Σάββατο, 25 Μαΐου 2013

Christian Communists, Islamic Anarchists?

Πηγή: nakedpunch.

In Part 1 of this article we argued that Slavoj Žižek and Alain Badiou's account of the foundation of Communist universalism in the event of Christianity signals a number of inconsistencies immanent to their respective ontologies (Coombs 2009). For Žižek it appears difficult to reconcile his touted open interpretation of Hegel with the ontological significance he accords to Christianity; whereas for Badiou, the 'foundation of universalism' attributed to St. Paul's militant 'truth procedure' of universalising the Christian faith and effecting a split with Judaism appears to contradict his ontology of inconsistent multiplicity, which denies historical or evental foundations. Still, this critique only takes us so far in undermining the 'Christian hegemony' of a certain school of 'post-modern' Communist theory. Instead, if we can demonstrate that even the conditions by which they violate their own systems are present elsewhere, then the essentialist platform of 'Paulian materialism' and its exclusivist foundations come to look even more shaky -- shaky to the point of collapse. These conditions we can also find in Islam.1

Firstly, however, it is important to differentiate our argument from Ian Almond's The New Orientalists (2007) -- the most prescient scholarship on the matter. Because although Almond manages to locate the spectre of Islam in post-modern philosophy from Nietzsche to Foucault, the pre-suppositions of his critique means it has the curious feature of bouncing back off his targets in the manner of an echo chamber. Unlike Edward Said's polemic against the colonial representation and construction of the Orient in his canonicalOrientalism (1979), there is a post-modern twist in Almond's study that even Alain Badiou might find satisfying. What Almond traces is not so much the brutal violence of representation, but a lineage of absence, or 'ghostly demarcations', by which Islam asserts itself in the interstices and footnotes of post-modern philosophy. None of the philosophers in his study (we except here the authors Orhan Pamuk, Salman Rushie and Jorge Luis Borges) have ever made explicit claims to scholarship on Islam and have only discussed the religion at those points where it has intersected with 'Western affairs.' That includes Michel Foucault's fascination with Shiism in his reportage on the Iranian revolution; the simulacrum of Islam Jean Baudrillard found refracted in the Gulf War; and Slavoj Žižek's passing remarks on the religion in connection with 9/11 and the Iraq War. In regard to his chapter on Žižek, Almond writes "Islam is conspicuous by its absence" (ibid: 177) as well as being a "casualty of this 'other' Eurocentrism of Žižek's -- the semantic denial of any ontological depth or even tangibility to the marginalized subject" (ibid: 183).

Unfortunately, this tension in Almond's critique never allows it to penetrate deeper than a genealogy of marginality. For the absence of the representation of Islam in Žižek's work cannot at the same time be a great violence against it. And furthermore, when Almond argues that "in Žižek's work, if we scratch the skin of a Muslim, sooner or later we find a socialist underneath" this is because of Žižek's "considerations on the Jamesonian concept of the 'vanishing mediator' -- the mechanism by which a belief may facilitate the emergence of another belief-system, and render itself obsolete in the process" (ibid: 191) -- to which Žižek might simply reply: 'exactly'! Almond thus excoriates Žižek on the basis of a series of a priori assertions -- i.e. the Eurocentrism of Hegelian philosophy and Lacanian psychoanalysis etc. -- and for the resulting lack of respect for the true Otherness of Islam; whilst at the same time bemoaning the absence of this Otherness in Žižek's representations of religions which are not Other to him. In other words, Almond's critique remains nested in the very ideology of multicultural inclusion and non-judgemental tolerance that Žižek has spent so much theoretical energy attempting to combat.

To draw a sharp contrast, what we are aiming for here is a different critique to Almond's in that we share many of the same principles as Badiou and Žižek, but rather see their Christian essentialism as a deviation from the tenets of their own systems, not just as an expression of their hopelessly Eurocentric gaze on the world. In Part 1of the article we saw the close affiliation of Badiou and Žižek's valorisation of Christianity's universalism with Hegel's exaltation of the 'Absolute religion' and for our purpose here again Hegel will be an important touch-point. The problem with Hegel we will explore is not necessarily the provincialism of his positioning of Islam under the 'Germanic World'; but rather, like in Badiou and Zizek's fleeting representations of Islam, the problem lies in Hegel's inability to see beyond the abstract idea of Islam to its actual particularities. But it is only by taking Hegel at his word that we can see the immanent inadequacy of his schematisation of Islam as a religion of purely abstract universality. Not because it represents an unacceptably malign value judgement (such a criticism would remain within the realm of non-judgemental multiculturalism and respect for Otherness); rather because the particular details of Islam actually contradict Hegel's judgement, even if we were to accept the truth of his criteria of judgement. This particularity is most notably expressed in the split between Sunni and Shia and what these splits have meant in practicefor the politics and historicity of the religion. Further, once we see that the fact of this split forecloses any essentialist philosophical identity to Islam we also have the material by which to undermine any essentialist reading of Christianity at the foundation of universalism.

To strengthen the case, in the second part of this article, we examine two of the key ideologues of the Iranian revolution: Ayatollah Morteza Motahhari and Ali Shariati. Their debate and rivalry on the pre-revolutionary scene in Iran we will argue focuses on their differing interpretations of revolutionary Shia Islam: Motahhari's dialectical conception and Ali Shariati's militant, evental conception -- which echoes Badiou's emphasis on Paul's truth procedure. Although sensitive to the fact that some may see the reading of the Sunni/Shia split through Hegel and the Mottahari/Shariati debate through the dialectics/event split we have located in Badiou and Žižek as a form of transcription into 'Westernese'; in the spirit of Enlightenment and universality that this writer shares with the authors he is critiquing, this is considered not so important as highlighting some of the shared philosophical problems of two of the world's universal religions. And more, we hope to demonstrate the respect and awe in the face of the supposed Otherness of Islam is part and parcel of the problem of how Christianity becomes essentialised and posited as a foundation by the exclusion of its counterpart universal religion.

Hegel and Islam

It is worth considering Hegel's reflections on Islam, not to snigger at their bold-faced Christian chauvinism, but to understand them as still implicit within the predominant understandings of Islam suppressed even within the non-judgemental, multiculturalist discursive framework: a framework forced to distinguish between 'moderates' and 'extremists', 'modernists' and 'fundamentalists' etc. For all the formal procedures of denouncing teleological thinking in contemporary culture, there is nevertheless the association of Christianity -- or at least Protestantism -- as possessing the telos of secularism; and Islam, lumped in with Judaism and Hinduism etc., as being somehow stuck in the past, unable to secede itself into a true modernity.

