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Derridean Europe from Pakistan

Ruminations of Jacques Derrida (on Europe) understood by a Pakistani

Europe’s Political Identity and Muslim Other

Self & Identity

Derrida asserted that “the identity of language can only affirm itself as identity to itself by opening itself to the hospitality of a difference from itself or of a difference with itself. Condition of the self, such a difference from and with itself would then be its very thing, the pragma of its pragmatics.” Identity is always evaluated by taking in consideration difference of itself.

Defining identity is a difficult task. As it always needs the difference of itself to define itself. “Identity requires difference in order to be, and it converts difference into otherness in order to secure its own self-certainty (William E. Connolly).’’ The self needs to know what it is different from to be able to identify itself.

Foucault mentioned that if our ancestry is the key to knowing about our mother land, vernacular or systems of government. Then in essence it will “reveal the heterogeneous system which, masked by the self,” stores in themselves the fragments of greater form –identity.

Derrida also believed that identity is like that and the difference within the self needs to be acknowledged. In essence knowing the difference is good but changing it into the other creates problems. The problem erupts as soon as the evaluation of identity begins with association to self and dissociation to the other.

Humanities is always concerned with the notion of identity. And identity is almost always talked about in terms of otherness or difference. So such a definition shows at same time a unified notion of self and also a shattered picture of self (in relation to difference and otherness). Notion of identity lacks coherence and shows flexibility.

Identity of Europe

This definition of identity can be best exemplified through the identity of Europe. The cultural and political identity of Europe is always defined by a lengthy list of what Europe is, and what can be deemed as non-European. Like Husserl who excluded the gypsies and Indians roaming inside Europe. But included US and English dominions in definition of Europe. Also generally Europe is defined as majorly populated by a white race that is predominantly Christian.

Europe or western civilization has constantly been creating a concept of self through a demarcation of ‘other.’ Derrida is in agreement with Carl Schmitt who insisted that the notion of other is created with an impenetrable demarcation between self and the enemy. Talking to Richard Kearney;  Derrida reminded us that western identity has been created by ostracizing a certain other. Like Romans barring the Etruscans, British embargo on Irish or even creating a boundary of us and aliens. Europe has even created enemy politically and religiously like the non-European and non-Christian.

So Derrida demanded Europeans to shun the habit of making an alien identity, which is unlike self. Or creating a dichotomy of self (good) and other (bad) and also the habit of European/non-European and Christian/non-Christian.

Muslims (the other) in (Self of) Europe

Derrida wanted Europe to move towards The Other Heading and embrace the other. This other becomes the case of other in self for Europe as the Muslims in Europe are an integral part of Europe and the population is on rise. If we take the general old definition of Europe then these Muslims are totally the opposite as they are majorly not pure white race and abide by Islam which is a different and seldom opposing religion to Christianity.

Derrida’s seem to be indulging into such a definition of identity that accepts difference within itself. This is also the case of Europe; Derrida believed that Europe is indebted from the pre and post Quran Arabs too. Also his policies on hospitality touched on the Muslim immigrants s well.

In essence, Derrida wanted Europeans to assimilate the other (Islam). He not only insisted on Islamic otherness for Europeans but also demanded Muslims to jog their memory and reminisce about the plurality inherent in Islam.

Otherness vs. Totalitarianism

Intellectuals in the 1970’s and 80’s tried to propagate otherness and difference in a way to oppose totalitarianism. Lacoue-Labarthe, Nancy and Mouffe and Laclau heavily used deconstruction of identities as a counter measure for totalitarianism. But terror springs not by killing different people but forcefully eradicating difference of a man of his self and ability to act on his own instinct.

Machowski believed that the terrorism present in the Islamic world is actually a resultant of the fear of difference. Although a lot of Islamist can be considered representing Islam filled with violence, but this is not the only picture of Islam, which also Derrida highlighted.

Islam is not Islamism

Derrida reminded us that, “Islam is not Islamism,” but Islamism always uses the name of Islam. And it is the serious matter involving the name that problematizes things. Derrida also started a new harmonious religious politics by reminding that Muslims, Jews and Christians have sprung from one Abrahamic source.

Derrida emphasized that Islam is closer to Christianity and Judaism then religions in places like Japan and Korea. His emphasis on the common patriarch Abraham is that these three religions also have common language of forgiveness.

Derrida insisted that the West should not take any single instance related to whole of Muslims, it should see Muslim world as independent of singular fanatic events. Quite astonishingly Derrida demanded the West of willful act on their part to help Muslim world get free from the “violent dogmatism” that is not Islamic. He urged western intellectuals to help those Muslims working from within to eradicate extremism and initiate a renaissance for political Islam and interpretations of Quran.

War without War

When asked how religion plays an important part in war on terror, Derrida responded that it is a weird “war without war” which tries to show that there is a definite war between two religions. It keeps Islam at one end and the US and its western allies (the euro-democratic nexus) at the other.

But Derrida said that US should also be seen as religious because it is still working on the death-penalty sentence in their judiciary. Although US emphasize that church is no more an authority in the matters of state, their political dogma is “God Bless America” and their political rhetoric of “evildoers, axis of evil or infinite justice (which they later withdrew),”showed an inherent religious stance.

