Saturday, December 28, 2013
Jihad, and Voegelin's “Tension of Existence”
Consider the paradox of Jihad itself and its lexicological perversity: On the face of it, the idea of Jihad appears to be an equivalent symbolism for the tension of existence, which is, in the Western Graeco-Roman and Judaeo-Christian traditions, the life of faith, hope and love borne in patience and humility reasonably balanced with the acceptance of the mystery of imperfection. It is, in other words, an existence lived in tension between this life and the next life, where the “next life” is a symbolism for the final fulfillment of the mystery of meaning in salvation: the eschaton when love and the good finally overcome all evil. The idea is not only that this is our ultimate destiny, but also that we are not there yet. And this state or condition of “not being there yet” is precisely the tension of existence.
The specific phrase “tension of existence” may be a relatively recent coinage by Austrian (later American) philosopher Eric Voegelin (1901-1985), but he coined it to express a constant in the history of Western thought, which he found in the pre-Socratics, in the Platonists and Aristotelians, in Israelite theology, and in Christian philosophy. Voegelin went further and conjectured that this existential tension is also found in Eastern thought, in Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. Voegelin also varied his formulation with the phrase “tension towards” (German, Spannung zu), to refer to the orientation of the tension, whereby its two poles, so to speak, are not equipoised, but possess an inherent bias toward what he termed “the Beyond of the tension”—i.e., toward what is symbolized variously in terms of symbolisms of the divine and of some kind of divine transformation (or salvation) of the human.
One of those thinkers from the great magisterium of the philosophoumena and theologoumena of Western civilization was the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus, who imaged this tension in terms of the Greek mythological concept of Eris, literally meaning “strife”, but in the philosophically supple hands of Heraclitus rendered mythopoetically.
In Islam, however, this apparently equivalent symbolism, Jihad—while certainly “tensional” in its sense of a “struggle”—is not merely figuratively “strife”, but is actually translated into and seems to reach its apogee in military combat and paramilitary terror perpetrated for an eschatological obsession in terms of a fanatical devotion to its foundational religious texts. The grimly cheeky rendering of Hitler's seminal manifesto Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”) as Mein Jihad is apt, so long as we realize both that Hitler himself was, as Muslims are, also diseased by a gnostic obsession with “purity” that would motivate him to “struggle” against all Mankind that had not submitted to his Reich—and that Islam is, and has been throughout its 1,400-year career, far worse even than Nazism.
More pertinently and acutely, the Islamic “tension of existence” is actually the demonic resistance against the tension of existence.
This demonic resistance is, in Islam, extrapolated in a grand and supreme belief-system that, in its totalitarian systematization, simultaneously deforms both the individual, and the Individual Writ Large: Society. In the former, the psyche of each individual Muslim is deformed in its perversion of tension into an intolerantly anti-tensional “struggle” against human imperfection. This in Islam is further, and more deeply translated into a fanatically obsessive struggle against one's own humanity, where humanity questions, doubts, and trusts in love. While in the Western conception there may have often been the temptation to demonize imperfection and imagine a procedure that would deliver perfection—this would be the “Pharisaic” obsession—the more common and mainstream ideal was to abide in patience and humility ever cognizant of one's imperfection, and to accept that as part of the mystery of meaning which in turn is the ongoing drama in which God has put us. Only the divine may divine the full meaning and the ending of the story we are caught up in, even as we have been given glimmers of truth by which we may orient ourselves in “tension towards” what is good, true and beautiful, and try to turn away from their opposites. This Western posture was in turn conducive to an ever-evolving culture of inquiry and humility that not only helped foster technological and scientific progress, but also contributed to the cultivation of the Golden Rule in ethics and in that sempiternal work-in-progress, universalism. Islam, by contrast, has no Golden Rule—only an Iron Rule of terror and totalitarianism—and as a result has always stagnated in arrested development in terms of developing a healthy sociopolitical infrastructure, and in terms of facilitating technological and scientific progress.
In terms of the Individual Writ Large—Society—there unfolds in Islam a deformation of a diseased political science, through a fundamental repudiation of the tension of the progress of sociopolitical compromise among competing meanings of life—a progress that has been the ongoing legacy of the Western genius, evolving in a context of the painful wisdom learned through the blood, sweat and tears of centuries of argument, debate, dissension, conflict, violence and wars.
In the Islamic perversion of this tensional progress in its apparent equivalence, Jihad, there is a struggle positively disposed against any earnest development of compromise in a system of a balance of powers—a compromise which in Western history has cultivated the rejection of the supremacism of any one power over others in favor of a kind of international democracy of ideologies and religions. In the Western system as it has evolved, this democracy of ideologies and religions has developed into a kind of neutral super-system that rejects, as much as possible, the role of embodying and enforcing the meaning of life—as was the role of all previous political systems with their theocratic tendencies, including Christendom—leaving that role up to subsets within society reasonably expected to be multifarious and often mutually exclusive, and therefore accorded the rights of protection but not the right of trying to impose their meanings of life on others.
It is this overarching neutral umbrella of secularism, with its official and institutionalized accomodation of multiple meanings of life within its agnostic embrace, that Islamic Jihad cannot tolerate, and must “struggle” against forever, with the aim of overthrowing it, in favor of a successful conquest and concretization of Islamic supremacism over the world. Of course, prior to the hegemonic aegis of the modern neutral umbrella of secularism, a kind of grandly beneficent cultural imperialism by which the West rules the globalist world, Islamic Jihad struggled against other sociopolitical cosmions that were not at all secularist—the Judaeo-Christian, the Persian, and the Hindu—and which did envision and institutionalize meanings of life for society. However, these ancient and medieval cosmions were far more flexibly syncretistic than Islam allows and far more conducive to a patient acceptance of imperfection, leading to evolving insights into a universalist transcendence of tribalism and toward increasing multiculturalist cooperation and understanding. By stark contrast, according to Jihad as defined in its interlocking terms above, and understood in its anti-tensional sense, Muslims cannot tolerate the indefinite compromise of Islam within a loosely affiliated, horizontally arrayed international family of competing, yet cooperating, systems of geopolitical organization and existential meaning: Muslims must have, they long for, desire, thirst and hunger after a world where everyone submits to their meaning of life. In short, Muslims are culturally encoded by their traditional blueprint to struggle perennially against any intercultural cooperation, in order to realize a vertically arrayed global organization where Islam rules, and wherein all non-Muslims are subjugated under Islam, and all who resist this are killed.
And in the face of this inveterately hostile struggle against us, we must collectively learn that our modern secular system of competitive cooperation—itself heir to and building upon the Graeco-Roman and Judaeo-Christian pillars of our civilization, designed to absorb and accomodate as much diversity of meanings and organization as possible—has its limits and cannot tolerate a counter-system so intolerantly antithetical that it threatens to destroy our system and kill as many of us as it takes to do so. Against Islam’s struggle against us, we must therefore struggle—if not to win, at least to manage it in our favor indefinitely.