This perspective is reflected in Hegelian teleology, where Islam is neither consigned as a more primitive religion, nor dialectically incorporated into any part of the unfolding of the Notion towards Christian perfection. As W.T.Stace remarks: "It is a very curious omission on Hegel's part that although he has numerous scattered references to the religion of Islam, he assigns it no place in his history of religion" (1955: 491). For Hegel Islam went further than any other religion in abstracting the unity of God into a universal One, the movement to which marks the increasing perfection of the world religions in the Philosophy of History. But whereas this process of extracting the divine into abstract universality has a dialectical necessity in the unfolding towards the Notion, Hegel claims that it is because of the extremity of the abstraction in Islam that particularity and the universal are unresolved into the higher individuality of Christian worship. In other words, without the recognition that the Son of God died on the cross, there remains an unresolved bridge between humanity and God that leaves the individual separated from divine unicity and mankind separated from realising that its destiny lies within itself. It is no wonder then that Islam is consigned to an awkward place under Part IV of his chronological world history, in the section on 'The German World', despite its origination in the 7th century AD. It represents what should have been a historical dead-end in the ascent towards the Notion, but its continuation can find no telos within itself -- leading to its expected retreat in the twilight of history. Thus the excessive attachment of its believers to the faith acts as a roadblock to their development of the substantive basis of modern universality, requiring an anchor in individualism. This excess for Hegel has catastrophic consequences:

Subjectivity is here living and unlimited -- an energy which enters into secular life with a purely negative purpose, and busies itself and interferes with the world, only in such a way as shall promote the pure adoration of the One. The object of Mahometan worship is purely intellectual; no image, no representation of Allah is tolerated. Mahomet is a prophet but still man -- not elevated above human weaknesses. The leading features of Mahometanism involve this . . . so that the worship of the One remains the only bond by which the whole is capable of uniting. In this expansion, this active energy, all limits, all national and caste distinctions vanish; no particular race, political claim of birth or possession is regarded -- only man as abeliever. (Hegel 2001: 374)

Islam is correspondingly supposed to possess the same philosophical identity as the Terror in the French revolution. For Hegel, the dialectical necessity of the revolution -- the replacement of the monarchy by bourgeois rulers -- models a rational Christian ethos where the universal is concretised in the particular, or: "What is rational is actual; and what is actual is rational" (Hegel 1991: 20). However, Islam is foundationally closer to the quest for abstract unity in Jacobin Terror: "during which all differences of talents and authority were supposed to be cancelled out . . . because all institutions are incompatible with the abstract self-consciousness of equality" (ibid: 39). Hegel draws the parallel in logics:

Mahometanism was, at the same time, capable of the greatest elevation -- an elevation free from all petty interests, and united with all the virtues that appertain to magnanimity and valor. La religion et la terreur were the principles in this case, as with Robespierre la liberté et la terreur. But real life is nevertheless concrete, and introduces particular aims; conquest leads to sovereignty and wealth. . . . (Hegel 2001: 375)

As Hegel dedicates only five pages to what he calls Mahometanism (Islam) it is clear that his empirical knowledge is limited, or deliberately delimited. As may be the case for some readers, more extensive empirical background and comparisons are necessary. Most obviously, Mohammed, unlike Christ, never claimed to be a deity but solely a prophet. If we must speak in analogical terms -- in a Badiouian phraseology for instance -- we could say that Mohammed was both Christ and Paul, in that after the event of the prophecy he declared an internal fidelity to his own message and from that fidelity he himself established the protean Muslim community. But unlike Paul, Mohammed did not declare the rupture in the same sense. Islam, with Mohammed as its greatest prophet, was presented as the 'perfection' of the lineage of monotheistic faiths with its prophets including such Judeo-Christian familiars as Moses and Christ. Yet the dialectical language of 'perfection,' should not disguise the reality of rupture; the sudden revealed knowledge opening up the new and the militant truth procedure that concretised it.

After Mohammed's death, the early Islamic community was divided by almost two centuries of internal civil war (Halm 1991). There was nothing overwhelmingly territorial about this cleavage, although it did at times become carried by certain tribal rivalries between Caliphs. In the most significant split between Sunni and Shia, adherents to both creeds frequently existed alongside each other, even in the same Caliphal courts. Although Heinz Halm notes that "the Arabic word shia just means 'party'. . ." and that "Theological and dogmatic differences play a subordinate role in differentiating between Sunni and Shia" (ibid: 1-2), from a Hegelian perspective -- Hegel beyond Hegel if you like -- this is questionable. The unity of God, his Oneness eternally in opposition to the particularity of humanity, his 'purely intellectual' character as Hegel describes it, was undermined by the anthropomorphism of Shiism. Majid Fakhry argues: "we might safely assume that their anthropomorphism was dictated by the urge to ascribe a divine or semi divine status to the Imams, in whom according to the extreme Shiites God periodically became incarnate" (2004: 57-58). This 'urge' was perhaps historically determined.

The question of the succession of Mohammed was never adequately resolved in Islam. In response, the Kharijite movement of the 'first Islamic civil war' moved close to what Hegel describes as abstract self-consciousness of equality. They advocated tyrannicide and waged a brutal civil war against the Caliphate, advocating the complete equality of access to God and the destruction of institutions of power, and denounced their Muslim enemies in a similar way to how Sayyid Qutb in the 1960s would rationalise Islamist terror against the all-pervasivejahiliya (ignorance) amongst fellow Muslims. Even now, in a direct genealogical link, the name of the Kharijites continues to be evoked in Egyptian public discourse to warn against the temptation of 'Islamic anarchism,' and the abuse of the label is so widespread in the Middle East that it is even denounced by Osama Bin Laden (2005: 224). Arguably, the dichotomy between supporting the status quo and the bloodthirsty, literalist anarchism of the Kharijites was ended by the death of the son of Mohammed's daughter Fatima's son Hussain in Kabala in 671 AD. It is with Hussain that Islam experienced its 'Christ moment', with his 'martyrdom' on the Euphrates beginning the anthropomorphic bridge between humankind and the One. Shiism as the central Islamic theology of resistance to the status quo gained prominence over the Kharijites; now opposition was grounded in real social imbrications, i.e. in the support for the leadership of the familial lineage of the Prophet.

