“Democracy in Jail: Over-representation of Minorities in Indian Prisons.” EPW. 52(44): 98-106.
Ahmad, Irfan. 2010.
“Is There an Ethics of Terrorism? Islam, Globalisation, Militancy”. South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies.33(3): 487–498.
In Metapolitics, Alain Badiou writes: ‘Everything consensual is suspicious as far as the philosopher is concerned’.1 Few texts in recent times demonstrate the merit of this observation more eloquently than Faisal Devji’s The Terrorist in Search of Humanity. Right from page one, including the symbolism of the cover photo, till well towards the end, Devji questions, step by step, the mediatised mass consensus on the understandings of ‘terrorism’; in so doing he persuasively dethrones this consensus from its unexamined analytical virtuosity. His treatise rails against the doxa according to which terrorists are inhuman, nay animal (recall Abu Ghraib). He instead shows, with amazing analytical depth, how terrorists are not just human, but humane. Deploying the phrase ‘our terrorists’ throughout, he argues that they are indeed the emblem of a new humanity we have not yet grasped.
This path of inquiry echoes a telling dialogue between Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno. Recollecting his conversation with Horkheimer, Adorno wrote: ‘Once you [Horkheimer] said to me that I perceived animals as human whereas you saw humans as animals. There is something to that’.2 In this provocative book, Devji lays bare the humanity of terrorists routinely rendered by opinion-manufacturers as animal. Concomitantly, he prepares the ground to hint at the incognizance of the implicit animality of the mainstream analysts themselves. In my view, such a line of theorisation is innovative, fiercely daring, and amazingly brilliant.
Against the hackneyed descriptions of terrorists as hell-bent upon destroying ‘our freedom and tolerance’, or to cite Silvio Berlusconi, ‘the liberty of the individual’3 is external to Islam, Devji’s thesis is that the terrorists such as Al-Qaeda’s ‘speak from within the world of their enemies’, and that ‘militant ideals subvert our political reality from the inside, if only by exceeding it with the violent lustre of their hyperreality’ (p.x). Let me give the book’s gist in the author’s own words:
If Osama Bin Laden speaks so familiarly of his foes, it is because he employs the same categories as they do, in particular those of humanism, humanitarianism and human rights. By invoking such terms, the men associated with Al-Qaeda signal their interests in the shared values and common destiny of mankind. Indeed militant rhetoric is full of clichés about the threats of nuclear apocalypse or environmental collapse posed by the arrogance and avarices of the states and corporations that happen also to threaten Muslims around the world. Those who defend Muslims, then, automatically protect the common interests of the human race (p.x).
This essay is divided into three parts. In the first part, I dwell on some writings on terrorism. The literature discussed is by no means representative. My choice was guided more by salient themes than other considerations. The first part illustrates—in post-9/11 studies of Islam—a dominant strand I have elsewhere called the ‘securitisation of Islam’,4driven by the logic of ‘geopolitical’, ‘strategic’ interests. Here I also shed light on the interrelationship between the analyst and the object of analysis. In the second part, I discuss some key publications to gesture towards another significant strand of thought in the studies of terrorism. Building on the discussion in previous sections, the final part of the essay discusses Devji’s book by highlighting an alternative to the commonplace understandings of Islam and terrorism by dwelling on ethics as opposed to ‘geo-political’ and ‘strategic’ interests.
To see the full text – visit http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00856401.2010.521123