“The Other’s Antichrist, is my Antichrist”: The Millennial Encounter Between Post-Modernism and Global Jihad

I was recently asked to write a preface to a volume of essays on Millennialism. After discussing the enormous resistance of “conventional” historians to allowing millennial topics any more than marginal status within the larger narrative of Western history, and arguing on the contrary that we need to define millennialism in a way that includes stealth secular forms (e.g., communism), I concluded with a discussion of the stakes involved, in part inspired by my encounter with Judith Butler’s work over the past weeks

Here is the concluding section.

Real-World Stakes in Millennial Scholarship: Post-Modern “Others” vs. Islamic Apocalyptic “Others”

The stakes involved here are not insignificant, nor merely “academic,” although they are most specifically academic. Right now, and since the 60s, much of the academic world involved with human subjects (Arts, Humanities, Social “Sciences”) has become absorbed by an interlocking series of theoretical paradigms and exegetical techniques (deconstruction, critical, gender, queer, theory, post-modernism, post-colonialism) that have millennial premises embedded in the core of their theory.[1] And as every effective millennial discourse must provide, Post-modern theory has identified the “source of our suffering,” namely boundaries. And since those “us-them” boundaries – between self and “Other,” “male and female,” one culture/religion/ethnicity/nationality and another – have been constructed, we can ‘free’ ourselves (or at least, resist), by deconstructing.

Thus, the Post-modern theories in their various avatars systematically transgress conventional boundaries, subvert “hegemonic” discourses (including meta-narratives), that must always-already inscribe an invidious dichotomy between “us-them”.[2] Instead, liberation comes from the embrace of the “Other,” in post-colonialism, the subaltern “Others,” to whose narratives we are obliged to grant epistemological equality if not priority.[3] Redemptive performativity is, among other things, a way to speak of messianic behavior, of tikkun olam, of “realized eschatology.”[4] And it all takes place in the (relatively) non-apocalyptic framework of a progressive effort to fundamentally transform a cultural sensibility.[5]

Like many of their predecessors, including Marx, these latest secular millennialists tend to deny their chiliastic genealogy.[6] Indeed, the whole post-modern principle of “incredulity towards Grand or Meta-Narratives,” is a repudiation among other things, of the greatest of them all – apocalyptic narratives about eschatological End of History.[7] So in principle, post-modernists and their offspring (the various “theorists”), have liberated themselves from apocalyptic and millennial narratives. Of course post-modernists are far to sophisticated to fall into complete denial.[8]

A Judith Butler, for example, openly embraces her utopian longings – e.g., for Buber and Magnes’ “binational state”- despite their impossibility – as driving forces of her performativity.[9] But, she would on the one hand, deny any relationship to earlier apocalyptic movements that veered rapidly from transformative to cataclysmic, from demotic to hierarchical, and even when confronted with the disastrous implications of her millennial reasoning, declares herself proud of her courage to think so daringly.[10] Indeed, her work deserves a thoroughly millennial analysis, not the least because she has chosen to perform her theories in the “real world,” of other people, and when she does so, it has results that should alarm anyone familiar with apocalyptic dynamics.[11]

More broadly, I think only a millennial analysis of the post-60s (post apocalyptic) Zeitgeist of the academy, especially where studies of humankind are concerned, can explain the current direction of consensus politics when dealing with Islamism. Take for example, the following conundrum: In the entire history of Christianity, no nation that called itself Christian adopted a foreign policy based on the Sermon on the Mount; on the contrary. Now, however, post-Christians, people who by and large have contempt for religion, even view it as a virus,[12] urge a “turn the other cheek” policy of self-criticism and self-abasement vis-à-vis a profoundly hostile “Other.”[13] As a colleague commented at a conference on apocalypticism, “If the USA were attacked by nuclear weapons, I hope we’d have the maturity not to strike back.”[14]

Indeed, I would argue that we need to understand our current cultural and even civilizational dilemmas in terms of the dysfunctional interaction between two almost mirror-opposite, vigorously engaged, activist apocalyptic millennial movements: Jihadi, cataclysmic-imperial vs. Western, transformational-demotic.[15] On the one hand, a war against a demonized apocalyptic “other” – the infidel, especially the ones that have humiliated Islam (the West, and Israel) – who must be in some combination exterminated and subjected, on the other, a “Great Peace” brought about by the embrace of the apocalyptic “Other,” no matter how queer,[16] even onto apocalyptic violence.[17] The resultant oxymorons – e.g., Gays for Palestine! – fail to even register with people completely divorced from a clash of cultures in which Palestinian gays flee to Tel Aviv for safety from honor-killings.[18]

So while Butler herself might agree that she pursues utopian goals, she and other critical theorists have no idea what kind of company they keep dreaming their millennial fantasies in apocalyptic time.[19] Deconstructing religion (us-them), and “performing” spirituality (us-all), their cognitive egocentrism blinds them to more “primitive” (by their own standards) more regressive forms of millennial behavior.[20] Thus, compelled by her public moral life to choose between Hamas-Hizbullah and Israel as part of the “Global Left,” Butler repeatedly sides (with reservations about their violence), with the homophobic, misogynist, anti-Semitic, genocidal groups, and decisively against Israel which, she believes, should disappear.

