Sunday, March 1, 2009

Where are you, Hagar?

After his Democratic Presidential candidature was ensured, the first thing Senator Barack Obama did was to extend his support to Israel. He was essentially saying to the women and children of Palestine, the worst victims of the male game of game: “Look guys, there’s nothin’ wrong in Israel bombin’ you and your dilapidated toilets. I will support Israel as the only male cheerleader in the entire world, that too fully clad in American flag”. This militant pro-Zionism has been the core of African American non-violent thought and praxis from the very beginning. The violence started with the African American messiah of non-violence Martin Luther King Jr. and continued through Jesse Jackson, his most celebrated disciple, and has now reached its decisive turn in Obama.

But in the militant tradition of African American thought we can trace a different color and vigor of thinking. Malcolm X’s growth from a Harlem criminal dealing in drugs and armed robbery to that of an inspiring spiritual leader of the twentieth century was marked by sudden shifts and insights of thought which finally culminated in his own negation of his own earlier stance towards racism, and his proclamation of international brotherhood. In 1964, after his pilgrimage to Mecca, he ended his reverse racism towards whites because while in Mecca he had realized that people of all colors were children of Allah. Shortly before his assassination, he told a group of African American leaders that the problem of race was “not a Negro problem, nor an American problem. This is a world problem, a problem of humanity.”

Immanuel Levinas talked about two types of journey. One, the linear journey of Abraham. Two, the cyclical journey of Ulysses. While in the latter’s journey a reunion with the origin was the precondition and assurance of his explorations (you keep everything intact: your identity, locality, woman and possession), in Abraham’s journey one does not return to the origin (you throw away everything and are forever moving and changing). And Levinas maintains that Abraham’s journey is painful. But this is still a very crude formulation in the sense that Abraham does not throw away the desire for the Promised Land. I feel that Levinas’ is a Jewish philosophical exaggeration of a popular bias regarding the pain of Jewish exodus (In short, I have problem with that moving film “Fiddler on the Roof”).

Being the quintessential Jew that Levinas was, says my friend, he could not see a terrific journey in his apodictism of journeys: the journey of an Egyptian slave girl, Hagar. It was a journey through the desert without oasis, without the Promised Land, a journey culminating in her hysteric run for water for her son, Ishmael. This journey, to me, is the most painful of all.

At this point I won’t talk about another journey: ‘the journey of the rejected’, of Ishmael. The reason is: I believe that Islam is born at the precise moment when the forced and hysteric journey of Hagar is tamed (No wonder, in Islamic tradition, Hagar is Abraham’s true wife). The beautiful and painful thing about Hagar’s journey is that it takes place on the margins of three great religious traditions, uncared, leaving only a hysteric scar , which Islam later buries with proper religious psychoanalysis.

In Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama, we have the cyclical journey of Ulysses. They have always-already swallowed the myth of ‘American Dream’. They never throw it away. In the famous mountaintop speech, a day before his assassination, King responded to the death-threat in this manner: “It doesn’t matter with me now because I’ve been to the mountaintop…And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land.” That is, he has already seen the Promised Land. Hi hi.

In Malcolm X, we have the linear journey of Abraham—he never believed in the ‘American Dream’ and he changed throughout. And like Abraham, he dreamt of a Promised Land. Calling non-violence as the ‘philosophy of the fool’ he ridiculed King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech: “While King was having a dream, the rest of us Negroes are having a nightmare.” And Malcolm buddy has got it right. It is sad that the influential African-American filmmaker Spike Lee sold this fiery revolutionary to the mainstream America for a few dollars.

And in the ‘Nation of Islam’ of Wallace D. Fard, Elijah Muhammad and the early Malcolm X, we have the journey of Ishmael. Remember, the Nation of Islam, whenever it confronted the hysteric modern Hagar, tried to resolve the feminine jouissance by a simultaneous glorification and objectification of women, a political praxis for which it was heavily criticized.

Where is our Hagar?

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