Monday, March 2, 2009

Asad Formations, chs 4-5

Asad, Formations Ch. 4 “Redeeming the ‘Human’ through Human Rights”


SUMMARY: Asad begins by exposing a paradox to modern ideas of human rights as expressed in the UDHR (128-29). He then goes on to discuss the development of the idea of liberty and rights (130-137), then how these ideas play into the UDHR (137-140). Malcolm X and others have used ideas of human rights to avoid having to appeal to the state (141-144), but using state-based ideology has been more productive for those in the Civil rights movement and the US government (144-147). Also, the defining of human rights ends up defining what it means to be human (150-157).

128-Western interventions in other countries can have devastating effects, even though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) Article 25 says “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the (129) right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

-IMF interventions, for example in the 1990s in Indonesia and Russia, have caused these problems though they have not been looked at as a violation of human rights because the responsibility is supposed to be with individual states, but in the case of Indonesia and Russia, their ability “to uphold certain rights was directly compromised by IMF and U.S. policies aimed at liberalizing national economies.”; responsibility is placed on individual nations, according to Article 25 and “Damage done to the economy of another country (as in the case of the deliberate interventions I have mentioned) does not constitute a violation of human rights even if it causes immense suffering because in the final analysis the responsibility for the damage is borne only by the governors of ‘national economy,’ and in any case it is considered a short-term cost of a long-term benefit.”

129-Asad says he’s not assigning blame but pointing out how responsibility is assigned in the secular system of “human rights”; “Nothing essential to a person’s human essence is violated if he or she suffers as a consequence of military action or of market manipulation from beyond his own state when that is permitted by international laws. In these cases, the suffering that the individual sustains as citizens—as the national of a particular state—is distinguished from the suffering he undergoes as a human being. Human rights are concerned with the individual only in the latter capacity, that inalienable rights define the human does not depend on the nation-state because the former relates to a state of nature, whereas the concept of citizen, including the rights a citizen holds, presupposes a state that Enlightenment theorists called political society…Yet the identification and application of human rights law has no meaning independent of the judicial institutions that belong to individual nation-states (or to several states bound together by treaty) and the remedies that these institutions supply—and therefore of the individual’s civil status as a political subject.”


130-in medieval times, jurists said “property rights” were “natural,” but they still said property rights depended on “reciprocal duty in accordance with objective (because divinely given) criteria”; in the later middle ages, the idea that property was natural for all men regardless emerge; then in the 16th century there was a debate over whether liberty was “owned” and therefore alienable like property, or (in the view of the Dominicans and other similarly-minded groups) that liberty was not property, but essential to human existence

131-“it was no accident” that modern rights theories began in Portugal and the Netherlands, “the main centers of the slave trade at that time”, and Molina and Grotius took the side that liberty was property and could be traded; though there were debates over whether the state or the individual had rights

-in the 17th century, John Selden, and English follower of Grotius, said that laws had obligations and punishment, so a person was aware of these aspects of rights, and this distinguished people from animals, “conversely, only subjects who possessed rights could be regarded as human”

-Hobbes “merged the idea of supernatural punishment with the idea that all punishment was in a crucial sense natural”, (132) in Leviathan he explains there is natural redemption—injustice gets violence, pride gets ruin, negligence with rebellion, cowardice with oppression, etc., and he thought rights were transferable (and they should be transferred to the state who would protect all); later Locke said there was “natural good and evil”, giving “natural” morality a “religious foundation”

132-radical objected to hobbes, saying rights weren’t transferable (eg Overton), (133) or Matthew Hale said there are natural laws men know without government

134-In Natural Rights Theories, Tuck points out that today liberal theory still has the contradiction: some principles are dependent on the fact that we live in society (therefore, based off consent); others are completely independent, a minimal morality

135”…it has been argued that because the massive growth of public debt in the seventeenth century increased the precariousness and volatility of property—especially the new financial forms of property, distinct from the older, landed, ‘real’ property—this development contributed to an intensified sense of the self’s contingency among the middle and upper classes.”, so “the essence of the human comes to be circumscribed by legal discourse: The human being is a sovereign, self-owning agent—essentially suspicious of others—and not merely a subject conscious of his or her own identity. It is on this basis that the secularist principle of the right to freedom of belief and expression was crafted.”

-“Whatever its early history may be, today only a strong, secular state can enforce natural rights and its successor as the law—whether that relates to the treatment of persons or of property.”, human rights depend on “national rights—that is, rights that constitute, protect, and punish one as the citizen of a nation-state. This also means that the state has the power to use human rights discourse to coerce its own citizens—just as colonial rulers had the power to use it against their own subjects. In defending its citizens’ human rights it is only the state that can legally threaten to punish violators.”, and (136) political theorists who deal with the emergence of rights in Euro-America don’t address this issue—(137) they don’t consider that these rights are used in colonies, rights are “sentimentalized as ‘the human family.’”


