post

In the wake of the brutal murders at the office of the French satirist magazine Charlie Hebdo, did you come across any article which read something like the following?

‘While the Hebdo murders are sad (add few token lines of phony sympathy) France has killed many people during colonialism. And it has a history of white racism. Plus, it is also engaged in neo-colonial endeavors. Likewise, Charlie Hebdo is Islamophobic (give few examples). The murderers are just isolated madmen and do not have an ideology. etc etc.’

Well done! You’ve just had a generous dose of infantile leftism! Criticism is reserved only for the West and Israel. Only the Whites and Jews have it in them to be the super-villains of the world. The rest are just innocent suffering victims. And yes, the ‘resistance’ of these ‘victims’ – whatever form it might come in – ought not be criticized. Ironically, this sort of Manichean thinking, that of the bad West vs the poor Rest, is precisely the mirror-image of the Bush doctrine of “either you are with us or against us”.

Slovene philosopher Slavoj Zizek made an interesting comment about such trends among the left: “For the multiculturalist, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants are prohibited, Italians and Irish get a little respect, blacks are good, native Americans are even better. The further away we go, the more they deserve respect. This is a kind of inverted, patronizing respect that puts everyone at a distance.”

The irrational hatred for Whites and Jews (including those from the working class) apart, this is precisely the kind of patronizing respect that the infantile left in Western countries shows towards Islamism. In reality, this left is much like the right, in that it secretly accepts that Muslims are incapable of radical social reform, and hence, becomes a patron of Islamist identity politics. And the bogey it invents to hide its own failures and to shut down legitimate criticisms of Islamism is that of Islamophobia. And the ‘name-and-shame’ campaign this coterie launches against critics – not to mention the real, existential threat posed by Islamic fanatic groups – create a climate where there is self-censorship that writers, intellectuals and comedians impose on themselves. The implicit message seems to be this: criticize Islam, and you are an Islamophobe. Should you be killed, you probably deserved it.

Isn’t that what is also transpiring in Hebdo attack case? Though the magazine was clearly an equal-opportunity offender some on the left have used even this tragic circumstance to paint the institution as ‘Islamophobic’.

I did come across a few nauseating articles but this one by Richard Seymour on a magazine that goes by the name “Jacobin” takes the cake. Let alone a solidarity with the victims – which the writer believes to be “platitudinous” – there is not even a word of condemnation of the terrorists (again, a term which the writer opposes to categorize the killers) who executed this barbaric attack. Instead there is a banal sermon on the possible dangers of Islamophobia, a totally irrelevant anecdote about Thatcher coupled with an inappropriate comparison with the IRA, and accusations at Charlie Hebdo which make it sound as though the magazine invited the attack.

It is precisely this sort of irresponsible justifications of acts of blind terrorism that shrink the already limited political space for progressive activists, representatives of the working class and oppressed nations. And no less a person than Lenin condemned these sort of acts. Seymour asks his readers to check up on Said’s Orientalism (and it is not a wonder that he is disapproving of Zizek). But maybe he should re-read – and try to understand – what Lenin meant when he called terrorist-glorification tendencies an ‘infantile disorder’.

A true leftist would realize that the attack on Charlie Hebdo is not merely an attack on a liberal freedom of press – it is an attack of a core Marxist value, namely, the ethical imperative to critically examine every ideology under the sun, and Islam is no special exception. For a leftist to ignore that is imbecility at its worst.

As far Islamist terrorism goes, maybe the Left should remember what Robespierre, the patriarch of modern day revolutionaries, said – “To punish the oppressors of humanity is benevolence; to be benevolent to them is barbarism.” This, and this alone, is real Jacobinism.This, and this alone, is real Jacobinism.