Does all this mean that from a Hegelian perspective we could consider Shia Islam in the same dialectical genus as Christianity? Does this mean that although Sunni Islam could be considered the foundational provocateur of arbitrary despotism (tyranny) or the pursuit of unmediated abstract equality (anarchism), in Shiism we can find a more acceptable Christianity-lite and thus an analogous foundation for Communist universalism? Perhaps, but such nonsensical dialectical insights only highlights the inadequacy of Hegelian teleology. From a Hegelianistic perspective the fact that Shiism did not develop through a dialectical sequence towards secularism would show that the religion remains essentially inscribed in teleology as a dead-end and can only continue unchanging and obscurantist, yet still bursting with the vitality that Christianity ceded to the Kingdom of Men.

Zizek and Badiou on Islam

According to Frederiek Depoortere, for Žižek, like Hegel, Islam took the wrong path of dialectical mediation, which explains why Žižek's "most important reference to it is in a footnote of On Belief, in which he states that Islam, in its attempt to synthesise Judaism and Christianity, 'ends up with the worst of both worlds'" (2008: 140). It is true, as Almond (2007) notes, that for Žižek Islam possesses a vitality unable to be recuperated into global capitalism with the ease of other religions (Tibetan Buddhism for instance); but still Žižek follows Hegel's limited understanding of Islam as possessing a fundamental ontological mistake -- a teleological anomaly in 'world spirit' -- which prohibits its overcoming. It seems, then, that the Hegelian schema is unable to account for the event of Islam, or comprehend the anthropomorphic event foundational to Shiism.

Problematically, from a Badiouian perspective things are not much better. In theory, it should not be difficult to consider the event of Mohammed's prophecies and the 'truth procedure' of establishing the Islamic community as an equivalent to the militant universalism of St. Paul. Considering the confusion in Western culture as to the meaning of the advent of Islam it is worth quoting Bernard Lewis on the matter -- a scholar who, considering his tacit promotion of the Clash of Civilizations (1997) thesis with Samuel Huntington, can hardly be accused of Islamophilia:

In a profound sense the advent of Islam had itself been a kind of revolution. The new faith overwhelmed existing doctrines and churches, bringing not a third testament to add to the previous two, but a new scripture to supercede them. . . . In Islam, as ideally conceived, there were to be no priests, no privileged orders or castes or estates of any kind. . . . In Islam, unlike the ancient world, a slave was no longer a chattel but a person, with a recognized legal and moral status. Women, although still subject to polygamy and concubinage, were accorded property rights not equalled in the West until modern times. (1995: 72)

However, despite this revolutionary change, according to prominent Badiou scholar, Peter Hallward, Islam is exempted from being an event on the grounds that:

Though Muhammed's revelation certainly broke with the prevailing state of the situation, it was anything but an ephemeral anomaly whose very lack of definition would allow for the elaboration of open-ended fidelity. On the contrary, his words settled (in principle) every philosophical issue in advance. Islamic philosophy is generally not oriented toward the future composition of a still unknown truth, so much as "back-up" to an originally definitive (and subsequently obscured) sufficiency. (2003: 408)

Although we can agree with Hallward that the Quran is more mimetically prescriptive that the Bible, and particularly more so than the writings of Paul, it is nevertheless an exaggeration to draw a sharp contrast between an explorative, future-oriented Christian legacy and a backward-looking Islam; such extrapolations merely repeat the Hegelian line of Christianity as the 'Absolute religion' within a different philosophical framework. We might further ask, given the Badiouian ontology of inconsistent multiplicity how all issues can be settled in advance? If nothing else, the history of the religions shows that it is not difficult to perceive a multitude of factional splits in both Islam and Christianity, for example: the prevalence of neo-Platonism in both the philosophies of Christian medieval thinkers and in Islamic philosophy; the hermeneutic splits in both religions regarding the literalism of interpreting the book (the Ismailis, for one, proposed an esoteric reading); and the split between Sunni/Shia and Catholic/Protestant as a broadly analogous divide over the correct political and doctrinal authority -- all of which throw doubt on the relevance of philosophical issues being settled 'in principle'. Rather, we could argue that the attachment of Muslims to factions of these splits indicates to us precisely that everything was not settled in advance; since if so the Quran as the uncontested, principal text should represent a clear guide. Concomitant to the closed space of Islam that Hallward supposes would be the absence of necessary ambiguities in order for subjects to articulate their fidelity to the event. Contra Hallward, though, the ex-post counter-propositional evidence shows us that once plugged into a Badiouian framework, the original event of Islam very much fit the categories.

Still, from the same Badiouian perspective -- although not considered by either Badiou or scholars working with his ontology -- Shiism looks to very much tarry with the negative. The demand for continuing leadership from the familial lineage of Mohammed appears to deny the demands of fidelity to an event by a free subject. Hussein's 'martyrdom' was also only with a great retroactive lag transformed into a foundational myth of Shiism and the process of the occultation of the 12th Imam did not unfold suddenly by the demands of an event, but as a dialectical reaction to both the oppression of the burgeoning Shiite faction and the degenerating logic of leadership by familial lineage over a long period of time (Halm 1991). From this perspective, it is not hard then to see Shiism as the ultimate religion of ressentiment. As Arshin Adib-Moghaddam observes: "Couldn't we point to the nobility of failure so central to Shi'i Islam and its foundational legends? . . . Is it a cultural coincidence that Iranians revere those members of the Prophet's household who have 'failed' in their political mission?" (2007: 186). Yet like with Hegel and Žižek, historicity is absent from the monolithic name of Islam presented by Badiou in his considerations on contemporary political Islam. In his eagerly anticipated follow-up toBeing & Event (2005), the Logics of Worlds (forthcoming 2009), he denies that a progressive revolutionary subjectivity can arise from political Islam:

