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Derridean Europe from Pakistan

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

Decentered Europe: Muslims in Europe

The European identity is generally perceived on the notion that it is a pure race. But we are reminded that even Europa –according to the Greek myth –was a Phoenician-Asian woman. Furthermore, the Europeans attach their lineage to the Greece and Greek Philosophers of 400 BC. But those Greeks never considered themselves Europeans and distinguished themselves as Hellenes distinct from Europeans and Asians both. These facts decenter our earlier notion of what Europe is.

In addition to that, Derrida also identified several traits in Europe that might otherwise not be considered European. He asserted that Europe’s identity will always be mingled by whatever non-European passed through Europe; the Arabs of pre-Quran era and after Quran, even the gypsies and Indians Husserl barred.

Derrida in this regard, wanted “a new today of Europe beyond all the exhausted programs of eurocentrism and anti-eurocentrism.” He stressed that Europe needs to acknowledge the inherent hybrid nature of itself. He has also shown how it is important to not to make a program of self/good and other/enemy. Additionally, he has also written extensively on the issue of unconditional hospitality. These articulations of Derrida are very important due to the fact that Europe today is comprised of huge population of non-Europeans (majorly Muslims) due to the mass immigration of 1960’s and later times.

These Muslims present in the Europe are seen as intruders and equally they feel marginalized. The distinct social and religious otherness of Muslims against Europeans is what is creating differences. This is leading to become a growing problem Europe faces today. As the incident mentioned of Charlie Hebdo magazine exemplifies it. And secondly the November 13, 2015 attacks on Paris after eight month of Hebdo attacks intensifies the issue which were coordinated attacks on three different places (cafe, on-going concert, and outside football stadium), killing almost 130 people and leaving 352 injured. Later the attacks were claimed by an Islamic State group in Syria and claimed that France involvement in Syria has led to such attacks. The killings resulted in fierce reaction against Muslims residing in Europe and mass immigration of Muslims due to war-torn situations in neighboring Syria and Iraq.

These events bring forth the need to tackle the growing tensions between immigrant Muslims and Europeans. Samuel P. Huntington’s doctrine of clash of civilizations (1996) is simply a recipe for disaster. For this we need to look towards Derrida, as he has dealt on Algerian Muslim immigrants, the treatment of authorities on them and also on the notion of how hospitality should work.

Derrida wrote that by the end of World War II, the colonized Algerian Muslims were always called French nationals and not French citizens. They could apply for civil services but would remain below the status of citizens. Although there were laws to grant citizenship for Muslim Algerians the administration never encouraged them and Muslims did not pursue it as they thought this will be in exchange of letting go their religious and social identity. In World War II, there were numerous Algerians who fought for France; a law was passed to grant citizenship to the Algerians on basis of equality irrespective of their race, language and religion. But there was discrimination for Algerian Muslims at the heart of the amendment. Only few Muslims who fulfilled certain conditions were granted citizenship. Those were school diplomas, army service with decorations and specifically of the rank of officers.

Derrida added that it is against the notion of hospitality. Unconditional hospitality demands that a foreigner is welcomed without being defined, delimited in specific criteria. Because asking them to abandon their religion and Europeanize them would be a conditional hospitality the guests might be uneasy about.

Derrida emphasized that, hospitality should be unsullied and unrestricted, and such a hospitality does not come up with an invitation like you are invited and welcome in my home on the basis that you fulfill following of my terms. “Pure and unconditional hospitality”, in Derrida’s words will always be directed towards, “who is neither expected nor invited, to whoever arrives as an absolutely foreign visitor.” Derrida labels such hospitality as “hospitality of visitation rather than invitation.” Derrida here seems to be critiquing on the situation of scores of Muslim immigrants in France and the policies of authorities towards them which they consider are trying to rip their identity away.

Additionally, Derrida has said that when nations develop a way of policing the borders (for incoming immigrants), the foreign  immigrants  in essence turn inwards to linguistic and nationalistic politics and in return develop a fear of otherness. These policies then become a tool of what they were trying to eradicate i.e. the reaction from the immigrants.

The policies that give rise to nationalism need to be addressed without delay as there are several studies showing how youth of immigrant Muslims will become a larger part of Europe sidelining actual Europeans whose major percentage of population is getting old.

Derrida also hinted on his disgust on the use of “threshold of tolerance” for the amount of immigration France was ready to accept and after that limit it was intolerable to accept any more foreigners. Even Francois Mitterrand tried to justify his rejection of immigrants using this phrase. Derrida said that it showed that after including a particular amount of migrants, other newcomers who are not like the Europeans will definitely face a dismissal. Derrida also wrote an article in a magazine condemning use of such jargon to propel naturalist agenda. Mitterrand later on took back his words but Derrida believed that the use of word tolerance indicate a limit to amount a restriction to certain kind of people.

