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Ed Webb

How to Think About Empire | Boston Review - 0 views

  • In your book, An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire (2004), you identify a few different pillars of empire: globalization and neoliberalism, militarism, and the corporate media. You write, “The project of corporate globalization has cracked the code of democracy. Free elections, a free press and an independent judiciary mean little when the free market has reduced them to commodities on sale to the highest bidder.”
  • updates now would include the ways in which big capital uses racism, caste-ism (the Hindu version of racism, more elaborate, and sanctioned by the holy books), and sexism and gender bigotry (sanctioned in almost every holy book) in intricate and extremely imaginative ways to reinforce itself, protect itself, to undermine democracy, and to splinter resistance
  • In India, caste—that most brutal system of social hierarchy—and capitalism have fused into a dangerous new alloy. It is the engine that runs modern India
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  • You once wrote that George W. Bush “achieved what writers, scholars, and activists have striven to achieve for decades. He has exposed the ducts. He has placed on full public view the working parts, the nuts and bolts of the apocalyptic apparatus of the American empire.” What did you mean by this, and ten years and two presidents later, is the American empire’s apocalyptic nature still so transparent?
  • The assertion of ethnicity, race, caste, nationalism, sub-nationalism, patriarchy, and all kinds of identity, by exploiters as well as the exploited, has a lot—but of course not everything—to do with laying collective claim to resources (water, land, jobs, money) that are fast disappearing
  • The freer global capital becomes, the harder national borders become. Colonialism needed to move large populations of people—slaves and indentured labor—to work in mines and on plantations. Now the new dispensation needs to keep people in place and move the money—so the new formula is free capital, caged labor. How else are you going to drive down wages and increase profit margins? Profit is the only constant.
  • In the Obama years, you had to ferret out information and piece it together to figure out how many bombs were being dropped and how many people were being killed, even as the acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize was being eloquently delivered. However differently their domestic politics plays out on home turf, it is a truism that the Democrats’ foreign policy has tended to be as aggressive as that of the Republicans. But since 9/11, between Bush and Obama, how many countries have been virtually laid to waste?
  • I don’t think in some of the categories in which your question is posed to me. For example, I don’t understand what a “global” novel is. I think of both my novels as so very, very local. I am surprised by how easily they have traveled across cultures and languages. Both have been translated into more than forty languages—but does that make them “global” or just universal?
  • I wonder about the term postcolonial. I have often used it, too, but is colonialism really post-?
  • So many kinds of entrenched and unrecognized colonialisms still exist. Aren’t we letting them off the hook? Even “Indian English fiction” is, on the face of it, a pretty obvious category. But what does it really mean? The boundaries of the country we call India were arbitrarily drawn by the British. What is “Indian English”? Is it different from Pakistani English or Bangladeshi English? Kashmiri English? There are 780 languages in India, 22 of them formally “recognized.” Most of our Englishes are informed by our familiarity with one or more of those languages. Hindi, Telugu, and Malayalam speakers, for example, speak English differently.
  • In India today, storytelling is being policed not only by the state, but also by religious fanatics, caste groups, vigilantes, and mobs that enjoy political protection, who burn cinema halls, who force writers to withdraw their novels, who assassinate journalists. This violent form of censorship is becoming an accepted mode of political mobilization and constituency building. Literature, cinema, and art are being treated as though they are policy statements or bills waiting to be passed in Parliament that must live up to every self-appointed stakeholders’ idea of how they, their community, their history, or their country must be represented.
  • I recently saw a Malayalam film in the progressive state of Kerala called Abrahaminde Santhathikal (The Sons of Abraham). The vicious, idiot-criminal villains were all black Africans. Given that there is no community of Africans in Kerala, they had to be imported into a piece of fiction in order for this racism to be played out! We can’t pin the blame for this kind of thing on the state. This is society. This is people. Artists, filmmakers, actors, writers—South Indians who are mocked by North Indians for their dark skins in turn humiliating Africans for the very same reason. Mind-bending.
  • we are buying more weapons from Europe and the United States than almost anyone else. So, India, which has the largest population of malnutritioned children in the world, where hundreds of thousands of debt-ridden farmers and farm laborers have committed suicide, where it is safer to be a cow than it is to be a woman, is still being celebrated as one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
