Black-and-white glasses of Lunatic Liberals

So finally I will write something about the debate "Don't give racism a voice" which was organized by the Socialist Party in Amsterdam, International Socialists, Together Against Racism and the Union of Moroccan Mosques in Amsterdam and surroundings, which took place in the building of the Turkish Workers Association in the Netherlands, in Amsterdam. A detailed report of the debate you can find at the weblog of Anja Meulenbelt (but in Dutch). I will focus on one issue that I was thinking about during the debate.

I would like to focus on the contrast that can be found in the philosophy of both Levinas and Derrida, between on the one hand post-modern relativism and on the other hand the tradional religious ideology of the "work of justice", and to make a link from this to the anti-racism debate.

If you read Derrida's deconstructions of text, he makes it plausible to think that there are no absolute truths, there are no texts which speak for themselves, texts don't have a one to one relation to the objects in the world out there which they describe. Language creates reality, or in fact it creates our perception of reality. But this is all we have, we can never step out of our subjective perspective to move to an objective perspective which would be completely without any subjective interpretation. Facts are facts, and in principle they can be measured. If I make a statement that refers to facts only, in most cases we can investigate if it is true or not, what I said. But a very big part of what we say and write down does not only consist of factual descriptions but also of opinions and moral judgements. This means that what we say and write is for a very big part subjective, not objective. There are no opinions and moral truths in the world out there, they are only in our minds. So they can only be personal truths, never absolute and objective truths.

Because Derrida realizes how much the meaning of words is determined by the context in which they are said, and how much the way a person understands a message is influenced by his personal interpretation, Derrida becomes very careful with how he uses his words (which doesn't make his texts very easy to read ;)). So he sees it as his mission to deconstruct texts to the bottom, to show how so many claims to objective truths in the world out there are in fact illusions and just personal opinions. He breaks down a text to the bottom, he analyses every word and mentions possible interpretations that could be given to it. And when he deconstructed / broke down the whole textual building, he starts to rebuild it with the same words as the stones of the building, but before he speaks out the words, he tastes every word at lenght. It's almost a work of art that he is doing with the text, he plays a difficult intellectual word game. With this he doesn't only want to present his views on a certain text (sometimes it even isn't clear what he is in fact trying to say), but he also wants to show through his own writings how the text itself can play with the meaning of the words.
If you follow Derrida very far in these post-modern thoughts, you will be constantly full of doubts with regard to what you say or write down. With every statement you make, you can label it immediately as subjective, and think of what somebody with a different view might put against it, and his interpretation could be just as much right as your own one. So in fact the statement that you just made was a random one, you could just as well have said the opposite, if you choose for a different perspective / interpretation.

One could say that there are two Derrida's: the young Derrida with his post-modern analyses of texts, and the Derrida at the end of his life, who started to speak and write in a completely different way. With the Derrida reading group we noticed the big contrast in the topics and the style of his younger and his older years. In his older years he's a clearly articulated extreme left-wing political activist. He is lead by traditional Jewish morality in his struggle for justice, his struggle to help the poor, the strangers, the oppressed, etc. Then at once he seems to believe again in absolute truths, he no longer puts everything he says into question, he chooses a political side.

Some examples / quotes from Derrida (from: "Philosophy in a time of terror"):
"We will have to realise that all forms of resistance - what is called with two problematic words the "war on terror" - will always have as a result that the causes of evil that should be eliminated, that on the contrary, new life will be blown into it. Whether we talk about Iraq, Afghanistan or even Palestine, the "bombs" will never be "smart" enough to stop the victims from reacting to them, which they can easily justify as a legitimite retaliation action. Bush speaks about a war, but in fact he isn't able to identify the enemy that he is fighting against. We should be aware that power strategies and power relations are at stake here. The dominant power is the one who succeeded at a national or international level to enforce others to accept the terminology and the interpretation that they have chosen to use with regard to a certain situation, and to legitimize it like that."

When I read what Derrida says about 9-11, it almost sounds as if it's the fault of the US that the terrorists attacked the WTC buildings, and as if he is glad that this stupid Bush will never be able to protect himself and his country against terrorists, which could also be considered to be freedom fighters. You wouldn't really expect that kind of views from an otherwise nuanced, non-political and intellectual philosopher. But the way he speaks reminds me of Michael Moore...

How is this possible for someone who seemed to be such a critical post-modernist who relativates all strong statements? It seems as if Derrida has two different faces: on the one hand he doesn't believe in absolute truths and he always tries to reveal these illusions of objectivity in the texts he analyses, but on the other hand he does believe in absolute truths, because he is determined to strive for justice, to help people who suffer and who are confronted with injustice. He doesn't see that as a random personal choice to temporary accept one truth instead of something else, he believes that the injustice that he sees is something that really exists in the world out there.

This is an interesting combination I think, on the one hand the critical, rational, sober, and cool way to analyse texts, and on the other hand the passionate, emotional, strongly convinced of being right way of striving for justice. So Derrida has at the same time a post-modern and a traditional Jewish ethical side inside of him.

I was thinking about this contrast when I listened to the discussions in the anti-racism debate. This desire / passion for the "work of justice" was clearly present in the debate, no matter on which ideology it was based this time (socialism, the Islam, maybe a little bit of Christianity, or not based on any particular ideology/religion). Since Levinas focusses on totalisation (generalizations, prejudices, simplifications, exagerations) as opposed to being self-critical, nuanced and open to the totally other, I focussed on the kind of arguments people used to figth racism, or to defend the interests of their group. I noticed that there were big differences with regard to the amount of simplifications / exagerations. Some people were drowning in their roles of victims, they generalized and exagerated a lot, while others just stated the facts as they were, they let the facts more speak for themselves, and they were more directed towards practical and pragmatic solutions. In my view that last way to react is a stronger way of arguing, which will also be more convincing towards people with other views. To drown in the victim role only irritates the supposed "oppressors", and it doesn't bring the "victims" any further.

But what I was wondering, was: is it in fact possible to combine postmodern constant self-criticism and internal doubts with a convinced of being right attitude towards the struggle for justice? I think Derrida will have wrestled with this question himself as well. My own position is that I think: Ok, there are no absolute truths, that I believe in the justice that I strive for is maybe only my personal truth that I strive for, the question of what is just and what is unjust can not be answered in a completely objective and universal way. But who cares, why shouldn't I continue to strive for what I believe in? Only I should be careful that I don't "kill the other" in my fight for justice. I should have an open mind to other views, I should be self-critical. I should allow others to put everything into question that I say and do, I should be able to explain why I did so and said so, I should be willing to change my views and course of actions. I should not look at the world in black and white, because in reality there are many many gray tints. Dogmatism refers to an illusive simple view on reality, which means that there's a big part of reality that you don't see, in fact. Dogmatism is inflexible as well, you have to stick to what you thought in the beginning, you can't change / improve your views based on new experiences. Dogmatism is something you can find among many different groups of people in the society, of course. There is not only the dogmatism of Lunatic Liberals but also of Crazy Conservatives and Extreme Terrorists.

I often think back of what I wrote about the sheep and the wolf. I think that there are really people in the position of sheep and people in the position of wolves, in the world out there. Oppression and discrimination are real phenomena in the world out there. This means that justice and injustice also exists in the world, independent from how people with different perspectives look at it. Only the risk of the sheep and wolf story is that people start to think again too much in black and white, in simplifications and absolute terms. There is no race of sheep (black people) and a race of wolves (white people). The roles / positions are mainly devided like that at present, but that doesn't mean it's unchangeable. People sometimes wonder how it's possible that the Jews, to whom such terrible things were done in the Second World War, how it's possible that they treat Palestinians badly in the Middle East conflict. This is because these two situations don't have anything to do with each other. It's not in the nature of Jews to be victims of a war and not sometimes at the other side. The nature of Jews doesn't have anything to do with this. Jews have been in a position of victims of a war (sheep) and now they may be in a different position in Israel, that's very well possible.

It's not true either that sheep would be better or more friendly human beings than wolves. We are all completely human and you can find as many good/bad or friendly/unfriendly people among both positions. The roles can always change in the future. So it's not a matter of sympathy or appreciation for the sheep, it's just a matter of a "work of justice", I do what I have to do to contribute to a more just world, as I personally see it.

Alain Finkielkraut warns for this effect of the black-and-white glasses of Lunatic Liberals:
"The left wing, the party of movements, likes its peace of mind. When one chooses the side of the exploited part of humanity, it's difficult to be modest and uncertain. When you defend the oppressed it's difficult to accept the doubts of finity. People often have a need for simplification and a desire for a clear and non-ambiguous judgement. And then there is still the phenomenon of insults. The ability to insult others is the only option that will remain for the classical left wing. Insults are a strange mixture of combativeness and to strive for moral superiority. Without such a feeling of superiority it seems to be hard to speak at all."

