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09/12/04 - The Iraqi Borrowed Kettle
05/21/04 - What Rumsfeld Doesn't Know That He Knows About Abu Ghraib
01/10/04 - Iraq's False Promises
09/25/03 - HOMO SACER AS THE OBJECT OF THE DISCOURSE OF THE UNIVERSITY
09/25/03 - HEINER MUELLER OUT OF JOINT
04/14/03 - Columbia University - TOO MUCH DEMOCRACY?
03/13/03 - THE IRAQ WAR
- 11/04/2003 - The Iraqi MacGuffin
by Slavoj Zizek
We all know what the Hitchcockian "MacGuffin" means: the empty pretext which just serves to set in motion the story, but has no value in itself; in order to illustrate it, Hitchcock often quoted the following story: "Two gentlemen meet on a train, and the one is struck by the extraordinary package being carried by the other. He asks his companion, 'What is in that unusual package you are carrying there?' The other man replies, 'That is a MacGuffin.' 'What is a MacGuffin?' asks the first. The second says, 'A MacGuffin is a device used for killing leopards in the Scottish highlands.' Naturally the first man says, 'But there are no leopards in the Scottish highlands.' 'Well,' says the second, 'then that's not a MacGuffin, is it?'"
Do the "Iraqi weapons of mass destruction" not fit perfectly the status of the MacGuffin? (Incidentally, one of the most famous Hitchcockian MacGuffins IS a potential weapon of mass destruction - the bottles with "radioactive diamonds" in Notorious!) Are they not also an elusive entity, never empirically specified - when, a couple of years ago, the UN inspectors were searching for them in Iraq, they were expected to be hidden in the most disparate and improbable places, from the (rather logical place of) desert to the (slightly irrational) cellars of the presidential palaces (so that, when the palace is bombed, they may poison Saddam and his entire entourage?), allegedly present in large quantities, yet magically moved around all the time by the hands of workers, and the more all-present and all-powerful in their threat, the more they are destroyed, as if the distraction of the greater part of them magically heightens the destructive power of the remainder? As such, they by definition cannot ever be found, and are therefore all the more dangerous... Now that none were found, we reached the last line of the story of MacGuffin: "'Well,' said President Bush in September 2003, 'then that's not a MacGuffin, is it?'"
Now, in the Fall of 2003, when, after hundreds of investigators were looking after the WMD, none were found, and the public is posing the elementary question: "If there are no WMD, why then did we attack Iraq? Did you lie to us?" No wonder that the search for the WMD is gradually being elevation into a modern version of the search for the Grail - David Kay, the CIA analyst who, in September 2003, wrote the report admitting that no weapons were found, qualified this concession by adding that it is too early to reach definitive conclusions and much work remains to be done: "I think they'll be digging up the relics of Saddam Hussein's empire for the next hundred years." Tony Blair, a passionate Christian, lately expresses his conviction that the WMD will be found in almost directly religious terms of credo qua absurdum: in spite of the lack of evidence he is personally deeply convinced that they will be found... The only appropriate answer to this conundrum is not the boring liberal plea for innocence till guilt is proven, but, rather, the point made succinctly by "Rachel from Scotland" on the BBC website in September 2003: "We know he had weapons, we sold him some of them." This is the direction a serious investigation should have taken...
The problem with the basic refrain ("Iraq is a big country, Saddam had lots of time to hide the WMD, so give us more time and we will definitely find them!") is that its structure is the same as that of a judge who first punishes the accused and then, when forced to admit that he has no proof the crime has effectively been committed, he says: "Give me more time and I promised you that I will find material proofs that will justify my punishment!" So first you punish, and then you look for proofs of the crime... Not to mention the fact that this, precisely, was what before the war the UN weapons inspectors were asking for - more time - and were scathingly dismissed by the US. Based on all these facts, one is tempted to entertain the hypothesis that the US not only were not sure if Saddam had the WM or not, but that they positively knew he did NOT have them - which is why they risked the ground offensive on Iraq. (If the US were to take seriously their own claims that Iraq had the WM which can be immediately unleashed, they probably would not launch a ground assault, fearing too many casualties on their side, but would stick to air bombing.) Here, then, we have the first practical demonstration of what does the Bush doctrine of preventive strikes means, a doctrine now publicly declared as the official American "philosophy" of international politics (in the thirty-one page paper entitled "The National Security Strategy," issued by the White House on September 20, 2002)? Its main points are: American military might should remain "beyond challenge" in the foreseeable future; since the main enemy today is an "irrational" fundamentalist who, in contrast to Communists, lacks even the elementary sense of survival and respect of his own people, America has the right to preemptive strikes (i.e., to attack countries which do not already pose a clear threat to the U.S., but MIGHT pose such a threat in the foreseeable future); while the U.S. should seek ad hoc international coalitions for such attacks, it should reserve the right to act independently if it does not get sufficient international support. So, while the U.S. presents its domination over other sovereign states as grounded in a benevolent paternalism which takes into account the interests of other nations and their people, it reserves for itself the ultimate right to DEFINE its allies' "true" interests. The logic is thus clearly formulated: even the pretense of a neutral international law is abandoned, since, when the U.S. perceives a potential threat, they formally ask their allies to support them, but the allies' agreement is optional. The underlying message is always "we will do it with or without you" (i.e., you are free to agree with us, but not free to disagree). The old paradox of the forced choice is reproduced here: the freedom to make a choice on condition that one makes the right choice. The "Bush doctrine" relies on the violent assertion of the paranoiac logic of total control over FUTURE threats, justifying preemptive strikes against these supposed threats. The ineptness of such an approach for today's universe, in which knowledge circulates freely, is patent. The loop between the present and the future is closed: the prospect of a breathtaking terrorist act is evoked in order to justify incessant preemptive strikes now. This closed loop was perfectly formulated in a TV debate in February 2002, when the actor and ex-Congressman Fred Thompson said, in defense of President Bush's Iraq politics: "When anti-war protesters say 'But what did Iraq effectively DO to the US? It did not attack us!', one should answer it with the question 'And what did the terrorists who destroyed the Twin Towers effectively DO to the U.S. before September 11? They also did nothing!'" The problem with this logic (in the same way that, if we had known of the plans for 9/11, we would have been fully justified in attacking the terrorists before the act, we now have the right to attack Iraq) is that it presupposes that we can treat the future as something that, in a way, already took place.