  • The word “empire” has often been invoked as a uniquely European and U.S. problem. Do you see India and other postcolonial nations as adapting older forms of empire in new geopolitical clothing?
  • How can we think of empire now in the Global South, especially at a time when postcolonial nations are emulating the moral calculus of their old colonial masters?
  • India transformed from colony to imperial power virtually overnight. There has not been a day since the British left India in August 1947 that the Indian army and paramilitary have not been deployed within the country’s borders against its “own people”: Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, Assam, Kashmir, Jammu, Hyderabad, Goa, Punjab, Bengal, and now Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand. The dead number in the tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands. Who are these dangerous citizens who need to be held down with military might? They are indigenous people, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, communists. The pattern that emerges is telling. What it shows quite clearly is an “upper”-caste Hindu state that views everyone else as an enemy. There are many who see Hinduism itself as a form of colonialism—the rule of Aryans over Dravidians and other indigenous peoples whose histories have been erased and whose deposed rulers have been turned into the vanquished demons and asuras of Hindu mythology. The stories of these battles continue to live on in hundreds of folktales and local village festivals in which Hinduism’s “demons” are other peoples’ deities. That is why I am uncomfortable with the word postcolonialism.
  • When you think about the grandeur of the civil rights movement in the United States, the anti–Vietnam War protests, it makes you wonder whether real protest is even possible any more. It is. It surely is. I was in Gothenburg, Sweden, recently, when the largest Nazi march since World War II took place. The Nazis were outnumbered by anti-Nazi demonstrators, including the ferocious Antifa, by more than ten to one. In Kashmir, unarmed villagers face down army bullets. In Bastar, in Central India, the armed struggle by the poorest people in the world has stopped some of the richest corporations in their tracks. It is important to salute people’s victories, even if they don’t always get reported on TV. At least the ones we know about. Making people feel helpless, powerless, and hopeless is part of the propaganda.
  • I think we all need to become seriously mutinous
  • We fool ourselves into believing that the change we want will come with fresh elections and a new president or prime minister at the helm of the same old system. Of course, it is important to bounce the old bastards out of office and bounce new ones in, but that can’t be the only bucket into which we pour our passion
  • as long as we continue to view the planet as an endless “resource,” as long as we uphold the rights of individuals and corporations to amass infinite wealth while others go hungry, as long as we continue to believe that governments do not have the responsibility to feed, clothe, house, and educate everyone—all our talk is mere posturing.
  • In certain situations, preaching nonviolence can be a kind of violence. Also, it is the kind of terminology that dovetails beautifully with the “human rights” discourse in which, from an exalted position of faux neutrality, politics, morality, and justice can be airbrushed out of the picture, all parties can be declared human rights offenders, and the status quo can be maintained.
  • How might we challenge dominant voices, such as Niall Ferguson, who put so much faith in thinking with the grain of empire? On the flipside, how might we speak to liberals who put their faith in American empire’s militarism in a post–9/11 era? Do you see any way out of the current grip of imperial thinking?
  • The “managed populations” don’t necessarily think from Ferguson’s managerial perspective. What the managers see as stability, the managed see as violence upon themselves. It is not stability that underpins empire. It is violence. And I don’t just mean wars in which humans fight humans. I also mean the psychotic violence against our dying planet.
  • I don’t believe that the current supporters of empire are supporters of empire in general. They support the American empire. In truth, captalism is the new empire. Capitalism run by white capitalists. Perhaps a Chinese empire or an Iranian empire or an African empire would not inspire the same warm feelings? “Imperial thinking,” as you call it, arises in the hearts of those who are happy to benefit from it. It is resisted by those who are not. And those who do not wish to be.
  • Empire is not just an idea. It is a kind of momentum. An impetus to dominate that contains within its circuitry the inevitability of overreach and self-destruction. When the tide changes, and a new empire rises, the managers will change, too. As will the rhetoric of the old managers. And then we will have new managers, with new rhetoric. And there will be new populations who rise up and refuse to be managed.
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    "It is not stability that underpins empire. It is violence."
Ed Webb

