UNCEASING WAVES

Excerpt From my Review of Christopher J Lee’s “Frantz Fanon: Toward a Revolutionary Humanism”

Posted in Politics by Karthick RM on August 14, 2016

See full review at Marx and Philosophy Review of Books

““Concerning Violence”, a recent documentary by Goran Olsson, a Swedish filmmaker too reinforces the ‘angry black man’ stereotype, albeit unwittingly. Olsson’s documentary takes select passages from The Wretched of the Earth to make a case against European colonialism. The Fanon we see here is an anti-European, who rejected all that Europe stood for. Yes, Fanon was genuinely angry towards the brutality of European colonialism, but he nevertheless believed that there was something worthy of redeeming in the European tradition.

Fanon writes in the Conclusion of WOTE – and this is a passage that the documentary conveniently missed – “All the elements for a solution to the major problems of humanity existed at one time or another in European thought. But the Europeans did not act on the mission that was designated by them.” These are not the words of a man who hated Europe; these are the words of a man who accused Europe of not living up to its own egalitarian values. This is a Fanon that neither the Right nor the Left recognize, and this is the Fanon desperately needed now. The “prophet of violence” who allegedly hated all things Europe is a person whom Fanon would have loathed. But one can suppose this is the fate that befalls all great thinkers. Nietzsche remarked that a martyr’s disciples suffer more than the martyr. What he should have added is that a martyr’s principles suffer most in the hands of his disciples.

Lee’s reading of Fanon provides a much needed nuance that is often missing when dealing with Fanon. “Fanon must be viewed not only as a critic of colonialism but a critic of postcolonialism.” (175) Arguably, Fanonism provides not just a compelling condemnation of the brutalities of European colonialism, but also a pre-emptive critique of the postcolony. While Fanon is most prominently used by the postcolonialists to denounce the alleged arrogance of European universalism, often they produce a narrative that excuses the worst excesses of nation-states in the Third World by attributing it to a hangover of colonial ideology. But this is an approach that Fanon scrupulously avoided, if the last chapters of WOTE are read diligently. And it is this Fanon that needs to be retrieved now – his “radical empathy” and universalist humanism do provide crucial insights on the several problems of identity that plague this century.”

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Ferguson: Taking the fight beyond identity politics

Posted in International by Karthick RM on April 13, 2015

Originally published on The European magazine

It has been reported that two police officers were shot at Ferguson on Thursday, hours after the city’s police chief resigned in the wake of an inquiry into the excesses that his department committed under his reign. This assault follows on the heels of another fatal attack on two NYPD police officers in December by a young Black man who claimed to be taking revenge for police brutalities in Ferguson and elsewhere. Ironically, the cops whom he murdered also happened to be “people of color”. Can these incidents, the general mood of public unrest in Ferguson, be read as acts of “divine violence”?

Disease of the old world order

Slavoj Zizek evokes Walter Benjamin’s “Critique of Violence” to defend this argument. Without condoning or condemning, he rightly observes that such outbursts “with no concrete programmatic demands” are sustained “by just a vague call for justice.” Indeed, Benjamin’s thesis is that “If mythical violence is lawmaking, divine violence is law-destroying”. But this is only a part of it. Benjamin further adds, “if the former sets boundaries, the latter boundlessly destroys them; if mythical violence brings at once guilt and retribution, divine power only expiates; if the former threatens, the latter strikes; if the former is bloody, the latter is lethal without spilling blood.” Did the reactive violence by the oppressed in Ferguson achieve, or even aim at any of this? Sadly, no. Why is this? The “irrational outbursts” such as Ferguson are not symptoms of a new world order – they are symptoms of the disease of the old world order.

The advocacy of indiscriminate violence to combat White racist power centers is nothing new. In the past, Black activists like Eldridge Cleaver advocated rape of White women as a form of resistance to White racism – though he later expressed regret for such ideas. Life came full circle when he eventually joined the Republican Party and became a Christian conservative. What does this say? The reality is that the American system is more than capable of defending itself against such violent excesses by its minorities. If anything, it would prefer the pampering of such particularist minority identity politics because the postmodern logic of global capitalism requires the proliferations of multiple minority identities. This impotent violence of particularist identity politics, fueled only by anti-Whiteressentiment, creates more boundaries and comes nowhere closer to destroying them, which alone would be the real act of divine violence. So the White racists who are phobic about the “brutal Blacks” and the multicultural left who, to overcome a misplaced sense of guilt, celebrate “Black resistance by any means necessary” are actually conforming to the logic of the same system.

Overcoming black separatism

Frantz Fanon was precisely talking about this when he wrote in his “Black Skin, White Masks” that those who adore the Black person are as pathological as those who hate him. His message is crucial – the practice of attributing an immutable identity to an exotic Other and preaching phobia against it, as the racists are wont to do, or preaching a patronizing tolerance for it, as multiculturalists are wont to do, damages the possibility of an universalist political project. In fact, more than Black nationalists in America, it was Martin Luther King Jr. who took this message to heart, when he argued it was necessary to overcome Black separatism and fight on a universalist plank for all the oppressed in the country.

Where does this place those on the radical left? Of course, we have to, without any hesitation, acknowledge that the police system in several parts of America is totally racist. But at the same time, we should not slip into the quite problematic multiculturalist position of endorsing everything that goes by the name of Black/minority identity politics. One can acknowledge that a section of the population has been systematically marginalized, convey solidarity with their struggles, while also remaining critical of reactionary cultural and political tendencies within those minority communities. We can learn a few lessons here from VI Lenin who, while being extremely sensitive to the precarious position of the Jews in Russia, was also boldly critical of isolationist Jewish Bundist politics. To make an excuse that reactionary politics of minority communities have to be tolerated just because “they are different from us” is after all another form of racism.