. . . it is in vain that one tries to elucidate genealogically contemporary political Islamism, in particular its ultra-reactionary variants, which rival the Westerners for the fruits of the petrol cartel through unprecedented criminal means. This political Islamism is a new manipulation of religion -- from which it does not derive by any natural (or 'rational') inheritance -- with the purpose of occulting the post-socialist present and countering, by means of a full Tradition or Law, the fragmentary attempts through which some try to reinvent emancipation. From this point of view, political Islamism is absolutely contemporary, both to the faithful subjects that produce the present of political experimentation, and to the reactive subjects that busy themselves with denying that ruptures are necessary in order to invent humanity worthy of the name, and who moreover flaunt the established order as the miraculous bearer of a continuous emancipation. Political Islamism is nothing but one of the subjectivated names of today's obscurantism. (cited in Toscano 2006: 29)

It is only an elementary exercise to join the dots between the hypothesis of the non-evental character of Islam and the obscurantism Badiou accuses political Islam of. Admittedly, the above characterisation does fit many, if not most, of the Islamist movements in the 20th and 21st century; but what is significant is the foreclosure of potentialities located in the foundations of the religion. For Žižek and Badiou, it is not just that contemporary political Islamists are obscurantist; it is that the very foundations of their religion (respective to the possibilities Christianity opened up) forecloses the possibility for an emancipatory opening on its own terms.

In sum, what allows Hegel, Žižek and Badiou to see what they like in Christianity -- Christ's death and resurrection as the reversal of negativity into positivity for Hegel, or the pure positivity of Paul's fidelity to Christ's resurrection for Badiou -- is the dualistic structure of Christianity that Islam does not share. But what exceeds both schemas and what renders these ever more obscene philosophical-theological abstractions redundant is change. Foundations only render themselves as foundations through dogmatism. It is not Christianity or Shiism that is foundationally positive or negative, but subjects' willingness to declare radical ruptures within or from these frameworks. What unites a Christian fundamentalist and an Islamic fundamentalist is the denial of the possibility of this rupture. That said it is worth considering the Iranian revolution of 1979 as the exemplary case impossible to understand within the rubric of the foreclosure of Islam's emanciatory potential proposed by Žižek, Badiou et al. Firstly, however, we need to forget those over-simplified narratives of the revolution popularised in the West; whereby either only a reactionary Islamic force was at work from the start, or where a pure left was crushed by an Islamic right in the revolution's aftermath.2 In reality, there was an inter-pollination of Western philosophy, Marxism and Islamic ideology throughout 20th-century Iran, and the revolution should be seen as a culmination of that dialectic, as part the larger 'effective history' (to steal a piece of terminology from Gadamer) of the global revolutionary movement in the 20th century. It is another indication of the circularity of Christian hegemony in Western Communist theory that generally there is seen to be no contradiction in the Catholicisation of Latin American Marxism through liberation theology, yet the rare cases of the Islamisation of Marxist theory are treated with comparative suspicion and neglect.

Because some may think the analysis to come is overly abstract by not treating Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's central role in the revolution as our point of departure, it is worth observing that although he was the most important figure of the Iranian revolution -- it's guiding force from exile and the grand jurist of the state following the establishment of the Islamic Republic -- his philosophical writings are substantially less interesting than his charisma which allowed him to lord over the post-revolutionary state. Despite the intellectual milieu preceding the overthrow of the Pahlavi regime in Iran, his doctrine of the supreme jurist, allied to his morally and politically conservative interpretation of Islam, collapsed all the novelties introduced by the pre-revolutionary Islamist ideologues into a 'modernist-fundamentalist' programme (the paradoxical conjugation is necessary to differentiate Khomeini from the medieval Islamism of the Afghan Taliban). Khomeini's only novelty, excepting the idea of the grand jurist as one of only a quasi-original break from the state of the situation, was to re-orientate Iran from American puppet state to challenger for regional hegemony vis-à-vis the Western allied bloc. Khomeini's ideology, in this sense and more, can be seen just as transference of traditional Shiite ressentimentagainst the Sunni majority to the West.3

Much more interesting are two of the 'vanishing mediators' of Iran's Islamic ideology: Morteza Motahhari and Ali Shariati. It is true that they are not the only mediators of the revolution to have vanished in the consolidation of the Islamic state: the Fidayeen and Mujahideen Marxist guerrilla groups were similarly purged and written out of Iran's official historiography. But for our purposes of examining the potentialities within Shia Islam it is the Islamic ideologues who help to best demonstrate -- through their unrealised potentiality -- the false exclusivity of Christian essentialism.

Revolutionary Rivals: Motahhari and Shariati

Both Ayatollah Morteza Motahhari (1920-1979) and Ali Shariati (1933-1977) used Shiism's motifs as a tool in their revolutionary ideologies; yet, for all their similarities, they were voracious rivals. Their rivalry culminated in Motahhari being assassinated by an obscure faction called the Furquan, loyal to Shariati's ideas, after the fall of Shah's government. Many have noted the similarity of their revolutionary appropriation of Shiism and have implicitly reduced their rivalry to one of the differing audiences: for Shariati, urban, secular intellectuals; and for Mottahari the seminaries and devout. Hamid Dabashi places particular emphasis on their ideological affinity: "Their ideas may have occasionally appeared as if issued from two diverse political worldviews. But in their respective contributions to the making of 'the Islamic Ideology' they are part and parcel of the same revolutionary enterprise" (2006: 157). However, there are reasons why Motahhari's ideological legacy has been etched into the legitimating discourse of the post-revolutionary state and Shariati's has not. As Ali Rahnema recounts in his biography of Ali Shariati, in discussions with a bookseller in Tehran, the seller admitted was not sure if Shariati was a "Saint, or the devil himself" (Rahnema 2000: x). Without telling us the political persuasion of the bookseller, it could easily be read either way: the seller could either have been a secular reformist, or a pious Muslim, such is the ambiguity surrounding Shariati's thought. On the other hand, Ayatollah Khomeini publicly wept at Motahhari's funeral, and on the 28th anniversary of his death in 2007, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared: "At present, a specific source of thoughts is manifested in Iran which is contributing to the development of all Muslim Nations. The secret behind our success and fulfilment of divine purposes is to continue the path of Ayatollah Motahhari." (Notes on Iran 2007)

Although we could reduce these differences to one of Motahhari's clerical authority chiming with the ideology of the grand jurist, it seems insufficient to account for the valorisation of Motahhari and the ambiguous mix of demonisation and cooption of Shariati by the Iranian establishment. Instead, it is their approach to Shiism and the clerical establishment which seems to orient the split. For whilst both were extremely critical of the state of Shiism and its inadequacy as a revolutionary ideology, Motahhari's was a dialectical, revolutionary Shiism that preserved its juridical tenets; whereas Shariati's Shia Islam was a heavily subtracted conception emphasising rebellion, equality and universality. As Dabashi puts it: "No one did more than Motahhari in legitimating this updated Shi'i juridical discourse. Shari'ati simply concocted his own modern discourse, totally outside of, and indeed antagonistic to, the Shi'i juridical hermeneutic circle" (2006: 201). The difference we should emphasise, then, is between the preservation of tradition in Mottahari's dialectical Shiism and the sheer invention of Shariati's.