And here's a Coldplay text about "seeing the world in black and white" (it's a bit a different theme but still somehow related):

You see the world in black and white
No colour or light
You think you'll never get it right
But you know you might
The sky could fall on me
The parting of the seas
But you mean more to me
Than any colour I can see
All you ever wanted was love
But you never looked hard enough
It's never gonna give itself up
All you ever wanted to be
Living in perfect symmetry
Nothing is as down on this as us
You see the world in black and white
Not painted bright
You see no meaning to your life
Yes you try
Don't you want to see it come soon
Floating in a big white balloon
Or given on your own silver spoon
Don't you want to see it come down
Careful throwing your arms around
Saying not a moment too soon
Cause I feel low



History and truth

As a post in between, before I will write about the anti-racism debate that I visited this Sunday, I will post part of an Orkut discussion here about history and truth. An Orkuter announced a new community she founded, called "What really happened". She says about that community: "It's about inescapable historical realities that leaders of nations will lie to their people about. As long as we remain inactive, the liars have no reason to stop..So lets discuss and spread the bitter truth about the past and make sure we aren't fooled again in the future." As you can see in the community picture (see picture on the left), the discussions focus on "what really happened" with regard to the war in Iraq.

Here's part of the discussion that followed, with my "favourite" discussion partner: Roberta. She said that history is nothing without archeological proof to back it up. I said that I didn't agree, that instead I thought that history is nothing without interpretation.

I said:
The past is no longer here. Some objects are still here, but the past is always dependent on how we humans interpret it. It depends on the glasses through which we look at the past.History is nothing without interpretation. There is no absolute truth because an infinite number of interpretations is possible.

Roberta said:
By saying this, you ignore the FORENSICS which can pinpoint a murder case based on PAST events and HISTORY, as well as Archaeological evidence, i.e. bodies.

Interpretation is ONLY needed when we do not know the FACTS. If we know them, we do not need to interpret them.I give you an example:5 witnesses watch a car accident. Two white cars and one red car collide. First white car has 2 passengers and one driver. The others have only the drivers.The 5 witnesses will give statements regarding the accident.. how THEY perceived it (INTERPRETATION), but ALL of them will have ONE thing in COMMON, the FACT. And the FACT is: 3 cars collided. 2 white and 1 red. There were 2 passengers and 3 drivers. Now you understand what I mean?I do not care for interpretations. I care for the FACTS. I don't care how the accident happen. If we know it, GOOD! It's a bonus. If we don't, we wil find out through the FACTS. Simple.

Esther said:
Ok, but I don't care for facts only, I think interpretations are very important for how we look at the world.We will never never agree on "what really happened" where ever. Maybe we will one day agree about the facts, but we will never agree whether it was a good thing that Bush started a war in Iraq or not. I have been reading a lot from Derrida these days and it's interesting how he describes how the way we look at the world and describe it is influenced by our coloured glasses, by the way we interpret the signs that we see around us. It's a long story to explain this in detail, but at least my conclusion is that archeological findings will never tell us "what really happened", because it depends on how we interpret what we have found. If we already don't agree about what's happening at present, how can we ever agree about the past?



Geef racisme geen stem

Zie de Samen tegen racisme website.

Reactie achteraf:

Het was een goed bezocht en inhoudelijk sterk debat. Het motiveert mij sterk om te zien hoe we met mensen van allerlei culturen, leeftijden en idealen samen solidair zijn tegen racisme. Ook inhoudelijk is het voor het promoveren volgens mij goed dat ik niet alleen naar intellectuele filosofische symposia ga, maar ook naar dit soort concrete maatschappelijke debatten. Voor een uitgebreid verslag, met foto's, zie de weblog van Anja Meulenbelt.

En hier zijn alvast een paar van haar foto's (een inhoudelijke blog post over het debat, in het Engels, volgt z.s.m.)

Famile Arslan (links)

(zelf heb ik ook nog even de microfoon gegrepen)

Peyman Jafari



Dutch hypocrisy

It's funny how Orkuters from all over the world are discussing racism in the Netherlands. Like France we are becoming famous for the problems in our multicultural society (that's not so funny). So here's another Orkut discussion, started by an Australian (not the same as from the post below), and followed by two Brazilians, of which one has lived fo some time in the Netherlands.

Australian Orkuter:
Silencing free speech in the Netherlands 11/20/2005 7:26 PM
Islamist murders and threats have transformed the once-tolerant Netherlands into a place of armed bodyguards and fear, writes Anthony Browne.

Brazilian Orkuter:
The title of this article is horribly biased: Muslim fanatics terrorise a nation (?!?)And gets worse: Islamist murders and threats have transformed the once-tolerant Netherlands into a place of armed bodyguards and fear. This little piece of information spreads hate towards all Islamic immigrants and sounds as if Netherlands had turned to be a totalitarian state controlled by hordes of fanatics.
The Netherlands IS tolerant. Has this Anthony Brown ever been in Netherlands? He sounds as if he had not. Dutch & theirs guests are not gagged by fundamentalists. That is why Netherlands pays for Ayaan’s armed guards.

Brazilian Orkuter with Dutch experience:
Holland, despite of being open and liberal, still has to rethink its past in order to move forward. By the start of Nazi occupation, 140,000 Jews lived in Holland. 107,000 Jews were deported (only 5000 survived to return home). 75 percent were killed or suffered in the hands of the Nazis. The largest percentage from a West European Democracy. Indonesian (former Dutch East Indies) independence: It was not until 16 August 2005 that the Dutch government recognised 1945 as the country's year of independence (it had always recognised self-determination from 27 December 1949) and expressed its "profound regrets" for the years of suffering and bloodshed during colonial rule. Not to mention UN Dutch Troops and the Srebrenica (in Bosnia) episode.

If you go to Amsterdam-Osdorp, Oud-West, De Pijp, De Baarsjes or the Indonesian quarter you can see that most 2nd-generation immigrants don’t consider themselves Dutch but Dutch-Turk, Dutch-Moroccan or Dutch-Whatever. They don't feel at home in Holland nor in their parents' land.
According to Iron Rita (Rita Verdonk), some 500,000 Turkish and Moroccan immigrants in Holland don't speak Dutch. Her policy is clear: "If you want to live in the Netherlands, you have to adhere to our rules, accept basic values like the equality of men and women... and learn our language."
Is this enough?

PS: I’d like to hear Esther’s views on the theme, is she still around?

Esther says:
Yes I am still around :-)

I don't agree that the Netherlands is a tolerant country nowadays, but I do agree that the title of this article is very stupid and biased. Why are Muslim fanatics blamed for all the problems, why only them? What happened in the Dutch society? A process of polarisation between natives and immigrants is taking place. Animosity towards "the other group" grows from both sides. A Minister of Immigration creates immoral policies towards foreigners, and when ten refugees get burned alive in their refugee prison at Schiphol she says that the government has acted "adequately". When people protest against her and put banners on buildings (sign of freedom of expression), the banners are removed by the government. Who is committing the censorship here? No matter how many people are killed by Muslim fanatics, why do we react by applying (self) censorship?

Brazilian with Dutch experience says:
Hi Esther, nice to see you around!

The polarisation process you have just mentioned is very interesting. About two weeks ago I read in NRC Handelsblad something about it, I think it was written by Paul Scheffer's. (Was he professor at Rijksuniversiteit Groningen?) There he defends that Islam needs to rethink its basic tenets about freedom of religion. This sparkled a wave of debates, opinions and angry letters that just proved your point, you can see by the comments / actions that the society is now openly taking sides. Although one may say that prejudice rears its ugly head, I see a good side in it: I believe that now that the real problem surfaced, it can be openly discussed, no need for hypocrisy. About self censorship, I’m sorry to see that people like Hasna el Maroudi decided to restrain from sensitive issues, but if you were in her shoes what would you do? Hide forever (ok, for a while) in your own country? Give up the freedom of speech for the freedom of movement (access to places, communities, people from certain groups)?

Some things are not justifiable, like the decision of not showing Theo’s movie again. This will only keep the problems under the carpet.

Apart from leaking denied asylum seeker’s fingerprints to countries where they come from, what more Iron Rita is doing these days?

Esther says:
"Although one may say that prejudice rears its ugly head, I see a good side in it: I believe that now that the real problem surfaced, it can be openly discussed, no need for hypocrisy."