The ultimate paradox is that the very strategy of preemptive strikes will contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. When US attacked Iraq and not North Korea, the underlying logic was clear: once a "rogue" state crosses the critical limit and already acquires substantial nuclear weapons, one cannot simply attack it because one risks a nuclear backlash killing millions on our side. This, precisely, was the lesson North Korea drew from the attack on Iraq: the regime sees nuclear weapons as the only guarantee of its survival; in their view, the mistake of Iraq was to accept in the first place the collaboration with the UN and the presence of international inspectors.
In what, then, resides the greatest danger of the American occupation of Iraq? Prior to the US attack on Iraq, everyone feared some kind of catastrophic outcome: an ecological catastrophe of gigantic proportions, high U.S. casualties, another massive terrorist attack against the West... In this way, we all silently accepted the U.S. standpoint - and now, after the war was soon over (in a kind of repetition of the 1991 Gulf War) and Saddam's regime quickly disintegrated, there is a universal sigh of relief, even among many present critics of U.S. policy. One is therefore tempted to consider the hypothesis that, prior to the outbreak of the war, the U.S. was deliberately fomenting this fear of an impending catastrophe, counting on the universal relief when the catastrophe actually did NOT occur. This, however, is arguably the greatest true danger. That is to say, one should gather the courage to proclaim the opposite: perhaps a bad military turn for the U.S. would have been the best thing that could happen, a sobering piece of bad news which would compel all the participants to rethink their position.
In the days and weeks after the "triumphant" conclusion of the war, the peace movement all but disappeared, and the West European states which opposed the war ducked out in shame and started to make conciliatory gestures towards the US - Gerhardt Schroeder even apologized publicly for his anti-American statements. This uneasiness of the opponents of war is a sad sign of their deep disorientation: it is NOW that they should be really worried. To accept that "things nonetheless turned out OK,"" that the Saddam regime collapsed without a large number of dead and without the feared major catastrophes (the burning of oil wells, the use of the weapons of mass destruction), is to succumb to the most dangerous illusion - it is here that they are paying the price for opposing the war for the wrong reasons. The line of argumentation which tried to demonstrate how the US occupation will hurt Iraqis was simply wrong: if anything, ordinary Iraqis will probably PROFIT from the defeat of the Saddam regime with regard to their standard of living and religious and other freedoms. The true victims of the war are not the Iraqis, they are elsewhere! Are we aware that, at least till now, all the predictions evoked as the justification for war proved false? There are no weapons of mass destruction used or even only discovered; there were no fanatical Arab suicide bombers; there were almost no oil wells put to fire; there were no fanatical Republican Guard divisions defending Baghdad to the end and causing the destruction of the city - in short, Iraq proved to be a paper tiger which basically just collapsed under the US pressure. (Especially the desperate search for the weapons of mass destruction is now reaching comical proportions, with the US even offering financial rewards for any informations about them - so, after waging a war, there is now a competition with the prize for those who will provide a reason for the war... As a curiosity, a US diplomat even seriously suggested the reason why Iraqis did not use them during the war: they concealed them so well that they themselves could not find and use them fast enough!) Is this very military "triumph" not the ultimate proof of the fact that the opposition to war was JUSTIFIED, that Iraq was NOT a threat to the US? Saddam's regime was an abominable authoritarian state, guilty of many crimes, mostly towards their own people. However, one should note the key fact that, when the US representatives were enumerating Saddam's evil deeds, they systematically omitted what was undoubtedly his greatest crime (in terms of human suffering and of violating international justice): the aggression on Iran - why? Because the US and the majority of foreign states were actively helping Iraq in this aggression... If we accept as the true aim of the attack on Iraq the struggle against Muslim fundamentalism, then one is forced to conclude that the attack was not only a failure, but even strengthened the very cause it tried to fight. The Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq was ultimately a secular nationalist one, out-of-touch with Muslim fundamentalist populism - it is obvious that Saddam only superficially flirted with the pan-Arab Muslim sentiment. As his past clearly demonstrates, he was a pragmatic ruler striving for power, and shifting alliances when it fits his purposes: first against Iran to grab their oil fields, then against Kuwait for the same reason, bringing against himself a pan-Arab coalition allied to the U.S. What Saddam is not is a fundamentalist obsessed with the "Great Satan," ready to blow the world apart just to strike at him. However, what can indeed emerge as the result of the U.S. occupation is precisely a truly fundamentalist Muslim anti-American movement, directly linked to such movements in other Arab countries or countries with a Muslim presence. It is as if, in a contemporary display of the "cunning of reason," some invisible hand of destiny repeatedly arranges it so that the very short-term success of the US intervention strengthens the very cause against which the US intervened...
