Wednesday, December 10, 2008

One World Under Laughter: Yours, Mine or Ours? Part 3

Bodies Of Communities

In the preceding paragraphs, a discussion is always effected by the presence of another. The individual body is subjected to death and rebirth, both socially and politically – in order for a community to be constituted. Even in the utopian world of Bakhtin, a construction of that utopian community will still need to take place. In the Islamic world, the religious clerics are constantly creating a community within the society. What is this community?

During a roundtable discussion entitled Love and Community where Nancy Jean-Luc discussed the limitations of thinking about love on the community, he states that a “community does not have a common being, a common substance, but consists of being-in-common” (Jean-Luc 2001). He argued that a community is always a community of ‘being-with” – the “with” is characterized by “touch” which is further characterized by proximity and distance. He takes the notion of community away from a spiritual ideal to a physical concept and then examines how these communities exist together. Such co-habitation within a community is an embodiment and such embodiment must not be violent. There is therefore the impossibility of “penetration” into a community, according to Nancy, as that means there is something outside of that community that enters it – establishing violence on the practice of love which he was referring to, and not the idea of love.

It would be very tempting to say that Islam, and the traditional notions of Islam, as understood in the concept of love, is a secularizing movement. However, the relationship between what is secular and what is religious is not that clear. But as soon as that love becomes a “love thy neighbor”, it divorces itself from the notion of a Muslim’s love for Allah and that love is now predicated by a certain notion of how love is constituted on a Christian concept. That is, in fact, a penetration.

Do Muslims laugh and do they have a sense of humor? Muslims think they absolutely do – but it is a point that need not be proven as Muslims consider themselves having such humor and laughing on their own terms. The more interesting question would be: do Muslims laugh like the rest of the world? The answer would be that there is no need to. A subjectivication of what a Muslim should find funny or otherwise would be a “penetration” on that community of Muslims. It would be a laughter that is constructed from outside that community forcing its values on another. It would be a colonization of culture, history and socio-historicity of Muslims by the “Other”. This principle plays itself on all levels: on a societal level, a Muslim needs to laugh together with non-Muslims to be considered “normal” and therefore accepted. At the international political level, a Muslim country needs to find extensive commonality (culture, politics, economics, military defense and its worldview in general) and extensive generosity with other non-Muslim world to be considered “mainstream” and not belonging to the “axis of evil”. There is a always a double-need to prove themselves as good Muslims, and hence, good world citizens. This is not to advocate the rejection of the world that we live in, but acceptance of those values would lead to the death of the Muslims’ and the re-birth of a new world community – one common world under laughter – utopian loving in its liberal embrace.

When talking about differing communities, Nancy went on to say that “It is necessary that there are certain links, certain proximities between groups of people and the fact that there are friendships and hostilities has to be taken as such. The question is only to know if a positive community or a community of predilection has to totally exclude the other communities or not” (Jean-Luc 2001). This is another difficult concept to ascertain: how does one define a positive community and how does one decide to exclude another and in what ways? I cannot see a universal basis (in itself a constructed form) for constructing such notions without invoking values and ways of those who possess more authority, more power, more economic superiority and more military might upon those being subjugated. This is also a convenient justification to “penetrate” another community and then, politically leave it to suffer the curse of a pariah.

Laughter As Politics

Is laughter an affect or mere emotive display? As the discussions above indicate, it is not easy to put our finger on the answer. Secularization, however, poses a specific affect between laughter and the concept of freedom. The liberal ability to laugh at those cartoons is a liberal demand made on Muslims – it represents their emancipation from the shackles of tradition and all that is considered “strange and wrong” by the “Other”. It is also a sign of liberal tolerance on the part of the Muslims towards the “Others”.

For the “Other”, it represents freedom of a particular construct – but the trouble is constructing what that notion is. What is that particular freedom that laughter is supposed to give to the Muslims and from what? Is it just a notion of the liberal imperative that Muslims need to be like the rest of “Us” tied to a sense of utopia? The interesting affect that may need to be handled in another paper would be, if so, would laughter then be disembodying?

Laughter is also constituted to give Muslims the freedom of speech in a non-speech manner (through mere laughter) on the assumption that Islam, both as a religion and as a political regime, is oppressive. This is assuming that the assumption is true and that laughter does indeed emancipate Muslims from Islam to be with the liberal "Others". Has anyone ever considered whether the Muslims themselves want to be with the “Others”?

For the purposes of another discussion, it would be interesting also to note that assuming laughter has a political construct which emancipates and empowers, how that construction may be argued diabolically opposite and turned on its side: the current theories indicate that laughter is an emancipation of oneself and as an escapism from all that oppress – and according to Bakhtin, laughter belonged to another world, beyond the authority of another. What if one is now empowered and in opposition to that very power and authority, refuses to laugh as an act of rebellion, as opposed to being civil? The political dimensions of this flip are indeed intriguing.

In the end, who is actually laughing is a particular construct. Do we really want that one world under laughter: yours, mine or ours?


NunBun said...

This is a very interesting three-part series, my brother. Good stuff.

I've read about Foucault's work on the disempowering Gaze - how those in power use it against those without it (the Other) to establish a certain kind of surveillance or gaze to disempower them. So it's interesting to read about how laughter can be used as a similar mechanism and that people have analysed it to such an extent!

You mentioned "hoe does one define a positive community..." - a lot of writers like to write from the pedestal and "look down at the world", and end up using terms like "postive community". Obviously they had a particular community in mind - theirs! Ha.

TheHoopoe said...

I am glad you like this article - I do too :)
And how particularly from a grandiose notion of liberal politics and religion, it is being explained theoretically through such an atomic mundane deed of laughter.
It is also a fresh look at how we look at ourselves as "pedestal" Muslims and then how others look and constitute us.
Weber and Durkheim in play here too.

TheHoopoe said...


Using similar modes of thinking - try to answer this question: What is an "Ummah"?

Does it exist?

NunBun said...

As with all communities/nations, it's totally self-imagined! I think it was Homi Bhaba or Anderson who said that.

The Ummah exists as long as we want it to exist, in both its form and subtance. Therein lies the big problem lah - every Muslim has his or her own idea of the ideal Ummah, and what's good for it.

But the Holy Propohet s.a.w. had conceptualised the Ummah in his own way, as a grouping of all those who professed Islam and followed his way. But today we have contesting meanings and a general tension in the definition, which goes back to your question of whether it exists (in the notion imagined by the Holy Prophet)?

Wallahu a'lam!