Thursday, May 7, 2009

Seducing Jihad (6)

The Element Of Seduction

This brings me to a brief final point regarding the nature of jihad. Jean Baudrillard in Simulation and Simulacra argues that we are living in a generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal – that signs, symbols and logos mean nothing to reality but are socially and culturally constructed to identify with the real. Everything is metamorphosed into its opposite to perpetuate itself in its expurgated form. As such, our exercises are always reversible: proving the real through the imaginary, proving truth through scandal, proving the law through transgression or proving work through striking. 

In his follow-up book, Seduction, Baudrillard suggests the game of seduction by leaving reality and the search for meaning to reconstruct oneself in an illusion created by rules; rules that are arbitrarily made up by the seducer. Even though modern society values production over everything else, seduction is stronger because it is a reversible process and has an elusive quality that denies meaning of all things and demands play. While production produces meaning, seduction absorbs it. According to Baudrillard, although seduction is the source of all power, at the same time it holds none of its own. He states, “For if production can only produce objects of real signs, and thereby obtain some power; seduction, by producing only illusions, obtains all powers, including the power to return production and reality to their fundamental illusion.”

There are two ways in which the concept of seduction and the play of symbols are relevant to the concept of jihad. The terrorists engaging in “jihad”, whilst trying to re-establish the Islamic identity, are using the signs, the symbols, the logos of that means through its dialectical rhetoric and the threat of physical acts of destruction. Those acts in themselves mean nothing to others and its impact will never lead to its desired objective. The effects of those threats which disrupts our daily lives: tightening of securities around our borders, the stringent checks on ‘suspicious’ baggage, the right to tap into citizen’s personal tele-conversations and the policies set up to minimize the actuality of the dreaded event, are the effects of the symbol which the threat of the acts of terrorism imply – though the act itself does not occur. Herein lies its power, whilst holding none of its own. The uncertainty of the rules of engagement, the perpetual fear of having another terrorist attack, the guessing game by the authorities gives phenomenal power to the seducer, in this case, the terrorists. This is precisely because “seduction ... plays triumphantly with weakness, making a game of it, with its own rules.” A terrorist cannot break laws (by being sympathetic, or unwilling to sacrifice himself), but he can play by the rules and create a world of illusion (that he is under the illusion of contributing to paving the way to re-establish the lost Islamic identity). Baudrillard states, “precisely because rules are arbitrary and ungrounded, because they have no referents, they do not require a consensus, nor any collective will or truth. They exist, that’s all. And they exist only when shared, while the Law floats above scattered individuals.” It is in this arbitrariness and the play with signs and symbols that seduction becomes a force to reckon with. 

The other perspective to this concept of seduction is that it opens up to different ways of understanding religious categories. Seduction acts as a different way of approaching them: that color is not restricted to a specific idea, but it provides a way for scholars to work with the concept to gain more insights on humanity and his environment. It belongs to everybody: those who study them, those who read them or those who practice them. Relating back to the metaphor and structurality of color, it is clear that religious categories are co-constructed by all of the above, just as colors are co-constructed by the environment and the perceiver.

Jihad, as a mode of understanding, represents a feedback loop: how we understand the concept gets transported around within conversations between scholars, Muslims, the media, the west etc. Jihad exists as a combination of inextricably linked notions between Islam and the Other. The logos, the symbols and the signs exist through the synergy and communication between these two.

Jonathan Z. Smith’s claim that scholars invent religion is worth another re-visit. As scholars are making meaning of others, in turn, they are also making meaning of themselves. Herein lies the reversibility of seduction in this context. As scholars invent religion, the media, the clerics, the politicians are simultaneously re-constructing religion. Seduction, in this sense, is in recognizing the reversibility and playing with that notion. 

Performing destructive terrorist acts is arguably not a natural human tendency. A terrorist has to condition himself mentally, physically and emotionally to contribute to the cause. Baudrillard states, “When seducing, her body and desires are no longer her own … without a body of her own, she turns herself into a pure appearance, an artificial construct with which to trap the desires of others.” In the threat of a terrorist act, or the game of seduction, the terrorist constructs an artificial existence, including sacrificing his own body for the cause, by aligning himself to the cause believing that he will make a significant difference in re-capturing the lost Islamic identity, which now has become a sign without any reality, as a concept which is being continuously reinvented. Many Islamic-Muslim scholars are making arguments for Islamisation through the re-establishment of the Ummah. But none, in my personal experience, have provided a satisfactory concept of that organic term called “the ummah” – connoting that Muslims merely need to re-establish “the ummah” – it does not matter what that notion constitutes or critically examining whether it was lost in the first place: creating a deeper conundrum, a situation exacerbated by scholars, of Muslims existence/identity for the last century. Once the destructive act of terrorism is done, the game of seduction collapse and returns to reality, where those rules no longer apply as the act in itself is a production.


From the above discussion, we can see how color presents a useful structurality in understanding religious categories, a structurality in which seduction is a methodological tool appropriate to studying these interactive and co-constructed phenomenon. 

1 comment:

Good Times said...

Seducing Jihad, very detailed but I think I need a few more reads before I can fully appreciate this paper. Anyway Ustaz, is this part of your exams questions are is it meant to be publish?