The ultimate proof of this secular nature is the ironic fact that, in the Iraqi elections of October 2002 in which Saddam Hussein got a 100% endorsement and thus overdid the best Stalinist results of 99,95%, the campaign song played again and again on all the state media was none other than Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You." One can surmise that the Americans are well aware that the era of Saddam and his non-fundamentalist regime is coming to an end in Iraq, and that the attack on Iraq is probably conceived as a much more radical preemptive strike - not against Saddam, but against the main contender for the status of Saddam's political successor, a truly fundamentalist Islamic regime. Yet in this way, the vicious cycle of the American intervention can only get more complex. The danger, following the logic of a self-fulfilling prophecy, is that this very American intervention will contribute to the emergence of what America fears most: a large, united anti-American Muslim front. It is the first case of the direct American occupation of a large and key Arab country - how could this not generate universal hatred in reaction? One can already imagine thousands of young people dreaming of becoming suicide bombers, and how that will force the US government to impose a permanent high alert emergency state... What can indeed emerge as the result of the U.S. occupation is precisely a truly fundamentalist Muslim anti-American movement, directly linked to such movements in other Arab countries or countries with a Muslim presence. And the first signs are already here: from the daily Shiite demonstrations against the US presence in Iraq to the daily attacks on the US soldiers...1
However, at this point, one cannot resist a slightly paranoid temptation: what if the people around Bush KNOW this, what if this "collateral damage" is the true aim of the entire operation? What if the TRUE target of the "war on terror" is not only the global geopolitical rearrangement in the Middle East and beyond it, but also American society itself (i.e., the disciplining of whatever remains of its emancipatory potentials)? We should therefore be very careful not to fight false battles: the debates about how evil Saddam is, even about how much the war will cost, etc., are false debates. The focus should be on what actually transpires in our societies, on what kind of society is emerging HERE as the result of the "war on terror." Instead of talking about hidden conspiratorial agendas, one should shift the focus onto what is going on, onto what kind of changes are taking place here and now. The ultimate result of the war will be a change in OUR political order.
At this point, one should ask the naïve question: the US as a global policeman - why not? The post-Cold War situation effectively called for some global power to fill in the void. The problem resides elsewhere: recall the common perception of the US as a new Roman Empire. The problem with today's US is not that it is a new global Empire, but that it is NOT, i.e., that, while pretending to be, it continues to act as a Nation-State, ruthlessly pursuing its interests. It is as the guideline of the recent US politics is a weird reversal of the well-known motto of the ecologists: act globally, think locally. This contradiction is best exemplified by the two-sided pressure the US was exerting on Serbia in the Summer of 2003: the US representatives simultaneously demanded of the Serbian government to deliver the suspected war criminals to the Hague court (in accordance with the logic of the global Empire which demands a trans-state global judicial institution) AND to sign the bilateral treaty with the US obliging Serbia not to deliver to any international institution (i.e., to the SAME Hague court) US citizens suspected of war crimes or other crimes against humanity (in accordance with the Nation-State logic) - no wonder the Serb reaction is one of perplexed fury...2 And, the same goes for Croatia: the U.S. is now exerting tremendous pressure on the Croat government to deliver to the Hague court a couple of its generals accused of war crimes during the struggles in Bosnia. The reaction is, of course: how can they ask this of US when THEY do not recognize the legitimacy of the Hague court? Or, are American citizens effectively "more equal than others?" If one simply universalizes the underlying principles of the Bush doctrine, does India not have a full right to attack Pakistan? It does indeed directly harbor and support anti-Indian terrorists in Kashmir, and it possesses (nuclear) weapons of mass destruction - not to mention the right of China to attack Taiwan, and so on, with unpredictable consequences...
The first permanent global war crimes court started to work on July 1st, 2002 in The Hague, with the power to tackle genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Anyone, from a head of state to an ordinary citizen, will be liable to ICC prosecution for human rights violations, including systematic murder, torture, rape, and sexual slavery. Or, as Kofi Annan put it: "There must be a recognition that we are all members of one human family. We have to create new institutions. This is one of them. This is another step forward in humanity's slow march toward civilization." However, while human rights groups have hailed the court's creation as the biggest milestone for international justice since top Nazis were tried by an international military tribunal in Nuremberg after World War II, the court faces stiff opposition from the United States, Russia, and China. The United States says the court would infringe on national sovereignty and could lead to politically motivated prosecutions of its officials or soldiers working outside U.S. borders; and, the U.S. Congress is even weighing legislation authorizing U.S. forces to invade The Hague where the court will be based, in the event prosecutors grab a U.S. national. The noteworthy paradox here is that the U.S. thus rejected the jurisdiction of a tribunal which was constituted with the full support (and vote) of the U.S. itself!
The same logic of exception applies also to economic relations. BBC reported, on December 21st, 2002 that "US blocks cheap drugs agreement": "The United States has blocked an international agreement to allow poor countries to buy cheap drugs. This means millions of poor people will still not have access to medicines for diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. 'One-hundred and forty-three countries stood on the same ground, we were hoping to make that unanimous.' The principle of allowing developing countries access to cheap versions of drugs still protected by copyright had been agreed at WTO talks a year ago." The same story repeated itself in Cancun in September 2003, where the US insisted on the subsidies for cotton farmers, thus violating its own sacrosanct advice to the Third World countries to suspend state subsidies and open themselves to the market.
