Archive for Muslim fundamentalism

Mumbai, Islamic Terrorism, and the Antagonism

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 6, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Terrorism in India

Terrorism in India

The battle between the Muslim terrorists and the rest of the world is a strange thing. Even within this previous sentence, many would already disagree on how I put it (“Is it not rather the Muslim and the West, or even the West and the rest?” etc…). I live in Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population on Earth. Many took to the streets in protest of the Danish caricatures of Mohammed back in 2006, and many hail suicide bombers as martyrs, even teaching grade school students to raise their fists and scream “Allah is the greatest” on the sites of their burials… Suffice it to say that I am very well positioned within the sphere of the current “war”.

A very curious thing for me is how each side view the war: on one side, this war is seen as a war between civilization and an uncivilized Other, a war of universal human rights versus those intent on disrupting it. Many Muslims take this side, claiming how the terrorists are not real Muslims, etc… For the other side, however, this is — to use their diction — a battle of ideologies. It surprises me how intent so many of the Muslim communities are that the entire notion of universal human rights, etc. is another “Western capitalist” way of oppressing Islam, and that the real war is that between capitalism and Muslim ideology.

I do not think, of course, that they are completely wrong. What should be taken into mind is rather this inherent split — a Real antagonism, as Žižek, but also Laclau and Mouffe, would have put it (“society doesn’t exist”, etc.). There is no neutral, “objective” position from which to see the war, since every position is already part of the struggle.

Thus, to fully grasp the Mumbai incidents and the ongoing 9/11 aftermath of the global war, we should first and foremost understand that this very war is in itself structured around a traumatic kernel, a Real qua impossible intersection between the dominant humanist Western paradigm and the Muslim one. Every attempt to shut down the war based on certain values is already violent and doomed to fail since its very utterance — there can be no agreement between the two point-of-views. The Habermasian ideal communication is in itself a fantasy.

How, then, do we confront and handle this war? As a good Lacanian, my political standard would be that of an ethical act — a politics that traverses the fantasy of any possible mediation between impossible points. The first thing we should realize before attempting any solution to this problem would be that there is no objective point of agreement. Will, then, a full-frontal war be more effective? I would claim that it would be in vain, since here, perhaps more than ever, we are dealing with specters: the more we annihilate the physical enemy, the more we become paranoid that they grow stronger, that there remains an impossible kernel we can never destroy (from, for one side: a worldwide capitalist conspiracies for the Muslims; up to, for the other side: clandestine Madrasahs that train endless suicide bomber recruits, etc.)…

A Plea for Intolerant Politics

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , , , on September 18, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Just yesterday there was the sad news of a beating and sexual harassment of Nong Darol Mahmada, an activist of the Religious Freedom Association (AKKBB) and Facebook friend of mine by the Front for the Defense of Islam (FPI) in a courtroom in Jakarta during FPI’s trial for the “Bloody Monas” incident. And I ask myself a question: have we not had enough?

Everybody today talk about how we must teach the “false/militant/anarchist/fascist/terrorist” groups of Islam to have more tolerance, to know how the real cultural politics of the world works, how today we should all be modern and adapt the liberal politically correct stance of freedom and tolerance. Some, like the JIL, etc, choose to engage in verbal criticism of militant Islam. Others take the softer side of flaunting how beneficially peaceful it is to adapt a fashionable Zen-Buddhist style of spirituality in Islam. Both strive for only one thing: to right the wrongs of a militant Islam and bring them towards the romantic dream of a politically- and spiritually-correct tolerant Muslim utopia.

But why is it all conceived as a problem of a lack of tolerance from a perverted religious belief? Do we not dare to say that this is a problem of a severe flaw in our democratic legal system, a very real political problem instead of an abstract, spiritual one? There are very few things that I think are more miserable than the idea of suggesting a spiritual healing and liberal democracy lessons for such actors of violence. One of them is the idea of preserving these minority militant groups in the name of justice: “Let us tolerate their violence because everyone deserves a chance to speak out!” Is such stupidity not the ultimate proof that all these romantic discussions of religious difference and tolerance do nothing but blur and displace of from the real question: that of politics?

What about restoring the dignity of democratic politics without cultural tolerance? Do we not dare to admit that there are certain limits of democracy, of liberal freedom, that can never be crossed? Why are we today very afraid to admit that liberalism, multiculturalism, pluralism, etc. are actually far from benign sunshine-and-daffodils utopias of universal equality, but itself consist of inherently superior attitudes to those of fundamentalist people? The correct lesson to learn from Derrida is not the common one that strives for more equality by means of deconstruction, but instead an honest one in which one is willing to realize the boundaries of deconstruction and celebrate the hierarchic opposition when it is politically not possible to accept the Other.

We have had enough lessons of tolerance and all those stupid spiritual-correctness. What we need today are strict legal codes of discretion and protection of our citizens. I would be personally severely disappointed if no legal action is taken to defend Nong in her courtroom incident this past Monday. If there is a past that I am missing right now, it would be the past in which the authoritarian ex-president of Indonesia, Suharto, can easily ban organizations at his will. Would it not be nice if the same banning happen right now to all of the anarchist Muslims?

On Political vs. Oriental Islamism

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , on August 29, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

A specter is haunting the majority of Indonesia: the specter of the political Islam. The worldwide claims that Islam is a peaceful religion that is now only perverted by minority followers intent on crashing planes to tall buildings could not have had a warmer welcome from inside the Muslim world themselves — “Blame it on the oppressive political authorities of Islam for all our governmental failure and stigmatization as the international enemy! We are not wrong, we are never wrong, it is only because our teachings have been perverted so much that we fail to create an ideal world!” If anything, the September 11th attacks does not destroy hope for Muslims to learn that they are peaceful religions — on the contrary, the tragedy precisely spurred the hopeful movement of finding “a deeper meaning” to the religion of Muhammad (much like how Stalinist catastrophe saved the Marxist communist utopia in the Žižekian reading).

