The media coverage of the murder of Osama Bin Laden continues apace (including my favourite kind of “journalism”, “US officials say…”. Because US officials have a glorious history of telling the truth.)
Sydney academic Evan Jones (an irregular contributor to this site) has written the following think piece:
Abuse of Power by the Advocates of Reason
Pierre Bourdieu is (or was) a Frenchman. Thus in that category of people who the English-speaking world generally ignore or treat with derision. Much of what is written by French social theorists does not cross the Channel in good shape. But here is a bon mot that appears to capture succinctly the state of play in the English-speaking world post Abbottabad. And even more remarkable given that it is a spontaneous intervention in a public exchange.
The occasion? The Frankfurt Book Fair, 15 October 1995.
Included in Acts of Resistance: Against the New Myths of our Time, Polity Press, 1998; translated by Richard Nice.
“From deep inside the Islamic countries there comes a very profound question with regard to the false universalism of the West, or what I call the imperialism of the universal. France has been the supreme incarnation of this imperialism … If it is true that one form of universalism is no more than a nationalism which invokes the universal (human rights, etc.) in order to impose itself, then it becomes less easy to write off all fundamentalist reaction against it as reactionary.
“Scientific rationalism – the rationalism of the mathematical models which inspire the policy of the IMF or the World Bank, that of the law firms, great juridical multinationals which impose the traditions of American law on the whole planet, that of rational-action theories, etc. – is both the expression and the justification of a Western arrogance, which leads people to act as if they had the monopoly of reason and could set themselves up as world policemen, in other words as self-appointed holders of the monopoly of legitimate violence, capable of applying the force of arms in the service of universal justice.
“Terrorist violence, through the irrationalism of the despair which is almost always at its root, refers back to the inert violence of the powers which invoke reason. Economic coercion is often dressed up in juridical [rationales]. Imperialism drapes itself in the legitimacy of international bodies. And, through the very hypocrisy of the rationalizations intended to mask its double standards, it tends to provoke or justify, among the Arab, South American or African peoples, a very profound revolt against the reason which cannot be separated from the abuses of power which are armed or justified by reason (economic, scientific or any other). These ‘irrationalisms’ are partly the product of our rationalism, imperialist, invasive and conquering or mediocre, narrow, defensive, regressive and repressive, depending on the place and time.
“One is still defending reason when one fights those who mask their abuses of power under the appearances of reason or who use the weapons of reason to consolidate or justify an arbitrary empire.”
Bourdieu’s acculturising ‘symbolic violence’, draping the real violence, is resplendent in Obama’s speech and the triumphalist crowds.
Osama bin Laden exists because of the divergence between the West’s sustaining myths (freedom) and the reality (subjugation), a divergence most transparent at the hard edge of empire. OBL, a symptom, disappears from the scene; the divergence between myth and reality remains.
This divergence fuels the ‘war on terror’ from within, now a perpetual motion machine.
Meanwhile, the mutual embrace of the West and the Saudi regime, that paradigmatic myth-reality divergence, that prime propellant of OBL from spoiled brat to global bogeyman, stays firmly cemented in the bond of uncompromising self-interest.