The Purity Of The Secular Imagination Or The Fantastic Liberal Imagination

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I am not sure how ‘gender equality’, ‘human rights’ and ‘civil liberties’ became associated with being ‘secular’. If we keep in mind the construction of ‘secular’ and ‘religious’ – both entirely European constructions, we see how in the concept of secular has a long history of European gender inequality, racial segregation and slavery, colonial repression and genocide, all of which remained happy travelers with the Enlightened. That is, despite post-Enlightenment Europe’s real history of racism, colonialism, genocidal violence, slavery and more, the idea that ‘secularism’ or the separation of ‘state’ and ‘church’ is a necessary precondition for peace and tolerance, justice and liberty, is frankly, quite bizarre. In fact, so much so, given the scale of violence inflicted by European nations on the rest of the world, and the gifts of racial violence, the Holocaust, and other general intolerance towards ‘minorities’ and the blacker people, it seems entire one of the greatest propaganda feats in human history. So much has been written about ‘secularisms’ dark legacy, that I do still find it strange when these easy dichotomies are created. But then again, American media has been a bastion of the anachronistic, out-dated and classically colonial mindset for many decades now. And this is the same media that can cheer lead towards multiple wars, the deaths of millions, the displacement of millions more, and continue to speak as if its ‘secular’ credentials and these ‘secular’ nations are where peace and liberty are found, and that it is religion in fact, that is the cause of violence and fundamentalism. This myopia if of course what allows hacks like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, or Alan Dershovitz, or so many of their fellow travelers to get away with the theoretical and rhetorical murder that they do. Yet, it is with amusement and bemusement to read articles such as this where a simple dichotomy is created.

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The Fall Of Adonis

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This was a shockingly bizarre set of responses from a man considered to be one of the great Arab intellectuals of our time. I have read Adonis extensively, and I am frankly really surprised to see him argue that:

“If we do not distinguish between what is religious and what is political, cultural, and social, nothing will change and the decline of the Arabs will worsen. Religion is not the answer to problems anymore. Religion is the cause of problems. That is why it needs to be separated. Every free human believes in what he wants, and we should respect that. But for religion to be the foundation of society? No.”


This statement reflects a profound and fundamental misunderstanding about the travails of our times. And the imaginary history of Europe that he is obviously repeating. It is as if he has never bothered to read people of his own generation: Wael Hallaq, Talal Asad, Akeel Bilgrami, Saba Mahmood, Edward Said, Amir Amin, Joseph Massad, Partha Chatterjee, Arun Appadurai, and so many others, who have taken so much time, so much research, so much effort, so much eloquence and insight, to peal apart the false construction of ‘state’ and ‘religion’ that underpins the very idea of ‘Europe’ in the post-Enlightenment period. Talal Asad alone has dissecting the ontology, epistemology, theory, and lineage of the creation of the ‘secular’ over a period of decades, dozens of articles and a few very critical books. What about Shahab Ahmed’s What Is Islam: The Importance Of Being Islamic?  I could go on. I was simply flabbergasted to read Adonis speaking as if he has read nothing really related to the very subjects he wishes to pontificate on. And if he had gone a step further, he would have remembered to at least understand the reality and existence of colonialism, imperialism and global capitalism, that has something – I dare say something large – to do with the violent state of affairs we now find ourselves in. By what incredible imagination and feat of forgetfulness would anyone claim that Syria, and the chaos unfolding there – or in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia or Pakistan, has anything to do with the Western concept of religion?
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On Patriarchy & Misogyny In The West Or Things We Pretend No Longer Exist

It is becoming a habit – women writers, academics, intellectuals and activists are pushing the limits of political and intellectual thought and where ever I turn I find myself reading them.

Saba Mahmoood, Sara Ahmed, Wendy Brown, Judith Butler, Joan W. Scott, Amy Kaplan, Inderpal Grewal, Gyatri Spivak. So here is the brilliant Wendy Brown on women, sexuality, sex, freedom, liberty and this bizarre moment in history where women in the West have been convinced that sex, sexuality, and less clothing are the ‘true’ measure of their liberation.

