Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

Liberals and Muslims: Philosophy and Conquest

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

Liberals and Muslims: Philosophy and Conquest

Article excerpt

Merleau-Ponty denounced "liberal values" in 1947 with élan. The "purity" of liberal "prmciples" not "only tolerates but even requires violence." Liberal values justified "military suppression" in places such as "Indochina or Palestine" and an "American emphe in the Middle East." In liberal theory, conquest of others has been a core principle since its birth. In 2014, liberal violence suffuses Muslnn lives and Muslim nations. Invading and "civilizing" natives is a classic liberal norm. J. S. Mill's On Liberty ([1859] 1956) justified this practice as benevolent. Mill could not see that natives objected to foreign intrusion on liberal grounds. This obtuseness is still the liberal position on Muslims. In fact, "liberal ideas" encompass "a system of violence"; they are inscribed with bellicosity. Marx knew that violence was tire "spiritual point d'honneur" for liberals.1 It is unsurprising that tlie liberal gaze is derisive and invasive. Within it, "Muslim" is the iconic label of disdain, inclusive of Arabs and "natives." Smce September 11, the killmg of Muslmis has been relentless. The liberal-Muslim liaison has worsened hreparably.

Discursively and literally, being Muslim is perilous. Neither Western nor Levantine spaces offer security or dignity. Muslim-ness on any level is suspect and tacitly illicit. For liberals, it spells bad lives poised for violence. What this conceals is the taste for killing in liberal theory. The liberal archive of violence is vast. In Kant's idiom, the "Muslim" a priori exudes criminality and evil. No Muslim is exempt from tins liberal judgment. Muslim insiders as well suffer continual humiliation. Edward Said endured tire same fate. His Harvard education, Ins niche at Columbia, Ins US citizenship offered no immunity. In the USA and the West, he was culpable by virtue of Ins biography. He was a Palestinian by birth; Ins family was displaced by Euro Zionist Jews who "founded" Israel by force in Palestine. In the USA, Said received Cadillac Muslim treatment even though he was a Christian. The liberal literati were flummoxed by lhs censure of Western calumnies of Islam/Arabs. They were only used to Judeo-philic puffery.

In Adorno, Said saw a kindred spirit. A Jewish philosopher, a refugee from Nazism, he proved alluring to Said as a critical practitioner. On exile and ethics, Adorno was Said's intellectual guide. The exilic parallels in their lives were uncanny. Like Adorno, Said was an outsider, an "inner emigrant," living a "damaged life." Ironically, they were dazzling insiders as well.2 Said's real life in the West was veiy Muslim, "his uniquely punishing destiny." He was enslaved by the "web of racism, cultural stereotypes, political imperialism, dehumanizing ideology holding in the Arab." In the Orientalism-drenched Muslnn/Arab zones, he was equally held "in." In the West and in the Levant, the Muslim/Arab Palestinian is "an outlaw of sorts." Like Adorno, Said suffered the "peculiar loneliness" of exile.5 Said's alienation was intensified by Zionist racial insults.

Said was routinely assaulted by the "White Man as Expert." Like mist, this creature envelops the planet. His mythic skills serve as his entrée in the Orient. US novelist De Lillo dubs tins miasma white noise. It universally Orientalizes and positions Muslims/Arabs. As Said writes, "only an Occidental could speak of Orientals . . . just as it was the White man who could designate and name tire coloureds or tire non-whites." The articulation of the "irreducible distance" between occidentals/orientals, and whites/coloreds, is an occidental diagnostic specialty. It is the "Occidental-White" who studies the "oriental-coloured object," never vice versa. This knowledge hierarchy thrives in neo-colonial academe. The white superiority supplement is still fecund. In 1912, a Scottish "expert" accused "Mohammed" of falsifying the Muslim faith by including "barbarous and obsolete" Arab ideas and transforming Islam (which he called "Mohammedanism") into a "totalitarian" doctrine. …

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