Monday, April 4, 2011

Implicated and Enraged: Nathan Schneider interviews Judith Butler

An interview with Judith Butler, published in The Immanent Frame.

A partial description of The Immanent Frame, taken from its website:
"The Immanent Frame publishes interdisciplinary perspectives on secularism, religion, and the public sphere. TIF serves as a forum for ongoing exchanges among leading thinkers across the social sciences and humanities, featuring invited contributions and original essays that have not been previously published in print or online.

Founded in October of 2007 in conjunction with the Social Science Research Council's program on Religion and the Public Sphere, The Immanent Frame was named an official honoree by the Webby Awards and a "favorite new religion site, egghead division" by The Revealer."
See more at

The interview looks, among other things, at different ways that the secular/religious distinction is used, both in relation to the present ongoing uprisings in the Middle East, as well as in the case of Israel/Palestine.

Here is one of many interesting exchanges:
"NS: Why do you turn to Jewish sources like Benjamin and Arendt to criticize Israeli militarism? Why not appeal to something more universal?

JB: One doesn't need to turn to Jewish sources, and I've never argued that one should. One could criticize not only present-day Israeli militarism but the occupation, the history of land confiscation, or even Zionism itself, without any recourse at all to Jewish sources. One could do it on the basis of universal rights, human rights, a history and critique of settler colonialism, a politics of nonviolence, a left understanding of revolutionary struggle on the part of the stateless, legal rights of refugees and the occupied, liberal democracy, or radical democracy. In fact, if one only used Jewish sources for the critique of Israeli state violence, then one would be unwittingly establishing the Jewish framework, again, as the framework of reference and valuation for adjudicating the competing claims of the region. And even if such a framework were Jewish anti-Zionism, it would turn out to be effectively Zionist, producing a Zionist effect, since it would tacitly hold to th
proposition that the Jewish framework must remain dominant."

Happy reading!
Racheli Gai.

Implicated and enraged: Nathan Schneider interviews Judith Butler

NS: Some commentators have said that the uprisings now taking place are remarkable for being secular in nature. Do you think it's helpful to speak of them that way?

JB: Well, I am not at all sure why they're saying that. In Cairo, it was clearly the case that secular, Christian, and Muslim people were in the square, and that it was an impressive mixture. I would be interested to know who has access to the groups involved in Libya to know with certainty that they are secular. Perhaps some of us impose our ideological dreams on concrete situations that we either fail to investigate or have trouble finding out about.

NS: How relevant are these ideological dreams? Do you think that the question of whether these movements are secular is worth caring about?

JB: I myself do not care, and I wonder why people do. It seems to me that the secular/religious debate has not been at the forefront of these uprisings. They have been against censorship, military control, graft, and outrageous class differences, and they have been for various kinds of democratization. And we have seen women in these movements, veiled and unveiled, working together. It is clear that demands for democratization of various kinds are articulated through religious and secular discourses and practices, and sometimes a combination of the two.

NS: But isn't that precisely what seems so secular about these events? That those religious divisions are no longer the central issue?

JB: Well, you could say that religious difference is not central, or you could say that religious difference is ever-present. Perhaps both are true.

NS: Let's take a specific example. Would the revolution be "betrayed," in your view, if, say, the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in Egypt? Or if something comparable to the regime in Iran were to emerge?

JB: If the Muslim Brotherhood is elected to positions in government, and the elections are free and unconstrained, then that is a democratic outcome. Whether or not one wishes for that outcome, it cannot be contested as undemocratic if it follows from open and free elections. Democracy often means living with results that we find difficult, if not abhorrent. But I have been somewhat shocked that, in the face of this most impressive of uprisings, the "specter" of the Muslim Brotherhood is raised time and again as a way of diminishing and doubting the importance of this mass movement and revolutionary action. I think those biased against Islam will have to get used to the idea that demands for democratization can and do emerge within Muslim lexicons and practice, and that democratic polities can and must be composed of various groups, religious and not. Islam is clearly part of the mix.

To read the rest, go to

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Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
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Lincoln Z. Shlensky
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