Hi Faye & Toby,
I did enjoy most of the readings for today, with two key exceptions.
Although I know it’s bad faith to be critical without qualification,
I’m struggling to find redemptive content. I’m not sure Ulrich Beck’s
abuse of historical periodisation needs to be restated in the context
of this workshop, but I felt it did coincide with Vijay Mishra’s
survey of literature on multiculturalism. In both cases, the “problem”
seems to be constituted as the predicament of previously atomised
national peoples entering into a post-national, cosmopolitan,
“ethnically diverse” 21st century (I could go on with the euphemisms).
In Beck’s case maybe this is just familiar Giddensian hyperbole and
armchair speculation (and I appreciate RWConnell’s critique to this
extent), but I actually found Mishra’s piece distressing. Clearly,
Muslims are “the problem”. There once weren’t any Muslims, “white
Christians” were behaving well and not forcing any marriages, but then
“they” – the migrants – came and liberal solutions were needed to
cater to their special needs (secular white nationals have no special
needs). So are we really to believe that the “crisis in
multiculturalism has come about because of claims of difference by
Muslims”, that it is only Muslim religious leaders who become
“non-progressive, fundamentalist demagogues”, that the Iranian
revolution is a sound model for understanding Muslim “religious
identity… when it functions as a political agent”, that we can
empirically measure the “religiosity” of Muslims at home and abroad
(the ones “here” are always the worst, right?), that Muslims could
tend towards fascism (actually a sterling example of secularism), or
that unthinking Muslims obey the laws of the “ripple effect” of
extremism, precluding access to the intellectual heights of Marx or
Freud? (“Fundamentalist” Iranians have no intellectual culture, no,
no…) I had to stop reading with the passage about the
“warrior-defender of the faith” and the jibe about the Ottoman Empire.
Perhaps the genre of the review essay lends itself to slippages
between summary of others’ work, critical commentary, and speculative
elaboration. That’s the most diplomatic I can be.
Why not different questions: what are the conditions in Britain such
that some Muslims, but also white Anglicans, Scottish labour migrants,
middle-class uni students, and even football fans see public displays
of violence as a viable source of social agency? And why is it that
the “modern” secular state has engendered so much violence, indeed
codified and rationalised it? Is there a conceivable State secularism
that is not extremist?
I did enjoy the Howell, on the other hand – I wonder if re-tracing
some elements of the Geertz/Asad debate might be useful? I think it
raises some interesting questions about the place of belief,
hermeneutics and practice in cultural studies. Has anyone else had any
fun with Asad?