In this she participates in a much wider phenomenon, unfortunately familiar in the history of secular millennialism, namely the alliance between the radical/revolutionary left and some of most regressive and violent strains of other millennial groups.[21] This tendency has a long and troubling place in the brief, three-century history of the secular left, “the socialism of fools.”[22] In a post-modern mutation of the apocalyptic rule – One person’s messiah is another’s antichrist – the anti-imperial revolutionary left has created the variant, the “Other’s Antichrist, is my Antichrist,” even if that means me.

We have yet to gauge the full measure of the blow involved in this kind of performativity, to the West, to the civil society that made her millennial theorizing even possible, much less popular. But certainly one of the most distressing elements of our current aporia in the face of Islam’s challenge, is the inability of people to recognize the millennial and apocalyptic dynamics at work. Indeed, a disguised millennial discourse (“post” theory: Pomo, PoCo, Literary, Queer, etc.), maneuvered by a violent campaign to outlaw Islamophobic speech, now frowns heavily upon identifying an openly millennial discourse even among the most active cataclysmic types.

All this is performed in the name of a self-sacrificial redemption that only feeds the millennial monsters on the other side which Post-moderns somehow believe they’ve deconstructed into non-existence. David Cook’s book on Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic was rejected by its first readers as “hate speech,” as if documenting the phenomenon among “others” were that act of hate, and as if, suppressing that, somehow the hate-speech on the “other” side would disappear as well.

Retrospectively, I believe, millennial scholars will identify as our greatest failing, this academic generation’s choice of global warming to the exclusion of global Jihad, as the respectable, apocalypse-to-be-averted.[23] Indeed, given that our addiction to oil feeds both global climate and jihad warming, one would have thought the two natural companions in secular (i.e., empirically-based) avertive apocalyptic discourse.[24] Instead, scholars have shown remarkable resistance to understanding the millennial dimension of the revival of Islam in the 15th century AH (1979-2076), a revival that aims at not just re-awakening Muslim piety and zeal, but at completing the global task of imposing Sharia on the kuffar (infidels), and the extension of Dar al Islam globally through Jihad.

Our political correctness here combines with our conceptual difficulties, to drive us towards a more “satisfying” narrative about “resistance” rather than the “us-them” millennial, with its peculiar set of often irrational traits.[25] And at the same time, the very people who tell us we dare not speak of these things, engage in their own unacknowledged (martyr-suicidal) behavior. It’s hard to imagine more problematic conditions in which a culture can deal creatively with so volatile a phenomenon.

On the contrary, right now, thinking people, led by millennial scholars, should be doing an extensive study of both the disguised millennial activity imbedded in theory-performativity, as well as the striking, protean, and violent performativity involved in the Islamic and revolutionary sanctification of apocalyptic terror.[26] Scholars show reasonable caution about such extended forays into millennial analysis of widespread rather than marginal phenomena. Identifying a hostile apocalyptic “other” in Islamism carries with it all kinds of dangers, including both offending moderate Muslims, and arousing the kind of right-wing, “my side right or wrong” apocalyptic reactions that illustrate the sad past of millennial warfare: “one person’s messiah was the other’s antichrist.”

These are the fundamental issues that this young generation, now coming into knowledge and power, must face. And the more finely honed their understanding of millennial and apocalyptic motivations and follies, the better that generation will be able navigate so perilous a cultural storm as the one that, I think, will come to define the first decades of the twenty-first century. In the past, civilizations (granted ones less committed to fairness than ours), have crumbled under the constant blows of a violent tribal honor it had thought domesticated centuries earlier.[27] What path this current thrash of apocalyptic religious and social cultures will take remains undecided. How well we protect the demotic millennial traditions and their fruits (the civil path of the modern West including post-modern theory) depends, in no small part, on our awareness of the stakes and dynamics at work in this, the first global millennium.

[1] On the ‘60s as millennial, see Mendel, Vision and Violence (Ann Arbor: U. Michigan Press, 1990/2000), chap. 6. For a sympathetic account that argues that much of the “theory” discourse concerns “what has happened since the 1960s,” see Jonathan Culler, Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997), p. 3. A less sympathetic view considers the “theorists” as the intellectual practitioners of revolutionary agendas from the 60s: Roger Kimball, Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1990/2008).

