Thursday, August 07, 2008

Tzvetan Todorov’s Imaginary Parallel World

Robert Marchenoir is a reader and frequent commenter here at Gates of Vienna. A recent interview with Tzvetan Todorov in Reset Dialogues prompted Mr. Marchenoir to write to the website and express his own opinion.

First of all, here’s a summary of Tzvetan Todorov’s position on the “European identity”, as described in the blurb for the interview:

“During any given day, most of the time I feel European, and this feeling has become stronger ever since my native country, Bulgaria, entered the EU”, says Tzvetan Todorov to Resetdoc. He sees the foundations of a European identity in the protection of diversity and in an “obligation of tolerance”. The French-Bulgarian philosopher and linguist, who recently published La Littérature en péril, says that he is “very proud” of being a European, and hopes for greater continental political integration, while believing that national traditions are not destined to disappear (“I do not think that we will ever speak ‘Europeanese’“). The author of The Conquest of America also hopes that Tony Blair will not become the President of the EU and asks us not to identify the culture of Muslim immigrants with their religion: “I do not think that there is such a thing as an encounter between the West and Islam”.

Below is Robert Marchenoir’s excellent response, which he sent in an email to Resetdoc:

A muezzinTzvetan Todorov says in your interview: “In the case of the encounter between European and Islamic countries, I believe there is a preliminary point to make, which is that one should not identify the behaviour of hundreds of millions of people, or even more than a billion people, with their religion. So I do not think that there is such a thing as the encounter between the West and Islam. To me this is a already a way of formulating the encounter that vitiates and perverts the nature of the encounter. Muslims are not a special subspecies of the human race, entirely determined by their religion, compared to the Chinese, Indians and Europeans who behave according to all sorts of impulses and determinations.”

This is so dishonest that it is difficult to know where to start.

“One should not identify people with their religion”. Oh, really? And why shouldn’t we? Todorov fails to say. What he does say however, is that this is a preliminary point to him. Meaning it’s a condition. Meaning he refuses to discusses Muslims if religion is brought into the matter.
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How it’s even possible to discuss Muslims without discussing what enables one to identify them as Muslims, which is the Moslem faith, is beyond any logic. Being Muslim is not a race, it’s not a citizenship, it’s a religion. Todorov is supposed to have spent his life studying language, so he cannot pretend not to be aware of this fact.

“One should not identify people’s behaviour with their religion”. Obviously not. Religion is just something you mention on an identity card (in some countries). Religion does not dictate or alter your behaviour in any way. It’s just akin to choosing between Coke and Pepsi, really. One day you’re Muslim, the next day you’re Christian, then you might try Buddhism for a while. No big deal.

Never mind that billions of people, in the course of thousands of years, have been convinced, by their religion, to alter their behaviour to the point of going to a specific place at least once a week, at a set time, to honour their God; to the point of saying specific words of prayer every day, at specific occasions, at specific times, even five times a day for observant Muslims; to the point of not eating certain foods, or of not eating at all on specific days or times of the day, or of eating certain specific foods on specific days or occasions; to the point of respecting elaborate rules and rituals for marrying and having sex; to the point of going through other, specific rules and rituals before and after death; to the point of wearing certain clothes or accessories at all times (veils, turbans, daggers, you name it); to the point of never shaving; to the point of embarking on costly and life-threatening pilgrimages to far away places; even to the point of cleaning themselves in a very specific way after going to the toilet.

Never mind that moral edicts are central to all religions, and that they are precisely meant to alter one’s behaviour, in the supposedly correct way. Never mind that religions have convinced billions of people, in the course of thousands of years, that they will earn eternal happiness if they alter their behaviour in the right way, and eternal suffering if they do not.

Never mind that contemporary Muslims in the West — since this is the subject — increasingly insist, in a most aggressive and domineering way, that non-Muslims should change their behaviour so that themselves may entertain the specific behaviour dictated by their religion — making all food halal in schools even for non-Muslim pupils, harassing non-Muslims in the streets who eat during Ramadan or carry alcohol, disrupting work in businesses for daily prayers, forbidding access to non-Muslims, or men, or women, at certain times, in public swimming pools, insisting that the call to prayer is broadcast by loudspeaker over massively Christian cities, insisting that children be handed over, at the end of the school day, to women unrecognizable as their mothers because their face is hidden behind a veil, etc, etc.

