This may be the most disingenuous editorial I’ve seen in the New York Times in a while: it discusses growing anti-semitism in France, while not using the words “Muslim”, “Islam” or “immigrant”, even though 99% of all anti-semitic assaults in France over the last decade or two — including such highlights as the Kosher Supermarket Siege and the Toulouse Jewish school attack — were committed by Muslims of immigrant background.
Such a fact is not really a secret. And that’s the biggest conundrum presented by the editorial: everyone knows that anti-semitism in France these days is fuelled in Saudi-funded madrassas, Muslim-majority schools and mosques. I can’t even remember the last anti-semitic incident not involving any Muslims in France.
So, why the ommissions in the editorial? Who is the writer trying to lie to? I think he’s trying to fool the Big Other. That which the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek has described, for example in “Enjoy your symptom,” as the virtual symbolic order, the network that structures reality for us.
Zizek himself, obviously, wouldn’t be fooled. Like many others, he has recently expressed concern about the rising numbers of European-born and -raised Muslims becoming prominent among Islamist groups. This is commonly explained by mainstream media as a schooling failure: somehow, these youngsters weren’t propertly educated in European pieties of tolerance and pacificism; Zizek has a different view.
Writing in “In Defense of Lost Causes,” apropos fundamentalists (of any stripe), Zizek provides this explanation:
One senses that, in fighting the sinful other, they are fighting their own temptation.
He later spells out the issue thus:
The moment we pose the question in this way, the contours of our ideological constellation appear in a different manner, underlining W. B. Yeats’s famous lines “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” These lines seem to offer a perfect description of the current split between anemic liberals and impassioned fundamentalists (“the best” are no longer able fully to engage, while “the worst” engage in racist, religious, sexist fanaticism). Are, however, the terrorist fundamentalists, be they Christian or Muslim, really fundamentalists in the authentic sense of the term? Do they really believe?
A key distinction should be drawn between modern Muslim fundamentalists and what Zizek calls “authentic fundamentalists,” whom he finds (mostly) outside of Islam:
What they lack is a feature that is easy to discern in all authentic fundamentalists, from Tibetan Buddhists to the Amish in the US: the absence of resentment and envy, deep indifference towards the non-believer’s way of life. If today’s so-called fundamentalists really believe that they have found their way to Truth, why should they feel threatened by non-believers, why should they envy them?
Zizek notes that when a Buddhist encounters a Western hedonist, he hardly condemns the latter. He just benevolently provides his opinion that the hedonist’s search for happiness is self-defeating.
In contrast to true fundamentalists, terrorist pseudo-fundamentalists are deeply bothered, intrigued, fascinated, by the sinful life of non-believers… This is why the so called Christian or Muslim fundamentalists are a disgrace to true fundamentalism. It is here that Yeats’s diagnosis falls short of the present predicament: the passionate intensity of a mob bears witness to a lack of true conviction. Deep inside themselves, terrorist fundamentalists also lack true conviction—their violent outbursts are proof. How fragile the belief of a Muslim must be, if he feels threatened by a stupid caricature in a low circulation Danish newspaper?
Zizek basically agrees with the view expressed by some observers of the Middle East: that the recent waves of Islamic terror are the last gasp in the destructive encounter between traditional Islam and modernity. That traditional Islam is, basically, raging against the dying of the light:
Fundamentalist Islamist terror is not grounded in the terrorists’ conviction of their superiority and in their desire to safeguard their cultural-religious identity from the onslaught of global consumerist civilization. The problem with fundamentalists is not that we consider them inferior to us, but, rather, that they themselves secretly consider themselves inferior. This is why our condescending politically correct assurances that w e feel no superiority towards them only makes them more furious and feeds their resentment. The problem is not cultural difference (their effort to preserve their identity), but the opposite fact that the fundamentalists are already like us, that, secretly, they have already internalized our standards and measure themselves by them. (This clearly goes for the Dalai Lama who justifies Tibetan Buddhism in the Western terms of the pursuit of happiness and the avoidance of pain.) Paradoxically, what fundamentalists really lack is precisely a dose of that true “racist” conviction of one’s own superiority.
However, it would be foolish to see fundamentalists only as poor souls, with their heart in right place, in need of proper guidance. As Zizek often does these days, one must remember Marx’s well-known characterization of religion as the “opium of the people” (from his Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right):
“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”
Thus, as Zizek argued, in Russia Today, November last year:
It is true that radical Islam is an exemplary case of religion as the opium of the people: a false confrontation with capitalist modernity which allows some Muslims to dwell in their ideological dream while their countries are ravaged by the effects of global capitalism – and precisely the same holds for Christian fundamentalism… Perhaps it is here that one should locate one of the leading dangers of capitalism: although it is global and encompasses the whole world, it sustains a worldless ideological constellation, depriving the vast majority of people of any meaningful cognitive mapping.
Back in “In defense of lost causes,” Zizek notes that here we should refer to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who famously described the inversion of the libidinal investment from the object, Worldwide Submission to the Umma, to the obstacle which prevents our access to the object, atheist modernity:
This is why egalitarianism itself should never be accepted at face value: the notion (and practice) of egalitarian justice, insofar as it is sustamed by envy, relies on the inversion of the standard renunciation accomplished to benefit others: “I am ready to renounce it, so that others will not (be able to) have it” Far from being opposed to the spirit of sacrifice. Evil is thus the very spirit of sacrifice itself, ready to ignore one’s own wellbeing —if, through my sacrifice, I can deprive the Other of his jouissance . . . And do we not encounter the same negative passion also in politically correct multicultural liberalism?
Thus, PC multiculti liberalism, you know which kind…
…becomes (part of) the problem it seeks to solve, fuelling pretty much all the worst passions within its own society:
Is its inquisitorial pursuit of the traces of racism and sexism in the details of personal behavior not in itself indicative of the passion of resentment? Fundamentalism’s passion is a false one, while anemic liberal tolerance relies on a disavowed perverse passion. The distinction between fundamentalism and liberalism is sustained by a shared underlying feature: they are both permeated by the negative passion of resentment.
So, after the next terror attack, we can tell the well-meaning multicultis marching on the streets, hand in hand with the mullahs: yup, I get that it’s not only for the cameras. You really feel guilty, and you are right to do so.