EssaysLiberal Democracy in QuestionReligionThe Left

Religion, Essentialism, and Violence

Cherry picking on the left

There has been a contentious theme circulating around the Left-wing blogosphere for quite a while now, sharpened by the atrocities of ISIS and the massacre at Charlie Hebdo. The theme usually begins with the accusation that Islam as a religion is soft on violence, a consequence of its vehement rejection of Enlightenment values. The argument continues: while Islam may not be unique among monotheisms in its endorsement of violent struggle against heretics, infidels, and Western liberal-democratic hegemony, the idea of jihad reveals that it is uniquely serious about it. …

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EssaysRaceRace/ismsReligionThe Left

Charlie Hebdo and the Appeal for French Context

White & Black Analytics

The attacks on the offices of the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in January 2015, during which fourteen people were killed, pose a specific problem for the white left. The call to contextualize Charlie Hebdo foregrounded a structurally white French context, in which people of colour and Muslims could be included only as loyal subjects of the Republic. The translations of France offered by French and Francophile leftists for their “Anglo-American” interlocutors, while revealing of the French dynamics of secularism, universalism, and coloniality, marginalised those “who could not be Charlie.” Instead, to use Barnor Hesse’s formulation, a “white analytics” was advanced that denied the centrality of the “black analytics” crucial for a complete understanding of both historical and contemporary French conflicts around race and religion (Hesse 2014). “Context,” therefore, stand in for racial neutrality: in reality, an impossibility. …

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EssaysRaceRace/isms

“I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” – But They are Not

As the holidays are coming to an end, I return to New York after a week spent in Puerto Rico with my family. The island is enchanting: it has opened itself to tourism, without selling its soul to it. What most impressed me upon our arrival in San Juan was the number (and strangeness) of Christmas decorations. Instead of the usual western iconography, here Christmas is most often symbolized by what appeared to me as a small detail of the nativity scene: the three Magi. Furthermore, funnily enough, instead of gold, frankincense and myrrh, the three exotic kings have musical instruments in their hands — as a reminder of the overwhelming importance of salsa, which one hears on almost every corner of the city. For the whole week we spent traveling around the island I kept asking myself “why such a choice?” …

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Essays

Israel’s Right-Wingers Have Problems with Facts

Israel’s right-wingers never stop providing spectacular examples of the all-too-human tendency to avoid facts that contradict their worldview. Two weeks ago I showed how the Anti-Defamation League’s anti-Semitism survey demonstrates the falsity of Netanyahu & Co.’s favorite theory that anti-Semitism is the source of Israeli criticism. The ADL’s study shows the opposite: European criticism of Israel’s occupation is negatively correlated with anti-Semitic attitudes, i.e. that countries like Sweden and Britain, which are almost devoid of such attitudes, criticize Israel most strongly, whereas countries that Netanyahu & Co. consider as friends harbor high levels of anti-Semitism.

The ADL’s survey produced one result that, while not unexpected, certainly requires further thought and analysis: Arab countries have by far the highest rate, 74% of the population, of anti-Semitic attitudes. …

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EssaysLiberal Democracy in QuestionMedia/PublicsReligion

Banning the Minarets in Switzerland

The limits of the liberal public sphere and the dark side of monstration

There is no problem with Islam in Switzerland. At least, there was none until 2009. But then, confounding poll predictions, and stupefying the Swiss political institutions, religious organizations, as well as mainstream media, 57.5% of the citizen voted a constitutional ban on the construction of minarets. Yet, less than half a million of Muslims lives in the country. The majority of them (90%) comes from Turkey or Central Europe. They amount to eight per cent of the Swiss population. And out of the two hundred Muslim centers in Switzerland, only four mosques had a minaret.

Nonetheless, a Constitutional amendment was necessary, according to the Egerkingen Committee, the promoters of this federal popular initiative. The bill was framed as a preventive strike to stop the “Islamization” of the nation. Western — read “Judeo-Christian” — civilization and women were under the threat of Islam. Thus went the argument. …

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EssaysMedia/Publics

When the Pope “Drops the F-Bomb”

Meditations on media, society, and the philosophy of language

On March 3, 2014, a stream of troubling, breaking news about Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine was interrupted by another event, this time originating in the Vatican, which similarly reached prominence in journalistic organs. This event, however, was not a child abuse scandal, papal resignation, or other such event that typically brings the ancient Church into the headlines. It was, instead, no more than the fact that the Pope — the most visible scion of holiness in the West — swore.

Immediately, this must be qualified. As Bill Chappell of NPR clarifies, Pope Francis, whose native language is not Italian, made a pronunciation error in his address that led him to verbalize “caso” (“case,” “example”) as “cazzo,” a colloquial equivalent to the English “F-word.” And yet the gaffe was reported in such a manner that made it seem as if the Pope intentionally introduced vulgarity into his speech. …

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Arts & DesignEssays

The Book of Job as Community Theater

Readings after Superstorm Sandy and other disasters

The only American member of the original General Seminar after which this website is named was the philosopher Horace Kallen. Kallen is mainly remembered now for his theory of “cultural pluralism,” but among scholars of the Book of Job he is known for the quixotic idea that the biblical book was a work of Euripidean emulation. Kallen made a historical case and offered a speculative reconstruction in The Book of Job as a Greek Tragedy (1918). The historical claim is far-fetched, but Kallen’s sense that the Book of Job may work as drama is right on the mark. Robert Lowth, the founder of modern literary studies of the Bible, argued that Job’s genre was drama. Archibald MacLeish’s existentialist updating of Job’s story, “J. B.” (1958), confirms it. More recently, Carol Newsom’s brilliant Bakhtinian reading of the Book of Job concludes with an imagined production in which different traditions of theater, elocution and dress uneasily share a stage. …

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EssaysLiberal Democracy in QuestionReligionTheory & Practice

The Social Condition: Religion and Politics in Israel

Once I commit myself to a new theoretical project, I start realizing how my reading can illuminate it. Sometimes this involves a concerted effort. Thus these days I am re-reading Georg Simmel with an intuition that he can be a key theoretical guide in understanding the social condition. But sometimes this is just a matter of reading something of general interest and realizing that it contributes to my project.  Thus I thought of my exploration with Iddo Tavory of the unresolvable dilemmas built into the social fabric when I was reading Nachman Ben Yehuda’s  book, Theocratic Democracy: The Social Construction of Religious and Secular Extremism.

Ben Yehuda, my old friend and colleague, is studying in his book Jewish extremism in the Jewish state. He investigates deviance in the religious community as a way to analyze the conflict between the religious and secular in Israel. …

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