“There is no such a thing as the encounter between the West and Islam”. No, obviously not. Especially not on a website which has such sections as “East, West and democracy”, “Migrations”, “Arts and cultures”, whose motto is “Dialogues on civilizations” and whose “scientific committee” consists of Giuliano Amato, Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, Abdullahi An-Na’im, Abdou Filali-Ansary, Seyla Benhabib, Giancarlo Bosetti, Fred Dallmayr, Silvio Fagiolo, Maria Teresa Fumagalli Beonio Brocchieri, Nina zu Fürstenberg, Timothy Garton Ash, Anthony Giddens, Vartan Gregorian, Renzo Guolo, Hassan Hanafi, Roman Herzog, Ramin Jahanbegloo, Jörg Lau, Amos Luzzatto, Avishai Margalit, Krzysztof Michalski, Andrea Riccardi, Olivier Roy, Otto Schily, Karl von Schwarzenberg, Roberto Toscano, Bassam Tibi, Nadia Urbinati, Umberto Veronesi and Michael Walzer.

There is no European Council for Fatwa and Research, either. No Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe. No Euro-Islam group of scholars within the French Centre national de la recherche scientifique, supported by the European Commission. There was no World Conference on Dialogue (between Islam and the other religions), organized by the Muslim World League and hosted in Madrid by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. All this is happening in an imaginary, parallel world where Tzvetan Todorov does not belong.

“Muslims are not a special subspecies of the human race”. Who said such a thing? Nobody did. Here we have at work the unhealthy obsession of so called “anti-racists” with race. Todorov starts with denying that Muslims, as a group, have anything to do at all with religion, then stealthily switches the discussion to race. He pretends to disprove the link between Muslims and religion by stating that the concept of Muslims is not linked with race. The dishonesty is staggering.

“Muslims are not entirely determined by their religion”. Again: who said such a thing? Nobody did. Nobody said Muslims were entirely determined by their religion. However, Todorov uses that tired rhetorical trick in order to “prove” that Muslims’ religion does not determine their behaviour in the least. There is plenty of evidence to show that, on the contrary, Muslims’ religion has a massive influence on their mores. Whole books have been written on the subject. It will take more than one sentence of false logic, by someone who has no academic authority on Islam, to disprove them.

“Muslims are not a special subspecies of the human race, entirely determined by their religion, compared to the Chinese, Indians and Europeans who behave according to all sorts of impulses and determinations”. This supposes either that the Chinese, Indians and Europeans have no religion of their own, or that their religion has no significant influence on their behaviour. Both assumptions are dreadfully wrong, of course. (This sentence also supposes that there is not a large number of Indian and Chinese Muslims, wreaking havoc in their respective countries — which shows the extensive knowledge Todorov has of Islam.)

Actually, this helps to understand where Todorov speaks from: he inhabits a fantasy world where religions do not exist, where Christianity did not occur, where Europe does not owe much of its achievements, heritage and values to Christianity, where Muslims were never at war with Christians, where Jihad does not exist, where all men are the same (except a few funny, cosmetic differences such as ties versus turbans), where any problems can be solved by “dialogue” and “understanding”, where no reasons for conflict exist (except “socio-economic” reasons, of course, which have to be dealt with by more socialism — there, mere “dialogue” will not do).

He lives in a liberal world. In a leftist world. He’s in denial. He refuses to acknowledge reality.

Yours truly,

Robert Marchenoir


Zenster said...

Robert Marchenoir: Todorov is supposed to have spent his life studying language, so he cannot pretend not to be aware of this fact.

Todorov's linguistic sophistry brings to mind the words of Humpty Dumpty:

'When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.'

Robert Marchenoir: One day you’re Muslim, the next day you’re Christian ...

Paging Ann Holmes Redding to the white courtesy telephone.

“Muslims are not a special subspecies of the human race”. Who said such a thing? Nobody did. Here we have at work the unhealthy obsession of so called “anti-racists” with race.

Paging Barrack Hussein Obama to the red courtesy telephone.

Diamed said...

Lovely reply. Only, I do think it isn't a coincidence that largely stupid, barbaric races adopted Islam while northern, civilized races like the Europeans and Chinese rejected it. Discussing this from a racial viewpoint instead of a religious is just as valid, if not more valid. Even though the aztecs gave up on their blood sacrifices and the africans gave up on their voodoo, does anyone really think much has changed? Hispanics have 3 times the crime rate as whites in america, blacks have 9 times the crime rate as whites in america. Both are supposedly Christian and yet the results are still dramatically different. Religions come and go, barbarism is eternal.

It may be a wise Tactic to attack muslims solely on the grounds of their offensive religion, unfortunately, that leaves open the option of muslims 'reforming,' 'converting,' or 'becoming secularized.' As a strategy it's completely ineffectual. As mental ammunition it is anemic and does not support a vigorous defense of our survival, only a halfhearted protest that, being rather meaningless, is just brushed aside. So what if we don't like their religion? It's what they want to be, and it's their right to be that way, and what's it got to do with us? People objecting to their religion are just busy-bodies trying to control others. In fact it's not their religion I object to, I could care less if they pray all the time, don't drink, fast on ramadan, or wear modest clothes. In fact those are all the harmless aspects of muslims in Europe. The harmful aspects are what they do while they aren't being religious, or if you prefer when they're being 'indirectly' religious rather than directly: crime, high birth rates, high immigration rates, welfare benefits, drug running, abusing social goods like monuments/parks/schools/hospitals, etc.