And does the same not hold even for torture? The exemplary economic strategy of today's capitalism is outsourcing - giving over the "dirty" process of material production (but also publicity, design, accountancy...) to another company via a subcontract. In this way, one can easily avoid ecological and health rules: the production is done in, say, Indonesia where the ecological and health regulations are much lower than in the West, and the Western global company which owns the logo can claim that it is not responsible for the violations of another company. Are we not getting something homologous with regard to torture? Is torture also not being "outsourced," left to the Third World allies of the US which can do it without worrying about legal problems or public protest? Was such outsourcing not explicitly advocated by Jonathan Alter in Newsweek immediately after 9/11? After stating that "we can't legalize torture; it's contrary to American values," he nonetheless concludes that "we'll have to think about transferring some suspects to our less squeamish allies, even if that's hypocritical. Nobody said this was going to be pretty." This is how, today, the First World democracy more and more functions: by way of "outsourcing" its dirty underside to other countries...
This inconsistency has deep geopolitical roots. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are deeply conservative monarchies, but economically American allies, fully integrated into the Western capitalism. Here, US has a very precise and simple interest: in order to be able to count on these countries for their oil reserves, THEY NAVE TO REMAIN NON-DEMOCRATIC. That is to say, it is a safe bet that democratic elections in Saudi Arabia or Iraq would bring to power a pro-Islam nationalist regime riding on anti-American attitudes. We therefore know now what "bringing democracy" means: the US and its "willing partners" impose themselves as the ultimate judges who decide if a country is ripe for democracy - along these lines, Rumsfeld already stated in April 2003 that Iran should not become a "theocracy," but a tolerant secular country in which all religions and ethnic groups will enjoy the same rights (one is tempted to add here: "What about demanding the same from Israel?"). Along the same lines, in October 2003, US representatives made in clear that any official recognition of the privileged position of Islam in the new Iraqi constitution will be unacceptable - the irony is here double: not only would it be nice if the US were to demand the same from Israel with regard to Judaism, but it was precisely Saddam's Iraq which officially ALREADY WAS a secular state, while the result of democratic elections would be the privileging of Islam! In the same spirit, an unnamed senior US figure stated that "the first foreign policy gesture of a democratic Iraq would be to recognize Israel."3 The (perhaps unique) opportunity to bring the "war on terror" within the scope of an international legal order was thus missed. Another reason evoked by the supporters of the attack on Iraq was that it will give a new impetus to the stalled Middle East peace process - did it? The first thing to do apropos the Middle East is to abandon any notion that the crisis concerns the geographic reality of the meager land resources. One cannot simply oppose plenitude (the excessive gift out of pure love, enough for everyone and all) and scarcity with its selective "economizing" attitude (there is not enough for all, so some have to get it and others not), since excess itself has to be grounded in a scarcity, trying to fill it in. In other words, scarcity (the idea of something lacking, of "not enough for all") is not a simple fact, but a structural necessity: before being a lack of something definite, it is a purely formal lack, a lack which emerges at its frustrating purest precisely when our needs are excessively fulfilled (recall Freud's case of the merry butcher's wife). Along the same lines, the possibility of the three most interesting deadly sins, envy, thrift, and melancholy, is inscribed into the very formal structure of desire: a melancholic is unable to sustain desire in the presence of its object; a miser clings to the object, unable to consummate it; an envious subject desire the object of other's desire. So either the grass on the neighbor's pasture is by definition greener than yours, or I just admire in awe my green grass, unable to let my animals eat it, or I just gaze at it with sad indifference of a melancholic... These paradoxes account for the truth of stories like the one about a farmer to whom an angel appears and tells him: "I will fulfill you a wish, doing to you whatever you want - only, beware, I will do twice as much to your neighbor!" The farmer replies with an evil smile: "Take one of my eyes!" Or the story about the poor farmers' couple who sabotages their chance of plenitude - when a fairy offers to fulfill them three wishes, the husband quickly blurts out: "A sausage on my plate!" The angry wife snaps back: "You fool, may the sausage stick to your nose!" So the final wish can only be a modest: "May the sausage return from the nose to the plate!"
One has to be honest here to recognize the selective symbolic nature of the suffering elevated to the exemplary status: what is the suffering of the Palestinians in the West Bank compared to the suffering of individuals in some backwards Muslim states? What was the suffering of the Chileans under Pinochet compared to, say, the suffering in North Korea? (On the other hand, is the suffering of Cubans really greater than the suffering of the dispossessed crowds in the non-Communist Latin American countries? Not to mention the unimaginable protracted nightmare going on in Congo or Liberia...) In this simpl(ifi)e(d) sense, it is effectively unfair to elevate the Palestinians into the global symbol of suffering - if their situation were so desperate, they would for sure en masse emigrated to Jordan and other relatively prosperous Arab countries. It is as if there is in the critique of the politics of the State of Israel an element of - not so much "unfair" anti-Semitism, but rather, on the contrary - secret recognition of the special higher ethical standards of the Jews: how can, of all the people, YOU behave like than?
The big mystery apropos of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is: why does it persist for so long when everybody knows the only viable solution - the withdrawal of the Israelis from the West Bank and Gaza, the establishment of a Palestinian state, the renunciation by the Palestinians of the right of their refugees to return within the borders of the pre-1967 Israel, as well as some kind of a compromise concerning Jerusalem? Whenever the agreement seemed at hand, it inexplicably withdrew. How often does it happen that, when peace seems just a matter of finding a proper formulation for some minor statements, everything suddenly falls apart, displaying the frailty of the negotiated compromise? There is effectively something of a neurotic symptom in the Middle East conflict - everyone sees the way to get rid of the obstacle, and yet, nonetheless, no one wants to remove it, as if there is some kind of pathological libidinal profit gained by persisting in the deadlock.