Defending the egalitarian aspects of Western society

What is needed is, as Zizek suggests elsewhere, a “radical emancipatory Third” that rejects both an identity politics based on anti-Western ressentiment and a shallow liberal multiculturalist tolerance. It is this Third alone that can defend the egalitarian aspects of Western society. This might take the form of a reinvented Jacobinism or a heretical Leninism, but the urgent need is to imagine such a politics of universalism, one that breaks boundaries, expiates both guilt and ressentiment, strikes potently, and is lethal even without spilling blood.

Only this force which the current system cannot accommodate and liberals cannot imagine can bring forth the real event of divine violence.

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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.

Islamophilia Cannot Be an Effective Answer to Islamophobia

Posted in International by Karthick RM on December 24, 2014

Originally published on Huffington Post

The recent siege by an Islamist in Sydney has raised all too familiar debates about Islamophobia. The general right-wing argument, of course, is that such acts of terrorism are justified by a hard-core minority of Muslims and that downplaying the role of Islam is potentially harmful. On the other hand, the general liberal-left argument is that expecting all Muslims to condemn such acts is bigoted because a whole community cannot be held accountable for the actions of a few ‘deranged lunatics’.

Central to both arguments is an unstated belief that the Islamic identity is central to all Muslims, and while the former despises it, the latter preaches a patronising tolerance of the same. And both are wrong.

We have to look at Islamophobia as the tendency to blame Muslims as a whole, without any differentiation of nation, culture, class, gender, and political orientation for terrorist acts committed by Islamists.

Likewise, we have to look at Islamophilia as the tendency to exonerate Islam as an ideology from the crimes that are committed in its name, as the belief that the Muslim identity is good in itself and is central to an adherent of the faith.

Reality, if anything, shows the contrary. Proponents of the two sides are unlikely to remember that the first state to declare itself officially atheist in the world happened to be a predominantly ‘Muslim’ country – socialist Albania. Under Enver Hoxha, the state banned religion and religious preaching, shut down mosques, and tried to achieve gender parity in all services. In practice, the ‘Muslim’ Hoxha was the most rabid Islamophobe of the previous century. Incidentally, it was precisely those western governments – who are now accused of harbouring Islamophobia – who railed against Hoxha for curbing religious freedom for Muslims.

Several other examples could be given. The Indonesian Communist Party led insurgency, the Kurdish movement in the middle-east, the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (Turkey), the Communist Party of Iran – all militantly secular movements led by ‘Muslims’ – have faced brutal repression from variants of Islamism. It would be a brutal illogic to say that the murder of thousands of individuals from these movements had nothing to do with the Islamic ideology that the states they challenged upheld.

Why is this important? Drawing parallels from other cases, can we say that the Inquisition’s slaughter of tens of thousands of heretics at the stake was just an act committed by a few ‘deranged lunatics’ and that the ideology of the Church had no role to play in it? Can we say that the discrimination against Dalits, the lowest castes in the Hindu hierarchy, owes to a few bad individuals and is not a structural problem in Hinduism? Can we say that war crimes perpetrated by the Sri Lankan state against the Tamils were just acts of bad soldiers and they can be divorced from the genocidal intent of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism?

Similarly, we cannot excuse the Islamic ideology from the terrorism and violence that is committed in its name. There is a lot in political Islam that justifies violence against non-Muslims, sexism and terroristic acts and those Muslims who have been fighting it for long have written the best testimonials. For liberals in the West to ignore this and to engage in downright immature acts, like wearing a hijab to convey solidarity with Muslim women, is tantamount to mocking those progressives in Muslim communities who resist the cultural diktats of political Islam.

A more critical approach to political Islam is needed. Commenting on the Rotherhamchild abuse scandal, which saw the sexual abuse of over a thousand white, mostly working class, children by men of Pakistani-Muslim origin, Slovenian Marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek argued that raising questions about inherent sexism and violence in these communities is neither racist nor Islamophobic. Rather, it is this questioning alone that can guarantee an authentic co-existence.

Liberals and leftists in the West are right to condemn the bigotry of the majority community, but the fundamentalism of the minority community cannot be spared from criticism. If those identifying as left and liberal fail to criticise the dangerous trends of Islamism, the right will step up for the task. That is a future no one wants and political correctness can do little to fight it. Maybe one can start by expressing critical solidarity with those progressive movements from within the Muslim communities that are willing to think beyond narrow religious identities and are willing to challenge the bigotries in Islamic ideology.

A Comment on “anti-Racism”

Posted in Society and Culture by Karthick RM on March 18, 2014

In a country where Whites constitute the overwhelming majority, they occupy 80% of posts in academia, corporations, judiciary etc. And that country is supposedly “racist”. But a country where only 3% of a population, a permanently closed in-group, controls over 90% of the resources is a what? Only yesterday, a friend, who is consistently opposed to “white racism”, from South Asian origins said that he was not in favor of Great Britain outlawing caste discrimination. Sometimes, I feel that “white racism” is the easiest thing to criticize, and those from the Third World, especially from South Asia like to jump in the bandwagon and declare themselves as “progressive anti-racists” only because they are either willfully ignorant of social stratification back home or they are just complicit in it. Either ways, a truly progressive politics has to recognize these people as no different from the White racists, or maybe even worse because they wear the mask of “being oppressed” as a privilege. We need another Lenin.

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