The Fallacy of Sharia Law

As was proven by Sigmund Freud, in his final book on Moses, the best way to undercut someone’s argument is by repositioning that which their critique rests upon; for example Freud had a clear choice when the Nazi’s went from intimidating Jewish households to eliminating them – he could hurl abuse at Nazism, or radically rearticulate the grounds on which Judaism were built upon.

He chose the latter; the writing of one psychoanalyst could not take down a whole army, so he decided to turn the pen on himself, and his race, in order to knock off balance the understanding of Jewish history that the Nazi’s thought they had nailed.

Moses, Freud mentions in his book, written while exiled in Britain before he died, was an Egyptian priest of Akhenaten, and not, as is erroneously assumed, originally Hebrew. As such, he told Arnold Zweig in a letter, “Moses created the Jews” as well as noting that “it was not God who chose the Jews … but Moses.”

Instead of writing antagonistic polemic towards the fascists, like many other exiled Jews had, he aimed to show that everything the Nazi’s thought they knew about the Jews was wrong, instead of accepting the Nazi’s knowledge and arguing from the perspective of justice alone (if there was anyone who could attack the psyche in such a way, it was Freud).

It is one thing simply to put up a defense to someone’s crazy ideas; but the real way in which to throw their argument off course is to show that everything they know is wrong, even by searching from within the tradition that they ascribe themselves to, in order to show that everything they know even about themselves is wrong.

This is what I aimed to do on the subject of the far right within Islam – and what I continue to do with Freud’s method as my mentoring method – throw off the enemy’s argument by creating conditions where they doubt their knowledge, and furthermore their self-knowledge.

But this time it is on sharia law, and how Muslims interact with it in so-called non-Muslim jurisdictions (such as the UK).

In February 2008, in response to Rowan Williams’ comment on the (“unavoidable”) role sharia law has in UK law, Professor Shaheen Ali of Warwick university commented on the “current debate around the place of ‘Islamic Law’ within the UK legal framework“. She noted some very interesting things which I will outline here, but still recommend following the above link and listening to for yourself.

In her introduction to what Sharia law is, to put the argument in its correct context, she pointed out that:

  • sharia by defintion is a code of life; but not legally enforceable rules and principles
  • there are 7 denominations from where the so-called Islamic law can be ascertained; 4 on the Sunni side, as well as the many sets and subsets that exist within the Shia strain of though – and they very much fail to find convergence between themselves
  • there are 57 muslim jurisdictions in the world that appeal to different legal precepts – varying significantly from schools of thought from in Iran to Malaysia to Saudi Arabia
  • to try and introduce all those different perspectives in to the UK legal system by the 10% + of Muslims in UK would be very problematic indeed

And with regard to what the laws have to say about how a Muslim is to conduct oneself in a non-Muslim country, Shaheen Ali contests that:

  • there is already a code of practice on how a Muslim conducts themselves and what  their obligations viz-a-viz the country to which they now call home
  • Britain affords a legal system to all its habitants and is therefore congruent with Islam and social justice
  • Britain does not put a curb on the practice of the 5 pillars of Islam (Shahada – the professing of oneself to be a Muslim; Salat – prayer; Zakat – to give to charity; Sawm – the ritual fasting; Hajj – the pilgrimage to Mecca), therefore the laws here must be respected by Muslims, stipulated, Professor Ali states, by “Islamic law”.

Bridget Prentice, Justic Minister, at a Westminster Hall debate, said on the subject:

Nothing in the law in England and Wales prevents people from abiding by sharia principles if they wish to do so, provided that it does not conflict with the law in England and Wales. If it did, the law in England and Wales would prevail.

For Professor Ali sharia principles are personal codes regarding religious codes, but the stereotypes of cutting limbs off as punishment, and the social exclusion of women is what is thought of by sharia – a point she blames the media for.

But that is not to say these stereotypes are not perpetuated by some Muslims themselves; only Professor Ali is doing as Freud did and formulating an argument that questions the foundations of the enemy’s knowledge. For those to whom sharia law means Islamicising Europe should have their argument stunted significantly by the words of Shaheen Ali.