One is tempted to speak here of a symptomal knot: is it not that, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the standard roles are somehow inverted, twisted around as in a knot? Israel - officially representing Western liberal modernity in the area - legitimizes itself in the terms of its ethnic-religious identity, while the Palestinians - decried as pre-modern "fundamentalists" - legitimize their demands in the terms of secular citizenship. So, we have the paradox of the State of Israel, the island of alleged liberal democratic modernity in the Middle East, countering the Arab demands with an even more "fundamentalist" ethnic-religious claim to their sacred land.
And, as the story of the Gordian knot tells us, the only way to resolve such a deadlock is not to unravel the knot, but to cut it. Jicak Rabin took the first big step in this direction when he recognized the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinians, and thus the only true partner in negotiations. When Rabin announced the reversal of the Israeli politics of "no negotiations with the PLO, a terrorist organization," and pronounced the simple words "let us end with this charade /of negotiating with the Palestinians with no public links to the PLO / and start talking with our real partners," the situation changed overnight. Therein resides the effect of a true political act: it changes the coordinates of the situation and renders the unthinkable thinkable. Rabin's military past was at once relegated to the less important past - he became the man who recognized PLO as a legitimate partner. Although a Labor politician, Rabin thus accomplished a gesture that characterizes conservative politicians at their best. The Israeli elections of January 28th, 2003 were, on the contrary, the clearest indicator of the failure of modern conservatives, of their inability to perform historical acts in the line of de Gaulle or even Richard Nixon. Only a de Gaulle could grant Algeria independence; only a conservative like Nixon could establish relations with China. Along the same lines, 70% of Israelis know that the proposal of the Labour candidate Amram Mitzma - Israel's unconditional withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza - is the only solution to the crisis. However, since Mitzma is a decent ethical figure lacking "strong man" charisma, they don't trust him to be able to accomplish this act. What is therefore needed is (in the tradition of Rabin) somebody like Sharon taking over the program of Mitzma - which, of course, Sharon is unable to do.
The underlying problem is not only that Arabs do not really accept the existence of the State of Israel - Israelis themselves also do not really accept the Palestinian presence on the West Bank. We all know Bertolt Brecht's pun apropos of the East Berlin workers' uprising in July 1953: "The Party is not satisfied with its people, so it will replace them with a new people more supportive of its politics."" Is not something homologous discernible today in the relationship between the State of Israel and Palestinians? The Israeli State is not satisfied with the people on the West Bank and in Gaza, so it considers the option of replacing them with another people. That, precisely, the Jews, the exemplary victims, are now considering a radical _ethnic cleansing? (the "transfer" - a perfect Orwellian misnomer - of the Palestinians from the West Bank) is the ultimate paradox demanding closer consideration.
If there ever was a passionate attachment to the lost object, a refusal to come to terms with its loss, it is the Jewish attachment to their land and Jerusalem, the "(See you) next year in Jerusalem!". And, are the present troubles not the supreme proof of the catastrophic consequences of such a radical fidelity, when it is taken literally? In the last two-thousand years, when Jews were fundamentally a nation without land, living permanently in exile, with no firm roots in the place where they were staying, their reference to Jerusalem was, at root, a purely negative one, a prohibition against "painting an image of home,"" against feeling at home anywhere on earth. However, with the process of returning to Palestine, starting one-hundred years ago, the metaphysical Other Place was directly identified with a determinate place on earth. When Jews lost their land and elevated it into the mythical lost object, "Jerusalem" became much more than a piece of land: it became the metaphor for the coming of the Messiah, for a metaphysical home, for the end of the wandering which characterizes human existence. The mechanism is well-known: after an object is lost, it turns into a stand-in for much more, for all that we miss in our terrestrial lives. When a thousand-year-old dream is finally close to realization, such a realization HAS to turn into a nightmare.
According to the Jewish tradition, Lilith is the woman a man makes love to while he masturbates alone in his bed during the night4 - so, far from standing for the feminine identity liberated from the patriarchal hold, as some feminists claim, her status is purely phallic: she is what Lacan calls La femme, the Woman, the fantasmatic supplement of the male masturbatory phallic jouissance. Significantly, while there is only one man (Adam), the femininity is from the very beginning split between Eve and Lilith, between the _ordinary" hysterical barred subject ($) and the fantasmatic spectre of Woman: when a man is having sex with a _real" woman, he is using her as a masturbatory prop to support his fantasizing about the non-existent Woman...5 The catastrophe occurs when the two women collapse into one, when the "ordinary" partner is elevated to the dignity of Lilith - which is structurally perfectly homologous to the Zionist elevation of the "ordinary" Jerusalem into Jerusalem the Jews were dreaming about for thousands of years...
The ethical choice is thus ultimately a simple one: the only true fidelity to the memory of the holocaust is in the opening for the injustice committed against the Palestinians; any justification of the present Israeli politics with the reference to the holocaust is the worst possible ethical betrayal. It is therefore easy to answer the big question: what would be the truly radical ethico-political act today in the Middle East? For both Israelis and Arabs, it would consist in the gesture of renouncing the (political) control of Jerusalem, that is, of endorsing the transformation of the Old Town of Jerusalem into an extra-state place of religious worship controlled (temporarily) by some neutral international force. What both sides should accept is that, by renouncing the political control of Jerusalem, they are effectively renouncing nothing - they are GAINING the elevation of Jerusalem into a genuinely extra-political, sacred site. What they would lose is, precisely and only, what already, in itself, DESERVES to be lost: the reduction of religion to a stake in political power plays.
