The gap of infinity between the same and the other

Why does Levinas emphasize all the time that the other is totally different and that I can never reduce the other to the same, to me, and that I should stop trying that? It is because you cannot build a bridge from the same to the same. I am here, standing on a rock. There is a infinitely deep gap and then there is another rock, where the other person is standing. My rock is not the same as his rock, because there's a gap between us, we are not standing on the same rock, I stand here and he stands there.

If I say that the other is the same as me, I try to move him to my rock. But on my rock there is only place for me, I can pretend that the other is at my rock, because I put up a statue of him there, but he can never come there, because he cannot cross the enormous gap which is between us.

So I am at my rock and the other is at his rock. Is it impossible for us to be in contact with each other? No it is not. The bridge to bring us together is language. Language is not located at my subjective rock and neither at the rock of the other. We stay at our own places, but still we have contact with each other, because we can speak with each other. The other calls me from his rock. Because he calls me, I can see that there is more than only my rock, he reveals to me the infinite gap, and that there's a different perspective from the other side. Before that I thought that the whole universe consisted of my rock only, now I can see that there is more. The infinity which separates me from the other person is God. God is infinity. God is neverending in everything, in his goodness and his power. But I cannot know what God is like, I cannot see his contours. I cannot draw a picture of him, because I would need a neverending piece of paper to draw Infinity.

But nevertheless, despite the infinity of the gap, it can be bridged by language / discourse / dialogue. The other can speak to me and I can hear him and I can answer. Because the other shows me that there is more than my own small, lonely and limited rock, I can see a glimpse of the infinity of God.

And below is a completely different picture (with many more cartoons which are really great) called "Australian Aborigines, Hindmarsh Island Bridge aborigines gap reality". This also explains very well what Levinas means: while the selfish totalisers have their pleasant abstract conversations, at the other side of the gap a sad reality of violence and oppression is shown. I still hope the gap will be bridged, ever...



The illusion of utopian multiculturalism

To my post about cultural relativism at Orkut (see below) I got a long reaction from "Michelle". I will publish her reaction her and then my reaction to her.
Here is the most important part of my reaction:

You say that we have to start with realizing that at the core we are fundamentally the same. I don’t agree with this. At the basis of my own model, coming from Emmanuel Levinas, lies the recognition that we are fundamentally different. This is something we have to accept, we should not try to reduce the other - which is completely different - to the same, there should always remain a separateness between the one and the other. This part of Levinas’ philosophy is very difficult to explain, but I will try it anyway. You say that we are all the same because we laugh and cry, love and hate etc. But we have different fundamental values and a different cultural background. You can see that a stranger laughs, but do you really know how he feels? You can’t stand in his shoes, you cannot see through his eyes, you cannot know if you are really the same as a stranger, because you don’t know him. And this doesn’t count only for complete strangers, but for any other person, also for your partner, family and friends. You cannot stand in somebody else’s shoes and you shouldn’t pretend that you can by saying about somebody else what he thinks, wants and feels. In fact the book of Rudi Visker isn’t called “A philosophy of multiculturalism” - that’s the subtitle - it is something like (it’s difficult to translate): “To go to a stranger but to stay different”.

We are equal, natives and foreigners. We are equal, not because we are the same, but because we are all human beings. There is only one race, the human race. But we are not the same, we are fundamentally different. We have our own identity, we have our own values that we find very important and that determine the way we look at the world. Our values can be strongly opposed to each other at a fundamental level. You want to cook a nice multicultural stew where carrots, potatoes and meat together form a tasty meal. But cultures don’t always fit together so nicely. In reality the stew will be ruined by too much and far too strong chili peppers, which makes that people who aren’t used to hot spices cannot eat it anymore. You can no longer taste the carrot or a potato, you only taste peppers then. You can try to recognize what carrots and peppers have in common but that doesn’t solve the problem.



Cultural relativism

The Orkut scrapbook discussion from yesterday made me decide to write about cultural relativism (because a friendly Islam disliker wrote about that). What I write here will finally also become a central theme in my dissertation...

Cultural relativism 8/25/2005 12:47 AM
This thread is inspired by the discussion which is taking place in my scrapbook right now.

I have a book about the philosophy of multiculturality, from Rudi Visker. He describes two models for cultural diverse societies: multiculturality and transculturality.

The transculturalists criticize multiculturality by saying: At the basis of the peaceful coexistence and the mask of respect for other cultures, there is in fact only indifference towards other cultures, no real acceptance of diversity. In fact there is a profound confusion with regard to the underlying concept of culture and identity. Cultural differences are made absolute. Differences have to be respected because all cultures are considered to be equal in the end. (So this is cultural relativism.)

The problem of this model is that in that way you can never criticize practices of a different culture. I cannot say: I think that you shouldn't beat your wife, if you are angry with her you should talk with her about it and not hurt her. Then the other person can say: This is normal in my culture and who are you to judge my culture, so shut up. Then I cannot say anything anymore so the only possible reaction is that I become indifferent to how people in other cultures treat each other. As long as the different cultural worlds are completely separate this can be a workable model, but when people of one culture are affected by behaviour of people with a different culture, then there is a problem. Then it means that I have to accept that I will be beaten down by somebody with a different culture because it is ok to do that in a different culture. But for my own culture that behaviour is not acceptable, so what should we do then?