Another marker we might also like to look out for is what counts as official Islamophobia (a term subject to much debate and confusion). To want to do damage to one who insults Islam is wrong beyond comprehension and inadvertently suggests the inability of such a person to debate on intellectual terms (it is no coincidence that sentiments such as this one shortly follow views that sharia law replace all existing forms of law – like a pluralistic law which is able to inhabit sharia law closer to how Ali terms it, and how Prentice, above, noted it). For Ali the only time when a Muslim should feel they can’t be a Muslim and respect the law of the country in which they inhabit is when they are unable to practice the 5 pillars as mentioned above.

Although what Ali has said won’t stop unpalatable views from far right elements within Islam that the UK is un-Islamic and that “soldiers of Islam” should rise up, it does show how wrong they are, not simply from one meeker opinion to theirs, but is even wrong within the context of Islam, which they are supposedly voicing.

Freud did not simply say to the Nazi’s that they were wrong in his opinion; he showed how the grounds for their knowledge were obscured, and it is precisely this which Professor Shaheen Ali has done to dangerous voices on the conservative and fascistic schools of thought within Islam; for which we on the side of democracy and justice should be grateful.

The Cyborg Future of Enjoyment Part 3/5

(Written 2008)

A cyborg body is not innocent… The Cyborg Beginnings and Phases

…”it was not born in a garden”. Alluding to Eden, Haraway tells us the cyborg does not have the same gendered, male doministic origins as the human (man, and of-man-by-rib). Its roots are (perhaps worse) in “militarism and patriarchal capitalism, not to mention state socialism” (151). Since the cyborg “doesn’t depend on human reproduction for its existence” (151) and is above gender, it poses limits on Freudian analysis. Evoking images of Plato’s Symposium the cyborg doesn’t seek completeness in sexual union or desire a nuclear family unit. Its essence is to be found in its environs as much as its own self – perpetuated by biotechnology and communication control loop systems.

For her justification, Haraway looks to biology and evolutionary theory, which has “reduced the border” between humans and animals. No matter how one identifies functioning humanism (the so-called pursuit, freedoms and rights for what it is to be human) – be it in an industrial age where humans use their arms and hands as naturally made tools, or thought without thought-simulation aids such as calculators or computers, or be it an age closer to Rousseau’s dream of humans being at one with their surrounding natures – by comparison the human being functions in a different manner, or rather, the human being has been manipulated by a new technological terrain.

In a lecture by the name of Birth of the Kennel given at the European Graduate School Haraway characterizes humans as in a space of ‘artifactuality’ that is, humans as ‘objects of knowledge’ are both prone to learning and being shaped by companion species – humans are artifacts! Her lecture title appears to come as an ironic critique of the essential hubris of the ego, caging dogs as mutts, denying ourselves a teacher of self-knowledge. Haraway aims to dignify learning from companion species against the overbearing pride of the human, content in the fallacy of completion. The image of the dog is one of tameness due to domesticity, of being a product not just of its evolution, but by its surroundings. Can we not recall ever hearing the (Rousseau for dogs?) argument that it is not fair that dogs should be domesticated but rather should be allowed to run wild and feral? It seems that this is not what Haraway is arguing at all, because she embraces the human-dog companionship. In this sense, evolution has erased the line between human and animal, but humans are also a product of their techno-scientific surroundings. As a means of learning to know ourselves, humans need to embrace this partial ontology. Haraway’s appeal seems to be more directed at the notion that for Woman, in order to escape the reality of an of-man existence, organisms and machines need to share companionship.

What, however, is one to think of techno-scientific responsibility in this context? An infamous picture details Donna Haraway on the steps of her home cuddling her dog Cayenne (see endnote), they both look at each other, she smiling, the dog appearing to flap its ears in glee. This is the imagery of companionship which Haraway aims to construct between organism and machine. She explains “cyborg imagery can help express [...] taking responsibility for the social relations of science and technology [...] reconstructing the boundaries of daily life [...] in communication with all our parts” (181). At once this polemic is for responsibility in positive cyborg imagery, standing opposite of Blade Runner’s Rachel who Haraway describes as “the image of a cyborg culture’s fear, love, and confusion” (177-78) which seems not be a reflective picture. Her explanation of a cyborg imagery also expresses the responsibility involved in reorganizing places in everyday life once prohibited, forward into one biotic component (a living organism which exists in a [perhaps communications] system).