What exactly do people object to in Islam worse than the rape epidemic they are committing on our women? And does anyone think that if the young muslim men abandoned Islam, they would stop raping our women? Anyone? In that case, if the most annoying aspect of Islam the religion is less damaging than muslims the people, Islam is a complete red herring.

Gypsies have no religion telling them to conquer the world, but they are still human wrecking balls that destroy any neighborhood they inhabit. Would a bunch of atheist muslim youth be any better? Would they have a lower crime rate? Would they get better jobs? If for instance muslims abandoned their faith in order to stay in Europe and multiply indefinitely, would Europe really be better off? Perhaps minor issues like whether alcohol is legal, or burqas are worn, would change. But the major issue of the civilization and standard of living of Europe would be forever altered. In september, Europe will complete the large hadron collidor and start investigating the nature of the universe at the smallest scales. Does anyone think africans, gypsies, moors, arabs, pakistanis, or anyone else could have built that? And when Europe is gone and only various moors, turks, south asians, africans, gypsies, and whoevers populate the land from spain to russia, does anyone really care whether they will be drinking alcohol, or wearing t-shirts? When our entire bloodline and history has been wiped out and not a single child of Europe lives in Europe, do we care whether the people living there are wearing loose or tight fitting garments, drinking soda or beer, eating chicken or pork? Are we really fighting for something so trivial?

Is it okay for the current peoples of the earth who are predominately muslim (take a southern latitude band starting in west africa and stretch it, in almost a straight line, across the world to malaysia/indonesia, and do a mental catalogue of the looks, achievements, art, history, culture, etc, of the peoples covered, and see whether your reaction is positive or negative) to conquer and inhabit Europe at European expense, so long as they are not Muslim? If it isn't okay, does it matter whether they are muslim or not?

brianakira said...

1. Tzvetan Todorov: “I do not think that there is such a thing as an encounter between the West and Islam”.

2. Wikipedia: "After falling almost entirely under Ottoman rule in the end of the 14th century, the Bulgarian state ceased to exist as an independent entity and remained part of the Ottoman Empire for nearly five centuries until 1878. The period is widely regarded as a time of cultural and national decline as contrasted to the best years of the medieval Bulgarian Empire, mainly owing to the foreign character of the dominant empire, as well as its stagnation and decline in the later years."

Right. That's not an encounter. It's a holocaust

brianakira said...

Great Encounters in History:

"In the Ottoman Empire, Christian subjects (known as “gyaurs”, i.e. non-believers) had a legal, tributary and judicial status different form those of Muslims

"The Ottomans did not normally require the Christians to become Muslims. [No money in that...] Nevertheless, there were many cases of individual or mass conversion, especially in the Rhodopes.[1] Non-Muslims did not serve in the Sultan's army. The exception to this were some groups of the population with specific statute, usually used for auxiliary or rear services, and the infamous blood tax (кръвен данък), also known as devşirme, whereby every fifth young boy was taken to be trained as a warrior of the Empire. These boys went through harsh religious and military training that turned them into an elite corps subservient to the Sultan. These corps were called Janissaries (yeni çeri or "new force") and were an elite and loyal unit of the Ottoman army.

"After the Ottoman conquest all major centers of Bulgarian culture were destroyed, most of the written works were lost and the educated clergy that survived escaped to other Slavic countries.[2] Bulgarian culture entered a long period of slumber, during which it was isolated from many of the processes that occurred throughout the rest of Europe."

CarnackiUK said...

the africans gave up on their voodoo...

Diamed, whatever gave you that idea? Not only is sorcery still rife on the Dark Continent but African cults involving child mutilation and sacrifice have been exported to Europe. You think those EU zombies evolved naturally?

Henrik R Clausen said...

the africans gave up on their voodoo...

They did? Now, that's good news. Now we're waiting for Haiti to follow suit.

One colleague of mine told me after a nice holiday in the Carrebian that she had obtained some shamanist initiation there, to which I balked somewhat. She then told me not to worry, for it was only in the 'white' branch of voodoo, not the evil 'black' one.

Somehow, that just doesn't add up...

Diamed said...

Well, I was more thinking african americans, since I was comparing their crime rate in america. Similarly, you can bet muslims who give up on Islam will still remain a racial underclass with high crime rates and poverty rates. I've seen it too many times to believe anything else will happen.