And at their turn the multiculturalists also criticize the transculturalists, by saying: it's a nice idea of this melting pot of cultures, but it won't work because cultures don't always melt / fit together. My own personal values go deep and they are fundamentally different from those of others. When they are fundamentally opposed to each other they cannot be put together in one harmonious pot. You either accept one set of values or another one, you cannot put both together.

So in fact both models don't work: the problem of multiculturality is that it only works when cultures remain completely independent of each other, which isn't possible if people with different cultures live mixed, next to each other in a society. And transculturality doesn't work because people don't want to give up their own culture and it isn't possible to create one new culture in which all the other cultures are integrated.

So, is there a third way, is there a different model possible?
In my scrapbook I promoted a position where I realise on the one hand that my own values are important and true for me. So I find it important that people don't beat down their partners because they are angry with them. This is true for me and I have a right to say this to another person. This person cannot say in reply that it's normal in his culture, he should explain to me why he thinks that it isn't bad to beat his partner, he should explain me about his values and try to show me that what he does isn't bad. And he will maybe succeed in convincing me of that, or maybe not. So for me my personal values are important but I don't consider them as objective and absolute truths.

A model that will work well, in my opinion, is one in which cultural differences are accepted. Not in a sense that everything is ok for me, that there would be no moral difference for me between beating down your wife or giving her flowers. because everything would be equal. No it's not, I think that giving flowers is better. (And fortunately many people from different cultures will think so.)

I accept that other people are different, that they have different values than I have. I treat them with respect, as humans, as partners to talk with in an intercultural dialogue. We talk with each other with open minds, patience and empathy. We explain to each other how the world looks like for us and we really try to understand each other. We question each other for our values and behaviour and in return we explain / justify that to each other.
The result of this intercultural dialogue will not be the happy melting pot where we all agree with each other and create one new beautiful common culture. The dialogue will consist of many fundamental collisions and fights which cannot always be solved. There will always remain fundamental disagreements that we can never solve. This means that a multicultural society is always more difficult to live in than a more monocultural society. Tolerance is needed because you will often be bothered by people with different views and habits. You will have to find solutions which are acceptable for everyone and that's not easy. But if you are willing to look for solutions together it will certainly help.


And shortly after I posted this in Orkut I had a msn chat with Sikander, and this chat further explains what I mean with my third model as an alternative to the other two, so that's why I will publish it here too (with permission).
  • "Tum per salamti ho - a paz esteja com você" (which means peace be with you in Urdu and Portugese) = Esther
  • SiKi = Sikander
msn chat



Suicidal attitude

I am sorry that I talk so often about Orkut. It will probably get annoying for people who don't know it. But Orkut is really the world in small, there are very interesting phenomena there to investigate in relation to xenofobia.

I am in a fight right now with the person I have been arguing with for a long time already, it started right after Theo van Gogh got killed with a discussion about the "Arabization of the Netherlands".

By the way, I really like a lively debate, but I am not really sad that some Islam haters, like the person below, have left my community. There are many friendly people in my community now and the discussions are still very interesting in my opinion. And there are enough other places in Orkut where Islam haters can post their dirt. I must say that I am a little proud of myself that I founded the Discourse Analysis and Racism community, when I go through the discussions. My moderation isn't strong, I banned one person who kept insulting people and I removed the posts of a fascist who literally said that he thought that the white race is the best and strongest in the world. Critical posts regarding the Islam will not be deleted by me, people are free to say what they think.

So this person said to me:
"It is time for a new title for your "Discourse Analysis and Racism" community. It no longer deals with any of the issues it was desingned or pretends to deal with. It is now merely an Islam fan club which doesn't predend to question it as it would any other philosophy, making it unequally devoted to one religion. Congratulations, you are your own version of "Fair". You don't matter anymore in your own community, except for in a fan sort of way. I shouldn't be sad about this, but I am. All of you wonderful Dutch tolerance went towards intolerance. This is what happens when you tolerate intolerance, intolerance wins.
Does your community pretend to deal with hinduism? Shintoism? Buddhism? Catholocism? Asatru? Jianism? Sikhism? Bahai'ism? No!I've looked. Islam is the only religion your community reconginzes. This is a sign of sickness, either of focusing on only one topic, or of having only one topic to speak of."

I replied to him:
"My community deals with racism / xenofobia. In my opinion the Islam is discriminated a lot so that's why I talk about the Islam often. Just come back there then and start to analyse a certain discourse about racism, you are welcome. If everybody who has different views than I will leave, then there will only remain views of lunatic liberals and peaceful Muslims there, indeed.
If you want to describe experiences or views of how hindus are discriminated, or other groups, you are more than welcome. By the way I once said in a discussion that Hindus are believers too (also if they don't have prophets or a divine book). We agreed then that it doesn't matter which faith you have as long as you try to be a good person who does good deeds.
You make the impression that you left because you feel you lost the argument, that you find too much resistance now if you continue to post your prejudices and hateful simplistic generalisations about the Islam. I wouldn't expect that of you because you are a strong debater.
I really like it more to have lively debates with people with other views then to have long lists of people saying that they agree with each other."

He said:
"How can I ever expect any fair moderation out of someone who thinks that I'm a racist because I corrected that stupid Urdu speaking girl about the meaning of a word in Arabic. Not to be rude, but you don't know what you are talking about. Not at all. You really know nothing about Islam, Muslims or the Middle East. Yet, you would bend over backwards to try and prove how tolerant you are of what you don't understand, or worse, refuse to see for what it is.
Your rampant tolerance has lost you control of your community, and all membership of any opposing voices. Your community is the sound of one hand clapping, patting it's owner on the back. It takes two hands opposing one another for there to be applause."