While they have created an enemy for themselves labeled as “Islamic, Islamic extremist or fundamentalist”, despite the fact that such matters do not correspond to whole Muslim community and majority of Muslims still don’t associate with them. It is similar to the fact that many Christians in the world do not relate to US’ inherently Christian demeanor.

Derrida insisted that there seem to be initiating a definite fight between two religions which both arise from one same source that is Abraham.  And if not always physically, metaphorically the battle ground for these two religions will always remain Israel and Palestine. Israel is even today an ethno-religious democracy which was propped by US itself and Palestine a small piece of land with hopes of a virtual Greater Palestinian state perversely supported by Arab countries.

Europe, the perma-battle field

With this battleground in neighborhood of Europe and its imminent threat of convulsing the world, Derrida hoped that Europe will begin a new political dialogue to get itself out of “this double theological-political program.”

The universal Clash of Civilizations dictum hanging around the world, and world engulfed in war that has two enemies; one the enlightened West and other Fundamentalist Muslims, Europe’s case needs more attention, due to the Muslims of Europe that are inside Europe (other of Europe’s self) but are still other for Europe.

Muslims of Europe make a big portion of Europe’s population; the 2010 statistical data shows that there were 44.1 million (6%) Muslims and there share is expected to grow in twenty years to 8%.

Ian Manners believe that Derrida’s work is without doubt the most important for any future research for Europe and European Union because Derrida can lead European integration towards the other.

Derrida’s work aspire for an assimilation of Muslims in Europe, by his focus on the Abrahamic religions he reminded Europe now and again that the Islam (alongside Judaism) is more near to the Europeans who are dominantly Christians than the Hindus or Buddhists.

Assimilation of Muslims socially & theologically

Derrida did not only superficially talk about the assimilation of Muslims and Islam. He also tried to negotiate the Europe with its so-called other (Muslim and Islam) on the ideological level. As mentioned earlier Derrida demanded Europe to accept Muslims as they are nearest to Europeans on the basis of Abrahamic religions. He warned Europeans to not to take a single instance of terror and take it as a picture of whole of Islam. In addition to that he also reminded Muslims about the plurality in Islam and democratic ideals that are present in Quran but lost in interpretations.

Furthermore, Derrida discussed democracy in relation to Islam too. He labeled Islam as the other of democracy but not any other but an important other which Europe needs to acknowledge for the evolution of present political concept of democracy. Derrida stated that the idea of democracy is very near to deconstruction. He detailed at length about how he thinks democracy should develop.

Democracy loaning from Marxism and Islam

Derrida has always been adamant of the narratives of greatness of democracy like Fukuyama. He pinpointed how despite democracy as dominant political rhetoric, world’s major population is in chaos, wars, famine etc. But Derrida did not simply shun the idea of democracy. He wanted to better it. He wanted to keep democracy an ongoing process, a process that will be upgrading and bettering itself.

Derrida seemed hopeful for democracy, what he always said is ‘the old name democracy’ –the pure Greek notion which was later incorporated by the Christian world. But Derrida desired democracy to be something more than that. and for that reason he talked about negotiation in places democracy is usually considered opponent of like Marxism and Islam.

Derrida believed that democracy needs to deduce from Marxism the quality of self-critique and look over its own transformation. While Islam might otherwise be believed as opponent of democracy and anything European, Derrida aspired for its assimilation. For him Islam might not contest the democratization process, it can indeed bring completion to the old concept of democracy.

Democracy haram in Islam

The subject of democracy in the Islamic world has always been a difficult matter to deal with. The general Islamic standpoint on democracy, reckon democracy as insignificant for Muslims and Islam. As Islam is considered a complete code of life. Common viewpoint of majority Muslims is against democracy.

Islamic political and religious thinker and poet Allama Iqbal considered democracy as the bed of evil. He satirized that “the demon of despotism is dancing in [the] democratic robes.”

Even Jacques Derrida also mentioned that early Muslim theologians like Al Farabi and Ibn-Ruchd who translated the Greek texts in Arabic completely skipped the parts about democracy. Derrida felt that this act was symptomatic of the general tendency of Muslims and Islam discarding democracy.

Muslims’ emphasis on divine revelation, sovereignty of God and  tendency to diminish the boundaries between politics and religions have added to the non-development of democracy.

Western thought on Islamic Democratic possibility

Samuel P. Huntington emphasized that there is zero possibility of assimilation of Islam and democracy for he believed that Muslim countries do not possess the qualities where democracy can flourish. He believed that the whole of Islam and Muslims are delinquent for west because they are, “a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power.”

But the problem here arise that scholars like Huntington only take Islam as the monolithic religion and forget that these religions are subject to various interpretations containing intellectual resources that may lead to support democratic form of governments in Muslim countries.

Jacques Derrida is of the opinion that there must be dialogue between that particular Islam that may lead to the assimilation of democracy into Muslim world and should not shun it because of the fear of fundamentalists.



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