De-Essentialising Violence in Indonesia: John Sidel’s ‘Riots, Pogroms, Jihad: Religious Violence in Indonesia’

By Farish A. Noor ~ June 10th, 2010. Filed under: Book Reviews.

De-Essentialising Violence in Indonesia

John Sidel, Riots, Pogroms, Jihad: Religious Violence in Indonesia
Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London, 2006
279 pgs. Paperback

Explaining communal, ethnic and religious violence via recourse to essentialised understandings of ethnic identity and cultural difference is about as silly and illogical as trying to explain corruption in terms of genetic traits. Unfortunately that has become the trend of late, and in the domain of Indonesian and Southeast Asian studies in general it is a lamentable fact that we still come across academic and pseudo-academic studies that purport to be objective, even scientific, which still betray the lingering influence of such bias and cultural perspectivism.

Thankfully, John Sidel’s Riots, Pogroms, Jihad: Religious Violence in Indonesia reads as a sobering antidote to such material, and he correctly notes from the very first sentence of the book that Indonesia deserves to be studied and understood seriously by scholars, and not framed as some hive of irrational, violent militancy as it has been cast by some self-confessed ‘security experts’. Indeed, Sidel’s book can perhaps be read as not only a study of the phenomenon of violence in Indonesia, but also as a response to the caricatural depiction of the country that has gained so much currency in the mainstream media over the past decade, since the fall of Suharto and significantly after the Bali bombings: an event that has somehow wielded an inordinate arresting power in determining the image of Indonesia in the eyes of the world ever since.

But lest we be misunderstood here, it ought to be noted that Sidel’s work is far from an apologia for all that has gone wrong in Indonesia. It is, in fact, a detailed and systematic study of the history of mass organised violence in the country that is rooted in an analysis of its material structures and political economy. As he notes: ‘the question of religious violence in Indonesia calls for comparative historical and sociological analysis’ (pg. xi) and it is good that Sidel is not fixated on the phenomenon of inter-religious violence solely. In fact the book is structured in such a way as to give equal care and attention to a myriad of phenomena, ranging from riots in provincial towns to witch-hunts in the countryside to organised forms of religiously-inspired militancy. Responding to the somewhat narrow logic of those scholars in the ‘religious violence industry’, Sidel frames religious militancy against a wider backdrop of routinised (and often state-sponsored) violence that has plagued Indonesia for decades.

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Mid-Term Essay Question for Students of IR6901: Simpsons or South Park? Take your pick :)

By Farish A. Noor ~ April 27th, 2010. Filed under: Lecture Notes.

Mid-Term Essay Question for Students of IR6901: An introduction to Discourse Analysis.

Taking into account all that we have covered thus far, and in particular with reference to the late Wittgensteinian theory of language-games; Saussure’s fundamental principles of Linguistics and the discussion of religio-political discourses in Laclau/Mouffe and Bobby Sayyid, here is your mid-trimester essay question:

‘With a special emphasis on the concept of nodal points/master signifiers and chains of equivalences, map out the discursive structure of either of the following narratives, and in particular elaborate on:
1. The discursive treatment of the notion of the good and/or right life,
2. The discursive construction of identity and difference,

In EITHER: a. The Simpsons or, b. South Park (Any episode/s / series)

Total word length (including footnotes/ endnotes): 2,000 words.
I do not require a bibliography but do note specific episodes if/when quoted. (All quotations to be marked with inverted commas),
Deadline: 17 May 2010.

Below is a sample question and answer for you to consider:
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Being Muslims and More Besides: Muslim Identities as Complex and Cosmopolitan

By Farish A. Noor ~ April 21st, 2010. Filed under: TOM_Main, The Other Malaysia.

(*Note: I was invited to write a think-piece for an upcoming project and I thought I’d share it with anyone interested)

The past decade has witnessed a period of intense speculation on the subject of Muslim subjectivity; often prompted by reasons that have less to do with academic concerns and more with politics instead. We are back to the question of what is a Muslim subject, and what does Muslim subjectivity imply as far as individual actions in the public domain is concerned. It is not an exaggeration to state that the question of ‘what is being a Muslim’ has been asked more than ever. Why?

A simple answer to the question of why Muslim subjectivity has become a concern for so many is that Muslim identity today has been conflated with a host of other real and imagined agendas and objectives. Across North America and Western Europe in particular we see how the debate over issues of national identity and citizenship has brought forth the symbol of the Muslim subject as the liminal marker that stands on the border of what constitutes the nation. In countries such as Holland, Denmark, France and Switzerland, Europeans seem to be standing on the precipice of making a decision that will – in the long run – determine the heading of Europe and what Europe will come to mean in the future, as they debate the standing and status of European Muslims who may or may not be seen and accepted as part of the European family of nations and as European citizen-subjects.