I said:
This is unbelievable. You contradict yourself a lot. First of all I didn't say that you're a racist. And with regard to what you say:
- I don't know what I'm talking about with the Islam and I refuse to look at it
- I tolerate extremism
- My community is biased to one side, I need opposing hands to make an applause.
- My community doesn't discuss discourses or racism.

I told you and tell you again that I do want to have debates with opponents with other views, also in DAR. If you think that I make mistakes in my reasoning then show me which mistakes. I don't support extremism, I support peace. If you have the opposite hand to make an applause in DAR, why don't you go there, why do you block me? I still think that it should be possible that our conversations can be productive. E.g. the e-mail discussions were not bad and there we could explain how we look at the world with respect for other views. When I say that you post hateful simplistic generalisations I mean that of course but I think you are capable of nuancing it. But it's your choice."

In a scrapbook from another Islam hater he wrote:
"I've blocked Esther. I've never done this on Orkut before, but I think that we have nothing to ever say to one another again. Her suicidal attitude makes me sad."

I replied there:
"Wow a suicidal attitude, I never heard that before, he is really creative with what he invents for me."

And the last thing I said to the first person (in my own scrapbook because his is blocked) was:
"You can see the Islam in two ways:
- A dogmatic religion which is lacking 500 years behind compared to christianity and which produces Muslim terrorists like the ones from the London attacks.
- A peaceful religion which serves as a personal guide / code of life for more than one billion people to encourage them to be morally good people.

Both views are partly true but not completely and both show only one side of a coin. I know that the coin has two sides. I don't deny that terrorists who claim to be Muslims exist and I certainly don't approve of what they do, that will be clear by now I suppose. So you say that I see only one side of the Islam but I can see the other side too. However I never noticed that you understood anything of the positive and humanist side of the Islam that I am interested in. So you find that in my community we speak too much about the Islam, and not enough about other religions. But in other scraps it clearly seems as if you are yourself interested in discussions about the Islam. But then you will say again that it's too much from one perspective only in my community. And then I invite you to present a different perspective, but then you refuse to do so. And you say each time that I don't know what I am talking about, but that is the reason why I try to read and hear more about the Islam, so that I know what I talk about as much as possible. So I don't see what the problem is, then."



Genoeg is genoeg

Vandaag even geen filosofie maar een paar links en aankondigingen m.b.t. het tegengaan van vooroordelen, discriminatie, vreemdelingenhaat en uitsluiting.

Eerst een aankondiging:
Op zaterdag 17 september vindt de landelijke manifestatie
'Genoeg is genoeg' plaats in Amsterdam, voor gelijke grondrechten in een democratische rechtsstaat en tegen racisme, extremisme, discriminatie en uitsluiting. Laten we samen ons ongenoegen over het kabinetsbeleid kenbaar maken en zo werken aan een vreedzaam en verenigd Nederland.

Een van de initiatiefnemers is Mohamed Rabbae. O.a. de volgende personen cq. organisaties hebben hun medewerking toegezegd: Femke Halsema (Groen Links), Harry Van Bommel (SP), "Een ander Joods geluid" en Ineke Bakker (Raad van Kerken).

Ik hoorde hierover via een mailtje van TANS (Towards A New Start) een van oorsprong Marokkaanse jongerenorganisatie die positieve beeldvorming / een positieve houding stimuleert m.b.t. culturele diversiteit en jongeren.

In het mailtje staat (na de aankondiging van 17 september):

Voor het slagen van deze manifestatie is het van groot belang,
dat zoveel mogelijk organisaties de doelstellingen van de manifestatie
onderschrijven en een oproep doen aan de achterban om massaal te komen op 17
september. Graag wil ik je uitnodigen voor een informatieavond op donderdag
1 september om 19.00 uur in het kantoor van MEX-IT, Rijswijkstraat 175,
Amsterdam. Op deze avond zal Mohamed Rabbae vertellen over de achtergronden van
de manifestatie en kunnen wij, als jongeren- en netwerkorganisaties, bekijken
hoe we ons samen sterk kunnen maken voor dit initiatief.
Voor meer informatie:

En nog een paar links:
Stop de hetze - samen tegen racisme
Nederland niet kapot te krijgen
Doe lief initiatief van Leuke Kunst (met mooie doe lief posters)



Online preview

Inmiddels heb ik een samenhangende tekst, die een groot deel van wat hoofdstuk 1 gaat worden omvat, dus laat ik maar eens wat echte proefschrifttekst (allereerste concept) op mijn blog gaan zetten. Sommige kopjes zijn nog in steekwoorden in plaats van uitgewerkte zinnen.

Levinas en de vreemdeling als ander



I can continue to be an optimistic idealist :-)

Yesterday something positive happened. This is one positive example among many many negative ones, but still something special has happened: the application of Levinas' discourse method worked successfully. We had at Orkut for the 100th time a discussion about the Islam. My friend Ghulam Nabi from Pakistan quoted some Quran verses to answer a question about the Islam. A boy from India told him to "shut the fuck up" with his Quran verses, and asked if he didn't have any views of his own. The situation at that time was that there were about 3 non-Muslims (including the boy from India) shouting insults at the Muslims in the community.

I wrote a post to the non-Muslims that they of course don't have to agree with what Nabi said but that they could at least try to understand what he says, otherwise it doesn't make sense to have that discussion at all. I explained that the answers to these questions about the Islam can be found in the Quran and that that was why these verses were quoted.