One should not renounce the "impossible" dream of a binational secular state bringing together the Israeli Jews and the Palestinians. In the long term, the true utopia is not that of this binational state, but that of the Wall clearly separating the two communities. The pictures of the wall that separates the pre-1967 Israel from the West Bank occupied territories resemble uncannily the wall that separates East from West Germany till 1989. The illusion of this new Wall is that it will serve as the demarcation line separating "normal" rule of law and social life from the permanent state of emergency - that it will contain the state of emergency to the domain "out there." This would have been another true EVENT in the Middle East, the explosion of true political universality in the Paulinian sense of "there are for us no Jews and no Palestinians" - each of the two sides would have to realize that this renunciation of the ethnically "clean" Nation-State is the liberation for themselves, not only a sacrifice to be made for the other. The paradox is thus that, in the entire Middle East, the Palestinians, these "Jews among-of the Arabs, are, because of their unique position, the only collective agent on whom the role of the modernizer, of moving to a political form beyond ethnic identity, is imposed: the only true long-term solution to the Middle East crisis is the emergence of Palestinians as political modernizers.
The Achilles heel of the non-Zionist liberal Jews is best encapsulated by their standard argumentation: "OK, of course we should negotiate, accept the Palestinian State, the end of occupation, even the prospect of a single binational secular state - but in order for serious talks to start, the senseless suicide bombings terror has to stop, one simply cannot engage in a dialogue under such circumstances..."" Horror of "irrational" excess of suicide bombings, pure expenditure, non-negotiable... However, what is effectively at stake here is the return to normality: if the "terrorists" stop their acts and thus ease their pressure, we can relax, breathe easily - and go on with things as normal. Elisabeth Roudinesco recently wrote:
"For now, the only apocalypse that seems to threaten Western society - and Islam as well - is radical Islamic fundamentalism disposed to terrorism. Islamic threats are made by extremist bearded and barbaric polygamists who constrain women's bodies and spit invectives against homosexuals, whom they hold responsible for weakening the masculine values of God the father."6
What makes this statement problematic is not only its very "politically correct" distinction between Islamic fundamentalism and Islam as such who is also threatened by it - in the same way Bush, Blair, and even Sharon, never forget to praise Islam as a great religion of love and tolerance which has nothing to do with the disgusting terrorist acts... It is also not only the use of the term "radical Islamic fundamentalism disposed to terrorism" (or "Islamic threats") - as Badiou pointed out,
"when a predicate is attributed to a formal substance (as is the case with any derivation of a substantive from a formal adjective) it has no other consistency than that of giving an ostensible content to that form. In 'Islamic terrorism,' the predicate 'Islamic' has no other function except that of supplying an apparent content to the word 'terrorism' which is itself devoid of all content (in this instance, political)."7
To put it in Kantian terms, the predicate "Islamic" provides a fake "schematization" of the purely formal category "terrorism," conferring on it a false substantial density. To put it in Hegelese, the truth of such a reflexive determination ("Islamic terror") is its inherent and unavoidable reversal into determinate reflection: "terrorist Islam," i.e., terrorism as constitutive of the very identity of Islam.8 - What makes Roudinesco's statement truly problematic is that it endorses the above-mentioned liberal logic which elevates the rejection of terrorism into a kind of transcendental a priori: first THAT, and only then we can negotiate... (or, to put it in Laclau's terms, "terrorism" has to be EXCLUDED so that the agonism of the democratic political struggle can take place). What is in this way foreclosed is the rendering-thematic of (and confrontation with) "terrorism" as (part of) a POLITICAL PROJECT, which, of course, in no way implies the agreement with it. It is worth to recall here Ernst Nolte's book on Heidegger, which brought fresh wind into the eternal debate on "Heidegger and the political" - it did this on the very account of its "unacceptable" option: far from excusing Heidegger's infamous political choice in 1933, it justifies it - or, at least, it de-demonizes it, rendering it as a viable and meaningful choice. Against the standard defenders of Heidegger whose mantra is that Heidegger's Nazi engagement was a personal mistake of no fundamental consequences for his thought, Nolte accepts the basic claim of Heidegger's critics that his Nazi choice is inscribed into his thought - but with a twist: instead of problematizing his thought, Nolte justifies his political choice as a viable option in the situation of late 1920s and early 1930s with the economic chaos and Communist threat:
"Insofar as Heidegger resisted the attempt at the /Communist/ solution, he, like countless others, was historically right /.../ In committing himself to the /National Socialist/ solution perhaps he became a 'fascist.' But in no way did that make him historically wrong from the outset."9
Nolte also formulated the basic terms and topics of the "revisionist" debate whose basic tenet is to "objectively compare" Fascism and Communism: Fascism and even Nazism was ultimately a reaction to the Communist threat and a repetition of its worst practices (concentration camps, mass liquidations of political enemies):
