In the United States, the Middle East is almost always presented as a problem to be solved—most significantly, the problem of religious extremism and conflict. Popular explanations of such conflict turn on supposedly deep-seated cultural attributes within Arab societies and often tied to the nature of Islam. But even for those that avoid this essentializing turn, virtually all commentators take for granted the proposed solution: generate ever-more secular political practices. In other words, what the region needs are governing institutions that treat individuals of all religious backgrounds as civic equals and thus reduce confessional difference to a matter purely of private (and legally protected) choice.
Posts Tagged ‘violence’
Hence, the tenets of liberal positive theory are opposed in Kahn’s book via the recourse to questions of state violence, revolution, terror, and sacrifice as the key political categories that are the platform for a post-foundational constitutional theory and juridical doctrine. That is, what is presented here as the underlying objective basis of the political, instead of Kant’s categorical imperative-as-transcendental judgment, is the immanence of popular sovereignty embedded in the Constitution. Or, if we interpret somewhat freely: instead of the fullness of Kelsen’s foundational law or Ground Norm, the absolute void of Ground Zero.
Paul Kahn has written a remarkable meditation on Carl Schmitt’s Political Theology. A truly adequate response would undoubtedly require a book at least as long as Kahn’s own. Instead, I want to offer some comments playing off of some of Kahn’s own observations. Indeed, as Kahn makes clear, his own book is meant to be, not a genuine exegesis of Schmitt’s (in)famous book, but rather his own reflections that have been stimulated by taking the concept of “political theology” seriously. I find Kahn convincing that the concept draws not only on the notion of “sovereignty,” insofar as it is transferred from God to those who claim “leadership” of the state, particularly when it is faced with existential threats, but also on the important reality of “sacrifice.”
The journal Practical Matters is now seeking submissions for the Spring 2012 issue on Violence and Peace. Practical Mattersis an online, multimedia, transdisciplinary, peer-reviewed journal designed to ask and provoke questions about religious practices and practical theology. Multimedia and interdisciplinary works are especially encouraged. The submission deadline is September 1, 2011.
My claim and concern is not only that Kahn is captured by Schmitt’s particular view of political theology as a disclosure of the sacred in modernity, but also that he de-politicizes culture by imagining it as consensual, while he also disowns the positioning and perspective that drive his “description” (as if from nowhere) of a foundational “imaginary” defining (indeed sacralizing) national identity. What premises constitute his avowedly Schmittian, but also “American,” position? And how do the blind spots of this position—what it implicitly disavows, excludes, or fails to acknowledge—reemerge into the theoretical framework that Kahn elaborates?
When modern revolutionaries took up the task of translating the felt meaning of political revolution into a constitutional order of law, they thought of themselves as men of the Enlightenment using the language of reason to push religion out of the public sphere. This hardly means that they neither experienced nor relied upon the sacred. In Arendt’s classic analysis, they began by demanding legal rights but ended with an experience of the absolute character of public action. Rights as a means to private ends became a lesser theme to the experience of a kind of transcendent meaning in and through political engagement. In a crisis, it remains true today that the secular state does not hesitate to speak of sacrifice, patriotism, nationalism, and homeland in the language of the sacred. The state’s territory becomes consecrated ground, its history a sacred duty to maintain, its flag something to die for. None of this has much to do with the secular; these are matters of faith, not reason.
Ayça Çubukçu on state sovereignty and the political theology of humanitarian intervention with regard to the ongoing crisis in Libya, at Jadaliyya.
Bron Taylor explores the literary, spiritual, and ecological roots of Discovery Channel shooter James Lee’s “rage against civilization.”
In response to statements made by Mark Juergensmeyer in his recent interview with Nathan Schneider, Vincent Pecora states that Juergensmeyer’s “sense that religion alone cannot cause violence does a disservice to religion.” Specifically, Pecora argues that if Juergensmeyer believes religion is capable of great good, he must also acknowledge that—on the flipside of the same coin—religion “can do great evil.”
The ever prolific American historian Philip Jenkins recently published yet another book, The Jesus Wars, which deals with the issue of “religious violence.” In a guest contribution to the Washington Post‘s On Faith blog, he argues that a historical exploration of the violence in Christendom during the fifth through seventh centuries C.E. can help us understand religion-based violence in our day and age.
At Guernica, Nathan Schneider interviews Judith Butler.
John Esposito reports at On Faith that Muhammad Tahir Qadri, an influential Pakistani cleric, has “issued a 600-page fatwa, described as an ‘absolute’ condemnation of terrorism without ‘any excuses or pretexts.’ He declared that terrorists and suicide bombers were unbelievers and that ‘Terrorism is terrorism, violence is violence and it has no place in Islamic teaching and no justification can be provided for it, or any kind of excuses or ifs or buts.'”
In Haaretz, Judith Butler gives a long and personal interview to American-Israeli filmmaker Udi Aloni.
In the first New York Times Beliefs column since the departure of Peter Steinfels, Mark Oppenheimer discusses the outrage among Catholics across the political spectrum about Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen’s claim that waterboarding in the war on terror is permissible for Catholics.
The United States is an empire in decline, as well as a nation under enormous economic duress, and civil religion remains the language by which people here struggle to engage and make sense of those circumstances. The very decline of American power will intensify attachment to the language and symbols typically associated with civil religion, and politicians will feel incredible pressure to invoke it, because they strategically seek electoral legitimacy, and because they themselves are deeply invested in, gripped by, an “American” political identification. The only alternative is that Americans mourn their investment in empire—i.e., in being god’s chosen nation and the “world’s greatest superpower”—to confront and accept the loss of a beloved identity and worldly power.
Michael Jerryson discusses his new book Buddhist Warfare, co-edited with Mark Juergensmeyer, at Religion Dispatches, explaining “how the notion of a purely mystical and otherworldly Buddhism—promoted by some of the great interpreters of the tradition—denies its adherents’ humanity.”
James L. Rowell, an assistant professor of religion at Flager College, examines divergent forms of religious leadership through studies of Gandhi and Osama bin Laden.
One of the questions that plagues my study of American religion is why there is such a frequent close correspondence between American Christianity and war making. This question displays my own liberal Protestant belief that violence should always be a last resort, and that churches and religious leaders should not be in the business of cheerleading for war. After studying American religion for two decades, I should know better—liberal, mainline, and conservative Protestants have all done it, and yet, I keep asking why.
Today we are once more at a time when lawless violence proliferates and territorial boundaries are infringed upon, when state leaders invoke “non-state actors” and argue for the need to respond in kind. Are new political formations taking shape in our midst, even as we defend the old order?
While the dichotomy of “moderate” Muslims and “extremists” is prevalent in many media representations, this binary hides more than it reveals.
Violence has been accepted, then, by jihadis, warriors defending Islam, as a necessary step in creating a purer Islamic society. They are motivated at least in part by Muslim teachings on tolerance, charity and service. Many Pakistanis, however, see violence legitimized by religion as signaling the demise of civil society, and it is hard to believe that violence, rooted in the fabric of society, can be uprooted without great turmoil and bloodshed. And this can only be accomplished by Pakistani leadership.
While pundits are busy debating who was responsible for Benazir’s tragic death, the larger tragedy of Pakistan’s political history should not be overlooked. A country whose name literary means “the Land of the Pure” and which was intended to become a free and flourishing promised land for Muslims in the subcontinent has become sullied with chronic poverty, political violence, ethnic strife, and religious extremism.
I want to raise some questions about Taylor’s account of “our moral landscape” after the mainstreaming of the sexual revolution in the 1960s. Our moral landscape has indeed changed—that is undeniable—and yet, in Taylor’s hands, the cartography of that moral landscape appears all too familiar, and this is so because he does not take—indeed historically has not taken—the challenge of post-Nietzscheanism seriously.
When I teach early modern political theory to undergraduates, I begin by trying to conjure a worldview and subjective experience not organized by capitalism, science, reason, secularism, and the primacy of the individual. I struggle to convey the extent to which this chasm between our time and that one pertains not merely to particular beliefs, knowledges, or forms of social order, but to an entire way of knowing and experiencing self and world. I aim, in other words, to get students to grasp the Otherness of early modern Europe in terms of the experience of being human and being in the world. This entails somehow grasping our epistemological, ontological, cosmological and theological frameworks from without, a nearly impossible physical and metaphysical feat. […]