[2] Foucault’s always-already power relations are taken up both by Edward Saïd and Judith Butler. Saïd’s critique of Orientalism was based on the appeal to an understood Foucauldian “truth,” that all previous political and intellectual relations were ultimately invidious: “human societies, at least the more advanced cultures [sic], have rarely offered the individual anything but imperialism, racism, and ethnocentrism for dealing with the “other” culture,” Orientalism p. 204. In so doing, he called on the intellectual culture that had gone the farthest to distance itself from that invidious “othering” (the West) to jettison the intellectual tradition that had brought it to that point of intellectual maturity (see the critique of Robert Irwin, For Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and their Enemies (London: Penguin Books, 2006).

[3] Can the Subaltern Speak?: Reflections on the History of an Idea, ed. Rosalind C. Morri (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010).

[4] E.g., Jill Dolan, Performance, Utopia, and the ‘Utopian Performative’,” Theatre Journal, 53:3 (Oct., 2001): 455-479. On realized eschatology, as, e.g., C. H. Dodd used as a way to describe the apostolic effort to incarnate Jesus’ redemptive behavior (as opposed to awaiting his apocalyptic Parousia), e.g., The Apostolic Preaching and Its Developments (Harper-Collins, 1936), chap. 2.

[5] Andreas Huyssens sees post-modernism, even with all its fads, as “part of a slowly emerging cultural transformation in Western societies, a change in sensibility for which the term ‘postmodernism’ is actually, at least for now, wholly adequate,” in “Mapping the Post-Modern,” New German Critique, 33, Modernity and Postmodernity (1984), p. 7.

[6] On Marx’s denial of his own millennial thinking, see Varieties, pp. 310-11.

[7] On the end “grand narrative,” see Lyotard, The Post-Modern Condition (1979, English tr. 1984). From a millennial perspective (where all millennial narratives are meta-narratives), such a belief that there are no valid meta-narratives, is a secular form of Augustine’s rejection of millennialism via a radical agnosticism, described by Markus, in Saeculum: History and Society in the Theology of St Augustine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970).

[8] For a fine example of the playfulness with which post-modern exegetes play with apocalyptic and millennial themes, see Jacques Derrida, “No Apocalypse, Not Now (Full Speed Ahead, Seven Missiles, Seven Missives),” Diacritics, 14:2, Nuclear Criticism (1984): 20-31. (Note the pun on the “sevens” of Revelation.)

[9] For the more utopian expressions of her moral position, see her defense in response to criticism of the Adorno Prize: “Judith Butler responds to attack: ‘I affirm a Judaism that is not associated with state violence’,” Mondoweiss: August 27, 2012. For an analysis of the utopian/millennial underpinnings of her work, see above all Sari Roman-Lagerspetz, Striving for the Impossible : The Hegelian Background of Judith Butler. Thesis: University of Helsinki, Department of Political Science, 2009.

[10] “It may be that bi-nationalism is an impossibility, but that mere fact does not suffice as a reason to be against it,” Judith Butler, Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism (New York: Columbia U. Press, 2012), p. 30.

[11] For her use of tikkun olam, see her defense cited above, n. 46; for her embrace of Benjamin’s “messianic politics,” see Parting Ways, pp. 99-113. This is not the place to draw out this analysis, but grosso modo it has her sacrificing her own people’s sovereignty (Israel) on what she thinks is the altar of a global renunciation of sovereignty (a classic demotic theme – “No king but God”), but is in fact, sacrificing on the altar of Jihadi world conquest.

[12] “I hope that I’ve created an anti-religion memeplex, a sort of “inoculation” against the Religion Virus,”
Craig James, The Religion Virus: Why we believe in God (2010).

[13] Noam Chomsky’s response to 9-11 – we were the terrorists – represents the most aggressive form of this form of self-abnegation, 9-11: Was the an Alternative (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2001).

[14] The conference produced the volume of essays cited above, n. **.

[15] On the two types, see Varieties, chap. 1. Active cataclysmic apocalyptic means that the believers are the agents of the catastrophic destruction to come, imperial means the millennial kingdom will be hierarchical (in this case the dominion of Muslims over infidel-dhimmis); transformative apocalyptic means the transition will take peacefully by a change of heart, demotic means the millennial kingdom will be egalitarian and non-coercive.

[16] I use this word in the way “Queer Studies” uses it: “Queer acquires its meaning from its oppositional relation to the norm. Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant,” David Halperin, Saint Foucault, (1995), p. 62. For a critique, see Bruce Bawer, Victim Studies, chap. 4.

