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Cornell: Mimesis and Islamic Extremism

Cornell: Mimesis and Islamic Extremism

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Published by Jaakko Leskinen
Philosophy, religion
Philosophy, religion

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Published by: Jaakko Leskinen on Jan 25, 2013
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07/02/2014

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1
 Mimesis
and the Logic of Repetition in Islamic Extremism:The Cosmic Shari’a in the Works of Sayyid Qutb andthe Brethren of Purity
Vincent J. Cornell, Emory University
“But isn’t everything here green?” asked Dorothy. “No more than inany other city,” replied [the Wizard of] Oz, “but when you wear greenspectacles, why of course everything you see looks green to you. TheEmerald City was built a great many years ago, for I was a young manwhen the balloon brought me here, and I am a very old man now. Butmy people have worn green glasses on their eyes for so long that mostof them think it really is an Emerald City, and it certainly is a beautiful place, abounding in jewels and precious metals, and every good thingthat is needed to make one happy.” (L. Frank Baum,
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz 
)
1
I
RONY AND
EPETITION IN
I
DEOLOGY AND
ELIGION
  Nearly 50 years ago, the French Marxist philosopher Henri Lefebvre (1901-1991)stated in his book 
 Introduction to Modernity
that the most fitting role for the criticaltheorist was that of ironist. Having gone from being the favored ideologist of the FrenchCommunist Party to his expulsion from the Party in 1957 for supporting the anti-Sovietrevolt in Hungary, Lefebvre saw himself as a leftist Socrates or Jeremiah, whose chief task was to warn both Marxist and liberal intellectuals against the “Thing” that they hadcreated. The “Thing” that he decried was a Frankenstein monster cobbled together fromideological debates about politics and civil society, a misshapen creature from the realmof the undead that ravaged what for Lefebvre was the “beauty” that the West hadinherited from Athens. He warned Western intellectuals that like the inhabitants of Oz,they viewed the world through tinted glasses. Seeing only what they wanted to see, theyfailed to realize that the freedom and progress they thought they enjoyed was an illusion,
1
 
L. Frank Baum,
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz 
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1997 critical editionand reprint of 1900 first edition), 189
 
2“that political society, the city, had more freedom than its citizens, and that the unity of the political state and of civil society made men’s private lives more subservient than if they were slaves.”
2
Rather than witnessing the power of the state wither away as KarlMarx had predicted, Lefebvre saw Hegel’s totalitarian image of the state rise once againlike a Phoenix from the ashes of ideological conflict. Out of all the ironies of modernity,this was the great irony of the Marxist experiment. Partly as a result of Marxism’s owncritique of the state and its institutions, the state had become even more powerful and allencompassing than before.In
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
, Marx famously stated, “Hegelsays somewhere that great historic facts and personages recur twice. He forgot to add:‘Once as tragedy, and again as farce.’”
3
For Lefebvre, the chief farce of the twentiethcentury was that Marxism, which presented itself as a radical critique of ideology thatwas to prepare the way for the end of ideology, had transformed itself into the very typeof ideology that it opposed. Marxist philosophy now resembled a religious creed morethan a critical method and state-supported Marxism acted like a state-supported church.“Infallible, the authorities defined what was orthodox. Heretics were weeded out andexecuted, without even a nod to the secular channels of justice. It interpreted the holytexts. The masses and the militants had access only to carefully expurgated compilations. . . [Marxism] expressed itself through taboos and prohibitions. No problems exceptminor ones. A sacred history no one was allowed to touch. Myths. And then little
2
 
Henri Lefebvre, “On Irony, Maieutic and History,” in
 Introduction to Modernity
, translated by JohnMoore (London and New York: Verso, 1995 translation of 1962 original), 15
3
 
Karl Marx,
The
 
 Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
(Project Gutenberg EBook #1346,www.gutenberg.org, 2006), 6 (pagination varies according to formatting)
 
3touches of piety: offerings and gifts, prescribed rituals and ceremonies, atonement andinitiations, acts of humility and abnegation.”
4
 But the transformation of Marxism into a quasi-religious creed was only one of the ironies in this farce. Just as a newly “consecrated” Marxism took on the features of areligion such as a mythology and a simulated sacredness, religion itself began to change.According to Lefebvre, as Marxism became more sacralized, religion became lessspiritual and more materialistic. “Official religion gradually discontinued its relentlessappeals to faith, revelation, and transcendence. It became— or more precisely, becameonce more— an overt political power, a political ideology, the inspiration for Parties andstates.”
 5
In other words, if Marxism had compromised itself by becoming a pseudo-religious ideology, then religion compromised itself by becoming “a political ideologyand a pseudo-religion.”
6
 Lefebvre coined the term
 pseudo-repetition
to describe how competing ideologiessometimes take on each other’s attributes.
7
For Lefebvre, pseudo-repetition is adialectical product of radical critique. The ironic fate of competing ideologies as they aredebated in radical critiques is that they do not wither away but become stronger and moreextreme as a result of these debates. For this reason, one of the most important tasks of the critical theorist is to strip away the colored spectacles of ideological myths anddemonstrate that the supposedly “new and better” worlds created by ideology are oftennothing but revised versions of previous models. The de facto co-dependency of Marxistideology and bourgeois religion in the Cold War period is an example of such pseudo- 
4
 
Lefebvre,
 Introduction to Modernity
, 25-26
5
 
Ibid, 27
6
 
Ibid
7
 
Ibid, 21

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