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October 6, 2009

The most recent documentation of my race rage began as an attempt to comment on Islam & the West: a Conversation with Jacques Derrida by Mustapha Cherif (trans. Teresa Lavender Fagan) but I got carried away. Actually it has very little to do with that book. I did not intend it as a critique of the book (although, regardless of my intention, it might be). More probably, I wrote it as a belated response to the questions, as well as the assumptions and attitudes implied by the questions, posed by my peers in Indira Karamcheti’s class on “Postcolonial Theory.” If I remember correctly, I was the only Middle-Eastern dude in the class. In a class of roughly twenty to thirty students, I was one of three or four “people of color.” What’s more, I was the only of said people who engaged the class discussions consistently–which, let me be clear, is not an indictment of my “sisters.” Actually, I think it’s the opposite. Finally, most of the class was white, female, and, using a phrase I probably would’ve used if you asked me about my classmates during my undergraduate days, “on some hippie shit.” That appellation, I am aware, is an unfair reduction of a plenitude of varying, overlapping cultures, which includes, but is not limited

1. Self-identified queers (I mean this not as a pejorative, but as it is used within the context of identity politics) who problematize assumptions regarding sex/gender/gender-performance
2. Free-spirits (poets? dancers?) who are all but detached from what I will call THE FUCKING EARTH
3. Younger students struggling, in the classroom and other public spaces, with white guilt in an “honest,” (read: often “embarrassing,” “questionable,” and “blatantly insincere”) manner

(To be fair: a sidenote: as a “light-skinned” “person of color” I can relate to this issue more than I might suggest. Still, though: don’t read me some fucking poem about how your grandparents didn’t own slaves and thus you are absolved! Fuck that! Fuck you! You should see my face as I type this! I’ll write a crazed, rabies-status-frothing-at-the-mouth beef rap about you, man! Seriously! Try me!)

4. What I would, with disdain, call “liberals”
5. What I would, with an undue sense of camaraderie, call “radicals”
6. etc.
7. etc.
8. etc!

Just as I don’t think my classmates belong to a homogenous white culture, I don’t think they were all asking the same questions. But there were enough problematically naive questions to piss me the fuck off. And, finally finally, that doesn’t change the fact that I felt cornered and alone as an “Oriental” in a class that began with a discussion of Orientalism. There’s more, of course–there’s always more–but again I’ve gotten sidetracked. That point was to get to THAT FIRE that is Jacque Derrida’s response to Mustapha Cherif’s question about “faith.” Which I will do now. Like, for real:

“One’s relationship to the other, addressing the other, presupposes faith. One can never show, one can never prove that someone is or isn’t lying–it is impossible to prove. One can always say: I said something that is false, but I said it sincerely; I was mistaken, but I wasn’t lying. Consequently, when someone is speaking to us, he or she is asking to be believed. And that belief assures both the exchange of words and financial credit, social credit, and all forms of credit and legitimacy in society. This faith is the condition of the social bond itself. There is no social bond without faith. Now, I believe that one can radicalize the secularization of the political while maintaining this necessity for faith in the general sense that I have just defined and then, on the foundation of this universal faith, this shared faith, this faith without which there is no social bond, one can and one must respect strictly defined religious affiliations. And I am persuaded that authentic believers, those who are truly Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, those who are truly living their religious beliefs and not simply endorsing the dogma of those religions, are more ready to understand the religion of the other and to accede to that faith, whose universal structure I have just described, than others. Consequently, I believe there is no contradiction between political secularization and a relationship to what [Cherif] call[s] the Mystery of life, that is, the fact of living together in faith. The act of faith is not miraculous thing; it is the air that we breath. As soon as I start to speak, even if I am lying, I am telling you: I am telling you the truth, believe me, I promise to tell you the truth. And this act of faith is implied in the social relationship, in the social bond itself; I am persuaded that authentic believers, those who are not what one calls fundamentalists, dogmatists ready to transform their belief into weapons of war, those who are not dogmatic and fundamentalist are more ready to understand the religion of the other and universal faith. Consequently, I believe that far from there being a contradiction, there is a connection between the secularization of the political, the dissociation, in a sense, of the social bond, from the political bond, and what you call the relationship of the Mystery of life.”


yr Oriental Orientalist

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