I don't agree. This is what simplistic immigrant haters say: "Finally we can say things the way they really are, not need to be kind to immigrants anymore, no need anymore for political correctness, finally we can openly speak the truth: immigrants are violent barbarians (especially Muslims) that should assimilate to the Dutch culture as soon as possible or otherwise they will be kicked out of the country." It's good to stop hypocrisy, but I think that at this moment the opposite is happening: the simplistic hypocrisy is growing a lot. Theo van Gogh should be allowed to call Muslims goat fuckers as much as he likes, that's freedom of expression. Politicians can generalize and say that Muslims use their religion as an excuse for violence and criminality, like that, in general - Mr. Pastors from the city council in Rotterdam said this. When an interviewer asked him if this is not a very unnuanced expression, he said: "I don't care, since Muslims do this all the time themselves as well, to speak in unnuanced generalisations." I would expect politicians not to take part in this nonsense. I would have expected Pastors to say: "You are right, I should have said it more precisely, I should have said: "Some Muslims (extremists) use their religion as an excuse for violence." He also proposed to create an "immigrant stop" - to close the city borders for more "newcomers" especially when they are poor - because (as his colleagu Schrijers said): "Rotterdam should not become the waste whole (where the water goes from a shower or tap, "afvoerputje" in Dutch) of the Netherlands. So he used a metaphor as if immigrants are the dirty hairs that get stuck in the shower whole after a shower, that the dirty immigrants shouldn't all of them get stuck in Rotterdam, that Rotterdam has accepted enough of the dirt right now and it's the turn for other cities now.
Politicians like Pastors are becoming big heroes now in the Netherlands, they are the only persons "who finally dare to say things the way they are". But the thing is that things aren't like that at all in reality. These politicians shout the popular things which the people in the street often like to hear. They give a voice to the people who are in general frustrated and who want to point to one group - immigrants / Muslims - as the cause of all their frustrations. Politicians who put oil on the fire by "finally daring to say things the way the are", make that xenofobia / racism which was still meanly sleeping in the Dutch population, is woken up. People can always have some unconscious racist thoughts. You can say that it's good if they finally dare to say what they think, but I think racist expressions shouldn't be stimulated (not by Theo van Gogh either). Politicians like Pastors and Verdonk put oil on the fire of polarisation. Growing polarisation will never lead to a peaceful quiet multicultural society. The Netherlands will remain a cultural diverse society for the coming decades. The only way to live together in a constructive way is when it's really together, natives and immigrants, not against. Politicians have a responsibility in this, not to support the excluding immoral simplistic speaking from your stomach (in which all personal frustrations have gathered), but, on the contrary, to promote inclusiveness and a positive and respectful intercultural dialogue.

One example from Iron Rita (because you asked for that):The Antilles used to be a colony of the Netherlands and they are still somehow part of the Dutch kingdom. So people from the Antilles can move to the Netherlands more easily than people from e.g. Morocco. But Mrs. Verdonk is not so happy with these immigrants, because the unemployment figures and the criminality figures are bad for this group, compared to "natives" and most other immigrant groups. So she proposed a law that people from the Antilles can only enter the country when they have a good job and when they have proven that they are no criminals. Students from China, Somalia, Surinam, wherever, can study at a university when they have high marks, but Antilleans can only come when they have shown that they are no thieves. This is the kind of racist discriminative policies that Verdonk invents, they are often against the Dutch constitution and against many international (European and UN) treaties.


There is only one race, the human race

There are many interesting discussions at Orkut again. These discussions help me a lot to work out my thougths and arguments about racism, so I will post part of these discussions here. Below is a post from an Australian Orkuter about racism, and my reaction to it. To analyse the phenomenon of racism is a fundamental issue for my dissertation. Levinas often makes a distinction between to consider a human being as free and equal to all other humans, and to consider some humans as superior to others. The difference between freedom for individuals and to be imprisoned in category that someone else has put you in. It's the freedom of being a guest in God's land as opposed to the imprisonment of calling a person inferior based on a race he belongs to, something he cannot change. This way of thinking is what Levinas criticizes Heidegger for. For reducing and individual to his race. If you do that it can finally lead to support for the killing of 6 million Jews. That's something I should explain in more detail in my dissertation. Here is first the Orkut discussion.

Orkuter says:
I'd like to say something about racism. But first I'd like to define "race". I have a point of view, although others may disagree. That's part of the beauty of this world. Lightening seems like some sort of disagreement.
I believe we're an animal like any other. If there is any "racism" at all, it's us against other animals.

Racism:The prejudice that members of one race are intrinsically superior to members of other races. Discriminatory or abusive behaviour towards members of another race. So: the human race vs the horse race vs the rat race etc etc etc etc
My belief is that there is no "racism" problem, as we're one race like any other race of animals. We're the human race.

So for me the question would be, if not racism, what is it, breedism? But what is this, breedism? If we could work that out, maybe we'd get a lot closer to where people want to be i.e. "living the truth", whatever "the truth" may be.

Esther says:
We are all the human race indeed. It would be great if we would considered all of us as being equal as humans, because of that.But the reality is often different. Racism always has to do with an idea of superiority against inferiority. Discrimination which isn't based on the colour of ones skin can already be bad. Some "categories" of people are considered by another "category" to be inferior, because of e.g. their religion, culture or class. Sometimes people talk about people in a particular category as if it's a different race, as if all the people in that category are the same and as if it is part of their common genes, so unchangeable by definition. I don't know which word should be given when it isn't discrimination based on race, so that you can't really call it racism. For instance when a Dutch person discriminates / hates Germans, it's not a different race that he or she hates. In principle it doesn't matter much if the hate / generalisations / prejudices / discrimination is directed against a different race or not, it is always wrong.Only when the colour of ones skin is involved, the racism goes deeper and will hurt more. The colour of ones skin is very visible, it can't be hidden (only with an extreme burqa). When people are discriminated because of being gay, for instance, they can decide not to talk about it, to keep it hidden. When you are black you can't keep it hidden. For phenomena like xenofobia, a fear of strangeness, the fear will be bigger for someone who looks completely different. And some correlations are clearly visible: you look at Africa and you see the combination of black skin and poverty. You look at Europe and you see the combination of white skin and wealth. You would almost think that the colour of the skin causes the wealth. If you could choose before you were born which skin colour you want to have (and in which continent you like to be born), it is more clever to choose for white and Europe.
The risk of racism is bigger with different colours of skin because it's so visible. When people start to associate being black with being poor, a racist might start to think that black people are poor because they are black, that they would be less clever as a race and therefore earn less money. This is not the case, there are many reasons why Africa is a poor continent and Europe rich (with one of the reasons the colonialism and slavery that Europe did to Africa), but it's for sure not that one race would be less clever than another one.We should try to forget that we have different skin colours, we should remind ourselves all the time that we are completely equal as human beings. We shouldn't be prejudiced towards certain skin colours, cultures or religions, we should treat every person we meet as an individual, not as someone who represents a "category" that we don't like. It's not easy, this not-necessarily-related-to race form of racism for which another word should be invented, is a widespread phenomenon and often people think and act like that unconsciously.



The changing political climate in the Netherlands

Below is a text I published at Orkut in the International Relations community.

A friend asked me (in my scrapbook) if I could, as an insider, give my view to the present situation in the Netherlands with regard to radicalisation of the Islam.

In fact I prefer to post here about a slightly different but related topic. Radicalisation is taking place, and I don't know exactly at which scale. I think that not only some Muslims become more radical (on a small scale still), but I think that radicalisation can also be found among other groups in the population. If Muslims or immigrants in general tend to turn back more to their original religion / culture, this doesn't happen without any reason. I think it's mainly due to a changing political climate in the Netherlands and in the world at large (but in the Netherlands it's more extreme than in most other (European) countries. There was an article in my newspaper one week ago about how expats experience their lives as strangers in the Netherlands. There were many complaints, especially about the lack of tolerance, despite the myth that the Netherlands would be such a tolerant country. That article was followed by many letters from readers who confirmed that the Netherlands aren't tolerant at all nowadays. A man from Portugal wrote that he was first just himself, something like 7 years ago, when he came here, then he became "Portugese" in the eyes of his surroundings, something like 5 years ago, and now he is only considered to be an "allochtoon" (non-Dutch person, immigrant, foreigner) and he doesn't like that at all, he thinks about leaving the Netherlands now. I will post here once more a text that I posted some time ago in the Discourse Analysis and Racism community. A former colleague of me at the University of Amsterdam describes how he accompanied his best friend who decided to go back to Turkey, because of the detoriated political climate...

If you want to stop radicalisation of the Islam in the Netherlands, you shouldn't only teach young Muslims in the Netherlands that the Islam is in fact meant in a peaceful way, etc. I think we shouldn't focus only on Muslims who might become radical, I think we should focus on the society as a whole, the society itself shouldn't radicalise, including the Dutch people who tend to radicalise in their dislike of foreigners.