Meanwhile in many Muslim-majority countries the debate has not been forgotten either, for in almost all postcolonial Muslim societies the same question is asked, albeit framed in slightly different terms: Can Muslims also be citizens of states, and if so which identity is to come first – Muslim identity or national identity couched in terms of a universal citizenship.
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Post lecture notes for students of IR 6901: (Week 7, part 2) Introduction to Discourse Analysis, with a special reference to religio-political discourse

By Farish A. Noor ~ April 21st, 2010. Filed under: Lecture Notes.

Laclau and Mouffe: The A, B, C of Discourse Analysis

Now as we discussed in class yesterday, for our purposes we need not be overly concerned with the politics of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe in their Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985) but rather more concerned about the theoretical schema as it was laid out in chapters 3 and 4 of their work.
Here we find the key concepts and ideas that will serve as the framework for what we call discourse analysis, and which will be part of the vocabulary we need to use when applying discourse analysis – as a methodology – in our own work.
For that sake I’ve put together this simple A,B,C of discourse analysis for all of us:

Chain/s of Equivalence:

A ‘chain of equivalences’ refers to a discursive strategy (See: Discursive strategy) whereby a number of signifiers are strung together in a chain of mutually related and mutually supportive references.
Such chains of equivalences are often found in religio-political discourses and come in a variety of forms. Examples include sentences/phrases like:

  • ‘They hate us (the West) because they hate our values, our democracy, our freedom’;
  • ‘Hinduism as a religion and a way of life is essentially linked to India, the motherland of Hinduism’;
  • ‘Islam has always been a religion and culture of science, technology, knowledge’, etc.

In cases such as these, we can see how the speaker/enunciator is deliberately identifying a range of concepts/ideas and word-signs in a manner in which one signifier is linked to others, forming a chain of equivalences. In the first sentence the word-sign ‘The West’ is being equated with democracy and freedom; in the second Hinduism is being equated with Indian identity; in the third sentence Islam is being equated with progress and science.

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Post lecture notes for students of IR 6901: (Week 7) Introduction to Discourse Analysis, with a special reference to religio-political discourse

By Farish A. Noor ~ April 21st, 2010. Filed under: Lecture Notes.

Laclau and Mouffe: Discourse Analysis and the realities of shifting politics

I. Explaining the context of Laclau and Mouffe’s Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Shifting social dynamics and the demise of traditional class-based politics.

Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics (1985) was written at a time when many left-wing intellectuals and ideologues were labouring over the question of how to construct and foreground a democratic project in a society and at a time when many settled understandings of Left politics – particularly the notion of class difference and the role of the working class as the primary support-base of left-leaning politics – were being undermined, revised and questioned by the social changes taking place all around them.

In order to understand the anxiety and concern of post-Marxist theoreticians like Laclau and Mouffe, we need to locate the work in its social-political and historical context. Written in 1985, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy was a response to the failure of the Labour party to win over public support after the rise of Margaret Thatcher and the changes that she brought about to the British Conservative Party.

Thatcher was an interesting politician in British post-war and post-colonial history for a number of reasons: She rose to become the first woman Prime Minister of Britain and the leader of the hitherto traditionalist Conservative party to boot. This was unprecedented in the history of the Conservative party, whose very name suggests its conservative-traditionalist biases and values. Yet Thatcher not only came to power in 1979/80, but she remained in power for five consecutive terms, ending up as the Prime Minister with the longest record in office in British history.
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Post lecture notes for students of IR 6901: (Week 6) Foucault: Writing the history of discourses

By Farish A. Noor ~ April 13th, 2010. Filed under: Lecture Notes.

Post lecture notes for students of IR 6901: (Week 6) Introduction to Discourse Analysis, with a special reference to religio-political discourse:

Foucault: Writing the history of discourses and discursive economies

This week we read Michel Foucault’s (d.1984) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la Prison, 1975). Along with his Histoire de la Folie (Madness and Civilisation, 1971) and the three-volume work on the History of Sexuality (including L’Usage des plaisirs/The Use of Pleasure, 1984; Le Souci de soi/Care of the Self, 1984, etc.), these works make up the corpus of Foucault’s writings on the history of the modern Self/subject and its evolution from the 17th century to the age of modern industrial capitalism.

Our aim in these readings is to understand and analyse what Foucault was doing in his writing of critical history, which, during his time, came in conjunction with the rise of critical theory, Derrida’s Deconstructionism, post-structuralist theories of discourse and a renewed interest in the constructiveness of narratives and discursive economies.

