Alain Badiou’s reply to Jean-​Luc Nancy

The fol­lowing is Alain Badiou’s full reply to Jean-​Luc Nancy’s “What the Arab peoples sig­nify to us”. With many thanks to Verso Books UK.

Yes, dear Jean-​Luc, the po­s­i­tion you adopt in fa­vour of ‘Western’ in­ter­ven­tion in Libya was in­deed a sorry sur­prise for me.

Didn’t you no­tice right from the start the palp­able dif­fer­ence between what is hap­pening in Libya and what is hap­pening else­where? How in both Tunisia and Egypt we really did see massive pop­ular gath­er­ings, whereas in Libya there is nothing of the kind? An Arabist friend of mind has con­cen­trated in the last few weeks on trans­lating the plac­ards, ban­ners, posters and flags that were such a fea­ture of the Tunisian and Egyptian demon­stra­tions: he couldn’t find a single ex­ample of these in Libya, not even in Benghazi. One very striking fact about the Libyan ‘rebels’, which I’m sur­prised you didn’t note, is that you don’t see a single woman, whereas in Tunisia and Egypt women are very vis­ible. Didn’t you know that the French and British secret ser­vices have been or­gan­ising the fall of Gaddafi since last au­tumn? Aren’t you amazed that, in con­trast to all the other Arab up­ris­ings, weapons of un­known origin emerged in Libya? That bands of young people im­me­di­ately began firing vol­leys in the air, some­thing in­con­ceiv­able else­where? Weren’t you struck by the emer­gence of a sup­posed ‘re­volu­tionary council’ led by a former ac­com­plice of Gaddafi, whereas nowhere else was there any ques­tion of the masses who had risen up ap­pointing some people as a re­place­ment government?

Don’t you realise how all these de­tails, and many more, chime with the fact that here, and nowhere else, the great powers were called in to sup­port? That such rif­fraff as Sarkozy and Cameron, whose aims are trans­par­ently sordid, were ap­plauded and wor­shipped — and you sud­denly give them sup­port. Isn’t it self-​evident that Libya provided an entry for these powers, in a situ­ation that else­where totally es­caped their con­trol? And that their aim, com­pletely clear and com­pletely classic, was to trans­form a re­volu­tion into a war, by put­ting the people out of the run­ning and making way for arms and armies — for the re­sources that these powers mono­polise? This pro­cess is going on be­fore your eyes each day, and you ap­prove it? Don’t you see how after the terror from the air, heavy weapons are going to be sup­plied on the ground, along with in­structors, ar­moured vehicles, strategists, ad­visers and blue hel­mets, and in this way the re­con­quest (hope­fully a fitful one) of the Arab world by the des­potism of cap­ital and its state ser­vants will recommence?

How can you of all people fall into this trap? How can you ac­cept any kind of ‘rescue’ mis­sion being en­trusted to those very people for whom the old situ­ation was the good one, and who ab­so­lutely want to get back into the game, by for­cible means, from mo­tiv­a­tions of oil and he­ge­mony? Can you simply ac­cept the ‘hu­man­it­arian’ um­brella, the ob­scene black­mailing in the name of vic­tims? But our armies kill more people in more coun­tries than the local boss Gaddafi is cap­able of doing in his. What is this trust sud­denly ex­tended to the major butchers of con­tem­porary hu­manity, to those in charge of the mu­til­ated world that we are fa­miliar with? Do you be­lieve, can you be­lieve, that they rep­resent ‘civil­isa­tion’, that their mon­strous armies can be armies of justice? I am stu­pefied, I must con­fess. I ask my­self what good is philo­sophy if it is not im­me­di­ately the rad­ical cri­tique of this kind of un­re­flecting opinion, moulded by the pro­pa­ganda of re­gimes such as our own, which pop­ular up­ris­ings in re­gions stra­tegic for them have put on the de­fensive, and which are seeking their revenge.

You say in your text that it will ‘later’ be up to ‘us’ (but who is this ‘us’, if today it in­cludes Sarkozy, Bernard-​Henri Lévy, our bombers and their sup­porters?) to make sure that oil and arms deals, and the like, don’t make their re­turn. Why ‘later’? It is now that we have to make sure, by stop­ping the great powers as much as we can from in­ter­fering in the polit­ical pro­cesses under way in the Arab world. By doing all that is pos­sible so that these powers, for­tu­nately out of the pic­ture for a number of weeks, cannot re­in­tro­duce — under the dam­aged name of ‘demo­cracy’ and the moral and hu­man­it­arian pre­texts that have been used ever since the first co­lo­nial con­quests — oil and other deals, which are quite simply the only deals that these powers and their states are in­ter­ested in.

Dear Jean-​Luc, in cir­cum­stances of this kind it makes no sense for you or me to go with the grain of the Western con­sensus that says: ‘we ab­so­lutely have to re­main in charge of everything hap­pening’. We have to make a stand against the grain, and demon­strate that the real target of Western bombers and sol­diers is in no way the wretched Gaddafi, a former client of those who are now get­ting rid of him as someone in the way of their higher in­terests. For the target of the bombers is def­in­itely the pop­ular up­rising in Egypt and the re­volu­tion in Tunisia, it is their un­ex­pected and in­tol­er­able char­acter, their polit­ical autonomy, in a word: their in­de­pend­ence. To op­pose the de­structive in­ter­ven­tions of the powers means sup­porting the polit­ical in­de­pend­ence and the fu­ture of these up­ris­ings and re­volu­tions. This is some­thing we can do, and it is an un­con­di­tional imperative.

With friendly greet­ings,

  1 comment for “Alain Badiou’s reply to Jean-​Luc Nancy

  1. Bill Bowring
    4 April 2011 at 1:41 pm

    Thanks for posting this! — very important

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