So here is that text of why a Turkish man decided to go back....
My best friend is gone, forever back to Turkey. Five years ago, on the 1 of February he came to the Netherlands. Now we bought his one way ticket to Istanbul together. The lady at the counter asked for a joke: “Will you ever come back?” and he said: “No, I am fed up with it here.” I knew he wasn’t happy here anymore. He missed his family in Turkey and he felt like a stranger from the beginning. Still this was not the reason why he is going back.The real reason was the changed climate in the Netherlands. Cultural differences are being considered as potential problems, actions and choices of people with different backgrounds are constantly measured with the standards of assimilation to the Dutch culture. He couldn’t stand this violent social climate anymore. When watching the news he often got angry about how ethnic groups were stigmatized. He was no Muslim and he didn’t identify himself with Moroccans. He thought that social-political and economical factors caused the problems, not the Islam or cultural differences. Many generalizations were made. He thought that people spoke about others with no respect at all. It was clinical how people spoke about deportation and denationalization. The feeling that he didn’t belong / wasn’t accepted in the Netherlands became stronger and stronger. More and more immigrants don’t feel welcome anymore, even the second and third generations, who are born here. People are still believing the myth that immigrants have the same positions and chances in Dutch society, that they are respected and appreciated and treated as equal citizens, which is not the case. The situation is getting worse soon. People think that foreigners should adapt to the Dutch culture immediately, there is no understanding for people who are homesick or who need some time to get used to new standards and values and a new way of life. Finally this leads to exclusion and isolation.The time that cultural diversity was appreciated has long been gone. One has to fight for a right to be different. My friend is intelligent, he learnt to speak Dutch fluently in one year. He had many Dutch friends. He worked hard. He read both Turkish and Dutch newspapers. He was an example of a successful integration into the Dutch society. But also someone who missed the appreciation for what he did, he missed the personal respect and acceptance from that same society. That’s why he bought a one way ticket to Istanbul.



Generalization as the denial of alterity

After all the reading and thinking I did so far, this weekend I thought at once that the process of generalisations is one of the key factors with regard to problems in intercultural contact and phenomena like xenofobia and racism.

The process of generalisation is a key factor not only with regard to the well-being of the multicultural society, but it's also a key factor both in Levinas' thinking and Derrida's thinking. So you could say that the process of generalization forms the linking pin between the theoretical and philosophical part of my dissertation and the practical society part of it.

When I just started to study this topic, half a year ago, I was struck by the very concrete and clear example (sorry that blog post is in Dutch) that the Moroccan-Dutch writer Fouad Laroui gave, an example of how Levinas' "humanism of the other" was violated in the multicultural society. He described a meeting during lunch time with a colleague at his university. His colleague asked: "how do you think as a Muslim about..." "I don't think as a Muslim", Laroui replied, "I think as myself". This colleague has an image in his mind that all Muslims think in a certain way. In fact Laroui consistently refuses to say anything about his religiousconvictions, arguing that the world would be a better place if everybody kept their beliefs to themselves, but the idea that there would be Moroccans who aren't Muslim didn't come to the mind of that colleague. He could at least first have asked Laroui about his faith, but he didn't find that necessary.
The Islam and the group of people who follow this religion have some common features, as a group. There are some characteristics that you can find more often in that group than in another group, e.g. with regard to the clothes people wear. But the group characteristics don't apply to each individual in that group. An individual can never be reduced to the group or category that somebody else puts him in. Laroui doesn't think as a Muslim, he doesn't think as a Moroccan, he thinks as himself and he is unique in that.
People invent an image of a certain group in society, that they are all like this or that, that's a generalization. Wants they have created an image of the other, they don't look at the real other in front of them anymore. The colleague doesn't ask Laroui himself about his opinion about a certain topic, he asks it to the image of a standard Islamic Moroccan that he has invented in his head.

And this weekend there was another article from Laroui in my newspaper, also about generalisations. He spoke about the riots in France and about a declaration that was signed by among others Tariq Ramadan. He spoke about the exagerations and generalizations that were mentioned in that declaration, as if the immigrants in France are treated by the French government as the Indians were treated by the Americans. There were many simplicications in the document and comparisons that didn't fit. About the riots in France he said that a same kind of exaggeration process took place there as well, people exaggerated and they created images of people and of themselves which aren't real. But people start to believe in these images and forget the real people. An image was created as if the immigrants were all as Muslims fighting a jihad against the non-believers, an image that was epxressed both by the outsiders who analysed the situation and by some of the rebels themselves, who at once started to shout Allah Akbar. This while the riots were in fact not religious, they were aimed as a protest against living in the poor and dirty ghettos where people have no perspectives on improvement.

People invent something, they start to exaggerate and then they replace the real people in front of them by the image they have created of them. That process is what is described by Levinas, it means I totalize / dehumanize / kill the other person who is standing in front of me. It can happen either at the individual level or at a collective level. At the individual level it means that I apply one feature of a person to the person as a whole. At the collective level it means for instance, as I said, that somebody assumes that all Moroccans are Muslim. Or that a person knows that this counts for the majority of that group and that so, when he meets a random Moroccan, the first person thinks he will be Muslim (a prejudice) and that he doesn't ask if that assumption is correct. (And when people assume with every Moroccan they meet that it will be a thief, this kind of prejudices are much worse of course.)

This process of exaggeration and simplification is somehow related to a longing for a clear and simple story, for a black and white picture. This is why simple action movies are so pleasant to look at: the bad people are very evil, everyone can see that, there is no doubt about it, and the good people are completely good. The perspective doesn't changed during the film, it doesn't become more nuanced. You put your labels of good and bad on the people and it remains like that the whole film, very easy and assuring. But the reality is not like that, we shouldn't put that kind of labels on groups or even races of people, we should look at individuals, at what they say and how they behave. They shouldn't be reduced to a category that we have put them in.

This longing for simple images is somehow related to Heideggers longing for enrootedness, a longing for authenticity and the simplicity of the past. A world in which everything is clear and unchangable. This longing is opposed to the desire to welcome the totally other, the complete stranger. A longing to look further than your own limited world.

The theoretical way in which Derrida and Levinas describe their ethics of hospitality and humanism of the other as opposed to the philosophy of enrootedness from Heidegger, forms a linear parallel with the opposition between on the one hand a neutral nuanced and precise way of describing behaviour and situations, while recognizing the uniqueness of individuals and the respect they deserve as humans, and on the other hand the generalizations and simplifications that are made, through which an attempt is made to reduce individuals to the categories that they have been put in by others.

This weekend I read a text about Derrida's think which describes this distinction between on the one hand enrootedness and simplistic generalizations and on the other hand acceptance of alterity and recognition of the fundamental complexity and ambiguity of the reality.

Here's a short summary of this text:
"Derrida describes Plato's world of ideas. This is a very clear world, the ideas are clearly defined, they are perfect. There are no doubts about the characteristics of the ideas, everything is completely transparant in that world, according to Plato. But the real world is not so simple as this world of ideas. In the real world there is a lot of ambiguity, indecisivenes and perishableness with regard to how we look at the world. These are forms of non-identity, which means that objects don't coincide with themselves. There always remains a distance, there is a form of total alterity which cannot be grasped. People who see the real world as a transparent Platonic world of ideas, try to lock alterity / otherness out of ones own identity. (This is the same kind of process of locking everything that is foreign away from what is authentic.) But although I can do everything to stay away from the totally other / complete stranger, I cannot stay away from the alterity, the stranger that I have within me. This is why this authentic identity philosophy is in contradiction with itself.

For any object to have a meaning / signification for a human being there has to be a distance between the subject and the object. There is always a distance / difference between my "self" / the same, and alterity. But in the identity / enrootedness philosophy, this distance is supposed to exist no longer. A distance / difference is needed to be able to approach an object."

For contact between people this counts even more than for the way a subject approaches an object. Levinas emphasizes this all the time, that I am totally different from the other, I should never try to reduce the other to the same. Because this means that I define the other, I create an image of him, I kill the real person and replace him by the drawing that I made. This is what happens when I generalise, when I reduce a real person to an invented category. This is a process of dehuminazation, I replace the human being that stands in front of me by a picture, a drawing that I made on paper, an unchangeble object. Somethings that comes from me, not from the other. Something that cannot protest against what I do to it, I can erase it and make a new drawing. I can make a drawing of an object, I can present it to others the way I see that object, but I cannot do that to a human being. The other can only speak for himself, I cannot speak in his name.