Coexistence, Sectarianism and Racism - An Interview with Ussama Makdisi - MERIP - 0 views

  • What is the ecumenical frame and how does it revise Orientalist understandings of sectarianism?
  • My book seeks to offer a critical and empathetic story of coexistence without defensiveness—that is, to write a history that neither glorifies the Arab past nor denigrates the present and that explores the grim significance of sectarian tensions in the modern Middle East without being seduced by their sensationalism
  • I wanted to understand how they sought to imagine and build a world greater than the sum of their religious or ethnic parts—commitments that remain evident, if one is prepared to recognize them, in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt and beyond. I call this modern iteration of coexistence the “ecumenical frame” to underscore the modern active attempt on the part of individuals and communities in the region to both recognize the salience of religious pluralism and yet also to try and transcend sectarian difference into a secular, unifying political community
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  • a project of modern coexistence that not only had to be imagined and designed, but also built
  • to trace how an extraordinary idea of Muslim and Christian and Jewish civic and political community rooted in secular equality went from unimaginability to ubiquity in the course of a single century, and nowhere more so than in the Arab East after 1860
  • subject to conflicting interpretations that valorized “real” religion and demonized sectarianism, often in contradictory and conservative modes, but also in more liberal and even radical ways
  • The Orientalist view of sectarianism frequently analogizes sect as “like race” and, furthermore, it assumes that sectarian differences are inherent cultural and political differences similar to race. What do you think is the relationship of sect to race?  How should race figure in the story of coexistence you relate?
  • the Orientalists idealize the West in order to Orientalize the East. Second, as you suggest, this view transforms religious pluralism in the Middle East into a structure of age-old monolithic antagonistic communities so that one can speak of medieval and modern Maronites, Jews, Muslims and so on as if these have been unchanging communities and as if all ideological diversity in the Middle East ultimately is reducible to religion and religious community
  • The religious sect is conflated with the political sect; the secular is understood to be a thin veneer that conceals the allegedly “real” and unchanging religious essence of the Middle East. This view is dangerous, misleading and tendentious.
  • both race and sect urgently need to be historicized and contextualized—race belongs to US (and Western) political vocabulary; sect to Arab political vocabulary. Both the notion of age-old sects and that of immutable races are ideological fictions that have been manipulated to serve power
  • US scholars Barbara J. Fields and Karen E. Fields have suggested we think of “racecraft” rather than “race relations” to underscore the ideological fundament of racist thinking that appears totally natural to its proponents. As I allude to in my book, so too might we think of “sectcraft” rather than sectarian or communal relations, both to underscore the ideological aspect of sectarianism and to emphasize the amount of work that goes into making sectarianism appear to be inherent, inevitable and unchangeable
  • many scholars gravitate toward using categories and experiences that emerge in the US context and apply them, sometimes indiscriminately and often very problematically, to other parts of the world. I think it is important at some level to respect the fact that in the modern Middle East, progressive scholars and laypeople, men and women belonging to different religious communities, have throughout the twentieth century typically described and conceptualized their struggles against injustice and tyranny as struggles against sectarianism and colonialism, but not necessarily as a struggle against racism.
  • Tribalism, communalism and sectarianism all refer to parallel formations in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East respectively that assume an unchanging essence that separates members of a single sovereignty or putative sovereignty. They are all static ideological interpretations of pluralism, and have all, to a greater or lesser degree, been massively influenced and even in many ways formally classified and invented by Western colonial powers
  • the national polities of the post-Ottoman period in the Arab East were established by European colonial powers. These European powers massively distorted the ecumenical trajectory evident in the late Ottoman Arab East. First, they broke up the region into dependent and weak states, and second, they divided the region along explicitly sectarian lines
  • the colonial dimension is crucial, and it clearly separates the US and the European period of nationalization from that of the colonized Middle East
  • why the investment in and privileging of certain epistemic categories of domination as opposed to others? The question of migrant labor illustrates how race and class and geography and history are intertwined in very specific ways—the Middle Eastern cases (whether the Gulf or in Lebanon) are indeed different from that of the history of migrant labor in the United States, which has always been implicated in settler colonialism.
  • One key difference, of course, between modern Western colonialism and early modern Islamic empires is that the latter, like their early modern Christian counterparts, did not pretend to uphold liberal representation, political equality or self-determination. So, temporality is one essential difference: ethnic, racist or sectarian discrimination in the Islamic empires was not justified or imagined as a benevolent burden to uplift others into an ostensibly equal level of civilization. There was no pretense of a colonial tutelage to help natives achieve independence in the fullness of time
  • In the Ottoman Islamic empire, there were indeed professions of Islamic superiority, notions of ethnic, tribal and religious discrimination, forms of bondage and slavery, and myriad chauvinisms and prejudices tied to kinship, geography, language, culture and ethnicity and so on, but not a notion of biological racism or the obsession with racial segregation and miscegenation that has been the hallmark of modern Western colonialism
  • a new and distinctive defensiveness among leading Muslim Arab intellectuals—that is, their need to defend Islam and Islamic society from missionary and colonial assault whilst also embracing or reconciling themselves to compatriotship with Arab Christians and Jews. This defensiveness persists
  • the great problem of scholars and governments in the West who have long instrumentalized and Orientalized discrimination against non-Muslims to suggest that there is some peculiar problem with Islam and Muslims
  • I think that scholars of gender and women’s history have a lot to teach us in this regard: that is Arab, Turkish, Iranian and other scholars who have explored the long history of gender discrimination—who have defied the fundamentalists—without succumbing to racist Orientalism or self-loathing
  • really historicize! It really is an effective antidote in the face of those who peddle in chauvinism, racism, sectarianism, tribalism and communalism
Ed Webb