Tension is ripe as days go by, as the (minority) militant strain of Islam are getting more and more harsh words in the form of both criticisms or outright verbal attacks to their modes and motives from the (majority) of peaceful Muslims. As movements are coming from around the world to reassert the identity of Islam as a “peaceful religion,” at the same time more and more warnings are coming from inside the Muslim world itself to not let its followers get “too political,” as religion is only a “personal means” of spirituality and that we should nevertheless focus more on “peaceful coexistence”. Islam gets deeply personalized, and shouts of “everything I do is a form of my worship towards Allah” can be heard almost anywhere we prick our ears in the Muslim world. Does this condition not precisely echo the current trend of Oriental wisdom in the West and elsewhere?

If the current trend teaches that Eastern mysticism (you should not want too much for yourself, etc.) is important in business (i.e. that you will get more by precisely denying that you want more), how does the personalization of Islam play out in the Muslim politics? Does the same logic not hold true, i.e. you should not get too political in Islam because the only way to win is to forge allies with the winning Western liberal-capitalist democracy? The current “liberal Islam” call for apparent non-politics is precisely its opposite: it is a call to fully support the current dominant political ideology as perfect passive consumers who make minor product corrections (“religion is only for daily moral corrections,” etc.) but should never think of conducting a revolution (“we should attempt for slow revolution,” etc.).

This is precisely how one should read the September 11th attacks (and the stigmatization of Islam that follow — “Islamophobia,” etc.) as an event that saves the Muslim world: it does so by producing a radical, blatant cut in the middle of Islam. One one side, we have the militant/political (I must point here that it is wrong to call them outright “terrorists”) Islam (Al-Qaeda, JI, HT, FPI, etc.) and on the other side the peaceful/non-political Islam (JIL, and many others, including the “false-but-at-least-not-political” Ahmadiyah, etc.) who are now free to point one another as a scapegoat of the tragic Muslim failures and melancholies in the past and today. Each side could not be happier — they can go on without having to feel guilty about anything!

One is tempted to ask here, what would have happened if this split were not produced? Perhaps it would be a disaster for Islam — it would be trapped in a limbo between the political legacies of Muhammad and the tension from global capitalism to adapt as passive consumers, a limbo of ideological guilt and dilemma… The split is thus an inevitable move, and inevitable impact of global capitalism on Islam, its internal war of political (“fundamentalist”,”militant”, etc.) versus Oriental (“liberal”,”spiritual”, etc.) Islam already a second-degree of the true tension between Islam and global capitalism.

Islamization of Indonesia and the Deadlock

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , on June 19, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

I stumbled upon several blog posts today that encouraged me to blog about this myself. This one from Budiawan is of particular interest — it points out how, in fact, Islam is mostly used as a mask, an excuse of economic struggle. Ariel Heryanto has written a great deal on the dynamics of Islamization and non-Islamization of the Indonesian government — a blog post of his can be found here. What I see in today’s so-called post-political era is not that of true post-politics, in which ideologies (in the dualistic Cold War sense) no longer matter as much as civilization/religion/ethnics and so on, but it’s opposite: anti-liberal-capitalist gestures are pervasive throughout the world — only, they do not dare criticize it without using a grand excuse of civilization/religion/ethnics. This is not a conspiracy theory once you look really close at it: the problems that we have and are still trying to solve since the old ages remain the same: that of economic instability and political oppression, as Budiawan so rightly blogged. Raging Muslims are not idiots — they know that a sharia country would not be possible with mere sporadic acts of terrorism. To me, these riots are, fundamentally, civil unrests without so much a religious meaning as a cultural exclamations without real message to protest ideological dominance.

Thus, I think the question we should ask is not why Muslims are doing so many acts of civil unrests, but why so many civil unrests are masked as Muslim religious protests. In response to Huntington’s thesis, I always say, it’s not an actual clash of civilizations — it is dissatisfaction with economic and political injustice masked as a clash of civilizations. Thus, tolerance is not the solution, as many propose, because what we have never is a problem of tolerance, and it never has been — it is, and it has always been, the problem of economic injustice and political oppression.

Why, then, does it need to be presented as a problem of intolerance and fundamentalism rather than social instability at large? Of course, it needs to be presented as such so as to shift the focus of political action, so that the grand framework of capitalism remain untouched, uncriticized. But this is not a conspiracy theory of political manipulation; on the contrary, I think it comes from the bottom up — it is the society who do not want to criticize capitalism. First of all, we have always been brainwashed about how its archenemy — communism, as it were — is the archenemy. We are scared to criticize capitalism intellectually, so much so that we need to take a truistic position and use the grand metaphysical reasons of God to proclaim our dissatisfaction with the grand system of the world. Second, we have no alternatives to capitalism other than a sharia economic model. No wonder Allah becomes the main excuse of civil unrests.

Heryanto’s second post reveals another deadlock: true Islamization in political action will never work. It seems that it has become a silent agreement that an Islamist state is not an ideal one. This has much more cultural significance than to prove how Islam is just an excuse for protesting — it signifies that so many of us somehow silently accept that Islam is only the mode of protest itself. To put it shortly, it seems to me that most of my fellow citizens are now whispering that “Islam is good, but not too much, unless you want to make a demonstration.” The gestures of Islamic parties, the “funky” (“gaul”) language used in every Islamic Youth movements, all testify to such whispers.

Indonesia is not in a state of being Islamized. It is in a state of cultural limbo.