I hope this abstract description is still understandable for non-philosophers. You can always post some questions for clarification here. People sometimes wonder why these philosophers write down these complex theories about identity, distance, difference, ontology, the world of ideas, etc., and how it could ever be useful for the concrete practice. But I think it's very useful. I can translate the abstract descriptions to concrete situations. I can use it to recognize processes of generalisations and simplications, and I hope that I can explain that to people and stimulate them to present their views in a more nuanced way and to stop reducing individuals to categories. This doesn't always work, but sometimes I succeed in explaining that to others and then I am happy :-)


And here's an msn chat with an Orkut friend from Pakistan based on this blog text. It shows how e.g Derrida and Heidegger make it difficult for us as their students to state anything with certainty. When I point to others and claim that they are generalizing it might very well be the case that I am generalizing myself as well. When I am critical towards others behaviour I should be at least as critical towards my own behaviour.
And how can I know for sure that this generalization mechanism really exists and that it is really one of the main causes of racism? How can I know that there's a pattern in the different situations that I analyse? And what are my arguments to back up my claim - with Levinas - that this type of generalizations are dehumanizing / immoral? So these questions are addressed in this chat... (of which I saved only half of it, unfortunately)



The stranger

Below is part of a text I wrote in somebody's scrapbook at Orkut, it's inspired by the Derrida reading group, by what Derrida writes about the stranger in "About hospitality".

In his book "About hospitality", Derrida describes how strangers / outsiders have a clearer view on a society than insiders. We have got so much used to what we see all the time around us, that we cannot really look at it anymore. When a stranger enters a city - Derrida refers to the Greek stories of the Sofist and Oedipus - he isn't familiar with the collective dogma's and social codes that apply in the city. The law of the city doesn't apply to the stranger, because he doesn't know that law so he can't be expected to obey to it. The stranger finds everything strange in that city, because it looks completely different from the city where he comes from. So he starts to ask questions: why do you do that like that? He talks about all the taboos
that the inhabitants never talk about. He puts everything into question, he puts every stone upside down. Maybe the people in that city, especially the leaders, will be afraid of this stranger who puts everything upside down. But if they can manage not to be afraid, they can learn a lot from the stranger. To think dogmatic and automatically is dangerous, because you simplify a world which is in fact complex, you deny the nature of the reality. You have to use power to force people to keep believing in simplicity and not to criticize the dogma's. This power/force is totalitarian. The stranger is the one who can break through these powers, who can make people look with new eyes.

In reply, my friend said: "At least it's clear that "foreign" is not a geographical term. It's just an attitude."
And then I continued with:

That's something that I find a really interesting thing, that "foreign" is not a geographical term. Later I would like to discuss the difference between Heideggerian enrootedness and Derrida's ethics of hospitality, the desire to
welcome a stranger no matter where he comes from.

The thing is - what I was thinking about a lot the last days - that I have always felt like a stranger, an outsider, someone who doesn't fit in his surroundings. I have felt it like this as long as I can remember. And that while there is no reason I can think of why I should have this feeling of being different from the people around me, of not belonging in my surroundings. I didn't come from far away, I am still at the ground where I was born, where my roots are. I don't look different or behave different from the people around me. So why does it feel then as if I am a stranger / outsider?

At highshool I found it terrible that I thought that I couldn't be the same as my classmates.
Now I don't care anymore, I accept myself the way I am and I don't care if people around me are different.

But I think that my desire to travel, to discover other cultures and to meet people from different cultures - like here at Orkut and in the international youth exchanges that I organise - that the reason why I like these intercultural meetings so much is because when different cultures come together, we are all strangers. When everybody is different and everybody is far away from home, I am a stranger among strangers, not an outsider among insiders.

That's the true idea of being a world citizen I think


And here's Supertramp with "Goodbye Stranger":

It was an early morning yesterday
I was up before the dawn
And I really have enjoyed my stay
But I must be moving on

Like a king without a castle
Like a queen without a throne
I'm an early morning lover
And I must be moving on

Now I believe in what you say
Is the undisputed truth
But I have to have things my own way
To keep me in my youth

Like a ship without an achor
Like a slave without a chain
Just the thought of those sweet ladies
Sends a shiver through my veins

You can laugh at my behavior
That'll never bother me
Say the devil is my savior
But I don't pay no heed

And I will go on shining
Shining like brand new
I'll never look behind me
My troubles will be few

Goodbye stranger it's been nice
Hope you find your paradise
Tried to see your point of view
Hope your dreams will all come true

Goodbye Mary, Goodbye Jane
Will we ever meet again
Feel no sorrow, feel no shame
Come tomorrow, feel no pain



About goodness - a summary in English

There are two blog posts (and later I will probably also translate the 3rd post in Dutch) that I posted in Duth but of which I would like my English speaking blog visitors to read it too:
  1. The darkness hasn't conquered the light yet
  2. Is it bad to be good?

So here are 2 short summaries in English - which are also usable for people who speak Dutch but who prefer to read summaries instead of long texts ;-)

1. And the darkness hasn't conquered the light yet

As a child, when I went to church, we always sang songs of Huub Oosterhuis, who made in his lyrics a modern "translation" of bible verses. After not having listened to his songs for about 15 years, I recently rediscovered them. With texts about "revealing my real face", against injustice and poverty, and to stimulate solidarity. He sings about the light inside of people, the light of goodness. We have the ability to choose to be good. We should let our light shine in the darkness around us. And he sings that the darkness hasn't conquered the light yet, and it never will.
The texts of his songs give me strength, they speak directly to my heart. When I hear these texts I can feel the power of God as infinite goodness, the God of justice.

The politician and writer Anja Meulenbelt, from the Socialist Party, writes in this same way about Huub Oosterhuis in her weblog:
"As a joke (but in fact seriously) I used to say that I am an inveterate idealist and that it will never change. I feel as if I am pushed by an impatient hand which keeps pushing on my back, a finger that points out: "there you should go". It doesn't help to resist, so I am doing what I feel I should do. You could call it a calling/mission, but without any "colonialistic" or other paternalistic connotation.
"Different, older, someone hidden within us" - sings Oosterhuis about God - "Suddenly flaming up fire of visions". I often recognize this in the people I work with, people who do what they have to do. People who never give up in their struggle for a better world, even when it seems to be against all odds. People who
don't like "big" words, and who often can't explain why they are doing it."

People all have a personal desire / passion, although not everyone feels it as strongly. My passion is for justice. You can see it as if my heart has little arms that stretch out towards justice. No matter how often I try to put these arms to a different direction, as soon as I let go of them they immediately move towards justice again. The arms of my heart long for a better world, with less poverty and racism. It doesn't matter that I can personally do only very little to improve the world, what matters is that my actions are aimed at justice, it doesn't matter how little I actually achieve.

2. Is it bad to be good?

I am taking part in a Derrida reading group and last week we talked about Derrida's book "About hospitality". Somebody said that Levinas and Derrida try so much to help others that they might forget to take care of themselves. But I think it's good that they focus on the other, I think that people usually care enough about themselves already. Only the other that I am faced with can wake me up from my automatic selfishness, and it is only at this point, when I am faced with the other, that it becomes interesting for Levinas and Derrida.

So I don't think that we should be worried that we wouldn't care enough about ourselves. The real challenge with regard to hospitality, I think, is to find a balance between the desire and need for unconditional hospitality and at the same time the necessity to limit the entrance through the formulation of formal and practical conditions. True hospitality would mean that I keep my door wide open for whoever wants to enter my house, that I say to any stranger: "Please come in, make yourself at home, my property is yours as well, and you can stay as long as you like." But it's practically impossible to invite anyone to come in without any conditions, both at the individual level and at the level of a society (with regard to refugees / immigrants). I found it strange, in the Derrida reading group, that there was a focus on privacy and souvereignity, that the host as the owner of the house is entitled to decide who he allows to enter the house and when. This is not really an issue for Derrida, he internalised the - strongly influenced by judaism - ethics of hospitality so much, that he isn't even aware of the incovenience with regard to privacy which is caused by the unconditional welcome of the other. This is why I like the philosophies of Derrida and Levinas so much, because they are poured with goodness.

I know about myself that I am pretty naive, against all odds I keep believing that human nature is good. Each time when it turns out that people did bad things on purpose, I had already thought of an innocent explanation instead. People are sometimes worried about all the bad things that could happen to me because of my naivety. But still I don't want to distance myself from it. And anyway it's not easy to change someones inner nature. There's a difference between ignorance and a conscious choice to take a certain risk. It's a clever thing to try not to be too ignorant, so as to make a realistic estimation of possible dangers, instead of blindly walking into an abyss. When I would welcome a stranger in my home, I know very well that he could be a father murderer (as Derrida refers to Oedipus), but I deliberately decide to take that risk. This because I prefer to do this instead of blocking the door completely with all kinds of conditions, which could result in me blocking the door for the good stranger that I absolutely should have let in.

