Political Crossroads for Peace? Interpretations on West Asian Politico-Religious Disputes

Politics as ‘the crossroads’

The thirteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attack employs for us a certain modesty in thinking (and therefore an understanding), particularly in persuasions to coalesce propositions that imitate instead the ambivalent movements of its political musings. What politics has intersected – and for this matter ‘crisscrossed over-decisively’ – is not that differences in practical relations apropos religion and state are taken amiss, but that by-products of multi-ethnic subjects slowly emerge out of the intertwining principles of religion and state.

The middle-eastern, or as others call it, the near-east Asian, or West Asian subject asserts precisely as that which is caught in this intersection. Exposed to the cultural and historical changes in their religion and state affairs, Middle-easterners were not fixed identities permanently avowed to a particular area or a stereotype at that, but rather were heterogeneous people living at the crossroads. In other words, they were a people overlaid by politics, no matter what form it took in several of their traditions.  Religion for example is politicized, and the paradigm says itself: that because it was the call of every Muslim to accord good conduct for himself using his reason (Qur’an 16:13), the Qur’an – after the death of the prophet Muhammad along with the series of complicated succession (caliphates) that followed – came across interpretations differently. This depicts in part the scene of Alexander the Great’s death where generals divided the kingdom, or the question of who among the apostles is the greatest.

This political theology effecting the rise of Islamic ‘sects’ opens the arena for philosophizing. If politics should be imagined as the crossroads that intersected various governmental or non-governmental involvements shaping the West Asian mind, then it went too much when it pinned through religion – it became the crossroads also of semiotic interpretations: of the Qur’an, the Sharia Law, the common good of the community. This part is quite dangerous because how one politically interpret religious statements defines the courses of action it deems correct. It may appear as terrorism, violence, and oppression for us but the rationality keeping the ‘ISIS and Al-Qaeda extremists or at present the executioners’ may have some deep root in their religious and political convictions. Interpreted closely in the mind of the ethnic cleansers: whose belief is worth dying for now? They were merely believers stuck at the crossroads – that is, stuck at the political context from where they are positioned.

To picture politics as the crossroads itself, begs for me the naive question: “Do we perhaps blame the heterogeneity of politics that unravel the tracks of terrorism, genocides, and the morbid beheading cases, or must we blame nothing at all and for that must we instead step out of the rhetoric that has become the vicious cycle of interpretations?”

Of course this is not a battle fought for their own. The ‘political crossroads’ is much more complex to situate it narrowly on a single country, or a single religion, or the divisions in that religion or state. There were foreign interventions: the United States and its imperial foreign policies for example. Here then is a disposition of politics that parry discourses and acts altogether.

But in view of the question at hand, I have to sketch, at least philosophically, what this political crossroads appear like:

  1. First, and foremost from the probable cause this points, is the rationale of every political and religious undertaking. Taking the hint from Foucault’s analysis of the asylum, these horrible acts of the terrorist – or believer? –, whose anchor can be traced from religious audacity, calls into question such rationale as either outside of reason or not. In other words, was it reasonable enough for a faith such as to kill all pagans and infidels and the like to fit the description ‘rational’, or throw it off to the asylum because it has proven itself to be madness. From the outset, madness came from a rather marginalized stance – from the maddening disposition of Iraq gripped by US forces establishing pseudo-peace camps and hovering air strike forces over them, from the conflict between Iraqi Sunnis and Shias yet under the same Islamic umbrella – madness as though in a form of counter-discourse questioning “Is this the political situation we deserve born out of rational process and discourse?”
  2. And second, is the important remark Derrida outlines against Foucault in this picture of the crossroads. In the context of such embracing of madness, he argues the probable effect that if madness were to escape reason, if the counter-discourse nullify the established discourses of politics, is not the escape reasonable in itself and therefore a form of discourse too? In other words, if we take out the crossroads, the intersections of religious and political movements in Iraq and the foreign policies of the UN and other nations tied to it (the US and Iran talking about it for instance), that is, if we take out the divergent signs pointing all over, will it not cease to be called crossroads or politics for that matter? [Will not madness itself fit and replace precisely the same category as that which is intersecting, enlarging and counter-discoursing over complex facts?] Gary Brecher seems to picture it out that what is happening in Iraq is part of a rational discursive process, rendering politics as inescapable.