But a great many africans in Africa are Christian, and yet, their behavior is not anywhere similar to European christians and it would be a horrible scourge to Europe to import these african christians. They would not assimilate, they would not have good wholesome family values, etc. In fact, Israel is choking on the hundreds of thousands of Jewish ethiopians. Like usual they are poor, unemployed, need affirmative action, etc. Again the religion is the same, but the race makes it impossibly different anyway. Since we already have worked examples of christian africans, jewish africans, and muslim africans all causing trouble, isn't it rather insane to decide Islam is the problem rather than the one constant in all three cases?

Afonso Henriques said...

Excellent Diamed, just excellent.

At first I thought you were being a little bit "too racial", but I can't disagree much, can I?

In fact, I wasn't to comment this but by reading what you wrote I had to say I agree man!

Europe may really disapear... I just wanted to say that you know... tou could have said... from Portugal to Russia, because we are actually more to the West than Spain or even Ireland... and also, using the name of such a small country like Portugal would made you look more... "erudit" (sapiente, in latin languanges...), o maybe it's pure egocentrism of my own.

So the "Janízaros" were only the fifth Christian child? I tought it was right the second or something. Those Turks are kinder then I thought.

Also, Diamed, you may look to this statistics: Every fifteen minutes in America, a "white" women is raped by a "black" man.
Well, it looks like Martin Luther King managed to get his "colour blind" society. But I do feel - from a foreign prespective - that the statistics were somehow different before the sixties... that "society" was somehow better...

WOW!!! THAT ONE WAS REALLY, REALLY LOW!!! Sorry Americans! (P.S. - It does not happen in Latin America. Believe me.) But it seems that for every good eight hours of sleep at night, more than 30 white American women were raped by a black men. It apears the European muslims are not as bad as American blacks... yet. Just wondering, how many of the rapes happen in schools?

Because since we have had the second generation - the children of those African Christians (and many excellent men and women) - we sarted to have rapes in schools just after the elementary level. It seems that in some schools of Lisbon "some types of twelve years old girls" can not wear short skirts because "some type of boys" can not end the school with the normal age, at 14, and continue in school untill the 17 or 18 years old and they form gangs that interact with the "other type of twelve years old girls". But this is not bloody Sweden where people start using short skirts because it is fashionable (well, it is) but because in June, the temperatures get up to the 95F or even hotter...
Fortunatley, it only happened in some two or three schools close to what here in GoV people call "no-go-areas". And even more fortunateley, that kind of ethnic minorities hardly go to high school so it could be much worst.

I think, however, that a big part of the problem is the net because if you read "some kind of racist blogs", you will get some news here, some other news there, 60% of them with a link to a small article in a newspaper, or a link to a police report (in both cases, the perpetrators are never criminals, they are always suspects), 40% in which nothing to corroborate is presented, that one "type of girl" came from the school or from a bar or a disco to the home of a "type of boy" in where she was (always) aleggedly raped by three or four "suspects" who are wanted by the police. Well, it must be the damned internet!

Diamed said...

It all comes down to whether people think only the religious motivation of Jihad causes muslims to be a criminal underclass. That, if not for people reading the koran and hadith where people are told to be violent towards infidels, they would all be perfect angels and have as good education, jobs, and crime rates as the natives. If we could just ban Islam, the reasoning goes, all these people would change overnight to complete equality with their french neighbors because, after all, the only differences between people are their beliefs.

This is such a frustrating viewpoint when we have worked examples of fellow christians, blacks and hispanics, with the exact same beliefs as the whites, who still absolutely aren't the same and provide the exact same criminal menace that Europe has with its muslims. ((actually worse)). South Africa is mostly christian, and yet it has the highest murder and rape rate in the world. Islam isn't to blame for that. Islam has never been as evil as that. If you take time to read about south africa and the depravity and barbarism displayed by the Christians there, you would thank your stars Europe imported muslim immigrants!

I am sure many muslim rapists will rationalize their crime away as part of jihad, but I'm also sure they would've done it anyway, and found some other reason like, 'she didn't respect me' or 'whites are racist and have it coming.' Islam is just a convenient tool to these thugs. The only people you can genuinely blame Islam for are those high class, studious, college graduate muslims who could have had a good life but became instead Islamic scholars and decide to blow themselves up for Allah. IE a tiny, tiny, tiny percent! The rest were born rapists and will, whenever society is weak and defenseless, like sharks always smell blood and strike. These shark people are the same in South Africa, when before apartheid they never acted like this, but now run rampant and uncontrolled because, well, they can. Christianity and Islam don't matter to either of them. Only sharks and sheep matter to them.