And here's a song from Luka Bloom about this choice not to let go of my naivety:

I still love the smell
Sweet smell of incense
Since the prayers and the bells
Made complete sense
Most of all I loved benediction
With an innocent child's conviction

Between the past
and whatever the future sends
I choose innocence

I remember the taste
of the first kiss by the river
And the promises we'd keep
forever and ever
I still love the smell
of the innocent years
And I choose innocence
after my tears



Over joodse goedheid

I am sorry for my regular blog readers, who don't speak Dutch, that I am going to add a lot of Dutch words again (second time). I promise that I will publish a summary in English soon...

Op 11 november had ik een n.a.v. de Derrida leesgroep een tekst geschreven over gastvrijheid en het geloof in de goedheid van de mens (zie onderstaande tekst). Toevallig surfde mijn moeder net langs mijn blog, en per e-mail heeft zij gereageerd. Behalve haar persoonlijke reactie staan er ook een paar citaten van Joodse teksten in haar mail.

Hier is eerst haar persoonlijke reactie (met toestemming voor publicatie in deze blog):

Hoi Esther,

Ik heb je weblog over Levinas gelezen en het doet me goed dat je gelooft in de goedheid van de mens. Ik geloof niet meer in de goedheid van de mens per definitie. Ik ben te vaak op de koffie gekomen en na alles wat ik heb gelezen over de Tweede Wereldoorlog kan ik er niet meer in geloven. Maar ik wil er wel vanuit gaan bij ieder individu/bij groepen mensen, als bewuste keuze, totdat het tegendeel blijkt. Een bewuste keuze, omdat ik weet dat ieder mens in ieder geval de keuze heeft om het goede te doen. Dat houdt naar mijn idee altijd de weg open naar nieuwe mogelijkheden en ik houd daarmee de hoop op een betere toekomst voor alle mensen levend. Met deze keuze/levenshouding stel ik mijzelf kwetsbaar op. En dat heb ik vaak geweten: ik word regelmatig gekwetst en dat gaat heel diep. Maar zou ik het geloof in mensen verliezen, dan zou ik ook het geloof in mijzelf verliezen om te kunnen veranderen.
Terugkijkend op mijn leven tot nu toe, heb ik het niet gemakkelijk gehad, noch in materieel opzicht, noch in andere opzichten. Maar de rationele keuze om in eerste instantie uit te gaan van het goede in de mens, heeft mij behoed voor doemdenken, voor cynisme en voor het verliezen van mijn plezier in het leven. Wanneer ik gekwetst word, maak ik tot nu toe de rationele keus om mijzelf te hernemen (=veranderen) en verder te leven vanuit de gekozen principes. Ik kom daardoor steeds dichterbij de zaken, waarvan ik vind dat ze ertoe doen in het leven. En als toegift is het effect dat het mijn vermogen om te genieten aanwakkert, dat ik beter kan relativeren, dat mijn gevoel voor humor groeit en dat ik milder word. Een toegift noem ik het, omdat ik daar niet op uit ben, ik verwacht het niet, het wordt mij toegeworpen. Op die momenten blijkt dat het glas halfvol is en niet halfleeg. (P.S. Ik moet er wel aan toevoegen: als ik middenin zo’n veranderingsproces zit, dan ben ik helemáál niet te genieten, dan kan ik ongereed kwaad zijn, pissig, dan deugt bijna niemand, dan kan het glas een periode hartstikke leeg zijn en dan denk ik alleen maar zwart/wit: dat is mijn temperament zullen we maar zeggen…)

Abel Herzberg met zijn kleinzoon...
Het Joodse gedachtegoed spreekt me nog altijd aan. In de tachtiger jaren verdiepte ik mij er veel in, ik heb er toen een paar cursussen in gegeven. Ik las toen veel over en van Abel Herzberg (1893-1989, advocaat, zijn ouders waren Russische joden, hij verwierf het Nederlanderschap in 1918. Hij zat van 1943-1945 in concentratiekamp Bergen-Belsen en heeft veel nagedacht / geschreven over de rol van de Duitsers en hoe hij zich wilde opstellen naar hen. Hij schreef over de tijd in Bergen-Belsen “Amor Fati – het lot liefhebben”)

Hij heeft ook geschreven: “Brieven aan mijn kleinzoon”, over zijn joodse familiegeschiedenis. Hij schrijft de geschiedenis op voor zijn achtjarige kleizoon.Een stukje daaruit wil ik je ook niet onthouden. Daarvoor moet je weten dat de Thora (de Tien Geboden) de basis vormen van de Joodse bijbel. Thora betekent:wet. Maar niet in de zin zoals wij de wet omschrijven: wat niet mag. Het gaat om de leefregels die het mogelijk maken om goed met elkaar samen te leven, het gaat om woord en daad tegelijk. De Thora kreeg het volk Israël via Mozes nog in de woestijn, om zich te kunnen voorbereiden op het leven in het beloofde land.
Omdat de geschiedenis van een volk verandert in de loop der jaren, hebben Joodse geleerden zich in iedere tijd afgevraagd wat de interpretatie moet zijn van de Thora in de veranderde tijd. Rabbijnen hebben de nieuwe interpretatie voortdurend opgeschreven (in de Talmoed). De Joden hechten veel meer waarde aan symboliek dan wij: zij geven bijv. een interpretatie aan de vormen van de Hebreeuwse letters, aan getallen enz.

Op je weblog zie ik verwantschap af en toe met het joodse gedachtegoed, ik vind het bijzonder om te lezen hoe mensen altijd al op zoek zijn geweest naar de verklaring van het goede en het kwade in de mens. Jij bent er nu ook weer mee bezig. Leuk is dat. Aan de morele principes van Abel Herzberg hecht ik nog altijd veel waarde. Hij heeft voor mij recht van spreken, omdat Hij de grootste verschrikkingen heeft meegemaakt. De kleinzoon aan wie hij zijn brieven schreef heeft hij overleefd: hij sneuvelde op 15 maart 1978 als officier van het Israëlische leger op twintigjarige leeftijd.
Die keuzemogelijkheid van de mens heb ik altijd vastgehouden, realiseer ik me nu. Tot vandaag was ik me er niet zo van bewust dat die een bodem heeft in waar ik in de tachtiger jaren mee bezig was. De joodse traditie vind ik, ondanks mijn securalisatieproces, nog altijd veel uitnodigender dan alleen het dreigen met hel en verdoemenis uit mijn jeugd.

Liefs van Wilma

Hier zijn de citaten die zij in de tekst had opgenomen:

Ik wist niet dat Levinas' filosofie zo direct afkomstig is uit / gerelateerd is aan de Thora. Deze zin bijvoorbeeld: "Het beeld van de Eeuwige verschijnt als een appél op onze verantwoordelijkheid en mededogen in het gelaat van de ander, en liefde tot de Eeuwige wordt alleen in relatie tot die ander echt waar gemaakt." Dit zou zo door Levinas gezegd kunnen zijn, dit is de kern van zijn "humanisme van de ander".

De tweede tekst gaat over gastvrijheid - "Het is een huis dat voor iedereen openstaat. Iedere mens, jood of niet-jood, kan binnenkomen (vrij vertaald). Laat ze maar proberen de deur te sluiten! Dat gaat niet." - en over dat God de mensen meer gegeven heeft dan de engelen. De engelen in de hemel hebben alleen het goede gekregen, de mensen op aarde ook het slechte. De mens heeft het vermogen te kiezen tussen goed en kwaad. Wanneer hij dan besluit het goede te doen, dan is dat een groot goed, een bewuste keuze. Jammer alleen dat veel mensen dat vermogen om bewust te kiezen niet genoeg benutten (uit onwetendheid of doordat het hen niet kan schelen).