Derrida wanted to give full option to unconditional hospitality but along that he demanded that there should be an “equality of citizens before the law.” So if the immigrant poses a threat he should be dealt according to the law and be reprimanded. But Derrida’s works mandates that this immigrant should be treated like any other citizen of Europe would for the same crime and is not unjustly treated because of his difference. This is also to bring light to the common perception of Muslims in Europe or US alike that when a white man is caught for a killing he would be deemed as a killer but when a Muslim especially of Asian origin is guilty of same crime he is termed as a terrorist and whole race behind him is condemned.

Derrida has taken Europe as a self on the discourse of self-identification. The European thinkers have always tried to define what Europe’s self is, like Husserl. Derrida endeavored to change and further this discourse by mentioning the problematic of identification of self, that “there is no self-relation, no relation to oneself, no identification with oneself, without culture, but a culture of oneself as a culture of the other, a culture of the double genitive and of the difference to oneself.”

Here, Europe is taken as a self, which will have to differentiate self from other but on the same token accept the otherness of other in self and other. Badredine Arfi also discussed Europe as a self on the continuous project of identification, which need to be aware of self and others.

If we accept the notion that Europe is a decentered entity, question arises how a decentered body will be hospitable to other. If we consider a decentered body more in depth, we can see that it will be more hospitable to the others. This decentered self does not implicate that there is no self, the mere purpose is to eradicate possible negativity and biases which arise from thinking of self as a pure entity. Like that has been a case in Nazi Germany that Hitler on the premise of supposed superiority tortured and killed millions of Jews. So an acceptance of Europe for decentered self may get rid of such possibility.

The world wars have changed the perception that there is a certainty in this world. Similarly recognizing that entities like man or Europe are not that much complete in itself. It will help us lessen the policies of hatred and exclusion that shunned the humanity into world wars. If Europe recognizes a decentering at the heart of it, Europe will become more humble and hospitable towards its others. As there would be no certainty about self, there will be no certainty to define an enemy.

When Derrida asserted that Europe is a decentered entity, it will imply that no one owns it. The legacy of Europeans a supreme race that owned Europe would be over. Being a decentered subject would also implicate that Europe will not be so sure about its role.

But in Derrida’s works we see him assigning Europe a responsibility to act as a “guardian.” He also reminded Europe of its responsibilities towards its former colonies in lieu to the atrocities it brought upon them. This shows an assumption of the Europe’s former self, a centralized idea of Europe that once ruled the world. There seems to be a logical flaw in the propositions Derrida gave about ‘decentering’ and ‘others.’ On one hand he showed Europe to be a decentered entity, on other he took its identity as of an autonomous body with a past that had influence on others.

Despite Derrida’s claims of multiple identities of Europe, Europe is still owned by the Europeans, the natives living there. Even if Derrida is trying to make Europeans realize a decentering in conception of Europe, he was still taking one kind of people as its rightful owners.

Although he championed a decentered Europe, he himself seemed not to fully comprehend it.

This can also be seen through his constant emphasis on others. The decentered subject implicates that the entity cannot be well defined, it is good for any future policies for Europe. But it will also implicate that the others of Europe cannot be defined. When the self is indeterminate so will be the others. But Derrida defined the others of Europe (the Orient and US) as well. And Derrida did so similar to what European supremacist philosophers have always been doing that is defining its others especially the orient (Spivak 1985).

Accepting that the subject of decentered Europe is only in theoretical form and contradicted by Derrida’s own writing. We will like to emphasize that the concept of decentered Europe is most important in today’s political scenario.

Taking us back to the core subject of this section that is the Muslims in Europe, only Derrida’s ideals of decentering can help resolve these matters peacefully. How the Muslims present in Europe needs to be addressed, as Europeans face a threat to their identity. How these Muslims might change the demography of the Europe that used to be including the Muslims who feel unwelcome. Derrida has mentioned how the earlier Muslim immigrants were already being marginalized. In this regard, Derrida’s ideals on hospitality and immigration policies are what the European legislators should look into. Prudence demands that they should streamline policies that will accommodate the immigrants as they cannot be sent back to the mother lands after being present for five decades. It is not to indicate in any way that Muslims involved in terrorist activities should be shown hospitality but it is about the scores of Muslims who associate themselves with France or other European states they were born in or migrated to.


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