It was strange, in fact I was explaining a religious perspective to atheists. We spoke about punishments to non-believers and I said: "Of course a God won't like it if people don't believe in him." A believer wouldn't say "a God" but just God. For an atheist, however, it isn't a relevant question if and how God would punish non-believers since they think that God doesn't exist. But they should be able to imagine that people who believe in God will believe in a God who punishes people who deny his existence.
So I explained that it belongs to the way Nabi looks at the world that he quotes Quran verses when he answers questions about the Islam.
Then there came a post from a christian American who said that he could recognize himself in the described religious perspective. He also thinks that God punishes non-believers, but he said that God would wait until the end of ones life with his judgement and that he would give people a free choice, he would not force them to do as he says, he would present intelligent reasons to help a would-be believer to find faith in that God.

Then one of the 3 people who were shouting at the Islam (from the US also) said to the Indian boy that it's stupid to tell Nabi to shut up, that he took distance from that. And then the Indian boy apologized. And the third person also nuanced his views and said that I was sweet :-)

So the complete fight in the beginning lead to a friendly respectful and understanding dialogue in the end. It makes me very happy.

Important aspects of Levinas' discourse method:
So you have an open and critical dialogue, you are patient and you show empathy with and respect for the other. You know that you can learn something from the other by listening to a different perspective.
It's not a model of harmony. You are not going to be kind to each other because you don't want to hurt each other. You say what you think so that the other person can in the end understand it, hopefully. The process of the dialogue is full of confrontations, because the two people are completely different, so when they talk about what they find important, their values will collide.
That is good, the collision makes that the other can wake the first person up, because he puts everything into question of what the first person thought it was true and what at first spoke for itself. It's not a comfortable experience when your safe and known world is shaken and opened up / broken into by the other. But if you are open for the other, if you welcome him, and if the other does the same, then you can have real contact and a good ethical relation.



Dignity and forgiveness

And here's another part of an Orkut discussion. It's written by a girl from Bali. I find it's special how she can look at religion as an outsider, which is critical but who keeps her open mind and who respects the people she talks with, like her Muslim friend. I think that this is how Levinas says that real communication should take place between the one and the other.

And I also post the reply that I wrote...

"I have a question about terrorism. I had a long discussion about this topic with a Muslim friend. There are chapters in the Quran with more an emphasis on ‘dignity’ than on ‘forgiveness’. My friend always convinces me that the Islam is a peaceful religion, he gave me many books to read and we spend a lot of time in which he teaches me about the Islam. But each time I get stuck with this paradigm that dignity is the highest value, while forgiveness is just advisable.
It makes me think that the Jihad is done – the killing of non-believers and infidels – for dignity, for honour, for pride. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. When an outsider attacks your dignity you have to fight back. And I think that this path leads to terrorism.
If on the other hand forgiveness would be more emphasized, not dignity, then the causes of terrorism would be minimized. Then people could forgive each other instead of applying the method of an eye for an eye. When you claim it’s a peaceful religion, then forgiveness should be important. This is a question that my Muslim friend failed to give a satisfying answer to.
He can tell me stories about how great the Islam is and how good, but an eye for an eye can never lead to self-healing in my view.

But I can’t just think from one side. If I learn about cruel intentions I will at the same time look for beautiful spiritual texts at the other side, so I may get a non-distorted perspective. "

My reply:
"It's a good question you ask and I think it's difficult to answer, if forgiveness is less important than dignity in the Quran. It is always difficult to know the real / true meaning of the messages in the Quran. I only just started to read the verses and there are many of them, so I didn't read all of it yet, by far. Maybe there is only one correct interpretation but then the question is which one. I think that the interpretation of my friends who teach me about the Quran is correct, but I am not the right person to judge that, as a non-Muslim.

In my opinion dignity is indeed very important. It's not only a religious thing but also cultural I think. I think that many Islamic countries have a culture where dignity is important. In the Netherlands it's not very important. It's considered to be ok that people make mistakes and that they make a silly impression on others sometimes. A teacher can say that he doesn't know an answer to a question of a pupil, he doesn't have to pretend to be all-knowing. You can tell it to other people if you did something wrong, they will say, "no problem, next time it will be better". And if people think negatively about you it's only about you, it doesn't harm the image of your family. So Dutch people are usually open and direct to each other (sometimes too much), while there are many cultures where people are not so direct. They have to present themselves well to others to keep their dignity and pride high.

There's a saying that you shouldn't hang your dirty clothes outside (like you do with wet clean clothes to dry). The Dutch don't care about that, but in other cultures it’s very important that the clothes you show to the world are clean and proper. It doesn't matter how dirty your own socks are, as long as other people don't see it. When they see it it’s very bad. So then the image you present to others and to yourself is very important. I think this is the case for terrorists also, they find the image they create of themselves positive, as hero's. It certainly has to do with dignity indeed. And for terrorists forgiveness is not important because they don't think that they do something wrong. So with these people it would be good if their culture / values would change. If they would realise that the socks are very dirty and if they start to clean them, instead of hiding them well in the house and hanging some very beautiful clothes in the garden.

But this doesn't have much to do with what is written in the Quran, in my opinion. There are many verses about forgiveness, so far I got a strong impression that Allah will forgive people when they realise that they did wrong and when they show remorse. And I don't think that dignity in general is a bad value. It's only in combination with other values that it can be a problem. The problem of terrorists is not the dignity but the black-white thinking, the dogmatism, the violence and the wickedness.