137-“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights begins by asserting ‘the inherent dignity’ and ‘the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family,’ and then turns immediately to the state. In doing so it implicitly accepts the fact that the universal character of the rights-bearing person is made the responsibility of sovereign states, each of which has exclusive jurisdiction over a limited group within the human family. This limited population is—as Foucault noted [in Technologies of the Self]—at once the object of the state’s care and a means of securing its own power. In other words, although the individual does not have the right to decide his own fate, authorities of the state of which he is a citizen have the constitutional right to decide it for him.”

-“The Declaration states that unless human rights are ‘protected by the rule of law,’ subjects will be ‘compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression.’”, so “There is no explicit recognition that what is allowed by the law may be unjust and therefore intolerable; there is only the statement that nothing contravening human rights can be lawful (which is either a tautology or untrue)”—because “The Declaration seems to assume a direct convergence of ‘the rule of law’…with social justice…If that is the case, the rule called law in effect usurps the entire universe of moral discourse.”

-it also then “privileges the state’s norm-defining function…thereby encouraging the thought that the authority of norms corresponds to the political force that supports them as law.”

-it’s a revival of natural law that came from the “moral revulsions” of Nazi state actions; Nuremberg trials “introduced the notion of crimes against humanity into international law.”, though in note #22 Asad says “…the Nazis carried out their policy of extermination not because there was no universal human rights charter at the time, but because Hitler’s Germany had the organizational means and ruthlessness to do it, and because the Allies could not or would not intervene. In general The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been more useful for punishing criminals convicted of genocide than for preventing the crime.”

139-and though there are now multi-state regions that have charters for human rights, these are just “proto-states whose individual member-states retain considerable authority.”

-and today groups define human rights in different ways and these conflict with state views—and states then respond by redefining the norms and identity of rights and the groups (eg when it comes to religious rights, which are often in Western countries only given to beliefs, and practices are often limited—which changes a religion’s identity); (140) plus definitions of human rights vary from state to state


141-Asad quotes Malcolm X who called for leaving behind the struggle for civil rights (because the whole idea of it is controlled by the oppressors) and instead struggle for human rights, and (142) connected language of human rights with revolution (in Malcolm’s case, he wanted a revolution against the US) which has been done before: English Bill of Rights of 1699 came after the 17th century civil war, American Bill of Rights came after the War of Independence, French Revolution gave “Rights of Man and the Citizen,” (145)and UDWR of 1948 came after WWII

144-Malcolm’s failure was due to the fact other states (countries) couldn’t intervene to help



-The US has 2 prophetic narratives: Pilgrims get religious freedom, and colonies escape despotism; (145) both these only define human as a certain class of people and exclude blacks and native Americans; the stories are very important: “Americans have retold the story to authorize claims about rights, inequality, membership, history, and their meaning: [Direct quote from Shulman “American Political Culture”], these stories encourage “the identification fo social crises and the condemnation of social injustice, both by those who occupy the ideological center of American liberalism and those who stand outside it as its critics.”—eg civil rights movement used it

146-says reason why MLK mobilized more Americans than Malcolm is because he used this story

-the US government also uses that story for its International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, (147) in which it sets “up an office in the State Department to report annually on religious persecution in all foreign countries (that is, excluding the United States)”, and Section 2 (a) says it’s continuing in the spirit of the founding fathers who wanted religious freedom; it’s an attempt to globalize human rights because Americans see themselves as the Chosen People



150-in defining human rights, you are also defining what it means to be human (including what are essential aspects of one’s body) when you identify what obstacles are to human nature; at the same time, only a sovereign power has the power to define this, so even though some people (like Nussbaum in Women and Human Development) define human rights as arrived at by consensus, it’s really not

151-the West (especially the US) has this sovereignty because it controls culture, “vocabulary, concepts and meaning in many fields” [direct quote from Ramonet “The Control of Pleasure”]; (152) and the global economy—(154) political power, from no matter what culture, changes all other cultures by defining humanity (especially when “humanity” is seen as redeeming people from “traditional culture”

154-in fact, forces in general, not just sovereign cultures, shape culture; (155) eg the unstable job market in US has made it more difficult to have a “realization of ‘character’”(cf The Corrosion of Character); and as the separation between “public politics and private belief is seen to crumble, the new terrain is occupied by a discourse of human rights that can be taken as either sacred or profane.”