These prohibitions apply particularly to females; I will quote at large Haraway as saying

“[u]p till now (once upon a time), female embodiment seemed to be given, organic, necessary [...] Only by being out of place could we take intense pleasure in machines, and then with excuses that this was organic activity after all, appropriate to females.”

Also with regards to the economy (although Haraway is keen to show that she is aware that this is not necessarily a progressive statement and can be accommodated for in the White Patriarchal Capitalist circuitry) the ‘homework’ economy – a term borrowed from Richard Gordon who uses it to describe work in electronic assemblage, mainly done by women overseas, and the feminizing of labor in general – has already shaped, to a certain extent, the female cyborg self. For women, Haraway argues, technological advancements were boundaries of daily life, and a given ‘female nature’ had been wrongly ascribed. She calls for this to be a thing of the (Edenic) past.

Indeed, for the future of a cyborg world “what counts as nature – a source of insight and promise of innocence – is undermined, probably fatally”(152-53). To be sure, Haraway does not shy away from exposing the anxieties of some toward a future that embraces the obsoleteness of ‘humanism’.

One key question to this essay is (and indeed is a regular proposal to many written pieces on Haraway’s cyborg theory); if Donna Haraway is so anxious to remind us that a cyborg’s beginnings are far different from a humans, can the cyborg be said to have any Freudian basis at all? Where some might be keen to answer in the negative, I do see an element of Freudian basis to the new cyborg selves. I will stress that a cyborg Freudianism is not inasmuch as a human baby’s drives and desires may be derived from the oral or anal phase. That is to say, when one thinks of Freud, one may be reminded of the baby who as s/he is being breast fed enters into the oral phase, that when being fed, gains an amount of pleasure which emanates from the mouth. When that baby reaches an age where s/he could be fed properly, s/he, even more than before, desires the absent breast – the object of oral pleasure. Or one may be reminded of the baby who is allowed to micturate whenever s/he feels like it, or defecate and enjoy it immensely – a stage known as the anal stage – but as the diaper is replaced for underwear such enjoyable activity must be regulated. As the psychoanalyst Karl Abraham remarked, “instincts, which are allowed free expression in early childhood, are subjected to a considerable measure of repression and sublimation later on” (Abraham 281). The Freudianism applicable to a species which is half organism, half machine will not specifically look like the above description, in short, The American School, or ego psychology. The Freudianism applicable is from the Lacanian School.

Jacques Lacan resumed Freud to the letter, adding a knowledge of semiotics to the mix which Freud himself did not live to see popularize. One of the more important elements to Lacan’s lectures was his rejuvenation of the commonly misunderstood death drive. For Freud, the death drive was not some elementary striving for suicide, but, an act that aimed to go beyond the reality principle. The reality principle is based upon the constitution of society and gender; in the first it is in-keeping with societal expectations, to repress those things which are given free expression in early childhood like living only for bodily satisfaction; in the second it is in-keeping with what is expected of one as a gendered person, for example, since Man carries the phallic signifier of the symbolic order, he dominates over Woman’s so-called ‘lack’. Heterosexual union, necessary to the upkeep of the symbolic order, decrees female pleasure to be at the beck-and-call of male intercourse – this being a component of female ontology. The death drive for Woman, however, is a deviation from her ontological constitution, where her sexual enjoyment is organized in a perfectly self-enclosed auto-eroticism. Lacan has a term for this – jouissance.

The contrast between the pleasure principle and the death drive in Freudian psychoanalysis is formally the same as the contrast between plasir and jouissance - the former can be accommodated within the reality principle, the reality principle allows for a minimum of (phallic) pleasure, but the latter works exactly like a cybernetic machine, as we have mentioned, self-enclosed, along with no consideration of societal expectations or ontological constitution. In other words it is in excess of reality. The reality principle imposes limits on the pleasure principle, whereas the ‘Real’ of jouissance is consequently beyond the pleasure principle. In short, the cyborg is a species of jouissance.