Taking Motahhari first, this difference is not surprising when we consider that he was Ayatollah Khomeini's student, friend and later representative in Iran during exile. But he was not simply a mouthpiece. Motahhari's philosophical output exceeds Khomeini's by far, because it did not just engage in negating through ressentimenteverything the West materially and philosophically stood for in his imagination (even if he did contribute he fair share to this discourse). He read Western philosophy, albeit imperfectly, and attempted to elevate theological scholastic discourse to equal academic philosophy. Both Motahhari and Ali Shari'ati's father, Mohammed Taqi-Shariati, were primarily conditioned by the rise of the Communist Tudeh party in the 1940s and the appeal of its Marxist, emancipatory alternative to traditional Shiite ressentiment amongst young urban intellectuals (Dabashi 2006; Rahnema 2000).4 Taqi-Shariati's foundation of the God Worshipping Socialists was a direct reaction to the Tudeh's propagation of Marxism, forcing the Islamic-left in Iran to engage with Marxism in order to adequately defend its positions against the ideologues of the Tudeh. From this first instance of negation, Islam and Marx in Iran were put into a dialectical relationship. Motahhari's intellectual development can most productively be seen in the tradition this relationship gave rise to. By attempting to negate the disenchanted world of secular Marxism, Motahhari's own discourse ended up sounding awfully similar to the objects of his consternation. This was not against his wishes, however, because this lexicographic transcription and smattering of sometimes critical, sometimes cooptive, references to Plato, Aquinas, Kant and Hegel served its ideological purpose to make political Islam resonate amongst modernist revolutionaries in the country. Foremost was his attempt to reconfigure Shiism from being a religion of ressentiment and weakness to one of strength and revolution; and in the process he had to challenge orthodox historical and religious doctrine. Dabashi tells us: "He had to rid Islam of all apparent signs of misery and passivity. For this reason, he severely admonished his audience for chanting, commiserating, and self-flagellating. . . . He went as far as to challenge the authenticity of the canonical reports that Imam al-Husayn's household actually came to Karbala on the occasion of his martyrdom" (2006: 176). And along these lines he redefined asceticism, as it ought to be: "The astonishing resistance of the Viet Kong is due to that which in Islam is called 'the lightness of one's necessities.' A Viet Kong can go on for days in hideouts and continue to fight on a fistful of rice" (Motahhari cited in Dabashi 2006: 193). The hermeneutic challenge of attempting to square Shiism with the demands of modernist revolutionary discourse and practice made him go out of his way in the practice of hermeneutically revising Shia Islam. For instance, against the injunction that the Quran stipulates that only Muslims (in the masculine tense) should seek knowledge, "he then produces an extraordinary explanation in a footnote where he argues that the Arabic masculine noun "Muslim" stands for both the masculine and feminine genders" (ibid: 205). In other words, for all its radicality, his theoretical practice operated within the hermeneutic contours of Shiite juridical tenets and points of reference -- stretching them as far as possible from traditional understandings to ones based on the primacy of rational deduction.

That is also not to say Motahhari's discourse was a solely superficial exercise of the accommodation of two contradictory world-views. In attempting to undermine the Tudeh's variety of scientific Marxism Motahhari also wittingly or not adopted what could be called a quasi-Hegelian Islamist perspective. For instance, in Spiritual DiscoursesShiite mythology is represented according to a phenomenology and ethical schema recognisably Hegelian in its emphasis on the universal and the recognition of the self-same identity of difference:

Is it a class feeling which makes us think of ourselves as belonging to the group of martyrs of Kabala and dislike Yazid and Shimr as we dislike our enemies? Do we project our feelings of sympathy or hatred on to each group respectively, while in truth both are related to ourselves? . . . On the contrary you may look at it from a different angle which is not personal and individual but is related to the whole of humanity in which there is no question of personal dislike but the truth. There your connection with the martyrs in your praise, and your dislike of their enemies, is not personal but general and universal. (Motahhari 1986: 22)

In this schema Motahhari argues that all positions are just relative, and thus incomplete, judgements except when viewed from the totality of the Whole. In referring to the Shiites, the substitution of religious sect, or faction, with 'class' is the curiosity of greatest interest. It is true as Dabashi (2006) claims that Motahhari's readings of Marx were limited by the range of Persian translations and the absence of a developed intellectual environment in the seminaries equipped to discuss such topics. Nevertheless, although his reading of class as a form of identity in opposition to totality is flawed according to a properly Marxist reading, the point is that he implicitly seeks to undermine Marxism here by equating class with exclusionary Shiite identarianism. Therefore, Shiism as a singular perspective or force of ressentiment is also rendered inadequate; the only truth to Shiism becomes that which meets the standards of the universal. Motahhari's mission is thus to appropriate for Islam this rational, universal perspective and vice-versa. He asks for example: "why do we think of Hadrat Ali, peace be upon him, is a perfect human being? Because he felt society's pain, and his 'I' had become 'we'. . . . He was a limb or organ of a whole body" (1986: 10). The twin necessities of revising Shiism to fit the standards of the universal and provide an ideologically adequate theology of revolution forces Motahhari to negate common Shiite precepts. The movement within Mottahari's hermeneutic reinscription of Shiism creates a dialectical event that opens the possibility of the new; a rupture impossible for functionalist fundamentalists like Khomeini to imagine.

