I recently read an interview with Derrida. It was published as, "Islam and the West--a conversation with Jacques Derrida" by the University of Chicago in 2008. Jacques Derrida was a French citizen with Jewish and Arab parents born in Algeria. He died a year after this interview by Mustafa Cherif, an Algeria-born Arab with French citizenship. The purpose of the interview was to ask the aging philosopher and social theorist about his views on the world situation, Muslim and Arab movements, and Algeria.
Derrida is known for his theory of destructionism that falls in the camp of critical theory (the study of power relations), which he applied to communications. He also gave political commentary, which can be categorized as fitting into anti-imperialism.
I wanted to share some of Derrida's wisdom from this published interview. The point of view of an elder who knows he shall die from cancer in some months' time is broad and sincerely concerned about the conflict in the world, and where it is headed.
After Derrida talks about his identity as an Algerian and his view on the context in Algeria, Cherif and he get into the topic of "East -West Unity and Differences." He elucidates his concept of democracy.
"What you call the universalism of democracy, a concept that is very difficult to define, presupposes that democracy is conceived in a way other than as a fixed model of a political regime. I believe that what distinguishes the idea of democracy from all other ideas of political regimes--monarchy, aristocracy, oligarchy, and so on--is that democracy is the only political system, a model without a model that accepts its own historicity, that is, its own future, which accepts its self-criticism, which accepts its perfectibility. You are correct: it is your democratic right to criticize the insufficiencies, the contradictions, the imperfections of our systems. To exist in a democracy is to agree to challenge, to be challenged, to challenge the status quo, which is called democratic, in the name of a democracy to come. This is why I always speak of a democracy to come. Democracy is always to come, it is a promise, and it is in the name of that promise that one can always criticize, question that which is proposed as de facto democracy. Consequently, I believe that there doesn't exist in the world a democracy suitable for the concept of the democracy to come. And consequently, if there is to be dialogue, since you speak of the absence of dialogue, it can only occur in the revelation of that democracy to come, whos occurrence and promise remain before us. That occurrence and promise enable us, at every moment, to criticize...." (p.43-44)
Derrida then talks about the origin of the idea of democracy, which is in the Greek culture. It has been associated with "concepts from which, today, the democracy to come is attempting to free itself: the concept of autochthony, that is, the concept of being born on a land and belonging to it through birth, the concept of territory, the very concept of State... "...I dare to dream of a democracy that is not tied to a nation-state and to citizenship. And it is under these conditions that one can speak of a universal democracy..." (p. 44)
Next, the two philosophers discussed the framework of Western thought embedded in notions of secularism, scientism and capitalism. Some of Derrida's words on this question are as follows. "First, scientism is a detestable thing; it isn't knowledge, the realm of scholars, men of science. Scientific practice is always devoid of scientism. Scientism is the positivism allegation of scientific power; it is not knowledge and science. Therefore, it is a bad thing...." (p. 50)
"I believe that the democracy to come, which I talked about earlier, assumes secularism, that is, both the detachment of the political from the theocratic and theological, thus entailing a certain secularism of the political, while at the same time, encompassing freedom of worship in a completely consistent, coherent way, and absolute religious freedom guaranteed by the State, on the condition, obviously, that the secular space of the political and the religious space are not confused. I believe that today we need a concept of the secular that no longer has that sort of aggressive compulsion that it once had in France, in the moments of crisis between the State and religion. I believe that the secular today must be more rigorous with itself, more tolerant toward religious cultures and toward the possibility of religious practices to exist freely, unequivocally, and without confusion...." (p. 50-51)
(His answer to the preceding question contains little on capitalism.)
Getting into topics related to differences between Western thought and culture and those of Muslim/ Islam, Derrida's discussed the role of religion in addressing Mystery and requiring faith. For the "two worlds" to communicate with one another, Derrida critiqued this conceptual dichotomy. Asserting that globalization is a misnomer, he made a distinction between Europeanization and Americanization. The American superpower is dominant, and European leaders are "lining up behind" it, he claimed. He gave the example of support for and cooperation with the USA with respect to the invasion of Iraq. He further stated that Europe can and has the responsibility to "step between" the US politico-economic super power and the Muslim states and have dialogue. Mainly, that is because most European states are secular, while Muslim states and the USA are entwined with competing religions.
Discussing the world "disorder" being created by globalization--the rising poverty, inequality, famine, misery, with its duality of underemployment and overwork--that is worse than ever before, according to Derrida, a general and universal transformation in terms of international law, relationships of sovereignty, technique, economy and politics. Also, the UN needs to be rectified. He hoped for a new alliance of masses confronting the economic and physical violence of global capitalism. Ending on a positive note, he indicated that a total transformation was possible today.
After the bombing of Damascus by US, French and British forces over the past weekend, I am again reflecting on these words. Something must be done, and something can be done. I talked with groups at a rally opposed to the bombing and there is some interest in working in the new Just Peace Committee. In fact, it seems like an opportune moment for certain anti-imperialist forces in the Vancouver area to regroup and realign themselves as an anti-imperialist front for just peace.