Thoughts on Western antisemitism and the treatment of minorities in the nation-state era

These are thoughts inspired from reading Talal Asad’s Formations of the Secular.

My main little intuition is that there is a peculiar difference between historical western perception of ‘the Jew’ before and after the creation of the state of Israel. A Jew with Israel around is somewhat less threatening than a Jew somewhere in Europe. The territorialization of Jewishness tames antisemitic feelings. First, it gives substance to the Jews, it normalizes them, second, Jews cease to be a perceived disruption in the Western nation-building cultural process. The Jew ceases to be this floating entity but become attached to specific empowered institutions (Israel) that gives it substance at the ideological level. The Jew then can be simultaneously ‘here and there’.

This need for the territorialization of different definitions of subjects (national, religious, ethnic, etc.) owes its genesis to state formation in the West that transported rigidities from religious-based institutional practices to state’s “rule of law”. The gentile becomes the secular citizen. But there are specific practices a ‘secular’ citizen engages in that do not tolerate the practices of other minorities. Secularization is a ‘way of life’, a social set of rules and regulations that reaches down to the management of individual bodies (of subjects). What the “Jew” experienced a century ago, a “Muslim” experience it today. The modern-state has a ‘minority problem’. But here I can let Asad speak.

Asad is very keen on showing that he does not fall in the idea that the secular is just another religion, but that the very definition of the religious that we rely on (the academia and other producer of knowledge that spread prevailing doxas, hegemonies, etc.) is political and serves to push for a particular discursive definition of what the secular is.

The Real

An anti-war activist at the US congress screaming “war criminal” to Condoleeza Rice before being stopped

Check the look on Condoleeza Rice’s face. It tells you everything.

The rituals of legislative rulings

When the U.S. House of Representative voted to put the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) on the list of terrorist organizations, Iran’s Parliament agreed on qualifying the C.I.A. and the U.S. army of terrorist organizations.

This can be read as follows: Any form of resistance must pass by the vocabulary of the hegemonic, here being the US definition of terrorism, its various uses, and the ability to ‘institutionalize’ the ruling (becoming law through the parliament). Why do Iran bother to pass legislative decrees stating that that these American institutions are ‘terrorists’? The same reason why it deployed all this effort for the ‘holocaust’ convention. The Holocaust convention was not a case of showing antisemitism etc. It was an effort to show that another ‘normalized’ reality could exist and be debated by people.

So why does it bother? Because the new conceptual and descriptive formulations will be uttered and written, it will enter the terms of speech and thus will exist as a political reality. In fact Iran takes very seriously the inner functioning structures of the international system, the U.N. etc. It uses the available system to voice contention. This is the power of symbols, this is what they actually do in a given reality.