"Could it be the case that the National Socialists and Hitler carried out an 'Asiatic' deed /the Holocaust/ only because they considered themselves and their kind to be potential or actual victims of a /Bolshevik/ 'Asiatic' deed. Didn't the 'Gulag Archipelago' precede Auschwitz?"10 The merit of Nolte is to approach seriously the task of grasping Fascism - and even Nazism - as a feasible political project, which is a sine qua non if its effective criticism. - It is here that one has to make the choice: the "pure" liberal stance of equidistance towards Leftist and Rightist "totalitarianism" (they are both bead, based on the intolerance of political and other differences, the rejection of democratic and humanist values, etc.) is a priori false, one HAS to take side and proclaim one fundamentally "worse" than the other - for this reason, the ongoing "relativization" of Fascism, the notions that one should rationally compare the two totalitarianisms, etc., ALWAYS involves the - explicit or implicit - thesis that Fascism was "better" than Communism, an understandable reaction to the Communist threat. When, in the Summer of 2003, Silvio Berlusconi provoked a violent outcry with his statements that, while a dictator, Mussolini was not a political criminal and murderer like Hitler, Stalin or Saddam, one should bear in mind the true stakes of this scandal: far from deserving to be dismissed as Berlusconi's personal idiosyncrasies, his statements are part of a larger ongoing ideologico-political project of changing the terms of the post-WWII symbolic pact of European identity based on anti-Fascist unity. - And do we not find the negative of this rejection to think Nazism as a political project in the crucial theoretical scandal of Adorno (and Frankfurt School on general): the total absence of the analysis of Stalinism in his work (and that of Habermas and others). Perhaps, therein resides the ultimate enigma of the tension between Adorno and Hannah Arendt: while they both shared the radical rejection of Stalinism, Arendt based it on the explicit large-scale analysis of the "origins of totalitarianism," as well as on the positive normative notion of vis activa, of the engaged political life, while Adorno rejected this step.11
In the same way that the distinction between "good" Islam and "bad" Islamic terrorism is a fake, one should also render problematic the typical "radical-liberal" distinction between Jews and the State of Israel or Zionism, i.e., the effort to open up the space in which Jews and Jewish citizens of Israel will be able to criticize the State of Israel's politics and Zionist ideology not only without being accused of anti-Semitism, but, even more, formulating their critique as based on their very passionate attachment to Jewishness, on what they see as worth saving in the Jewish legacy.12 Is, however, this enough? (( Marx said about the petit-bourgeois that he sees in every object two aspects, bad and good, and tries to keep the good and fight the bad. One should avoid the same mistake in dealing with Judaism: the "good" Levinasian Judaism of justice, respect for and responsibility towards the other, etc., against the "bad" tradition of Jehova, his fits of vengeance and genocidal violence against the neighboring people. This is the illusion to be avoided: one should assert a Hegelian "speculative identity" between these two aspects and see in Jehova the SUPPORT of justice and responsibility. Judaism is as such the moment of unbearable absolute contradiction, the worst (monotheistic violence) and the best (responsibility towards the other) in absolute tension, the same, coinciding, and simultaneously absolutely incompatible. In short, one should gather the courage to transpose the gap, the tension, into the very core of Judaism: it is no longer the question of defending the pure Jewish tradition of justice and love for the neighbor against the Zionist aggressive assertion of the Nation-State. And, along the same lines, instead of celebrating the greatness of true Islam against its misuse by fundamentalist terrorists, or of bemoaning the fact that, of all great religions, Islam is the one most resistant to modernization, one should rather conceive this resistance as an open chance, as "undecidable": this resistance does not necessarily lead to "Islamo-Fascism,"" it can also be articulated into a Socialist project. Precisely because Islam harbors the "worst" potentials of the Fascist answer to our present predicament, it can also turn out to be the site for the "best". In other words, yes, Islam effectively is not a religion like others, it does involve a stronger social link, it does resist being integrated into the capitalist global order - and the task is how to politically use this ambiguous fact.
In the case of Judaism as well as in the case of Islam, one should thus gather the courage to accomplish the Hegelian step towards "concrete universality" and to transpose the site of antagonism and inconsistency into the very core of the religious edifice, not to dismiss it as pertaining only to the secondary fundamentalist misuse.
1. The recent debate on who should play the key role in ruling Iraq, the UN or the US and their allies, shows the deep ethico-political confusion of the Europeans who want a key role of the UN. The military victory was the easy part, and instead of, now, helping the US and its allies in sorting out the mess they got themselves into, they should be let to assume full responsibility to fulfill their inflated promises. The desire for the UN to play the key role displays a weird willingness to play the role of cleaning up the mess created by others.
2. This hypocrisy is met only by the hypocrisy of the State of Israel blaming Arafat for not crushing the Hamas terrorism - the same Hamas who, till recently, was financially supported by Israel with the Machiavellian goal to undermine the predominant influence of Arafat's PLO among the Palestinians - first you support Hamas, helping it to establish itself as a force out of Arafat's control, then you reproach Arafat for not controlling it ...
3. Quoted in The Independent, 30 October 2003, p. 15.
4. I owe this information to Udi Aloni, New York.
5. So what if - to go to the end - the very notion, found already in the ancient Greece (Tiresias), of how the feminine sexual pleasure is seven times stronger than male (multiple orgasms, etc.), is sustained by women to make men envious?
6. Elisabeth Roudinesco, "Homosexuality Today: A Challenge for Psychoanalysis?," Journal of European Psychoanalysis 15 (Fall-Winter 2002), p. 184.
7. Alain Badiou, Infinite Thought, London: Continuum 2003, p. 153.
8. And does not the same hold for the standard reproach to Lacanians that they are "dogmatic"? When deconstructionists criticize Lacanians for being too "dogmatically" attached to Lacan, what they mean is that there is a "dogmatic" kernel which defines the very core of Lacanian theory - which is why "dogmatically Lacanian" simply means "Lacanian." Is this not the only consistent explanation of the simple positive fact that the "dogmatic" Lacanians are actually in their texts much more critical towards Lacan than the standard deconstructionist is against Derrida? This, of course, does not mean that the reproach of "Lacanian dogmatism" is without foundation: what it implicitly refers to is the crucial fact that Lacanian theory involves a radically different type of collectivity than deconstructionism: while deconstruction fits perfectly the existing academic machine with its endless interpretive circulation, Lacanian theory involves the type of collective of engaged subjects found in radical religious sects and/or revolutionary parties.