The cyborg may well have bypassed any Oedipallic constitution, but it is still subject to the same principles concerning sexual enjoyment. As I have already mentioned, its cybernetic basis makes it perfectly adaptable to Lacan’s understanding of jouissance. At this stage, I will further explain how.

Part 4 tomorrow

The Cyborg Future of Enjoyment Part 1/5

(Written July 2008)

Popular culture has created many fictional forms of the cyborg, from Rachel in Ripley Scott’s Blade Runner to The Terminator. But for some, the cyborg is not simply a fictional myth. Foremost cyborg theorist Donna Haraway in her Cyborg Manifesto has defined it as a cybernetic creature of both lived society and fiction. Since there are no indicated boundaries between the two, there is a struggle to define and control the cyborg properly, this “border war” being fought vie an “optical illusion” (149).

Modern Medicine, Haraway continues, is already full of cyborgs. Indeed the possibility of a complete scanning of the human body in order to replicate a digitized 3-D figure for digital slicing, an effort known as VHP (Visible Human Project), will be made common medical practice in the near future (for more see Hayles). The cyborg, also, is not defined by gender; “it has no truck with bisexuality, pre-oedipal symbiosis [...] or other seductions to organic wholeness [constituted by] all the powers of the parts into a higher unity” (150).

For some who are anxious of those who, like Haraway expresses in her Informatics of Domination, embrace genetic engineering, such as R. Klein who Nadia Mahjouri in her paper on Techno-Maternity quotes as saying “[g]enetic and reproductive engineering is another attempt to end self-determination over our own bodies” (para. 4) Haraway is keen to show that techno-science has already begun the process of such engineering, and the feeling of being mediated by it already exists.

The cyborg also designates new and legitimate forms of sexual enjoyment. In much the same way that a cyborg is a cybernetic organism receiving and transmitting information in a control loop, eroticism is, in Lacan’s terminology, the aim, or the directing of oneself in a pleasurable act. The pleasure is pleasure experienced within oneself, and so therefore ones aim is returned. As Elizabeth Grosz terms it “[a] reintegration into the circuit of a perfectly self-enclosed auto-eroticism” (77).

The cyborg as hybrid of machine and organism takes on the circuitry of both, the control system of the former, and the auto-eroticism of the latter. In terms of sexuality, the cyborg is perfectly created for self-satisfaction. For example, cybersex is an encounter which takes place with an assumed reciprocate. The enjoyment of the incoming messages from the communication technology is self-enclosed, it is not an enjoyment which is obligated simultaneously to satisfy a phallic signifier, a point I will extend later.

Similarly, Slavoj Zizek, in an interview with Flash Art in 1992 talks about the ‘minitel’, a once fashionable mini-computer available in France, which was the preferred medium of instant-messaging sex. Not one to miss a Lacanian reading, Zizek informs that the point of the message exchange is not that it will lead to meeting up, swapping addresses, but rather the “entire satisfaction, the jouissance is that you do not know and will never know who the other is” (para. 18). The satisfaction gained is, as he describes it, wound up in the “purely symbolic exchange.”

Cybersex even has its laws and taboos. A unique case occurred May 16, 2008 when a Texas Minister of a Dallas Megachurch was charged with online solicitation of a minor, the first time a sexual legal case has taken place where the victim and culprit were not in the same room at the scene of the crime.

So since sex mediated by machines has its principles, and these principles can be exceeded (as the above example demonstrates) cyborgs can experience the form of excess, otherwise known as jouissance.

The aim of this article is to marry the cyborg as Donna Haraway theorized it with Lacan’s notion of jouissance in order to get some sense of the future of (sexual) enjoyment in an age of combined bio- and communication-technologies, that is to say, humanity mediated in the domain of science and technology. To do this, I will firstly bring together both Haraway’s and Lacan’s accounts of feminine ontology, then go into a more detailed definition of the cyborg, and round it up by seeing where jouissance fits into the cyborg ontology. With this I will use an example of a chat-room user who engages in the activity I have come to term as cyborg enjoyment.