You have to ask the sheep who's the wolf

It's now time for a complex topic: justice. Since it's a central topic in Levinas' work I will write about it more often. And also, which is maybe even more important, because justice is one of the values that I find the most important in the world, together with freedom and love.

As a child I went to the Kritische Gemeente IJmond, a church near where I lived. It was a modern and critical church where justice was considered important. The church often helped e.g. refugees or organised discussions about political themes. There was a KGIJ year calender with international sayings. There is one I read as a child and which I always remembered: You have to ask the sheep who is the wolf. It took a long time before I understood what it meant. You have to ask the people who suffer and who are oppressed who is doing harm to them.

I wrote my views about this in Orkut. It's a very complex saying, which was shown by the many reactions I got of people who didn't understand it the way I meant it. There was even a fascist who started to talk about the strenght of the race of wolves.

But this saying is really useful to think about justice. It's also special that there is a subjective perspective in it, but also an objective aspect. To know the truth you must ask certain people, others not. People who have experienced oppression know what it is like, while oppressors will never admit what they are doing. The subjective perspective of the victims is at the same time objective, becuase it points at oppression, a phenomenon which is taking place in reality.

The problem with the use of different types of animals is that it seems to refer to race. But this is absolutely not what I mean. Any person can be an oppressor at one moment in history and become a sheep later. These are roles that change all the time. Of course there is an inequality at the global level which makes that some groups of people are wolves generation after generation and others sheep. But there are always individual differences. So it is still very important to make a good reliable analysis of who is oppressing whom, instead of making simple generalisations in black and white. It can even be that two groups are oppressing each other at the same time.

It's also important not to be lead by irrational emotions. You start to care so much for the sheep who got hurt, that you love the sheep and you hate the wolf unconditionally, and then you don't really look anymore at what is happening, if maybe the roles are changing between the sheep and the wolf.

Still it's a strong saying, because oppression and injustice is not something that people make up themselves, which doesn't exist in reality. There is no universal concept of justice but there is some universality in extreme injustice. And if I try to look for injustice and if I find it, then I can try to fight it. I can try to improve the world and to make it more just according to my own values (only on a very small scale of course, but that doesn't matter). My values will be universal at least partly, because it's my universal human conscience which tells me the difference between what is just and what not.

So here's the text I wrote at Orkut: You have to ask the sheep who the wolf is



As it is in heaven – Så som I himmelen

Dankzij Buzzer hebben Hidde en ik zondagmorgen de film "As it is in heaven" gezien van Kay Pollak. Ik raad hem iedereen aan, hij is in mijn top vijf aller tijden terechtgekomen van Lilya forever, Gegen die Wand, The crying game en Brothers.

As it is in heaven gaat over een beroemde dirigent. Je ziet hoe hij opgroeit in een klein Zweeds dorpje, waar hij viool speelt in een graanveld, zijn bladmuziek met wasknijpers aan de graankolven vastgemaakt. Hij wordt er veel gepest als jongetje dat duidelijk anders is. Hij verlaat het dorp met zijn moeder en begint een internationale muziekcarrière. Later in zijn leven zie je hem met een bloedneus driftig dirigeren en zijn manager zegt dat hij voor acht jaar volgeboekt zit met internationale concerten. Tijdens een concert krijgt hij een hartaanval. De dokter zegt dat zijn hart totaal versleten is en dat hij niet lang meer te leven heeft, hij moet rust nemen. Dan gaat hij terug naar zijn geboortedorp en betrekt hij de oude school als woonhuis.

Het leven dat hij daar opbouwt in het eenvoudige dorpje, het geluk dat hij samen met de mensen daar tot stand brengt is erg mooi, bijna zoals het in de hemel zal zijn. Waar hij altijd van droomde is mensen hun harten te openen met muziek. Het is vanuit dat verlangen dat hij zijn carrière als dirigent begon, maar het maakte hem doodziek. Ergens onderweg is hij het stuur over zijn leven kwijtgeraakt, hij kon niet meer rustig en gelukkig met muziek bezig zijn zoals hij dat zelf wilde, hij werd geleefd door de stress van de concerten en de druk van zijn manager. Het is niet zo dat het per definitie niet goed is om te kiezen voor een carrière als beroemd muzikant, alleen was het voor hem niet goed omdat hij eraan onderdoor ging.

Het lijkt misschien verschrikkelijk om dan te gaan leven in zo’n klein sukkelig dorpje waar nooit iets gebeurt en waar de druk van de sociale controle groot is. Maar daar werd hij echt gelukkig, daar leefde hij echt, daar kon hij op een goede manier uiting geven aan zijn innerlijke muzikale verlangen, daar kon hij zichzelf en anderen tot ontplooiing brengen. Hij brengt een grote schok teweeg in het dorp, hij haalt het beste uit mensen, waarvan zij geen idee hadden dat zij het in zich hadden, hij brengt veel verandering teweeg. Hij leert mensen echt luisteren naar muziek en hij leert de mensen echt zingen, met heel hun hart.