Reading Foucault’s Discipline and Punish from the perspective of the Wittgensteinian theory of language-games – which we take as the operational definition of discourse – and in the light of the rudimentary statements on linguistics by Saussure, there are several key observations we need to make and remind ourselves of:

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Post lecture notes for students of IR 6901: (Week 5, notes b) Wittgenstein’s Language Games: Implications for discourse analysis

By Farish A. Noor ~ April 8th, 2010. Filed under: Lecture Notes.

Post lecture notes for students of IR 6901: (Week 5, notes b) Introduction to Discourse Analysis, with a special reference to religio-political discourse:

Wittgenstein’s Language Games: Implications for discourse analysis.

From this point onwards in the course, we will be referring a lot to Wittgenstein’s notion of language-games (as rule-governed context-bound modes of language use in specific contexts) when we talk about discourses.

The term ‘discourse’ is often used in academic and non-academic work, but a lot of scholars/writers fail to understand the use of the term and thus commit the same errors when describing the object of their research as ‘discourse’. For the sake of this course, our working operational definition of ‘discourse’ will tally closely to what Wittgenstein describes as ‘language-games’ in the Philosophical Investigations.

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Post lecture notes for students of IR 6901: (Week 5) Wittgenstein’s theory of Language-games

By Farish A. Noor ~ April 8th, 2010. Filed under: Lecture Notes.

Post lecture notes for students of IR 6901: (Week 5) Introduction to Discourse Analysis, with a special reference to religio-political discourse:

Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations: Rule-following and the theory of Language-games.

A. Why I cannot praise the Tractatus on its own terms:

I would like to praise Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and say that it is a good book. In fact, I would go further and say that I personally (while being fully aware of whatever subjective biases I may have) find it a beautiful book. (In fact, I think it is the most beautiful work of philosophy that I have ever read.)

Yet ironically, I cannot say that the Tractatus is good or beautiful on the terms of the Tractatus, for Wittgenstein, in the Tractatus, is of the opinion that ethical and aesthetic value judgements refer to things that are not of/in the world and as such are beyond speech and representation.(1)
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Post lecture notes for students of IR 6901: (Week 4,b) Introduction to Discourse Analysis, with a special reference to religio-political discourse

By Farish A. Noor ~ March 30th, 2010. Filed under: Lecture Notes.
Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: The ‘Picture theory of meaning’ and the limits of language

Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921) was written based on notes that he wrote while serving in the trenches as an Austrian soldier in world war one, and is in many ways influenced by the works of two important logicians and philosophers, Bertrand Russell and Gottlob Frege (both of whom he acknowledges in the book). It marks an important turning point in the history of the philosophy of language that is dubbed ‘the objective turn’; that is, when Frege, Russell and Wittgenstein re-asserted the primacy of the world (as it is experienced) and argued that for language to work it has to correspond/mirror the world around us and not the ideas we have of it.

This is an advance from the theories of language that we get from Hobbes and Locke, both of whom were nominalists who argued that signification involves a corresponding signifying relationship between linguistic elements (words/signs) and extra-linguistic elements, namely ideas/experiences we have. But as we have seen last week, to take such a view and to push it to the extreme leads us to a narrow solipsism where we cannot claim knowledge of anything about the world save our own subjective ideas/experiences of it. It also meant that both Hobbes and in particular Locke ended up with a private language theory where words were meaningful to each individual speaker on the basis of his/her determination of its meaning; and worse still – for Frege – this meant that all of language was no longer communicative about the world but only about the internal psychological states of the language-users. (What Frege dubbed ‘psycologism’)

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Post lecture notes for students of IR 6901: (Week 4,a) Frege’s Begriffsschrift and the language of pure thought

By Farish A. Noor ~ March 29th, 2010. Filed under: Lecture Notes.

A. Frege and Analytical Philosophy:

The tradition of Western philosophy which began with Socrates/Plato and Aristotle took off from the starting point of the dialectic and the questioning of the world around us. From the pre-Hellenic philosophers to the early modern philosophers of the 17th century (Descartes, Hobbes and Locke) the aim of philosophy was to pose questions about the nature of the world around us and to question the basis to all claims to knowledge/epistemology. By the time of Descartes and Hobbes, the suspicion of sensory knowledge pushed them towards subjective nominalism and solipsism, sometimes in the most extreme and narrow forms. However philosophy kept apace with the developments in natural sciences, and by the time of Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell, philosophers were posing questions not only about the world, but crucially about the language that we use to describe the world.

Russell and Frege began to objective turn to the world as objects to be discussed and known, but by then were convinced that many of the problems faced by philosophers derived from the very language they used to describe the world around them. Accepting the nominalist premises of Hobbes and Locke, they accepted that our knowledge/experience of the world was framed through language, but also insisted that everyday language was flawed for a number of reasons:

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