Part 2 tomorrow

A Freudian, anti-Cartesian, look at Martin Scorsese’s ‘Shutter Island’

Spoiler Warning

How does one know one exists, Descartes, and is not in a dream? Through thinking. But Teddy Daniels is thinking. To analyse the subject of philosophy therefore, we must begin beyond the ego. It is not that we think, therefore we know we are – for this gives primacy to subjectivity based alone on ego, or consciousness. Rather, Freud’s theory of the unconscious subverted Descartes’ primacy of the ego; to say that there is thinking happening, that is not readily available to the consciousness, or put differently, one is not always conscious of everything they are thinking.

Though this is not all that the unconscious is. It is not simply that unconsciousness is the thinking that we do not know about, and has been that way since the begininng. It is that the unconscious is radically seperated from consciousness. This, in practical terms, is necessary, for if we were thinking everything at the level of the consciosness we’d remember nothing, we spend forever trying to open doors, we’d be reading every word on a page then trying to work that word out; we keep a lot locked in at the level of the unconscious so as not to constantly forget. The unconscious is the place where we keep things we do automatically.

But furthermore, more dramatically, it is the product of repression. We place things at the level of the unconscious as a way of repressing things that become too much for us, that are traumatic. For Teddy Daniels (played by Leornardo DiCaprio) the repression is due to his kids being killed by his wife, and then him killing his wife – who he has it, in his mind, as having died in a fire. This repression goes so far, so much so that too much reality has been put at the level of the unconscious, and he creates a fantasy world, where he is a US Marshal.

The audience, at the end of the film accepts this, perhaps may well have seen this twist coming from a mile away, but the question remians: what if we are duped ourselves, what if the doctors on shutter island (the characters of Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow and the others) are just telling Daniels that he is mentally unstable? Luckily Scorsese has this one covered, and can only be truly recognised in knowledge of his directorial skills.

How do we know when we are in the Matrix, film buffs? There are glitches, 2 cats walk by. The same theory must be applied to recognise when we are in the real on shutter island. There are continuity glitches (this mastery has obviously confused people with “filmmaking experience”). The scene on the boat towards the island, with Daniels and the man he thinks is his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), on their way to the Ashecliff Hospital for the criminally insane, there are a number of moments of seemingly erroneous continuity – but, of course, my contention is these stand for the glitches in Daniels’ grasping of reality, and this in turn demonstrates why it is in fact true that Daniels is a patient at Ashecliff Hospital – without this continuity trick, we too would find it hard to decipher reality.

What is more, the glitch in the Matrix, the breaks in continuity, these remind us that there are ways of knowing whether one is in a dream or not – to rebut the Cartesian premise – but, sometimes terrifyingly, the work of the unconscious is vast, and not subject to the same laws of knowing.

Death, Alexander McQueen, Judas and Martin Luther King

Was Judas a friend or foe of Jesus Chris?

Such is an ongoing theological debate: that those who attended – in Christ’s presence – the gospel passover, must do what Christ says, is it not therefore telling that Christ tells Judas that he is the one who must betray him. What is revealing in Judas’ subservient answer “Master, is it I? He said unto him, Thou hast said” (Matthew 26:25)?

What exactly are the co-ordinates of doing betrayal to someone who has asked, and that you follow their every command? A peculiar anomaly.

Slavoj Zizek has used this as an example of the vanishing mediator in his book The Puppet and the Dwarf precisely because Judas – rather than being any sort of anti-Christ, worse than the other disciples – is the invisible debtor to Christianity’s history, success. For Christianity to follow on as usual, Christ needed to have a follower do betrayal of him.

Zizek explains that Freud did this with Judaism, but also a weird Freudian slip informed us of the vanishing mediator at work in the case of Martin Luther King. At an event set to commemorate King, the people of Lauderville, Florida, invited actor James Earl Jones to do a speech in 2002, even going as far as presenting Jones with a plaque as a way of thanks. Unfortunately however they presented him with a plaque which stated the name James Earl Ray – the man who shot and killed Martin Luther King – and thanked him for keeping the dream alive.