Bijna alles wat ik de laatste tijd tegen kom heeft in mijn ogen met Levinas te maken dus het was te verwachten dat ik dat ook over deze film zou zeggen. Maar als ik zelf een film zou willen maken om het idee en gevoel van zijn filosofie uit te leggen dan had het niet beter gekund dan zo. Alle elementen zitten erin: de ontmoeting met de ander, de ander figuurlijk dood maken (zoals de man doet die zijn vrouw mishandelt), het benadrukken van de ethiek als basis van alle menselijke relaties, de confrontatie met de ander, de botsingen van perspectieven wanneer mensen met elkaar in gesprek gaan, de manier waarop mensen elkaar soms pijn doen door elkaar te negeren maar ook de manier waarop mensen elkaar onvoorwaardelijk hulp bieden (dat de dirigent zich zonder na te denken in het gevecht stort wanneer die man zijn vrouw mishandelt, met gevaar voor eigen leven, terwijl hij die vrouw niet kent, en zonder zich af te vragen wat die man hem aan zal doen, of hij niet beter kan doorlopen en doen of hij niets gezien heeft, of dat het verstandig is om de politie te bellen). Het lijkt in het dorpje op de hemel, er is veel goedheid daar en weinig kwaad. Wat heerlijk is het om weer eens naar zo’n film te kijken, juist omdat ik weet dat de verhouding in werkelijkheid minder positief is. De goedheid die in de film te zien is, is echt, het is alleen sterker geconcentreerd dan in de realiteit. Mensen botsen maar ze praten het uit, ze accepteren van elkaar dat ze verschillend zijn. Mensen houden van elkaar zoals ze zijn en ook de dirigent houdt van de mensen daar, dat is de basis van het geluk. Door de werkelijkheid vereenvoudigd weer te geven in een film wordt zichtbaar hoe dit soort dingen werken volgens de regisseur. De mensen met het meeste kwaad in zich zijn de man die zijn vrouw mishandelt en de pastor die zit vastgeroest in zijn dogma’s van zonde en verderf, terwijl hij waar het echt om gaat in het geloof niet zien kan, zijn vrouw zegt dat heel mooi, dat de kerk de zonde heeft uitgevonden om mensen te onderdrukken, in haar macht te hebben en dan weer te kunnen vergeven, terwijl hoe God zelf over goed en kwaad oordeelt heel anders is.

De dirigent helpt de vrouw die steeds maar weer door haar man in elkaar geslagen werd, door haar kracht te geven door een lied voor haar te componeren. Het lied gaat precies over wat voor mij de kern is van hoe ik mijn eigen persoonlijke ontwikkeling ervaar, dat gaat dus nog een stuk verder dan alleen de filosofie van Levinas. De boodschap is ongeveer: "Ik laat mij niet meer klein maken, door niemand, ik ben goed zoals ik ben, ik mag mijzelf zijn. Ik verlang ernaar de ruimte te krijgen / te nemen om mij te ontplooien, ik wil alleen maar gelukkig zijn, ik wil sterk zijn en vrij. Ik ben mijzelf nooit verloren, ik was alleen nog in slaap en nu word ik wakker. Ik voel mijn innerlijke aard en mijn kracht, die verlangens in mij wakker maken en die mij op weg doen gaan. Ik wil voelen wat ik echt wil, ik wil voelen dat ik leef, en die weg van mijn leven bewandelen, zoals in de hemel die ik nooit heb gevonden."
Ik ben nog op zoek naar een vertaling, tot nu toe kon ik alleen de
Zweedse tekst van het lied vinden (maar die is ook ongeveer te volgen). Eerst durft de vrouw het lied niet te zingen, maar uiteindelijk staat ze daar op het podium voor het hele dorp, kwetsbaar maar sterk, en zingt ze met hart en ziel.

Wat lastig is het dat dit voor mij zo moeilijk uit te leggen is (omdat ik een social imbecile ben die veel beter kan schrijven dan kan praten). Als ik dit mondeling tegen iemand probeer te zeggen dan lukt het totaal niet om dit over te brengen. Als ik zeg dat ik het belangrijk vind om diep te voelen naar wat je écht wilt, omdat het gevaar bestaat dat wanneer je niet diep genoeg voelt, dat je dan een weg gaat volgen die niet leidt naar waar je echt naartoe wilt. Dat heb ik geprobeerd te zeggen, maar het kwam over alsof ik iemand een andere kant op wilde sturen, of dat ik beweerde beter te weten wat iemand anders wilde dan dat hij of zij dat zelf wist. Terwijl ik dat nu juist niet wilde zeggen, want dat moet ik volgens Levinas helemaal aan de ander zelf overlaten. Ik wilde alleen maar zeggen dat het nooit kwaad kan en in tegendeel juist heel goed kan helpen, juist in een periode dat iemand zoekende is, om nog eens heel goed en diep te voelen naar wat je écht wilt, naar waar je diepe passie naar uitgaat, naar wat je droom is waar je je leven lang al van gedroomd hebt, naar wat de aard is van het zaadje dat je in je hebt, in welke richting dat het meest voluit kan groeien. Je hoeft dat niet allemaal precies onder woorden te brengen, als je zelf maar voelt dat het goed zit. En je kunt daar altijd eerlijk over zijn volgens mij, je kunt wie dan ook uitleggen wat voor jou écht belangrijk is en je hoeft je daar nooit voor te schamen. Wat de buitenwereld zou kunnen denken van wat jij echt belangrijk vindt, dat doet er niet toe, wat kan jou dat schelen, laat de buitenwereld maar roepen waar ze zin in hebben. Als je het goed kunt uitleggen, hoe jouw zaadje specifieke eigenschappen in zich heeft die maken dat de boom maar één kant op kan groeien om zoveel mogelijk tot bloei te komen, die maakt dat mensen op ten duur kunnen begrijpen dat datgene wat voor jou belangrijk is, dat het belangrijk is omdat het het beste bij je past, en dat het daarom dus goed is.