To give another example of how he fundamentally questions received Islamic doctrine, in Man and His Destiny Motahhari turns to the ever-contentious issue of pre-destination (fate) in Islamic philosophy. The core problem is that owing to Shiism's belief in the destined return of the 12th Imam there has always been a concomitant sympathy for the Asharite idea of predestination, which also became Sunni orthodoxy after the fall of the Mutazilites (Fakhry 2004). The Asharite doctrine, in contrast to the rationalist Mutazilite school of thought, curtails the possibility of human freedom because of "God's absolute omnipotence and sovereignty in the world and the finality of his moral and religious decrees" in which "the human agent plays no part in the drama of choosing or doing and reaps none of the moral or religious fruits accruing from such initiative" (ibid: 210-211). The problematic of humankind's free will and divine predestination, although seeming an interminable religious question, is not all that different from Marx's famous difficulty with incorporating voluntarism in his otherwise teleological communist worldview.5 Likewise for Motahhari, it is important from a revolutionary, ideological point of view to discredit divine predestination and create an active conception of Shiite doctrine. On this issue he takes a different position on the conventional dichotomy between destiny and free will; attempting a transcendental critique of the dichotomy in regard to conventional Quranic exegesis on the matter:

The reason why the two sets of these verses are considered to be conflicting is that the scholastic theologians and some commentators of the Qur'an think that destiny implies that man is not free. According to them destiny and liberty are mutually inconsistent. They argue that the fact that everything is within the Knowledge of Allah means that everything has been predetermined by Him. . . . Now let us see if it is feasible to have a third view which may resolve the apparent conflict between the belief in fate and destiny on the one hand and Allah's Omnipotence and His Omniscience on the other. If we can find such a proposition there will be no need of interpreting any set of the Qur'anic verses. (Motahhari 2008: part 1)

Motahhari proceeds by dividing the concept of destiny into two: "It appears that there are two kinds of fate and destiny, one inevitable and unalterable and the other non-inevitable and alterable" (ibid). The dialectical movement begins. Motahhari goes on to infer from this something remarkable: destiny cannot be changed except by a change in a destiny itself -- it divides itself internally in a sequence of self-negations -- and in that complex change in destiny human agency inserts itself. It is worth quoting again at length to make clear the profundity of Motahhari's deduction:

Hence, a change of destiny in the sense that any factor can go against what has been divinely ordained or what the law of causation necessitates, is impossible. . . . But a change in destiny in the sense that the factor bringing about the change should itself be a manifestation of what Allah has decreed, is possible. Though it may look rather queer, it is a fact that the destiny can be changed by another destiny. . . . It may look more surprising if we think of the divine aspect of fate and destiny, for a change in this aspect implies a change in the celestial world, in the angelic tablets and books and in the Divine Knowledge. So can Allah's Knowledge still undergo a change? The surprise reaches its height when we admit that certain terrestrial affairs, especially human will and actions cause changes in the celestial world and the angelic record. (Motahhari 2008: part 5)

In other words: humankind affects Allah's knowledge, it affects the internal orientation of the celestial world and it renders obsolete any conception of eternal Law. And all this is deduced explicitly not from Quranic exegesis but through the strictures of logic itself. Further, does not the telos of this argument also imply that with the culmination of humankind's will the celestial is subsumed entirely? If so, is this not something like the Hegelian subsumsion of God by Geist from an Islamic perspective? Is this what allows Motahhari to claim: "The human being is the goal of the universe whether the earth is the centre of the universe or not. What does the phrase 'goal of the universe mean?' It means that nature moves in a certain direction in its evolutionary course whether we consider the human being a spontaneously created being or a continuation of other animal species" (Motahhari 1986: 20)? Morteza Motahhari, Ayatollah Khomeini's right hand man in Iran, emerges as an ultra-humanist Islamic revisionist. The Quran is negated as the eternal source of knowledge and humankind emerges as the end point of the evolution of thought and will in the world. Still, the path to this dialectical event, owing as it does from a series of dialectical inductions from hermeneutical juridical analysis, contains within it the necessity of the negated precepts. The event in Motahhari's thought, no matter the radicality of its deductions and propositions, is ultimately tied to the authority of the hermeneutic circle, even if he occasionally appears to cast aside exegesis in favour of rationality. This fundamental philosophical difference is what separates Motahhari from Ali Shariati. Although they collaborated for some time in Husainiyya Ishad, Motahhari withdrew prematurely in 1971, unable to rival Shariati's popularity and shocked by the unorthodoxy of his appropriation of Islam (Martin 2000: 79). Shariati proposed a political Islam neither fundamentalist, nor that of a dialectical convergence of Marx and Islam, but an Islam capable of generating the new itself entirely free of external determinations. Or, in other words: a political Islam bearing all the hallmarks of a Badiouian event.

The Event of Shariati's Islam

As we have discussed, Shariati's political genesis was the dialectical relationship between Marx and Islam initiated in Iran, a theoretical conjuncture shared by Motahhari and his father Taqi-Shariati; i.e. attempting to negate Marxism for Islam by dialectically subsuming Marxism within Islam. But therein lies the problem. Although Motahhari's dialectical hermeneutics creates the new, it is a new internal to its precepts, it is not a radical rupture as such. On the other hand, Shariati's break from this tradition was most obviously manifest after studying in Paris in 1959, where he was exposed to the heady environment of social self-criticism and intellectualism. Studying under the French orientalist Louis Massignon Shariati learnt about aspects of his own Persian culture and Islam that he was unaware of himself. And from Frantz Fanon and Jean-Paul Sartre he learned of the latest developments in the fusion of existentialism and 'Third World' revolutionary theory. Thus began the productive inter-pollination of theories that has typically been described as his eclecticism, or strategic Leninism. Ali Rahnema, for one, claims him as a "first class eclectic, he was part Muslim, part Christian, part Jew, part Buddhist, part Mazdaki, part Sufi, part heretic, part existentialist, part humanist and part sceptic" (2000: 370). But just as Motahhari's quasi-Hegelian interpretation of Shiism has gone unnoticed, there has conversely been a lack of theoretical exegesis of Shariati's method. Eclecticism implies that all ideas are held simultaneously regardless of their epistemological or ontological contradictions. We could not claim that Shariati altogether left behind the contradictions of the variety of sources he drew from, but significantly the structure of his argumentation at least aims towards that very purpose.