156-definitions of “human” have been affected by animal rights theories and (157) development of genetic engineering—and this is made more complex because the UDHR article 17 “provides a guarantee to entrepreneurial property throughout the world”—Guillebaud, in Le Principe d’humanite, argues property issues concerning genetic engineering will be used to legitimize slavery and racism


CH 5 “Muslims as a ‘Religious Minority’ in Europe”

SUMMARY: “Identity” has become more important for Europeans since the 1960s (161), and the idealized understanding of “Europe” selects different experiences, ignoring some (including Muslims) (161-168). This understanding is taken to be “Europe’s” essence (168), excluding others from the identity of “Europe,” and encouraging assimilation (170). This persists in the “world-wide society” today which is modeled and controlled by Europeans and Americans (172). Asad then looks at the development of ideas of political representation and minority (173-174), and he believes that minorities are always subjected to the power of the majority (175). He also examines alternatives to this system (177-180).

159-Thesis of the chapter: “Europe…is ideologically constructed in such a way that Muslim immigrants cannot be satisfactorily represented in it. I argue that they are included in and excluded from Europe at one and the same time in a special way, and that this has less to do with the ‘absolutist Faith’ of Muslims living in a secular environment and more with European notions of ‘culture’ and ‘civilization’ and ‘the secular state,’ ‘majority’ and ‘minority.’”

-takes it “for granted that in Europe today Muslims are often misrepresented in the media and discriminated against by non-Muslims.”; the majority of Western Europeans fear that (160) Muslim values “are an affront to the modern secular state”



161-“The general preoccupation in the social sciences with the idea of identity dates from after the second World War. It marks a new sense of the word, highlighting the individual’s social locations and psychological crises in an increasingly uncertain world.”; note #4 says in the first edition of International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (1930-35), there was no entry for “identity” and it didn’t appear until the 1968 edition (cf Gleason “Identifying Identity: A Semantic History”); “Previously the more common meaning of identity was ‘sameness,’ as in the statement that all Muslims do not have ‘identical interests’ and attributively, as in ‘identity card.’”’ “In Europe the newer twist in the sense of the word is almost certainly more recent than in America. Perhaps in both places the discourse of identity indicates not the rediscovery of ethnic loyalties so much as the undermining of old certainties. The site of that discourse is suppressed fear.”

-“The idea of a European identity, I say, is not merely a matter of how legal rights and obligations can be reformulated. Nor is it simply a matter of how a more inclusive name can be made to claim loyalties that are attached to national or local ones. It concerns exclusions and the desire that those excluded recognize what is included in the name one has chosen for oneself. The discourse of European identity is a symptom of anxieties about non-Europeans.”



-Asad looks at “some uses of the concept ‘Europe’—rather than in tracing its empirical spread.”; (162) A “myth of Europe” has been created and in it people selectively recall shared experiences and interpretations of violence—eg violence of Nazis is felt as a shared, and therefore unifying experience, as well as fighting against Muslim incursions, while violence against non-Europeans in European colonies is ignored and (163) Europe is also identified as Christian throughout its history, even after ideas of natural law started emerging in the 16th century

164-Bosnian Muslims in the 1990s were seen as “in Europe…not of it—and it is precisely for this reason that they should be accorded toleration”; and this (165) characterization is used by liberals and conservatives



166-Europe sees itself as a superior culture that is distinct from others—a “civilization” in multiple senses

167-While many of Europe’s ideas and techniques came from the outside, writers [many are implied, but Asad only cites Trevor-Roper] believe that “The things that belong to European civilization, therefore, are those that were taken up and creatively worked on by ‘Europe.’”, and Asad says includes Locke’s idea of rights to property, that it should be cultivated—so (168) “’European history’ thus becomes a history of continuously productive actions defining as well as defined by law…It is a story that can be narrated in terms of improvement and accumulation, in which the industrial revolution is merely one (albeit central) moment. According to this conception, ‘European civilization’ is simply the sum of properties, all those material and moral acts that define European identity.”

168-“It follows from this view of Europe that real Europeans acquire their individual identities from the character of their civilization. Without that civilizational essence, individuals living within Europe are unstable and ambiguous. That is why not all inhabitants of the European continent are ‘really’ or ‘fully’ European. Russians are clearly marginal. Until just after World War II, European Jews were marginal too…Completely external to ‘European history’ is medieval Spain.”