En nu wordt het tijd om de tekst te publiceren waarin ik voor mijzelf de vraag beantwoord heb: "Waarom is het belangrijk om jezelf te zijn?"



Why is the Islam blamed for evil deeds of some of it's followers?

So another Orkut discussion about the same topic (a question posted in Discourse Analysis and Racism, and my reply)...

why Islam is blamed for evil deeds of its followers 8/5/2005 2:32 PM

when no one questions other religions for the practice of their followers?
why such dishonesty\unjustice\prejudice is shown to Muslims and their religion?

P e a c e


8/6/2005 8:46 AM
Good question.

I think it's mainly because of the terrorist attacks in name of the Islam.

People get frightened when this happens and they don't always see the difference between normal Muslims and terrorists. So people get suspicious towards everyone with an appearance that looks like that of terrorists. And they also think that most Muslims support the ideas of terrorists, that they don't go as far as committing these attacks themselves, but that their thoughts are almost the same, just as violent.

All of this is not true of course. There's in general no reason at all to be suspicious towards people with a Muslim appearance. And for most people it's just a personal belief and way of life, the idea of taking revenge for what the west is doing in Iraq etc, such ideas are just as far away for them as for non-Muslims.

Prejudices are often against a group of people who are easy to recognize. People are frustrated, afraid and / or angry and they want to have a clear group which they can blame for their frustrations.
Then they start to divide between an in-group - the good people of the group they belong to - and an out-group of bad people. The polarisation between these groups grows.
People start to think more simplistic, in black and white. The own group is completely good (the civilized, morally just, peaceful, developed people from the west) and the out-group is completely bad (the barbarian, violent, underdeveloped, immoral immigrants, Muslims and other people from the east).

The terrorist attacks are very bad, both for Muslims and non-Muslims, because they accelerate this process of increased prejudices, generalisations, polarisation and xenofobia.
So I am very much worried about the increase in terrorist attacks. Muslim extremists will see the attacks in London, 9/11 etc. as their examples / idols and they can see that the attacks are easy to cary out and that they can be powerful that way. So many attacks will follow, I'm afraid.


8/6/2005 9:04 AM
And this at it's turn leads to more hatred. The more terrorist attacks are taking place done by Muslims, the more non-Muslims feel justified to say that the Islam is violent and dangerous.

And the more the west starts to fear and hate the east, the more the terrorists find that they achieve what they wanted, so they think that their actions are successful.

The only way to stop this way downwards is by what Sikander said here many times: We have to live in harmony, Muslims and non-Muslims, we have to be united against terrorists. So we should be an in-group together, the only people in the out-group are the terrorists.

We shouldn't let our lives be lead by the terrorists, we shouldn't be lead by fear and hatred as they want it. So each time you think something about Muslims, you can ask yourself if it's a realistic nuanced rational thought, based on facts, or if you are exagerating because you are afraid or because you have started to hate the Islam.

If you take your time to think about it you can discover your own prejudices and generalisations and you can put away these thoughts and replace them by realistic thoughts.




De ontmoeting met de ander als vreemdeling

In mijn vorige post vertel ik (onderaan het document) over een gesprek dat ik heb gehad (in het Frans) met Fouad Laroui en Hamid Barrada. Ik vond dat gesprek meteen al indrukwekkend en heel relevant voor mijn proefschrift, en dat werd het nog meer toen ik er later langer over nadacht. En toen dacht ik dat ik misschien nog eens contact zou moeten opnemen met Hamid Barrada om nog één keer duidelijk uit te leggen wat de strekking is van mijn proefschrift, als hij zich daar meer in verdiept heeft dan kan hij mij misschien nog beter op weg helpen en hij vindt het vast leuk om te lezen.

Ook was Hidde verbaasd dat ik al weet wat de conclusie wordt. Ik hoef mijn gedachten alleen nog op te schrijven (en mij te veriepen in verwante filosofen zoals Heidegger, Husserl, Hegel en Derrida), maar het zal niet zo zijn dat ik over 4 jaar een totaal andere conclusie schrijf dan wanneer ik die nu alvast zou opschrijven. Het is niet zo dat ik een onderzoek ga doen en dat de uitkomst van het onderzoek mijn conclusie is. Ik heb een complete theorie bedacht, een analyse van de maatschappij die gebaseerd is op de filosofie van Levinas. Die theorie is al af, die moet ik alleen nog uitschrijven (niet dat dat weinig werk is).

Dus dacht ik: laat ik het dan inderdaad nu vast opschrijven, dat is ook meteen een handige gedachtenlijn om aan vast te houden bij het schrijven.

De ontmoeting met de ander als vreemdeling


Levinas and cultural pluralism - preview of my dissertation in Orkut

Orkut is really helpful to develop my thoughts for my dissertation. While discussing with people with different views I start to see more clearly how I can explain what I mean exactly, maybe I even understand it better myself ;-)

So here's a very long discussion, if you want to read it all I think you have to print it and sit down to read it. But after you read everything you are one of the first persons who knows what will be written in my dissertation, once it will be ready (in about 5 years).

Religion - different perspectives



Honger in Afrika

Hoewel het niet direct met "Levinas en cultuur" te maken heeft wil ik hier graag de aandacht vestigen op Hiddes oproep op zijn weblog om te helpen een ramp (hongersnood) in Afrika te voorkomen / bestrijden. Levinas zou deze oproep vast steunen vanuit zijn filosofie van "work of justice" waarbij je doet wat je kunt om mensen te helpen die het moeilijk hebben.