In his treatise on revolution, love, women, Islam, Marx and modernity Shariati's structure was to continually posit a dichotomy and explicitly not resolve it but render it deficient against the possibility of the new; satisfied by no synthesis or negation of the negation. Even the titles of Shariati's works express this anti-dialectical approach: Religion vs. Religion, Fatima is Fatima etc. In the latter work, regarded by many as his masterpiece, he successively looks at the dichotomies between Eastern women and Western women, and reveals their inadequacy. For example, the choice for Muslim women of traditionalism versus the role model of the liberated Western woman is revealed as an irresolvable choice of two evils.6 His answer is to find both choices wanting and to propose a new revolutionary way of being for Western women to inhabit that rejects both these propositions, which equally resonates for Iranian women in their unique social situation. His unfolding structure is always to undermine the dichotomy of choices, and then undermine the choices contained within those choices themselves.

In Religion vs. Religion he identifies the only true religion as that of the becoming of universal monotheistic religions against the status quo, and conversely their petrifaction in tradition or Law is the loss of the ethical imperative of universal monotheism to a form of covert polytheism. In his own words: "If I talk about religion, I do not talk about a religion which had been realised and which ruled society. Rather, I speak about a religion who goals are to do away with a religion which ruled over society throughout history" (Shariati 2003: 40). This division of the world into two states: polytheism and revolutionary universal monotheism, is clearly transcribable with Badiou's division of temporality around the event. And in Fatima is Fatima Shariati describes the truth procedure of a Badiouian event almost exactly:

In Islam the scholars are not wise people. They guarantee nothing. They do not have a handful of knowledge. Science does not consist of hundreds of pieces of information and knowledge. In their hearts is a ray of light, the light of God. It is not a question of divine science, illumination or Gnosticism. It is also not chemistry, physics, history, geography, jurisprudence, principles of jurisprudence or logic, which are all types of scientific knowledge. A science becomes illuminated with light when its knowledge brings about responsibility, guiding knowledge, and organization of ideas. (Shariati 1996: 98)

Here Shariati echoes Paul when he declared redundant both the Greek and Jew, meant not as nations, but as the subjective inclinations of wisdom and obscurantism. Shariati denounces the reduction of religion to a type of scientific knowledge, which is nothing but taxonomy, whereas science itself is the structure of subjective orientation to the opening of the new. For "responsibility" we could read 'fidelity' and the moment when "a science becomes illuminated by light," as 'event.' Motahhari also aimed at a 'sui generis' authority on Shiism when he stated: "As you see in physics, a scientist comes and introduces a new school. Then all others follow him. It is the same in jurisprudence. There are all these uluma', yet only one of them succeeds in producing a new school" (Motahhari cited in Dabashi 2006: 1999). Yet, remaining trapped in the discourse of jurisprudence, Motahhari cannot imagine the radical event Shariati is calling for. And is Shariati's philosophy not an event in itself? For far from being a dialectical convergence of Islam and Marx within a juridical hermeneutic framework, Shariati is declaring a new guiding principle of Islam from ground zero, tabula rasa. As Dabashi argues: "He was convinced, like no one else in his historical vicinity, that he had, in fact and in the fullest extent possible, seen the light" (2006: 145). That Shariati relates back to the inspiration of the Prophet Mohammed and his daughter Fatima does not imply an invocation of eternal Law (on the basis of which Badiou excoriates political Islam), but instead emphasises the necessity of forgetting, how forgetting inevitably opens the possibility of the new.

Shariati's programme is thus radically different to the invocation of the primordial ideal community by obscurantist political Islamists. For Shariati, Mohammed's daughter Fatima is simply "a model, an ideal example, a heroine" (Shariati 1996: 79) because "in spite of the little Muslims know about her, they accept Fatima, her majesty and power, with their whole hearts" (ibid: 84). Shariati's method is the same as he describes for the prophet himself, who "preserved the form, the container of a custom which had deep roots in society, one which people had gotten used to from generation to generation . . . but he changed the contents, the spirit, the direction and the practical application of customs in a revolutionary, decisive and immediatemanner" (ibid: 104). In other words, like Paul he enacted a 'universal singularity.' But for Shariati the degeneration of monotheism (universalism) to polytheism is an experience iterated throughout history, preceding and following from Moses, Christ and Mohammed, among others. Universalism can have no specific historical foundation as such because it rather is the act of becoming.

Conclusion (Religion at the Gates)

We have seen in this second part of the essay that the most strident Communist defences of the Christian legacy, by Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek, have a conception of Islam markedly similar to that of Hegel's. Their Islam fails the test of the universal: it fits neither into a teleological unfolding of world spirit (according to Žižek); nor, for Badiou scholar Peter Hallward, does it appropriately slot into the conception of a militant 'truth procedure' in the same way that Paul's production of the Christian faith can. However, by taking these overly abstract denunciations of Islam and grounding them in the concrete split of the Sunni and Shia, even if we have not conclusively managed to insert Islam into Hegelian teleology, or decisively proved it as a Badiouian event (if such a thing is even possible), we have at least dislodged some of the pre-suppositions which allows Christian essentialism to assert itself. Similarly, in our analysis of the philosophies of Ayatollah Morteza Motahhari and Ali Shariati, and their relationship to Shia Islam, we have seen how there was an originality in their utilisation of the religion for a radical, revolutionary programme that cannot be perceived through the usual lens of the obscurantism of such Islamists as Sayyid Qutb or Osama bin Laden. Both Motahhari and Shariati aimed at a universal, revolutionary event, forcing them to fundamentally reconstruct the meaning of Shia Islam from its tradition ofressentiment. Yet only Shariati's conception truly managed the radical rupture within the religion, unencumbered by Motahhari's need to maintain his break within the constraints of the Shia juridical hermeneutic circle.

Is it possible, then, in the light of the analysis we have conducted here, to maintain the thesis of Paul as the founder of universalism? We have pointed to the inconsistencies this gives rise too; inconsistencies that even Badiou (2003) alludes to in his conclusion, when after 107 pages of attempting to demonstrate Paul's foundation, he announces in his conclusion to St. Paul: The Foundation of Universalism that the claim is "excessive," but only because it is "already present in this or that theorem of Archimedes" or "in certain political practices of the Greeks." Slavoj Žižek, however, fails at any point to deliver any caution against his own temerity and pushes not only the significance of Paul, but also the ontological significance of the Christ event; using it as a standard with which to negate all other religions.

The consequences of this theological turn are not necessarily disastrous. Still, the valorization of Paul and Christianity raises the possibility of a troubling culturalist hypothesis for the failure in the humanity of non-Catholic 'Third World' Communist movements in the 20th century: an implication already picked up upon in Dayan Jayatilleka's (2007) explanation for the collapse of the global, revolutionary movement. Without substantive philosophical and historical engagement with Islam, which is after all setting the global scene of anti-systemic 'resistance' to Western hegemony, the exclusivist regard for Christian universalism ends up looking perilously close to a leftist variant of Samuel Huntington's Clash of the Civilizations (1997) thesis.