[17] The ability of fine and kind people like Cherie Blair to “explain” suicide terror as a natural response to “frustration” at not having “hope,” suggests an remarkable complacency at work in the aughts, at least as far as the Palestinians were concerned: discussed in Landes, “Edward Saïd and the Culture of Honour and Shame: Orientalism and Our Misperceptions of the Arab-Israeli Conflict,” Israel Affairs, 13:4 (2007): 851f. Indeed, Europeans danced in the street celebrating suicide terrorists, see Oriana Fallaci, “On Jew-Hatred in Europe”
 (Italian original in Panorama magazine, April 17, 2002).

[18] “Palestinian gays flee to Israel,” BBC, October 22, 2003.

[19] In an interview with Egyptian news, Butler, who militates for an end to Jewish sovereignty (hence the ability of Jews to protect themselves from the violence of their Arab neighbors), notes: “There may well be animosity, feelings of anger, revenge, difficulty, even some hatred or antagonism but so what? That’s what it means to live in a democracy.” Maya Dukmasova, “Judith Butler: Imagining the impossible,” Daily News Egypt, Oct. 7, 2010.

[20] See above n. 46 and 56.

[21] In 2006 after the Lebanon war, the German party Die Linke marched in a gender-separated demonstration with Hizbullah, shouting Jihadi slogans. In 2009, at the onset of Gaza Operation Cast Lead, “We are Hamas signs” appeared at rallies sponsored by the most “avant-garde” of performers. See Josh Strawn, “How Liberals Arrive at ‘We Are Hamas’,” Jewcy.com, January 8, 2009.

[22] Robert Wistrich, From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel (Omaha: University of Nebraska Press, 2012). Martin Lipset may have been the first to apply August Bebel’s expression “anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools,” to anti-Zionism: “‘The Socialism of Fools’

The New Left calls it “Anti-Zionism,” but it’s no different from the anti-Semitism of the Old Right,”

New York Times (magazine), January 3, 1971, p. 6, 7, 26, 27, 34.

[23] See Daniel Wojcik, “Avertive Apocalypticism,” in Oxford Handbook, pp. 66-89.

[24] On the paradoxical split between of global climate and jihad warming – roosters on the one are almost invariably owls on the other, see Varieties, chap. 15.

[25] Talal Asad briefly outlines the (crude) religious explanation for suicide terrorism (applied Huntingtonianism), and then continues “Yet another—more complicated—story can be told, one that doesn’t lend itself so easily to the popular drama of a clash of civilizations,” Talal Asad, On Suicide Bombing, (2007), p. 9. He then proceeds to discuss the religious issues in terms of “resistance to hegemony” without reference to apocalyptic passions or millennial (cosmic hegemonic) ambitions.

[26] Cf. Robert Pape’s historically absurd, functionalist analysis of suicide bombings as a resistance to “occupation”, with Geifman, Death Orders or Nancy Hartevelt-Korbin, The Banality of Suicide Bombing (Washington DC: Potomac Books, 2010).

[27] Brian Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

4 Responses to “The Other’s Antichrist, is my Antichrist”: The Millennial Encounter Between Post-Modernism and Global Jihad

  1. Kim says:

    Your writings published online, including The Augean Stables and The Second Draft, have greatly influenced my opinion and personal understanding of the cultural divide that exists between modern civil societies and the hard core zero sum game – prime divider societies in the middle east. I am not involved the academic world. I became aware of your blog by accident after doing a Google search for “zero sum game strategy.” This is the first online post I have ever made. I had completely bought into the whole “I’m ok you’re ok” post-modern philosophy and the liberal point of view as it relates to Palestine – Israel issues. Over the past few months, I have read and considered your posts and the critical responses thereto. Few responses address the arguments you make in a reasoned manner. I think your opinions are discounted because you are jewish and because you are in academics.

    You have the ability to influence a broader audience – nobody really cares about Judith Butler.

    There is undoubtedly a change in the liberal “atmosphere” after the most recent incidents in Libya and Egypt. People are finally beginning to understand. Please don’t stop. Insist that the honor – shame cultural reality be addressed head on.

    Finally, I have not read everything you have written, but I cannot tell how you propose to resolve the serious problems in the middle east. Can the west negotiate in a positive sum way with eyes wide open? Playing their zero sum power game by flexing muscle gives their failed system credibility.

  2. RK says:

    Two words: Social Text.

  3. [...] This accusation of racism is classic demopathy, in which the dupe literally does the work for the demopath. The victim, the man who deals with the real world, and not the astoundingly indulgent “takes” on reality to characterize the post-60s public sphere. [...]

  4. [...] that cannot take one’s own side even when one is right lest it be “bad form.” This is a serious problem, part of a larger sickness of our (western) age (it sure as hell isn’t a sickness of the Arab [...]

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