Famed Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek is here to tell to you that ISIS has disgraced the name of religious fundamentalism.
Does he mean it? Yes and no.
After all, the leadership of al Qaeda has already taken its distance from ISIS because its tactics are discrediting the jihadi cause.
Does that mean that Zizek prefers real fundamentalism of the al Qaeda variety? Yes and no.
Double talk means that you are never wrong.
Of course, al Qaeda defends the sacred truths of Islam while Zizek, like our pusillanimous president, refuses to say that ISIS has everything to do with Islam.
As David Goldman has said, Islam is a failed and dying civilization. Its adherents refuse to accept this and want to deconstruct the culture, especially the Judeo-Christian cultures that have defeated it.
Zizek argues that the failure involves fundamentalism. He explains it here:
The public statements of the ISIS authorities make it clear that the principal task of state power is not the regulation of the welfare of the state’s population (health, the fight against hunger) — what really matters is religious life and the concern that all public life obey religious laws. This is why ISIS remains more or less indifferent toward humanitarian catastrophes within its domain — its motto is roughly “take care of religion and welfare will take care of itself.”
To be slightly less rough about the motto, ISIS seems to believe that if their submission to Allah is sufficient, the Allah will provide for their welfare.
Clearly, Zizek's point is germane. If the proper role of a father is to protect and provide for his children then Islam has failed. Surely, a religion that practices honor killings and that led the people of Gaza to squander their wealth on terror tunnels instead of promoting economic development rejects the duty to protect and provide.
So, while waiting for Allah to come smite the Jews, Gazans can do no better than macho posturing, a false version of masculinity. The same applies to ISIS, for now on a grander scale.
Zizek is correct to see that such an attitude defines a form of religious fundamentalism. Islam has failed in competition with other cultures, especially with cultures that see God doing his good works, providing for his people, acting with benevolence, through the medium of the free enterprise system and liberal democracy.
Just as al Qaeda denounces ISIS, so too does Zizek believe that it does not represent true fundamentalist religious belief.
Allow him to explain:
What they lack is a feature that is easy to discern in all authentic fundamentalists, from Tibetan Buddhists to the Amish in the United States — the absence of resentment and envy, the deep indifference towards the nonbelievers’ way of life. If today’s so-called fundamentalists really believe they have found their way to Truth, why should they feel threatened by nonbelievers. Why should they envy them? When a Buddhist encounters a Western hedonist, he hardly condemns. He just benevolently notes that the hedonist’s search for happiness is self-defeating. In contrast to true fundamentalists, the terrorist pseudo-fundamentalists are deeply bothered, intrigued and fascinated by the sinful life of the nonbelievers.
Of course, Zizek would reject any dispute with his argument. He would say that any group of religious believers that is intolerant of those who sin with impunity is not truly fundamentalist.
In the real world the history of Western religions, for example, has seen more than a few examples of people who were persecuted, indicted and destroyed for hedonist practices, to say nothing of witchcraft, heresy and apostasy.
Nonbelievers have not always had it so good in the fundamentalist Christian west. To think otherwise is to ignore the obvious, willfully.
Zizek engages is a little of psychoanalysis when he denounces ISIS as weak and insecure. Surely, there is truth to the denunciation, but it will take more than interpretation to destroy ISIS:
Deep in themselves, terrorist fundamentalists also lack true conviction — their violent outbursts are a proof of it. How fragile the belief of a Muslim must be if he feels threatened by a stupid caricature in a low-circulation Danish newspaper. The fundamentalist Islamic terror is not grounded in the terrorists’ conviction of their superiority and in their desire to safeguard their cultural-religious identity from the onslaught of global consumerist civilization.
But, do they really lack true conviction? In truth, all they have is conviction. You may think that it’s an irrational conviction, even that it is delusional, but to say that they lack conviction is an interesting ploy, but one that does not bear very much scrutiny.
They might even understand that they have lost the war for economic and political progress and success. But they might also conclude that their defeat was a sign of their superior religious purity. They refused to compromise with Mammon. In the end Allah will recognize their superior piety.
To me that feels like true conviction.
Zizek notwithstanding, the fundamentalists are fighting a culture war to force the world to respect their god. They are not afraid of a few cartoons, but they believe that if they allow their god to be blasphemed with impunity, this same god will not rescue them by destroying their enemies.
Muslim extremists are not merely trying to safeguard their religious identity against what Zizek calls the onslaught of consumerism—that is, free market capitalism—but they believe that in the long run decadent capitalism will destroy itself and that they will prevail.
Zizek believes that the ISIS jihadis secretly believe themselves inferior to us. One will have to forgive the great Freudian thinker for using a concept that he borrowed from one of the great Freudian heretics, Alfred Adler, but if Zizek is saying that they know that they have failed and that their civilization is dying, then he is getting close to the truth. If he is saying that they merely need a dose of insight into their inferiority complex he is blowing smoke.
I am surprised, however, that Zizek has failed to recognize the Hegelian basis for jihadi practices.
How could he not have noticed that the jihadi practice of extreme brutality manifests a complete fearlessness about death and that this attitude takes a page out of Hegel’s famous master/slave dialectic.
In case you forgot, Hegel began his story with two men engaged in a fight to the death. At some point, one of the men gives up and becomes the slave. Presumably, he loves life so much that he is willing to live it as a slave. The winner, the man who becomes the master, is therefore the one who fears death less.
Think of this simple philosopher’s story when you wonder why so many jihadis choose death and why they insist on showing that they do not fear death.
You might believe that they are saying that they have nothing worth living for. But clearly, their fanaticism or fundamentalism lies in the fact that they believe their religion, their faith has taught them to conquer death, if not the fear of death.
You are not going to get through to such people with cheap psychobabble.