23 Ağustos 2010 Pazartesi

Seyla Benhabib's "Unholy Politics"

Seyla Benhabib in her article “Unholy Politics” points out a new development in the international politics by analyzing the tragic September 11 incident. Benhabib defines this new political wave as “unholy politics” and puts forward many arguments to substantiate her views.

First of all, according to Benhabib what makes 9/11 and Al Qua’ida unholy is that they attack on civilian population by all means in order to destroy the normalcy of life in the enemy state. Benhabib admits that democracies also failed in the past to prevent attacks on civilian targets during the Second World War when European states initiated “total war” to each other. However, she thinks that even during the Second World War the aim was to occupy the enemy country or to weaken it. Unlike the aerial bombings of totalitarian states which were directed towards civilians in the Second World War, this time the goal of terrorists is just to spoil the “normal life”, disturb and intimidate the enemy state’s citizens and their reactions are not against certain political decisions of the enemy state but rather they aim the extinction of a way of life. “The new unit of totalitarianism is the terrorist cell, not the party or the movement; the goal of this new form of war is not just the destruction of the enemy, but the extinction of a way of life” (Benhabib, pg 3).

Secondly, Benhabib finds very difficult to find a political name for these attacks. September 11 was certainly not the war declaration of Afghanistan towards USA and the attacker group was not a legitimate government. Al Qua’ida was not representing Afghani people or Muslim population in the world but rather is an autonomous terrorist group that has been able to mancipate Afghan people by using violence and apocalyptic symbols. In addition, Osama Bin Laden follows Wahabism, a very strict and particular version of Islam that is not widespread. Although suicide method and destroying the normalcy of life understanding is also available in Palestine, the problem seems to be soluble if Israel withdrew from the occupied West Bank. However, for Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist network the situation is very different. They do not represent a legal political body; they do not request something from the enemy state. Since they are not representing a state, it is difficult to differentiate war from crime and decide on whether the police or military should deal with this. Although terrorism is now considered as a new “asymmetric” war, the attacks of Al Qua’ida have been different from traditional terrorist methods that IRA and ETA has used so far considering its direction towards civilian population.

Benhabib asserts that this ambiguity prevents us to do moral/political distinctions. She asks “who is the enemy”; Muslims, Afghanistan or Al Qua’ida? The same difficulty has also felt by Washington since they could not declare war upon a state. So, the military intervention to Afghanistan was not reasoned as a war to Taliban regime but as an intervention to destroy the global terror network and supported by the article 5 of NATO. This difficulty in making moral/political distinctions also caused the emergence of “suspect groups” in the eyes of American government and people. In Benhabib’s view, reasons behind the strengthening of global terror networks are technological developments, globalization and especially the failure of some nation-states such as Afghanistan in terms of not providing human security to its citizens. She remembers us Max Weber’s famous definition of the state as “the legitimate monopoly over the use of violence within a recognized or bounded territory” (Benhabib, pg 3). What Benhabib defines as failed or decaying nation states are countries that not only lack providing human security measures but also fail to monopolize the use of violence in their territory in which many class, ethnic or cultural based conflicts take place. Terrorist organizations like Al Qua’ida are able to find biological weapons and get organized in the modern, technological and globalizing world and to use them without any responsibility.

Benhabib also finds this new type of politics unholy because she asserts that by using religious symbols and “eroticizing the death” they abuse religion and distort it. She claims that this new distorted jihad “is not only apocalyptic; but also nihilistic” (Benhabib, pg 4). She shows that there is no theological justification for this kind of suicide bombings as many Koranic scholars mentioned. Benhabib also underlines the problems of Jakobinist modernization in Islamic countries. She provides examples including Turkey’s Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (obviously she did not get the point), Egypt’s Gemal Abdel Nasser and Iran’s Reza Shah Pahlavi to show that modernization models backed up by militaries do not work and estrange Muslim population even more from the regime. While rejecting 1960’s clichés used by many theorists such as Slavoj Zizeck and Susan Sontag about the responsibility of Western imperialism in the emergence of anti-Western terrorism, she also advocates a change in the Western policies.

Benhabib thinks that a radical revision is needed in USA and NATO’s policies towards the Arab world and Central Asia. In her idea, USA should stop supporting repressive regimes for the sake of political or economic cooperation and should act more consistently with its liberal, democratic principles. “The US and its Allies have to stop propping up military dictatorships and religious conservatives in these areas in order to simply secure oil supplies” (Benhabib, pg 5). She believes that relations with more democratic countries in this geography such as Turkey, Jordan and Egypt must be supported. Moreover, problems such as ethnic, religious minorities’ rights in the Middle East must be undertaken by Western countries.

To sum up, Benhabib sees this new type of politics as unholy for several reasons. Firstly, these terrorist groups do no hesitate to attack on civilian population and do no conduct a normal warfare. Secondly, these countries do not represent people and lack legitimacy. They have gained their legitimacy through violence and should be destroyed both for Western and Eastern people’s sake. Thirdly, these extremist groups abuse and distort religious doctrines to take the support of people. Eroticization of death and the misinterpretation of jihad are main examples she used in her article. In order to prevent unholy politics to evolve in the democratic world, she requests for a radical revision in US and NATO policies.


- Benhabib, Seyla, “Unholy Politics

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