Look at the swamps created by the differential of exterminability and mournability between Muslims and non-Muslims.
It is in those and similar dips in the affective tectonic plates in which we are all embedded where some of the emotional propellors of Islamic terrorism grows.
Those affects do not necessarily lead to terrorism but Islamic terrorism does not grow without them. Some people like to use the cliché ‘not all Muslims are terrorists’ to comfort themselves as if on one hand there’re the crazy terrorists and on the other there’re the Muslims who don’t feel anything.
This is not the case. Many, indeed most, Muslims feel the effect of this differential in exterminability. Who would come to realize that they, as a racialized collectivity, are considered more expendable than others and not feel it?
Most Muslims are depressed by this, or outraged, or humiliated, or angry, or stunned or made resentful, or all of the above. And sure, it does not lead all of them to become terrorists. But please don’t make it out as if all is fine for those ‘peace-loving majority’.
Muslims might block those feelings or they might process them. They might process them in a secular way, they might process them poetically or politically, in a masculine or in a feminine way, they might process them silently, publicly and collectively, or by screaming alone in the night. But they all process them. And than there’s the proverbial ‘tiny minority’ that processes them in a militarist combative way. If the latter is all you see, you’re not seeing much.
If you cannot see those affective swamps and what is allowed to fester in them, if you cannot see how it is drowning all of us in a destructive culture of exterminability, a culture of selective indifference to the killing and death of some, you are not seeing much at all.
Yet it is a collective responsibility, particularly for those of us living in the West, to see and discuss and understand those swamps and their effects. If for nothing other than the fact that it is not the Muslims who have created them, it is the West. It is years of colonial impunity in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where Muslims began to be considered exterminable and disposable and where the modern indifference to their extermination grew. And do we need to mention Palestine and the Israeli monstrosity where exterminability is continually and increasingly flirting with extermination?
In the early colonial era each colonised Muslim community had to deal with its own exterminability alone. As the world grew to be more global and interconnected, today every Muslim death is for most Muslims a global event. There was and there continue to be a politics around whether those deaths should be experienced as ‘Muslim deaths’, or as the death of colonized people, or as the death of victims of capitalism. But there is no doubt today that those deaths are primarily experienced as Muslim deaths. And likewise, there is no doubt that those who identify even mildly as Muslims don’t share the western indifference to those deaths.
Caring or experiencing indifference is not simply a matter of will. Speaking for myself, I am more likely to be in a cafe in Paris or an airport departure lounge in Brussel and be the victim of an Islamic terrorist, than I am likely to be somewhere in Iraq or Syria and get killed by a drone. That is the truth for most of us in the West. But not all of us. And we need to recognise that more and more people living among us do not feel affectively or practically as disconnected from the drone exploding in Afghanistan or Libya or Iraq. There are more and more people who live and work and intermingle with us who do think that it could be them. They don’t all think it with the same intensity or with the same sophistication or capacity for detachment. But they think it.
We live in a world of colonially produced but intermingling plurality of cultures and intensities of mournability. Until the nefarious effect of this colonialism comes to an end we could at least try and recognize and minimize the effect of this differential as opposed to letting the culture of exterminability thrive on its back. Being aware and mindful of this differential and of its effects is one step to take along this road.
So, let’s go hunting Islamic terrorists. I don’t want to die next time I am in Paris, London, Beirut, New York or Boston. And I am there a lot. I have an interest in the hunt and its success. And it is because I have an interest that I’d rather the hunters think a bit more than they appear to be at present.
Ghassan Hage is Future Generation Professor of Anthropology and Social Theory at the University of Melbourne.