Zizek in his inimitable way calls this a Freudian slip, but surely it is just a fuck-up. Not so, a Freudian slip implies there is an element of truth, kept under wraps so to speak, about a statement. Zizek goes on to explain that Martin Luther King, weeks before he was shot, engaged in workers rallies and championed the proletarian cause with both white and black workers. If this had been any more established King would’ve been written in history as a activist of workers rights, and not part of the civil rights movement – a position that is fully congruent with American ideology – proven today by the presidency of Barack Obama.

So in this sense, James Earl Ray having killed King at the right time has meant that the dream has been kept alive – and not obscured in the ether of workers’ movements in America.

Love, in the case of Judas, is betrayal. With James Earl Ray, he is the man with whom to thank for Martin Luther King’s dream being woven in to the fabric of the American soul.

Unfortunately, with our proximity to the situation – with our fixedness in time – we are unable to prescribe what a vanishing mediator will be to a certain situation. As with all notions of cause and effect, who can tell what the effect will be when we are situationally only a part of the cause, and who can tell what the cause is of ourselves – ourselves being, itself, a cause. Maybe this is why Alexander McQueen has died? Perhaps the death of his Mother provided the grounds with whichn to pursue another new fashion epoch? Or better still, can this model show that fashion has “glimpse[d its ...] own mortality” – to misquote the wisdom of the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Linlithgow and Falkirk East in the 2005 General Election.

Maybe not.

The Jewish Invention

“Beware of scholars with agendas”, David Aaronovitch begins his polemical review (“We’re an invention? Prove it“, David Aaronovitch, November 19, 2009) of comments made by historian Tony Judt, regarding Shlomo Sand’s book The Invention of the Jewish People. Noteworthy advice at best, but not necessarily good advice, for I would modify it to being aware of scholars with bad agendas. Looking further at the gaps of Jewish historiography has not always been the preserve of people with agendas seeking to damage or tar Jews.

Sigmund Freud, of all people, once remarked that Moses, being an Egyptian priest of Akhenaten, and not, as is erroneously assumed, his being originally Hebrew, meant that in many ways the accepted version of Jewish history had to be revised. As such, in a letter he told Arnold Zweig “Moses created the Jews” and, in his last substantial book Moses and Monotheism stated that “it was not God who chose the Jews … but Moses”.

Interesting timing for Freud’s assertions. Just before writing his book on Moses, Freud had been visited by Nazi guards in his house in Vienna, to rob him of his wealth, and send a token warning of Freud’s continued safety in occupied territory. For Freud, such events might typically persuade Jews into unquestionably buying into all hitherto established histories, as an overcompensatory mode of solidarity. But Freud chose not to do this, he instead uncovered a history that both sought to undermine the Nazi’s attitudes towards Jews (for everything they knew was wrong), and in turn sealed another chapter in the long and rich history of Jewish people.

Beware of scholars, but if the agenda is to undercut anti-Semitic attitudes, fire away.

When to be pro-Israeli is to overcompensate for anti-Semitism

My old psychology dictionary of terms informs me that overcompensation can be ‘a Freudian defence mechanism, whereby an individual attempts to offset weakness in an area of their lives by focusing on another aspect of it.’ I had thought to look this up after thinking about the recent spell of disavowed anti-Semite, Israel supporters.

First I thought back to those English Defence League marches, where 2 things are promised every time; that an Israeli flag will appear to show solidarity with Israelis over Muslims (like it was a simple choice between the two), and a couple of beered up scummies will produce the fascist salute (for examples see here and here).

Second I remembered Michal Kaminski, the Polish MEP who leads the Conservatives new EU grouping, and his of pro-Israeli rhetoric to confront his anti-Semitic past (for examples see here and here).