This considered, we might ask what purpose this theological turn serves? Why should Badiou, Žižek et al feel the need to be encumber themselves with theosophy? As an intellectual exercise revisting the theological matter upon which ancient and modern civilization was born is undoubtedly part of coming to terms with the historicity of our politics and epistemology. But surely if Communism is to have any meaning in the future -- if the global emancipatory struggle against capitalism is to be reborn -- then the ability to act 'as if' we exist on a bedrock of absolute possibility and relate through a transcendent universalism (not one grounded in a specific historical and religious procedure) is what will allow us to realize this future.

1 A scholar of Islamic or Middle Eastern Studies will notice a rather erratic transliteration of Farsi and Arabic words and names into English in this article. This is because the sources cited in this piece use a multitude of different transliterations and owing to the fact that this author is not a scholar trained specifically within the field, adopting and rigorously following any one system would be needlessly time consuming and considered only of great consequence for a specialist. Since the aim of this article is to break down the barriers between contemporary continental philosophy and Islamic studies it is hoped that the arguments will suffice; even if technical conventions are sometimes flouted. This author has at least attempted to be consistent in his use of individual transliterated words and names throughout and for the sake of consistency has removed inter-syllabic marks, e.g. Shi’a becomes Shia etc.

2 For more on the falsity of these distinctions and ambiguous differentiation between the left and the Islamists in Iran see my review essays of Ali Rahnema's biography of Ali Shariati (Coombs 2008) and of Maziar Behrooz's history of the left in Iran (Coombs 2008b). Hamid Dabshi also notes in a very interesting passage: "In the Kablistic tradition, the Tudeh Party had its share of sacred numbers, the first and most essential of which was "Fifty-Three," the number of original Marxists who planted seeds that would later grow into the Tudeh Party" (2006: 15).

3 Khomeini frames all his writings as a reaction to the conspiring, omnipotent 'West'; even the claim to the difference of Islamic jurisprudence from secular legal structures. In Islamic Government he argues: "What we are suffering from currently is that consequence of that misleading propaganda whose perpetrators got what they wanted and which has required us to exert a large effort to prove that Islam contains principles and rules for the formation of government" (Khomeini: 1979: 14). Khomeini's ressentiment follows a structure all too familiar to what Nietzsche needled as the 'slave mentality' in theGenealogy of Morality. Unable to affect a positive, constitutive force in its own right the slave can only demonise the master and turn against the positive force of life itself. Yet, as a revolutionary leader Khomeini excelled in tapping into constitutive anomie in society and turning the slave mentality into an active political force. The orchestration of the 40-day cycles of mourning to rally protestors to was not just an effective mobilisation technique but also induced what Giorgio Agamben (2005) also describes as the structure of messianic time in Christian eschatology. As Dabashi puts it: "During such recollections of historical memories, there occurs, as it were, a contraction of time, a bridging of the chronological gap. Ahistoricity means nothing" (2006: 421). Without ever explicitly stating it, Khomeini drew upon a deeply messianic expectation of redemption expected to be brought about by the return of the twelfth Imam, who "in contrast to earlier Imams who were passive and peaceful . . . would be the one with the sword." And furthermore: "The appearance of the Mahdi Qa'im will be preceded by terrible signs" giving way to a state in which "Under the Mahdi's rule there will be paradise on earth." And following the death of Mahdi: "Shiite authors speculate that the resurrection of the dead and the Last Judgement will follow directly" (Halm 1991: 37-38). The forty-day cycles clearly anticipate and induce the experience of messianic time, with Khomeini's absence in exile and his philosophy of the grand jurist (philosopher-king) clearly striking parallels with the occulted 12th Imam. The use of mourning cycles to induce a state of exception, where non-law and law are indistinguishable, has also been tracked back by Agamben to an institution of Roman law called the iustium. As he draws from the findings of a work by H.S.Versel, Agamben proposes "an analogy between the phenomenology of mourning -- as attested to in the most diverse places by anthropological research -- and periods of political crisis, in which social institutions and rules seems [sic] suddenly to dissolve" (2005b: 65). This is just one more example to help dissolve the sense of the absolute alterity of Shia Islam and its rituals, which Foucault, for one, seemingly fell under the spell of during his reportage for the Corriera della Serra.

4 It is important to mention this relationship between Motahhari and Ali Shariati early on to make clear some of their similar allegiances and also the political significance of their later rivalry. This rivalry culminated in followers of Shariati, in the breakaway Mujahideen organisation, the Furquan, murdering Motahhari after the fall of the Shah.

5 In the 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte Marx's answer: "Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past" (Marx 1963: 15) is a compromise of ideological significance. Of course, it is impossible for anyone to actually live their lives believing at every moment their choices are predestined. Even if the intellectual position of predestination is not strictly irrefutable, the fact that we need to operate 'as if' we have free will makes the question more significantly that of affecting a tendency amongst those who hold the opposing position: i.e. those that believe in predestination are more likely to be apathetic about changing the world.

6 Shariati first undermines the position of traditionalist notions of veiling and oppressing women as deficient and proceeds to also undermine the modernist, Europeanised female role model as equally deficient. He then argues that the image of Western women in the Muslim world stops very short of reality. Veering from the ressentimentand cultural essentialism of the standard portrayal of Western women in Muslim countries as hypersexual sirens, he argues there is a very real truth to the liberation of women in the West and extols the countless examples of women who have realised this freedom in intellectual and political pursuits. But he goes on to argue that within the Western tradition the dichotomy between freedom and societal belonging is also oppressive. The choice of freedom which creates these exemplary role models is also an oppressive freedom from the social point of view of a woman in society: premised on an individualistic breaking away from a hierarchical social bond which results in loneliness and women's objectification.


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Nathan Coombs is a PhD candidate in political philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London, co-editor of the Journal of Critical Globalisation Studies, and co-convenor of the BISA working group: Global and Transnational Politics. His research project is entitled 'Evental Hermeneutics'. This article was first published byInternational Journal of Žižek Studies 3.3 (2009) under a Creative Commons license.


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