“…the equation of secularism with women’s freedom and equality often traffics in the tacit assumption that bared skin and flaunted sexuality is a token if not a measure of women’s freedom and equality. Sexual difference is already written into this assumption, of course, since the equation of freedom with near nakedness in public is itself a gendered rather than generic sign of freedom: rarely is it suggested that men in loincloths are free whereas those in three-piece suits lack autonomy and equality. But this very asymmetry is a reminder that, like the hijab, highly revealing Western female fashion is a negotiation, not a negation of women’s sexualized status and value in male dominant orders. If, in one case, this sexualization is robed, secreted from public view, and in another it is orchestrated through revealing fashion or expensive cosmetics and surgeries, these are but two iterations of this negotiation.35 Nor are these two iterations themselves really so distant. Many Muslim women combine modest dress with detailed attention to fashion elements, including heels and lingerie. And Western women, especially but not only in the professions, are compelled to devote an inordinate amount of time and money to balancing modesty and exposure, professionalism and attractiveness, as part of their dress-for-success look in a male dominant world. Details »

The Silences Of The Crusader

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You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its

flavour, with what will it be salted? It is then good for nothing,

but to be cast out and trodden under the feet of men.

Matthew 5:13

Wim Wenders is a classic example of a man of bourgeois privilege blinds – possibly intentionally, to the violence and exploitation that creates his privilege. And as all such men & women, he is illiterate to the the idea of – one that Gambatista Vico so fabulously gifted mankind, that man makes the world and to understand it we must examine, with honesty and truth, man’s actions and decisions in it.

From handing prizes to embedded photojournalist James Nachtwey (yes, he does make amazing photos, but lets just also look at the interests and ideas that informs his politics shall we? I am working on a critique of Nachtwey’s life’s work that maps his ‘projects’ to the political ‘ethos’ of the time, looking to examine his close collusion with American imperial interests and the angles adopted in his Time magazine funded stories), to this white-wash of Salgado’s collusions with mining interests and his continued refusal to speak honestly about the devastating impact of unchecked capitalism, share-holder returns, outright corporate thievery and corruption, political bribery and ‘development’ and ‘growth’ addictions, Wenders embodies many of the presumptions of his class. As Laura Jaramillo points out:

Wenders is careful to shape Salgado’s interviews into a meditation on the human condition palatable for the international art-film market, not a meditation on the destructive effects of globalised capitalism. “Everyone should see these images to see how deadly our species is,” Salgado says over one particularly grisly set. Each event that feeds into his illustrious career is, not coincidentally, one of the greatest atrocities of the latter half of the 20th-century. Each is curiously disconnected from the last, presented without historical context.

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What’s Water?

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There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

David Foster Wallace, Whats’ Water?

We love the myth of the individual crusader. And we love it even more when the crusaders convinces us, or his/her arguments are presented as if, there is no one else but the individual. National Geographic stories are very explicitly neoliberal in this regard: there is no government, there are no policies, there is no corporation, no labor, no collectivity and hence, there is no accountability for political and corporate power and interests. The selling of the myth that only individuals exist, and the re-painting of the social and economic collapse of a city as something that has nothing to do with policy choices (of government, of corporations and the two in collusion) is ideological. All this is washed away by feel good stories of resilience because demanding accountability from your elected officials, and struggling for social and economic support goes against our current neoliberal fantasy world of individuals as personal value agents alone.  Details »

Don’t Use The ‘S’ Word

Western media insists on appearing innocently confused in this report about the return of big dam projects in Africa. In fact, there is a determined intellectual block in mainstream journalism that prevents them from speaking out against modernist development theories, and their terrible divisive, debilitating and unjust consequences for the majority of a nation’s populace. We have seen this repeatedly in many a good-intentioned work on economic inequality, global poverty and human deprivation. Details »

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