And lastly I remembered Nick Griffin as he stumbled over his words on Question Time tell the audience that his party was the only one to give full support to Israel and their right to exist during its clashes with Gaza, or more precisely:

“[National Socialists in UK] loathe me because I have brought the British National Party from being, frankly, an anti-Semitic and racist organisation into being the only political party which, in the clashes between Israel and Gaza, stood full square behind Israel’s right to deal with Hamas terrorists.”

Interestingly with the last example, Griffin was one of those anti-Semitic members of the British National Party. He was the author of a pamphlet entitled Who are the Mindbenders (have a guess, go on) in which Jewish names are listed to testify that Jews control the media. Grffin’s argument is to suggest that Jews are responsible for indoctrinating people to think that criticising Jewish people is automatically anti-Semitic, appreciation for multiculturalism is fine, homosexuality is not “creepy” and Britishness is racist.

This of course is not “saleable” (to use Griffin’s own words) so Griffin appeals to using language like left-liberal controlled, meaning, of course, much the same (the words he uses ratifies more with people who also think the BBC runs on a bias, but use of the word Jews may run contrary to many “patriots” negative view of the Nazis).

Interesting it is that these people, especially the latter two, choose pro-Israeli, or Zionist, sentiment to undercut their otherwise anti-Semitic image. Not unique however.

Adolf Eichmann, the man known as ‘the architect of the Holocaust’, a Nazi who managed to juggle two seemingly inharmonious positions as anti-Semite and Zionist, whose aim was to channel as many European Jews as possible to Palestine. Eichmann was encouraged by one Baron Van Mildenstein – a man who wanted to forge a collaboration between Nazis and Zionists – to study Jewish society and history so as better to understand the Jewish enemy. Eichmann did so, earning him a special place in the Reich. Before long Eichmann changed his mind on promoting a strong Jewish state, but nonetheless his Zionism was situated on the idea that the Jews belonged elsewhere, and that a small section of the Middle East, mandated by the British, would be where that place was sited.

The Final Solution was an act that aimed to destroy the Jewish race from the root, an act most favoured by Nazis then and now, but Eichmann’s Zionism – before his part in the Holocaust – was to separate Jews from other Europeans, something Eichmann himself felt was borne, not out of anti-Semitism, but, on the basis that races can not mix, particularly the Jewish race. He also denied turning from a Saul to a Paul on the matter, wanting to secure Jewish racial particularism, or, simply, one place for Jews and a European place for aryans.

The charge that an individuals pro-Israeli words should write off an anti-Semitic history is a most naive way of disavowal, but nonetheless, rather typical behaviour of someone who is either in, or wants to be in, the political mainstream.

As Mehdi Hasan, New Statesman senior political editor, recently replied to Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, are we ‘really so naive [to think that] supporters of Israel can’t be anti-Semitic at the same time?’ The pro-Israeli overcompensation by the above should provide real answers to this question.

The God of Freud and the Jewish Homeland

I re-visited the Freud museum in South Hampstead today, and was also lucky enough to find a copy of the Guardian on the tube, so my post marries the two events. I was very interested in the Middle East peace/Israel-Palestine resumption stories, but I also had my head half stuck in a book closer to the subject of the day: Dr. Sigmund.

It is now commonplace in new atheist literature to hold Freud up as a cohort to the idea that religion is little more than a childish phase. And I suppose this is understandable since Freud’s early essay called The Future of Illusion calls religion just that: an illusion. But his position did take a huge modification in his later, maturer years.

Sam Harris, interestingly enough, in his book The End of Faith, rejected Freud as a psychoanalyst informed by Harris’ own neuroscientific background, but held in esteem Freud’s riposte on the notion of God being akin to a missing Father. What Harris did forget to mention was that it was neuroscience that informed Freud’s psychoanalytic base, and in fact, further, it was the shortfall of this discipline regarding the notion of hysteria that Freud was forced to drop neuroscience, or in other words, neuroscience could not go far enough to recognise the genesis of the hysterical mind.