"Whither a Muslim world?" - The Immanent Frame - 0 views

  • What is the “Muslim world?” Is it solely a descriptive term employed in the social sciences and humanities to name a shifting geographical boundary of Muslim-majority countries? Or, as its critics argue, is it a term that emerged in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as a strategy to imagine a new transnational, religious unity at the end of empire?
  • precolonial forms of communal difference and interaction did not directly correspond to the kinds of intra- and inter-imperial claims concerning citizenship and belonging that were at stake in the formulation of the idea of the Muslim world in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
  • Citizenship under British, French, or Dutch rule often came with the promise of integration into the “civilized” political order, yet with varying degrees of fulfillment and often dependent on whether the colonial subject had been sufficiently “educated” into Europe’s civilizational order
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  • As Aydın shows, the most prominent strategy in the making of imperial subjects, as well as citizens, was the notion of civilization and its twin, race—that is, racialization. In this way, Aydın echoes Partha Chatterjee, who forcefully argues that colonial power operates through a “rule of colonial difference,” where the colonized are embedded in social and political relations of inferiority vis-à-vis their colonial counterparts. For Chatterjee, this is done through emergent notions of race and practices of racial difference.
  • Aydın’s argument resonates with Chatterjee’s insistence on racial difference as a key component of imperial power and Scott’s critical revision that the creation of racialized subjects takes place through practices that change over time, adapting to new circumstances thus enabling the production of new kinds statements, arguments, and practices in turn.
  • While the idea of bounded entities, which are, supposedly, culturally and religiously distinct, has been subject to numerous revisions and criticisms, it has maintained a constant presence in news media and policy circles. Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” narrative has reappeared in the likes of Donald Trump’s recent speech in Poland, where he questions, in racially and religiously coded terms, whether the “West has the will to survive,” or if its “civilization” can be “preserved”; these are strong indications of the lasting hold of imperial concepts on the imagination of policymakers and politicians even as we acknowledge a transformation in the historical conditions of their articulation.
  • assuming the adjective “Muslim” tells us something about the kinds of political actions one undertakes is not only delusional, but also dangerous for democratic politics.
Ed Webb

Imperialist feminism redux - Saadia Toor - 0 views

  • In the 19th and early 20th century, the civilising mission through which colonialism was justified was supported by western feminists who spoke in the name of a ‘global sisterhood of women’ and aimed to ‘save’ their brown sisters from the shackles of tradition and barbarity. Today, this imperialist feminism has re-emerged in a new form, but its function remains much the same – to justify war and occupation in the name of ‘women’s rights’ . Unlike before, this imperialist feminist project includes feminists from the ‘Global South’. Take, for example, the case of American feminists, Afghan women and the global war on terror (GWoT).
  • there was one claim that proved instrumental in securing the consent of the liberals (and, to some extent, of the Left) in the US – the need to rescue Afghan women from the Taliban. This justification for the attack on Afghanistan seemed to have been relegated to the dustbin of history in the years of occupation that followed, reviled for what it was, a shameless attempt to use Afghan women as pawns in a new Great Game.  As the United States draws down its troops in Afghanistan, however, we have begun to see this ‘imperialist feminism’ emerge once again from a variety of constituencies both within the United States and internationally
  • how easily liberal (and left-liberal) guilt can be used to authorise terrible deeds
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  • The fact that the meme of the Muslim woman who must be saved from Islam and Muslim men – through the intervention of a benevolent western state – 11 years after the very real plight of Afghan women was cynically deployed to legitimise a global war, and long after the opportunism of this imperialist feminism was decisively exposed, points to a serious and deep investment in the assumptions that animate these claims. These assumptions come out of a palpable dis-ease with Islam within the liberal mainstream and portions of the Left, a result of the long exposure to Orientalist and Islamophobic discourses.
  • secularism is posited as the necessary prerequisite for achieving equal rights for women
  • The less-than-enthusiastic support for the Arab Spring by liberals on the basis of a fear that the Muslim Brotherhood would come to power (thereby implying that the human rights/women’s rights record of the regimes they were replacing was somehow better) illustrates the liberal anxiety regarding democracy when it comes to the Arab/Muslim ‘world’ and hints at the historical relationship between women’s movements and authoritarian regimes in the postcolonial period
  • Even as the United States officially begins to wind down its war in Afghanistan, the GWoT – recently rebranded as the Overseas Contingency Operation by President Obama – is spreading and intensifying across the ‘Muslim world’, and we can expect to hear further calls for the United States and its allies to save Muslim women. At the same time, we are seeing the mainstreaming and institutionalisation of a gendered anti-Muslim racism within the west, which means that we can also expect to see more of the discourse which pits the rights of Muslim men against those of Muslim women.
  • caution against seeing Muslim women as exceptional victims (of their culture/religion/men), and to point out both that there are family resemblances between the violence suffered by women across the world and that there is no singular ‘Muslim woman’s experience’
Ed Webb