The Islam and dogmatism

Here is one more post from Orkut, this time a text that I wrote myself. Something strange is happening, while almost everyone in my surroundings starts to talk more and more negatively about the Islam, I start to think more and more positively about it. To say it more precisely, I try to get to know more about the Islam and when I know and understand more I also start to see the positive aspects more clearly. I get sick of all the aggressiveness that I see at Orkut against the Islam, especially against Pakistani. And that while I have some very very kind, friendly, open and peaceful friends from Pakistan at Orkut.

In the community that I created myself - Discourse Analysis and Racism - some time ago I wrote down my experiences with the Islam in Senegal and Mali, to create a more balanced view, against all the negative stories from the west about the Islam which are posted at Orkut all the time. I received only positive reactions to my Senegal / Mali post, it turns out that what I wrote is really unknown among Islam haters but that they are glad to hear that the Islam is tolerant and peaceful in West-Africa. It's a pity that this other face of the Islam is so unknown.

But if I wanted to discuss the Islam in other places than West-Africa also (which I wanted), I would first have to know more about it. So that's why I decided to read "The Islam is an orange" about the Islam in Syria. Here are my conclusions.


I have been taking part in many discussions about the Islam at Orkut. In general I try to point at generalisations, simplifications and prejudices which are seen as absolute truths (in contrast to an open mind and a willingness to change the image you had of an individual, immediately, when that person shows that the image you had doesn't apply to him or her, and also in contrast with a nuanced view with different aspects expressed in it). Most of the simplications and prejudices and aggression I saw at Orkut were aimed against the Islam. And so to stop the generalisations and simplistic negative images I started to defend the Islam. I did that by telling about the positive experiences I had with the Islam in West-Africa. But what was weak in my defence was that I was fighting against prejudices and generalisations, but without having much knowledge of what I was talking about myself. It's weak of course if I say that the images that people present are not realistic, if I don't know much about this part of reality myself. So now I am trying to gather knowledge about the Islam and also about other Islamic countries than only countries in West-Africa.
Especially Ghulam helps me well with Quran quotes and links on the Internet.

And during my vacation I finally read "The Islam is an orange" from Maurits Berger. (The title refers to the flesh as sufism and the skin as the sharia.) A Dutch lawyer, who studied both law and Arabic and who has lived in Egypt, tells about how he decided to move to Syria to study Islamic law. This is only one personal story and I know that I still have a long way to go to increase my knowledge, and that I should actually go to the Middle-East myself and so, but at least this personal story gave me some kind of frame to understand it better. The perspective of this lawyer is interesting. He is not a Muslim but a Christian. He is interested in the Islam, but as an outsider. His description is neutral, he describes what happens without making too fast judgements, he tries to understand the Islamic way of life.

There were many elements in his story that are similar to my experiences in West-Africa. Maurits always said everywhere that he was not a Muslim and asked e.g. if it was ok to enter a mosq and so. Everyone reacted that it was no problem, that he was accepted as a Christian, because Muslims and Christians believe in the same God. And there was the emphasis within the Islam to try to live in a morally good way, to treat other people right and so. He also describes differences between fundamentalism, the conservative Islam (which is not the same), sufism etc. He has many interesting dialogues with Muslims.

Still he finds it difficult to live in Syria as a foreigner, in the long run. In the first place he finds it difficult that religion is so strongly present in every aspect of people's lives. It's the first and most important topic that people talk about. Muslims asked him many questions about christianity, e.g. how it's possible if Christians believe in only one God, how this God can have a son, and if he is a God or a human then etc. Maurits didn't know how to answer these questions, he is not interested in these questions himself, for him religion is something vague that he doesn't think about much. He was only interested in the law aspects of the Islam, not in the religion. But such a perspective is impossible in Syria. In the second place, which is related, he found it frustrating in the end that his being different was not accepted. He really tried his best to understand it and to behave in the way that was expected of him. His adaptation went much further than of most foreigners anywhere in the world. He found it a pity that people didn't want to accept that he refused to become a Muslim and that it's impossible to leave your own culture completely behind. In Senegal I experienced this differently, I had the feeling that I was accepted as myself there. If I would live there permanently it would be different I think and I would always remain an outsider, but still there's a difference between the Senegalese and the Syrian culture I think, the Senegalese culture is more open and accepts differences more easily. So, as far as the criticism at Orkut against the Islam was aimed against dogmatic thinking and against strong assimilation attempts on non-Muslims, I agree with the criticism, I also dissaprove of these elements. And it's also that from my culture, my Dutch perspective, I cannot understand why women would have to hide their bodies, why they cannot show it if they are beautiful and why sex is considered obscene so fast and why people have to be killed for that. The moral problem of it I just can't understand.

But in general the dogmatism is the biggest problem I think. The strange thing is that it seems as if atheism or weak christianity is only the absence of religion, as if there is nothing which is replacing it. But the values of atheists are just as strong, but less consciously present. It's because of that that Maurits found it hard to find his place in Syria. On the other hand I think that the same - but the other way around - happens in the west, that we also don't accept that immigrants are different and that we strongly impose our values on them, which makes it very hard for them to be accepted in a foreign country. It's a pity that most people who attack the dogmatism of the Islam don't admit that this principle also exists on the other side.

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