En hier is mijn reactie in antwoord op mijn moeders mail:

Lieve Wilma,

Heel erg bedankt dat je dit geschreven hebt. Levinas heeft veel verandering in mij teweeg gebracht. Nu je dit schrijft besef ik dat ik meer over het jodendom moet gaan lezen, Ik zal Herzberg ook gaan lezen.
Levinas heeft gezorgd voor een terugkeer tot religie in mij. Op de middelbare school – met de dogmatische gospelmuziek van het interkerkelijke jongerenkoor en het zalvende gepreek van mijn godsdienstleraar – had ik flink mijn buik vol van het geloof. En ik werd steeds kritischer en filosofischer, maar ik kreeg geen antwoord op mijn vragen en twijfels.
Het is niet voor niets dat Levinas en Derrida schrijven over “de ander welkom heten”, over verantwoordelijke vrijheid naar de ander toe, de plicht maar ook de natuurlijke neiging van de mens om ethisch te reageren op het beroep dat de ander op mij doet. Het gericht zijn op de ander helpen – vooral de arme, de vreemdeling, de weduwe en de wees – de kwetsbare mensen die de hulp het hardst nodig hebben. De houding om in de deurpost te staan en verlangend uit te kijken naar of er een vreemdeling langs komt die gastvrij ontvangen kan worden. Het idee dat de ander mij bevrijdt uit mijn egoïstische beperkte gevangenis waarin ik opgesloten zit. De ander opent de deur van mijn beperkte persoonlijke wereld en maakt dat ik een glimp kan opvangen van de oneindige God. God als oneindigheid maakt een religie mogelijk die niet dogmatisch is maar bevrijdend. De gerichtheid op rechtvaardigheid en de vrijheid om te kiezen, samen met de verantwoordelijkheid, die spreekt mij erg aan.
De deelnemers aan de Derrida leesgroep hadden het steeds over dat de mens soeverein is in zijn eigen huis en dat de privacy gerespecteerd moet worden, dat je niet zomaar iedereen onvoorwaardelijk toe moet laten maar moet zorgen dat je persoonlijke grenzen bewaakt worden, dat je moet zorgen dat je gasten geen misbruik maken van je gastvrijheid. Er werd gezegd dat “de zorg voor het zelf” - zoals de Grieken die benoemen – goed is, en dat Levinas en Derrida door steeds maar anderen te helpen, dat zij daardoor zichzelf vergeten. Maar ik denk niet dat de kans groot is dat mensen vergeten egoïstisch te zijn, volgens mij zijn mensen dat vanzelf altijd al wel, daar hoeven we vanuit de ethiek weinig aandacht aan te besteden.
Voor mij is het geen rationele keuze om uit te gaan van het goede in de mens (en voor Levinas ook niet). Misschien heb ik weinig meegemaakt in mijn leven, het hangt ervan af met wie je het vergelijkt. Maar ik heb niet het gevoel dat mijn jeugd zorgeloos was, als ik vatbaar was voor cynisme dan had dat allang toe kunnen slaan. De mensen van de leesgroep zeiden ook dat ik de kans vergroot op cynisme door naïef te zijn en er bij voorbaat op te vertrouwen dat mensen goede bedoelingen hebben. Wanneer ik teveel mensen vertrouw word ik vaker dan anderen bedrogen en gekwetst en daardoor word ik cynisch, was de voorspelling. Maar volgens mij werkt het niet zo. Ik zie het kwaad in de wereld maar al te goed, ik ben niet onverschillig zoals sommige anderen. Ik weet allang dat de mens van nature niet zo goed is als zoals mijn hart dat graag wil geloven. Mijn hart blijft dat geloven tegen beter weten in, het maakt niet uit hoe vaak ik bedrogen of gekwetst word. Ik kan me voorstellen dat ik kapot gemaakt kan worden in een hele extreme langdurige onmenselijke oorlog, maar niet in het gewone dagelijks leven in Nederland, volgens mij. Levinas is zelfs door de Tweede Wereld Oorlog niet kapot gemaakt. Zelfs nadat bijna zijn hele familie was uitgeroeid, is hij blijven geloven in de goedheid van de mens.
Één van de mooiste boeken die ik ooit gelezen heb is “Een schitterend gebrek” van Arthur Japin. Ik heb een paar hele mooie uitspraken van de hoofdpersoon over idealisme in mijn filosofie vakantiedagboek geschreven, ik zal ze een keer uittypen en aan je laten lezen.
En een post die ook goed uitlegt wat ik bedoel met dat mijn naïviteit me volgens mij juist niet vatbaar maakt voor cynisme, is de weblog post over
bescherming tegen verbittering.





Is het slecht om goed te zijn?

De onderstaande tekst heb ik geschreven naar aanleiding van een bijeenkomst van de Leesgroep Derrida waarin zijn boek "Over gastvrijheid" werd behandeld, in Hotel de Filosoof gisteravond.

Ik was nog aan het nadenken over onze discussies van gisteren. De punten waarop ik nog had willen reageren, maar toen niet wist hoe, waren:
1. Het idee dat Levinas – en dat geldt dan ook voor Derrida volgens mij – zoveel gericht is op het helpen van de ander en op een goed gastheer te zijn die de vreemdeling zo gastvrij mogelijk ontvangt, dat er te weinig aandacht besteed wordt aan de zorg voor het zelf, zoals de Grieken dat juist wel deden. Wanneer je iedere dief, gek of vadermoordenaar onvoorwaardelijk welkom heet in je huis dan is het wat al te makkelijk voor gasten die kwaad in de zin hebben om misbruik van je gastvrijheid te maken.
2. Toen ik zei dat ik het beleid / de houding van Verdonk het toppunt van ongastvrijheid vindt, werd daarop gereageerd met: het is niet haar persoonlijke beleid maar dat van de regering, zij moet dat wel zo uitvoeren.

Ad.1. Het is niet zo dat Levinas vindt dat mensen niet egoïstisch mogen zijn en zichzelf helemaal weg moeten cijferen voor de ander. Voor Levinas bestaat het leven in de eerste plaats uit genieten, hij geeft daar een uitgebreide beschrijving van, van hoe de mens in de eerste plaats geniet van wat de dingen om hem heen die hem voldoening geven: adem halen, eten, drinken, in de zon zitten, etc. Het is dan een individueel en egoïstisch genieten. Als mensen niet zo’n egoïstische neiging hadden tot zelfbehoud en genieten, dan waren ze volgens Levinas allang uitgestorven. Het is dus niet zo dat Levinas de zorg voor het zelf helemaal niet belangrijk vindt. Aan de andere kant heeft hij het daar verder inderdaad weinig over, hij heeft het altijd over de ander. Mijn persoonlijke idee is dat hij zal vinden dat mensen toch al wel vanzelf een neiging hebben tot zelfbehoud, dat is de primaire neiging van mensen. Alleen de ander kan de eerste persoon losschudden uit die neiging, en dan wordt het voor Levinas pas interessant.

Maar goed, wat doe je nu met het dilemma tussen dat echte gastvrijheid onvoorwaardelijk is, echte gastvrijheid betekent dat je tegen wie dan ook die aan de deur klopt, geen voorwaarden stelt maar zegt: “kom binnen, wees welkom, doe of je thuis bent, alles wat van mij is, is ook voor jou en je kunt zo lang blijven als je wilt”. Juist de vreemdeling, degene die ver van zijn huis is en ontheemd is, degene die kwetsbaar is zonder de bescherming van een onderdak, degene die moe is van de lange reis en hongerig, die moet je met open armen ontvangen en zo goed mogelijk opvangen, dat is de plicht van de gastheer. Ik heb eigenlijk nergens gelezen bij Derrida dat je als gastheer het recht hebt om je privacy te beschermen, of zo. Voor een groot deel haakt Derrida aan bij Levinas’s idee van de bevrijdende ontmoeting met de ander. Levinas praat graag over deuren. Maar hij ziet een deur niet als iets dat je op slot doet om buitenstaanders buiten te sluiten, hij ziet de deur, de drempel, als de plek van waar de gastheer de gast onvoorwaardelijk welkom heet. De gastheer heeft al dagen in de deuropening gestaan en verlangend uitgekeken naar of er nog onverwachte bezoekers zouden komen. De vreemdeling kan mij verhalen vertellen van ver, de vreemdeling die totaal anders is dan ik. Dat is waarom zijn bezoek bevrijdend is, hij verruimt mijn blik. Hij opent deuren voor mij die ik zelf van binnenuit niet openen kon. Dit heeft te maken met de frisse blik van de buitenstaander, iemand die nog niet is vastgeroest in de algemeen geaccepteerde dogma’s binnen het huis, iemand die het huis op zijn grondvesten doet schudden omdat hij alles wat vanzelfsprekend werd gevonden ter discussie stelt.

Ik weet van mijzelf dat ik behoorlijk naïef ben, tegen beter weten in blijf ik altijd geloven in de goedheid van de mens. Iedere keer dat blijkt dat mensen met opzet slechte dingen doen ben ik verbaasd omdat ik zelf al een verklaring bedacht had van dat het per ongeluk gebeurd was. Mensen maken zich wel eens zorgen over wat voor erge dingen mij allemaal zullen worden aangedaan door mijn ‘goedgelovigheid’. Maar toch wil ik er geen afstand van nemen. Sowieso is de innerlijke aard van mensen niet zo makkelijk te veranderen. Er is een verschil tussen onwetendheid en de bewuste keuze om een risico te nemen. Om zo min mogelijk onwetend te zijn is verstandig, het is handig om een realistische inschatting te maken van gevaren en dus niet blindelings een afgrond in te lopen. Wanneer ik de deur wagenwijd openzet en iedere vreemdeling, wie dan ook, gastvrij onthaal, dan kan het zijn dat ik mij heel goed realiseer dat ik een vadermoordenaar binnenhaal, dat ik er bewust voor kies dat risico te lopen, omdat wanneer ik de deur volledig barricadeer met voorwaarden, ik misschien de goede vreemdeling die ik juist wel binnen had moeten laten, de deur wijs.

