Kirchick v. Eteraz: Ali’s Second Reply to “Islamofascism”
I don't accept Jamie Kirchik's argument that in order for the left to deal with its naïve post-colonialists and their blind eye towards terrorists and fanatics we have to use the epithet “Islamofascism.” It was because this is such an … Read More
I don't accept Jamie Kirchik's argument that in order for the left to deal with its naïve post-colonialists and their blind eye towards terrorists and fanatics we have to use the epithet “Islamofascism.” It was because this is such an unreasonable conflation of two separate issues that I didn't even bother to address the part about Islamofascism in my first reply and moved straight to the real issue: what do we, in the left, do about those who are naïve? Fact is, there is no logical or even pragmatic relationship between using the term Islamofascism and the left cleaning its house. If you want to deal with the Massads and Spivaks, engage them, and pull at them by offering them a better narrative, not by slapping them with a term that is already politicized, already obfuscatory, already a part of the right-wing lexicon, and already divisive. I made one attempt at such an engagement with Chomsky when I wrote him an open letter. I didn’t need to shove a meaningless term down his throat. Perhaps Jamie considers these members of the left to be of such little value that he wishes they would simply go away. I think that is a very incorrect thing for the left to engage in. I studied continental philosophy in college, read Fanon and Said by the ton, and wrote my thesis (on Nietzsche) under post-structuralist philosophers. Under Jamie's view I should be laughing with glee when militants kill Americans or fanatical patriarchs engage in honor killing or stoning. Yet that is hardly the case. I turned out to have quite a healthy antagonism and moral clarity towards Islamic militancy and fanaticism, not despite the influence of post-colonial thinkers, but because of them. They helped me see that the nature of oppression – all oppression – is not just overt, but subtle, sinister, and sometimes seductive. Their assistance in helping uncover the labyrinthine structures (and strictures) of historical patriarchy, both in the West and East, allowed me to deconstruct Islamist misogyny. It wasn’t my conservative professors who taught me that when Islamists talk about “family values” they are using it as a code word for keeping women subjugated. Quite the contrary, it was the allegedly naïve post-modernists like Derrida, Lyotard and Foucault, who exposed the history of physical and sexual discipline on the basis of authoritarian religions (by showing to me how it occurred in the Christian West). Those on the left who want to so casually give into Dadaist terms like Islamofascism do it not out of intellectual defensibility of the term but out of convenience. If the issue is that post-colonial and post-modernist theories are producing students and activists who do represent a form of self-hate, then what we have to do is re-orient these theories, not dismiss the flock that follows them as unworthy of our time. Remember, post-modernism was not supposed to be a rejection of Enlightenment; it was a continuation of it (see, for example, Foucault’s Was ist Aufklarung or 1970's Lyotard).
That reorientation is not difficult, though it does help having the facility to offer something more than just the rote narratives – “all naïve leftists are enablers of Islamofascism!” It also requires speaking to those with whom we disagree with a modicum of respect. Jamie is willing to allot time and respect to someone who promotes such beacons of freedom as Ann Coulter and Rick Santorum (what are their views on homosexuals again?) but has no time for the other, far more valuable, project? Clearly his theoretical and verbal skills are superior to most of the rest of us, or else he would not be so accomplished at such a young age. However, in this instance his skills are misdirected.