There are cycles which are hardly avertable, in the same manner that political systems are eternal nets that one can never escape with. This, I think, cannot be undone by a simple secession. Whether we acknowledge these killings as in the name of Allah or an implicit interpretation of the Sharia law or the Qur’an, a point for understanding still remains, that these political engagements are not devoid of rational discourse. In fact, as I mentioned above, it was a by-product of over-decisive thinking, a complex reality interweaving the precepts of religion and state. Islam may have been a theocracy but certainly there are intersections that render it much more complex. They were caught up in a political crossroads resembling an abyss. The more they were mired at the complexity, the absurdity, the intersections here and there, the discourse and counter-discourse of several active agencies, the more they relapsed and I meant ‘were drawn’ towards the system, the trapping net, the alluring abyss itself.

 Peaceful Escape?

The recapitulation of the previous query is troublesome, because as it presents politics as the crossroads that Islam is at, it also propagated the statement that this politics is inescapable as though the situation is trapped in a series of unmitigated decisions from religious and political interpretations. It was a vicious cycle of rational discourses and counter-discourses, which seemed for the Slovenian post-Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek as a deadlock. Asked whether this deadlock of power and resistance, of prevalent discontinuities and continuities is an inescapable fate, he utters a big No, and that we should recast and move beyond Foucault for that. While it was enough for Foucault to start analyzing ourselves as historical subjects in the aegis of power and resistance, labelling it himself as ‘partial transformations’ (‘What is Enlightenment?’, 53f), Žižek, observing its passivity, ventures on the ‘free act’, freeing ourselves from the crossroads as fugitives setting our own paths. For Žižek, what Foucault did was just to desire ‘the very desirability of revolution’ as a liberating struggle (‘Power and Sex’, 122f) without really acting it. But it would be sadistic on our part if we hear Žižek’s response regarding the matter. He says that to counteract power through the means that one fulfills the sense of revolution one has to engage in what he calls ‘Enacted Utopia’ where violence, masochism or the ‘beating of oneself’ should make us enjoy with jouissance – a symbol of stripping off the political stains in oneself, the dignity it has developed through the years of partial transformations. This brings me to my question regarding the disputes under Islam: “How are we to escape this vicious cycle, this crossroads of politico-religious disputes and slip out of it peacefully?” “How do we cleanse Religion and Politics altogether?”

On August 20, 2014, Time Magazine published an article stating the Pope’s promotion of Peace (and not Pacifism) in Iraq. It was a standpoint that, albeit was a broad moral principle and was not an outright endorsement of militancy, allowed the US to conduct their airstrikes in view of the ‘just war’ principle. It might be allowed that to a certain point we can stop these wars through pacification but it remains to be a question whether we can, and we leave it to our fervent prayers, experience the ‘miracle’ of true peace, at least in those parts of the world. It is important to be reminded that Islam is not really about submission, but as its root word says, slm meaning ‘peace’ achieved through the submission of God’s reality.  If this indeed marks for us a certain revolutionary consciousness, then it begs the questions how, or in whose political interpretation?

These realities governing not just the Middle-East but the West too and Christianity, this universal call for peace and not the political trap of it – does it open for us a chance for liberation? The Muslims are not fallen people and eventually redeemed like the Christians. They are an already-redeemed people who demand that their peace be a form of submission and their submission be peaceful to God. But the Muslims too, and Islam, faced with what may be described as the ‘most crucial crossroads’ right now, even if that sounds redundant, I think, need much more redemption than us – they need more peace, in short they need their religion all the more. Right now they are at such crossroads to realize Allah’s reality for them.

 

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