Een aantal Joodse ethische waarden komen heel nadrukkelijk naar voren in de filosofie van zowel Levinas als Derrida, bijvoorbeeld de plicht om anderen te helpen – vooral de armen en kwetsbaren – de universele naastenliefde, vergevingsgezindheid, gelijkheid en verantwoordelijke vrijheid. Deze waarden maken de filosofie erg mooi vind ik en zij maken ook dat ze als gereedschap gebruikt kunnen worden om polarisatie, geweld, dwang, vreemdelingenhaat en racisme tegen te gaan.

Natuurlijk is het allemaal niet zo eenvoudig en dat is ook wat Derrida steeds blijft herhalen. Absolute onvoorwaardelijke gastvrijheid is niet mogelijk, individueel al niet (er passen niet meer dan 20 zwervers in mijn huis en ik vind het er dan al zeker niet leuk meer) en op het niveau van de samenleving al helemaal niet (immigranten kunnen niet onbeperkt worden toegelaten). En niet alles kan op individueel niveau besloten worden, er zijn wetten nodig om rechten en plichten van individuen te beschermen en te beschikken over sanctiemogelijkheden.
Voor Derrida is er een voortdurend dilemma / paradox tussen de onvoorwaardelijke gastvrijheid die je eigenlijk zou willen bieden en de voorwaardelijkheid die tegelijkertijd noodzakelijk is. Datgene wat noodzakelijk is, is onmogelijk, dus ben je steeds aan het zoeken naar een zo goed mogelijk evenwicht.

Ad.2. Wat ik het grote probleem vindt van het huidige beleid / de houding van de Nederlandse regering is dat dit dilemma nauwelijks ervaren wordt. Verdonk is de ijzeren dame die het als haar taak zie de deur van het huis Nederland zo goed mogelijk dicht te houden. De toegang is extreem voorwaardelijk, alleen als bewezen is dat een buitenlander niet crimineel is, Nederlands geleerd heeft, genoeg verdient, als bewezen is dat hij bedreigd wordt in het land van herkomst, als alles bekend is over die persoon (niet alleen zijn naam) en hij belooft aan alle voorwaarden van inburgering en aanpassing te voldoen, dan gaat de deur op een kiertje open en mag hij naar binnen glippen, anders niet. Dat is geen gastvrijheid. Dat Verdonk gewoon het regeringsbeleid uitvoert spreekt voor zich, maar met wat voor houding / mentaliteit zij dat doet is niet vanzelfsprekend. Bij de Schiphol brand bleef ze maar als een vastgelopen LP herhalen dat er adequaat gehandeld is. Op geen enkel moment heeft ze medeleven getoond met de elf mensen die zijn omgekomen. Dat is waar het mij om gaat: de menselijkheid. Verdonk ziet vreemdelingen als vervelende barbaarse wezens die de Nederlandse samenleving komen ontwrichten. Ze ziet hen niet als gewone mensen die zoals iedereen met respect behandeld moeten worden. De vijandigheid naar vreemdelingen toe, het wij-zij denken, het generaliseren en discrimineren, dat heeft een zeer negatief effect op de samenleving. De vreemdelingen krijgen het gevoel dat ze er niet bij horen en het gevolg is dat velen zich afkeren van de samenleving en dat sommigen radicaliseren. Juist de politici moeten het goede voorbeeld geven en aangeven dat iedereen die in Nederland woont meetelt en dat zij zonder te discrimineren gewoon als mens behandeld moeten worden.



Facts and beliefs

At this moment a lot is happening in the Dutch society and the politics & media, so actually I should write about what happened with the fire in the detention center in Schiphol, or about how a member of the local government, Mr. Pastors, has finally been kicked out of the Rotterdam city council because - after many warnings - he continued to make racist statements about Muslims, or about the chance that the riots in France will move to the Netherlands, or about our terrible Minister Verdonk - the way Hidde did that yesterday.

But, I am sorry, instead of all of this I will again post part of an Orkut discussion, so you will have to wait a bit longer to read here about Dutch politics and multiculturalism ;-) Below is another discussion with Roberta from the UK, we disagree a lot but our discussions are nice. Roberta had a discussion with a Muslim (named K here) about the validity of the Quran.

She said that he should prove that:
And then started our discussion...

Esther says:
Why do you emphasize so much on proofs?

Roberta says:
For ONE reason only. To be a FACT, as something is claimed to be, PROOF is needed. If there is NO PROOF, then it is NOT a fact, but a mere speculation. (And that changes the whole context of an issue).

Esher says:
Is a discussion about validity really interesting, aren't there some more interesting and relevant ways in which we could have religious discussions?

Roberta says:
Sure we can! We can discuss any religion you like, as long as people do NOT claim that what they are preaching are FACTS.

Esther says:
This discussion has been going on a long time now and it doesn't seem to be heading somewhere.

Roberta says:
Of course! That is because I have set a challenge to K, which HE is unable to meet. So he keeps delaying and trying to manipulate the situation but is never proving anything.
He is pushing me to prove my evidence, which I will, as soon as he proves what I asked first. It is fair, I believe.
And I already said to him that if he cannot prove it, he must ADMIT it, so that I can proceed to prove the scriptures similar to the Quran.

Esther says:
Facts are things that you know / that you can test to see if it's true or not.

Roberta says:
Yes. This is my point. I totally agree with you.
Therefore my point is: If I cannot test to see if ALLAH is G-d, or that G-d wrote the Quran, it ceases to be a FACT, and it becomes a BELIEF. ONLY A BELIEF.


Esther says:
Yes I agree.

Esther says:
A belief is something you believe in because you find it plausible, not because you have proofs that everything is exactly like that.

Roberta says:
Some people believe in things because OTHERS tell them, and NOT because they find it plausible. MOST PEOPLE who are muslim these days cannot believe in the Quran as plausible because they cannot read ARABIC. So they depend on OTHERS to tell them things.
And the OTHERS can tell them whatever they want... after all, how can you check?

Esther says:
A scientific proof of the existence of God, gods or of your "aliens" isn't possible anyway, it isn't possible for any religion.

Roberta says:
Who said so? The meaning of G-d is KNOWLEDGEABLE. This is what G-d means as a word. And as far as this word goes, it is found in ALL SCRIPTURES as either G-ds or G-d, suggesting that there have been many G-ds. NOT ONLY ONE. The monotheist idea is the agglomeration of all these g-ds and their feats throughout history.
This is very important to establish.

Esther says:
Why should the Islam be an exception?

Roberta says:
It is NOT an exception. The only exception with Islam is that it CLAIMS G-d wrote the QURAN, and it claims that "ALLAH" is "The Almighty G-d", which I do not agree. So I need PROOF for this CLAIM. Otherwise it is NOT a fact at all!

Esther says:
If you don't accept what K says, and vice versa, is it useful to have this discussion then?

Roberta says:
I will accept what he says, provided he gives me ARCHAEOLOGICAL and HISTORICAL proof that situations in the Quran happened as it is stated, 100% and that Quran was written by G-d. Oh, and that ALLAH is G-D.


He is not accepting what I say because he is afraid of the truth.
And the truth is that you cannot prove any of the things I asked him to prove. Why?
Because they are NOT FACT. They are just SPECULATION or Baseless BELIEF.

Esther says:
There are on the one hand facts which we can know, and on the other hand there is our faith in which we believe.
Some things can be considered as proven facts/knowledge, other things not.
Moral judgements and predictions, for instance, are beliefs, not facts.

Let's analyse this:

This distinction is also relevant e.g. for the Reality vs Fiction discussion we had before. Some Orkuters seem to think that every statement consists of a claim to facts which can be tested and which then turns out to be either correct or false. With predictions you can test afterwards if they were true or not, but with moral judgements you can never objectively test if they are right or wrong. I think that the same applies for religions, which are also moral systems. Moreover I think that God (or the gods if there are more) is not made of the same "material" as everything else that you can find in the physical world. I think God belongs to the meta-physical world, so if you look for physical, not meta-physical proofs of Him, you will never find them.

I am sure that K isn't afraid of "the truth" (your truth). When somebody strongly believes in his faith, there is no need to be afraid. I personally think that every belief should leave some space for doubt, I believe in God, but I am not sure he exists. I don't need to prove it either, because to believe is not the same as to know.

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