-“There is a problem for any historian constructing a categorical boundary for ‘European civilization’ because the populations designated by the label ‘Islam’ are, in great measure, the culture heirs of the Hellenic world—the very world in which ‘Europe’ claims to have its roots. ‘Islamic civilization’ must therefore be denied a vital link to the properties that define so much of what is essential to ‘Europe’ if a civilizational difference is to be postulated between them. There appears to be two moves by which this is done. First, by denying that it has an essence of its own, “Islam” can be represented (169) as a carrier civilization that helped to bring important elements into Europe from outside, material and intellectual elements that were only contingently connected to Islam. [cites Trevor-Roper The Rise of Christian Europe p. 141] Then, to this carrier civilization is attributed an essence: an ingrained hostility to all non-Muslims. That attribution constitutes Islam as Europe’s primary alter.”—“Islam” is given “a quasi-civilizational identity”

169-by saying Islam’s history is inessential, you can say Muslim “can be assimilated…into a global (‘European’) civilization once they have divested themselves of what many of them [Europeans] regard (mistakenly_ as essential to themselves.” [PROB: the term “essence” asad uses for saying what Europeans deny about Islam may be better said as Europeans just seeing Islam’s essence as weak, cuz they do think it has and essence—and this shows up in polemics about Islam]; (170) and this logic also suggests that assimilation is desirable; “It is not possible for Europe to be represented without evoking this history and the way in which its active power has continually constructed its own exclusive boundary—and transgressed it.”

172-Europe “made itself” through expanding its hegemony over the world—the world-wide society today is based on the European model and Europeans/Americans still regulate it



173-“The ideology of political representation in liberal democracies makes it difficult if not impossible to represent Muslims as Muslims. Why? Because in theory the citizens who constitute a democratic state belong to a class that is defined only by what is common to all its members and its members only. What is common is the abstract equality of individual citizens to one another, so that each counts as one.” And this inevitably leads to the idea that the majority is an approximate representation of the whole (a “majority rules” idea)—“It is no accident that the statistical representativeness emerged in close connection with the construction of the welfare state…and the centralization of national statistics,” and they are important in democratic politics, “demography, social security legislation, market research, and national election politics.”

174-plus the notion of “minority” is not just from statistics, it also comes from “the dissolution of the bond that was formed immediately after the Reformation between the established Chruch and the early modern state. This notion of minority sits uncomfortably with the secular Enlightenment concept of the abstract citizen.”; this doctrine said “it was the state’s business to secure religious uniformity within the polity—or at least to exclude Dissenters from important rights—[and] was crucial to the formation of the early modern state.” And the Enlightenment idea of political community contrasted this because it criticized the religious inequality and wanted all citizens equal (embodied in France’s “Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen”)—though this theory was also criticized, “notably by Burke for the license it gave to destructive passions, and by Marx for disguising bourgeois self-interest. However, the decisive movements that helped to break the alliance of church and state seem to have been religious rather than secular-Tractarianism in England, and Ultramontanism in France and Europe generally. The arguments they deployed most effectively were strictly theological and were aimed at securing the freedom of Christ’s church from the constraints of an earthly power.” [cf Heim “The Demise of the Confessional State…” in Majorities and Minorities], and as a result minorities became both equal to all and unequal groups which required special protection

-including minorities means including people who have often conflicting historical narratives; (175) “’Minority rights’ are not derivable from general theories of citizenship; status is connected to membership in a specific historical group, not in the abstract class of citizens,” minotirities may be numerically smaller or larger than the body of equal citizens from which they are excluded “Because minorities are defined as minorities only in hierarchical structures of power.”

175-all groups have “narratives, and the practices they authorize, [which] help to define what is essential to each group”, but minority groups are forced to “shed the narratives and practices they take to be necessary [,in this context,] to their lives as Muslims.”



177-a solution to this is suggested by Connolly in “pluralism, multiculturalism and the nation0state” is to shift the idea of pluralism from a “majority narration presiding over numerous minorities in a democratic state” to “a continuous readiness to deconstruct historical narratives constituting identities and their boundaries (which, he argues, have a tendency to become sacralized and fundamentalized) in order to ‘open up space through which care is cultivated for the abundance of life.’” [direct quote from Connolly]; Asad says this is difficult to do , (178) but he hoeps that states can be composed of several minority groups instead of one major one, though this is also difficult to achieve—and focus should not be on identity but on “what it takes to live particular ways of life continuously, co-operatively, and unselfconsciously.”

179-Asad likes Milbank’s idea (cf “Agaisnt the Resignations of the Age” in Things old and new) that it’s impossible for groups’ actions not to affect one another and overlap—it happened in medieval times: “Christendom and Islam recognized a multiplicity of overlapping bonds and identities. People were not always expected to subject themselves to one sovereign authority, nor were they themselves sovereign moral subjects.”—calls this “complex space”

-this “complex space” should be combined with “complex time” (realizing similar things for time as you can with space) and this should reduce the scope for ‘national politics’—necessary in a globalized world (globalized economy, nationalities, etc); (180) but “decisive answers on this subject are too difficult to secure.”

No comments: