Nastiness Diagnosis. Anthropology. Religion. Gender. Justice. A Personal Notepad For the General Public.
Interview with Judith Bulter on the New book, The Power of Religion in Public Sphere
JB:Israel, of course, is asking its Palestinian citizens to swear loyalty to a Jewish state, which is hardly a very secular thing to do. So, though Israel seems to support secularization in countries where Islam is predominant, it seems to except itself from that standard. This leads to a question of which religions are set in opposition to secularism and which are not? It seems to me that those who call for a secular state in Israel, which would mean separating citizenship from religion or religious status, are often accused of trying to destroy Israel. So we have to watch these debates carefully to see when and where secularism is treated as if it were the very sign of democracy, and when and where secularism is treated as if it were equal to genocide. Public discourse has yet to arrive at very consistent positions here.
NS: Let’s take a specific example. Would the revolution be “betrayed,” in your view, if, say, the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in Egypt? Or if something comparable to the regime in Iran were to emerge?
JB: If the Muslim Brotherhood is elected to positions in government, and the elections are free and unconstrained, then that is a democratic outcome. Whether or not one wishes for that outcome, it cannot be contested as undemocratic if it follows from open and free elections. Democracy often means living with results that we find difficult, if not abhorrent. But I have been somewhat shocked that, in the face of this most impressive of uprisings, the “specter” of the Muslim Brotherhood is raised time and again as a way of diminishing and doubting the importance of this mass movement and revolutionary action. I think those biased against Islam will have to get used to the idea that demands for democratization can and do emerge within Muslim lexicons and practice, and that democratic polities can and must be composed of various groups, religious and not. Islam is clearly part of the mix.
JB: In order for democratic principles to have a chance in Israel-Palestine, there has to be a recognition of the ways in which Zionism, though understanding itself as an emancipatory movement for Jews, instituted a colonial project and the colonial subjugation of the Palestinian people. In order for this contradiction to be understood and effectively addressed, we have to be able to tell two histories at once, and to show how they converge, and how the claim of freedom for one became the claim of dispossession for another. Benjamin made use of Jewish intellectual resources to criticize the kind of progressive narrative that underwrites Zionism, and he concerned himself with the question, avant la lettre, of how the history of the oppressed might erupt within the continuous history of the oppressor.