9. Ernst Nolte, Martin Heidegger - Politik und Geschichte im Leben und Denken, Berlin 1992, p. 296.
10. Nolte, op.cit., p. 277.
11. One encounters the same paradox in Adorno's dealing with "authoritarian personality": which is the status of scale which contains the feature which are the opposite of those defining the "authoritarian personality"? Are they simply to be endorsed as "democratic personality" (ultimately the path of Habermas), or is the "authoritarian personality" to be conceived as the symptomal "truth" of the "democratic personality" (the view of, say, Agamben)? This undecidability is ultimately a special case of the more general undecidability of the "dialectic of Enlightenment" itself, well-perceived by Habermas: if the "administered world" is the "truth" of the project of Enlightenment, how, precisely, can it be criticized and counteracted by way of fidelity to the Enlightenment project itself? - One is tempted to claim that, far from standing for a lack or simple failure of Adorno, this reluctance to accomplish the step into the positive normativity signals his fidelity to the Marxist revolutionary project.
12. For a succinct articulation of this position see Judith Butler, "No, it's not anti-semitic," London Review of Books, 21 August 2003, p. 19-21. No wonder, then, that Butler recently produced such a Rortyan statement: "Perhaps, our chance to become human is precisely in the way we react to injuries."(quoted in the promotional page for Butler's Kritik der ethischen Gewalt, Suhrkamp catalogue for Summer 2003).
It is interesting to read a take on Judaism, as expressed by a Jewish ideology. However, what to do with Leibowitz's definition: that being Jewish has little to do with beliefs, and everything to do with acts. To be Jewish is praxis, never theory by itself.
So; please find
Charles Lenchner <email@example.com>
Cleveland, USA, - Tuesday, May 04, 2004 at 00:45:54 (EDT)
the excesses of irony...
With the invasion, the Americans made it possible for the Shias to manifest themselves, and ultimately against the Americans themselves. I am glad Zizek recognizes what any bone-headed American "conservative" would see inmediately, but no naive pacifist or leftist can bring herself to do: despite all the bloodiness we are witnessing in the news, ordinary Iraqis might be better off as a result of the invasion: no more sanctions, no more tyranny either. On the other hand, some might not be, as well, with the dismantling of the iraqi welfare state or the allegedly more advanced family code in the Middle East. Humanitarian concerns are legitimate but no the real issues.
I would like to posit the term "collateral benefits". One clear collateral benefit is the downfall of Hussein. However, in much the same way "just wars" don't make collateral damages acceptable to the humanitarian camp, collateral benefits don't make war acceptable for the left. A transmoral, political reading of war is necessary, more than just an ethical or humanitarian one.
But first, one must concede the reality of the good that is done by the war. Actually, I was not too upset when the Americans invaded Afghanistan, not so much because of the revenge it meant for 911, but because probably women there are better off as a result. On the other hand, it has become patently clearer than ever that the main concern of the US is not to export "democracy and freedom". During the nineties one could have believed in the emergence of a "liberal empire", but now the US is showing itself as perfid as the other ones, and, if necessary, though preferrably not, as brutal. It is not just a question of outsourcing violence to "less squeamish" allies, but also the fact that the US army wants, and feels compelled, to deal with resistance in the most effective way possible, getting closer to the Israeli way of dealing with Palestinian terror.
But, anyway, isn't it better the Isreali theocratic democracy than Arab authoritarianism? Or American provincial imperialism to fascist alternatives? Do we have to settle for mediocre options in our politically mediocre era?
Too much irony. But one cannot avoid it and certainly one cannot blame Zizek for it, as some leftists liberals tend to do. Reality itself is ever more confusing and complex. Thought is complex, too. I remember an old 50s piece by Max Aub, "The confusion of our time", concerning the period around the Spanish Civil War and the World War II. Is it that our times are more complex even, or just that we are just realizing the complexity of human reality. Undecidable.
Mauricio Navia <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Cochabamba, Bolivia, - Thursday, April 15, 2004 at 03:07:03 (EDT)
Transposing "the site of antagonism and inconsistency" into "concrete universality" suggests a kind of Francis Bacon bishop-image, identity frozen in and through its figurative alteration, which further suggests the cogency of Deleuze & Guattari's swansong notion of "images of thought", and finally, how Zizek replicates, in this uneven but occasionally suggestive frippery, by leaving us breathless at the gate of a useable practice of "speculative identity", the historical withdrawal of Adorno from political action, in thought.
japan, - Wednesday, November 05, 2003 at 05:57:46 (EST)
Would Bible-Belt variety "christian" fundamentalism be worse than the Islamic variety or just different from it, as Stalinism was different from Fascism, not really better or worse? How to politcally use fundamentalism of both varieties against their own purposes?
todd j brown <email@example.com>
wichita, ks usa, - Wednesday, November 05, 2003 at 02:32:59 (EST)
Fantastic!!! When is Zizek coming to Brazil after all??
Bruno Campanella <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, - Tuesday, November 04, 2003 at 21:37:17 (EST)
The Z-Man strikes again!
- Tuesday, November 04, 2003 at 19:33:15 (EST)
This article was contributed to lacan.com by Slavoj Zizek on 11/04/03
New York, NY, - Tuesday, November 04, 2003 at 12:32:59 (EST)