Islamophobia: A Bipartisan Project - www.thenation.com - Readability - 0 views

  • The “Muslim enemy” is inextricably tied to a long history of US imperialism.
  • Following the infamous incident at the 1972 Munich Olympics in which a group of Palestinians took Israeli athletes hostage and murdered them, the Nixon administration launched “Operation Boulder,” giving law enforcement agencies carte blanche to investigate Arab immigrants and Arab American citizens in search of connections to “terrorist” activities related to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Thus, a violent act committed in Munich by a handful of Palestinians became the basis on which all Arabs were designated as “suspicious”; the process of racial profiling had begun in earnest.
  • The confrontationists argued that Islamism was the new post–cold war “Other” and that the United States needed to confront and challenge this adversary in the “clash of civilizations” that was to follow. The key ideologue leading this charge was Bernard Lewis (a close associate of the neocons), who penned his views in 1990 in a now-famous essay3 titled “The Roots of Muslim Rage,” in which he raised the alarm about an impending “clash of civilizations.” Samuel Huntington then popularized this concept in an essay titled “The Clash of Civilizations?” in Foreign Affairs
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  • The “clash” thesis was not a partisan position; confrontationists belong to both political parties. The difference between the accommodationists and confrontationists was not over the goal of US hegemony; it was about strategy and rhetoric. During the 1990s, the accommodationist line dominated in Washington. The Bush père and Clinton administrations sought to win over Muslim-majority countries by appealing to universal values and, under Clinton, free market policies. Domestically, however, the hysteria against Muslims mounted during this period. The fear generated by the attempted bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 ensured that in 1995, when white right-wing Christian terrorist Timothy McVeigh bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, Arabs and Muslims were immediately blamed
  • Domestically, Obama has continued Bush’s policies of torture, extraordinary rendition and pre-emptive prosecution. American Muslims continue to be harassed and persecuted by the state. Obama has even gone further than Bush in several ways, not only by securing the power to execute US citizens suspected of ties to terrorism without so much as a trial but also by signing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which, among other things, allows the military to detain indefinitely without charge “terror suspects” who are US citizens. His 2011 “counter-radicalization” strategy document7 elicits the help of Muslim American teachers, coaches and community members, who are to be turned into a McCarthy-type informant system
  • a shift to the language of liberal imperialism and liberal Islamophobia.
  • In January 2007, a leadership group on US-Muslim relations headed by Madeleine Albright, Richard Armitage (former deputy secretary of state under George W. Bush) and a number of academics produced a document5 titled “Changing Course: A New Direction for US Relations with the Muslim World.” The document, which received high praise, argued that distrust of the United States in Muslim-majority countries was the product of “policies and actions—not a clash of civilizations.” It went on to argue that to defeat “violent extremists,” military force was necessary but not sufficient, and that the United States needed to forge “diplomatic, political, economic, and cultural initiatives.” The report urged the US leadership to improve “mutual respect and understanding between Americans and Muslims,” and promote better “governance and improve civic participation” in Muslim majority countries. The report’s call to action stated that it would be vital for the next president to reflect these ideas in his/her inaugural speech and to reaffirm the United States’ “commitment to prohibit all forms of torture.”
  • key characteristics of liberal Islamophobia are the rejection of the “clash of civilizations” thesis, the recognition that there are “good Muslims” with whom diplomatic relations can be forged and a concomitant willingness to work with moderate Islamists
  • This is the modus operandi of liberal Islamophobia: to roundly reject Islam-bashing—and then proceed to institute proposals that target Muslims
  • the fear of “Islamic terrorism” is manufactured to grease the wheels of empire
  • In the ten years since 9/11, a comprehensive study9 shows that of the 150,000 murders in the United States, eleven Muslim Americans were responsible for the deaths of thirty-three people (besides themselves).
  • The mistake that progressives make is to focus on the most rabid Islamophobes, while giving liberal Islamophobia a pass. Whatever form it takes, racism should be called out for it is.
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