Indeed Freud promoted a number of different stylistic attitudes toward the question of God, and these attitudes can be divided into two collectives, which I will now discuss. Freud’s view that the historical arrival of monotheism (which he attributes to Moses’ being an Egyptian priest of Akhenaten, and not, as is erroneously assumed, his being originally Hebrew. As such, in a letter he told Arnold Zweig “Moses created the Jews” and, in his last substantial book Moses and Monotheism stated that “it was not God who chose the Jews … but Moses”) meant that man’s relation to God “could recover the intimacy and intensity of the child’s relation to his father.” But at this stage, this reunion of man and a monotheistic God signified nothing but a childish illusion. As Ana-Maria Rizzuto pointed out in her excellent book Why Did Freud Reject God: A Psychoanalytic Interpretation from as early as his youth, Freud viewed God as a mere childhood creation, an element of the mental space in which to direct wishes (prompting his Father Jakob to present his son with a copy of the Philippson Bible, complete with a pleading dedication for Sigmund to part with his youthful scepticism). Freud suspected, in some later reflections of his case study on Sergei Pankejeff (better known as Wolf Man), that young people lose their religious beliefs as soon as their father’s authority breaks down”. In other words, that it was a sign of maturity to escape the domain of God (in direct contradiction to his Father’s message, written inside the bible gift previously mentioned, to “return to [God] in maturity”). Freud held this view until 1935 when a change became apparent in his manner. In private correspondence Freud started to acknowledge the intellectual qualities of God on thought and enquiry, after all the speculation of an absent property had immense benefits for abstract contemplation. Freud’s understanding of the concept of God changed from illusion to promoting sapience. Rather than bogging one down with idle introspection, the concept permitted investigation.

Two days into writing his last book on Moses, three secretaries visited Freud from the Royal Society who offered him the chance to sign the society’s charter book. A unique occasion, too, since it was only the king, an honorary member of the society, who had the book brought to him to sign, but on account of Freud being ill, an exception was made. As of then it was writ large that Freud joined the top names in scientific history, Darwin, Newton etc. So it was hardly surprising that Freud had felt some reservations about his present study, a speculative work that was supported only by limited evidence. In fact, its first reviewers were rather scathing about it. Martin Buber, for example, the Jewish theologian poured scorn on it as being “regrettable” and “groundless”. But many commentators with the privilege of hindsight, one being Mark Edmundson in his stimulating book The Death of Sigmund Freud, received the book as being “better disposed toward faith than any other of Freud’s prior work.” He elaborates “[t]he pleasures of sight, Freud insists, are intense, nearly instinctive pleasures … [and] to renounce the visible in the interest of the unseen is an enormously difficult human task … less intense, but more valuable in the long run”. That is to say, more intellectually valuable in the sense that the privileging of sensory perception was minimised in order to discern the abstract idea. For Freud, Moses probably struggled with the effort to believe in an invisible God when there were multitudinous amounts of idolatry religions at his beck and call. And this is why Freud held Moses in such high esteem, since his adherence to monotheism mirrors the correct process of human consciousness in general, from an infantile worship of the present thing, to the introspective rigour of mental labour (indicative of monotheism).

As we can see, Freud considered God for its mental utility function, and its timing was also interesting; just after Freud was forced to leave Vienna and antisemitism became a governmental policy of the Nazis. It was at this backfooting for the Jews that Freud became intimate with Egyptology. But what of Freud’s rather more intimate relationship with the Jewish homeland, via one of his most distinguished students.

I wonder if all the trouble regarding Palestine and Israel – which Obama may well be on the way to mending, and given his timing, when the Arab world is having its own doubts about Iran – would’ve occurred had Princess Marie Bonaparte achieved her original plans for European Jews circa 1945. Great granddaughter of Lucien Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, she was on speaking terms with Sigmund Freud, who referred to her as “our Princess”. She provided economic support for Freud to leave occupied territory and emigrate to England But although her philanthropy stopped there, her original plan was to purchase a section of southern California to be used as a Jewish homeland. All well and good, but imagine what would happen, if a few belligerent émigrés had decided that the original population of southern California were to be perceived as nothing more than second-class citizens at best, bullet fodder at worst. The course of history would have changed rapidly, and the last 60 years would’ve been a lot different.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.