Quick Follow-up on that last Nancy post

I just linked to Nancy’s 3/28 article on the Arab uprisings. Let me quote from the English translation:

So, yes, it is necessary to keep a close eye on the strikes that are aimed at undermining the vile assassin of the people; sure, it is necessary to strike – him, of course, not the people. We can no longer, with one hand, invoke the sovereignty that, with the other hand, we empty of substance and legitimacy through all the interconnections – the best and worst – of the globalised world [monde mondialisé]. It is up to the people in question and to all others, including us, to ensure then that the oil, financial, and arms dealing game that installed and maintained this puppet (among many others) in power does not start over. It is the responsibility of the peoples, yes: and it is also of course to us, the peoples of Europe or America, that this is addressed.

It is a delicate task. But at stake is what we want to live and how we want to live it, with an acuteness that we are not accustomed to. That is what the Arab peoples are also signifying to us.

For another view, see Lenin’s Tomb here.  Or we can just juxtapose the above with Alain Badiou, “Tunisia, Egypt: The Universal Reach of Popular Uprisings”:

How much longer will the poor and dark West, the ‘international community’ of those who still think of themselves as masters of the world, continue to give lessons of good management and behaviour to the whole planet?… As Jean-Marie Gleize poetically puts it: ‘a revolutionary movement does not expand by contamination. But by resonance. Something emerging here resonates with the shock wave emitted by something emerging out there.’ This resonance, let’s name it ‘event.’ The event is the sudden creation, not of a new reality, but of a myriad of new possibilities. …Solving unsolvable problems without the help of the state, that is the destiny of an event. And it is what determines a people, all of a sudden and for an indeterminate period, to exist, there where it has decided to gather.

Clearly, there is something to Nancy’s claim in his article about not wanting to be beautiful souls about the situation in Libya, though one can’t help but shutter at the repetition of Iraq War-style montages and Kissinger-like figures popping on CNN and the BBC to lustfully cheer on the bombing campaign. In Wisconsin, there was a long discussion about Libya and it’s split the left in a way reminiscent of NATO’s bombing of Bosnia.

But whatever one thinks of that, let’s go back to Nancy’s quote above, because it’s mirrored in a lot of the discussions over the past several weeks. While I think the suggestion is that it’s the Western hegemony that is at issue, and thus it’s a certain Western responsibility that is at stake, the gist is that these revolts are addressed to the US/Europe, which is demonstrably not true. Or rather, reducing this simply to a problem of Western hegemony risks signifying this wholly as “for us” to deal with, which merely replicates the logic Said identified long ago in Orientalism, where Arab history is always “also” one given to and from the Arab in a geographic historical circle whose locus is in Europe.


  1. Perhaps we could read the “also” more generously, as suggesting that it is “also” addressed to us, i.e. secondarily and perhaps as an afterthought?

    1. Yes, so I now emphasized that above, though I think “afterthought” is a bit too much. It was the opening I had in mind as well:
      “The Arab peoples are signifying to us that resistance and revolt are with us once again, and that history is moving beyond History. They are doing it, as is appropriate, with all the fortune and misfortune that it involves. At the very least they have sent an irreversible signal whose effects we can expect to see across Africa and in the odious perpetuation of the drama on Canaan’s ancient land.”

  2. The revolutions in the Arab world are of course not “addressed” to Europeans or the US. But the call for Western support (diplomatic, military, etc) is certainly so addressed. I am not sure I know just where all the various calls come from then we hear (via news media) of questions being raised as to “where the US stands,” for instance, but these questions were indeed asked during the Egyptian uprising, and again from various Libyan voices. What I mean is that while we must abjure a western-centric narrative about the significance of these political events, but we absolutely must not excuse ourselves from the responsibility of responding. Indeed, the deep desire in the west to construe these events into supporting just such a US/Eurocentric account, is exactly what gets in the way of genuinely responding. The powers that be are asking themselves what’s in it for them, before they commit. Well, naturally. No one really expects class warfare to be suspended, do they?

    For the record, I don’t know what the right answer is about Libyan “intervention”, and it’s possible that this “I don’t know” is just another form of irresponsibility.

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