In Welcome to the Desert of the Real: Essays after September 11 philosopher Slavoj Zizek writes that “probing into different cultural traditions is precisely not the way to grasp the political dynamics which led to the September 11 [now November 13] attacks.”
Following Zizek’s argument, not an easy task, these horrors are not from beyond the mysterious beyond they are generated from the center of conflicts within the global present, the west– our world. Jihadi terrorism is not an inscribed essence of Islam but an outcome of contemporary social and political conditions. Zizek reminds us that assertions of social context and history as “explanation” bring out the wrath of the dominant “clash of civilizations” sensibility— you will be accused of disguising your justifications of terror with your pansy academic flapdoodle.
Tough spot we inhabit. Ergo we have responsibility and opportunity to “imagine the impossible” to demand a response to November 13 that does not repeat the infantile, impotent failed attack on Afghanistan or the criminally unwarranted destruction of Iraq.
“The Real,” Zizek calls it. Let’s follow the directions, the radical change, made at least possible, by the logic of last month’s rejection of XL Keystone Pipeline by the Obama administration and the recent Iran Nuclear Treaty. Can we purge ourselves of oil company dictates and backward Saudi family tyrannies? Yes, fossil fuels created our civilization— to the moon, back, and beyond— and now a fossil fueled ecological crisis threatens our civilization. If we don’t change direction we will end up where we are going. The trends are clear. Leave it in the ground.
We can realign with Iran and Russia to militarily end ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
A reawakening of the Arab Spring’s aspirations for security and sovereignty, peace and democracy can become a sustained force in the region. A secular democratic left will bloom again. The effective bulwark against fanatical jihadi terror, linked by passionate manipulation to the sanctity of a world religious tradition, is political struggle. Local ideological conflict over economic power and education; law and trade; human rights and wrongs; in a constitutional framework that allows full participation of left wing parties is as necessary as it is hard to imagine. Imagine we must.
Let’s recall that the US Cold War mission to destroy the capacity and legitimacy of communists, socialists and labor movements in places like Egypt, Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan (in a very big way) opened the door not only for the Baathist militarists like Saddam,and Assad, unhinged paranoids like Qaddafi, the shadowed long term brutality of ally Mubarak, and most directly the terror groups generated by 1980s mujahideen/CIA blow-back —from Taliban to Al-Queda to ISIS.
Balance of power— NATO/USA and Iran/Russia— as superintendents of an interstate system reminiscent of the inter-war French/British “protectorates” and “mandates”? Is this the best that can be done? Maybe so. But a radical vision of possibilities that can be made real by continued diplomatic engagement with Iran one the one hand and and abrupt turn from the political economy of our oil addiction on the other.