To assert one’s self is to become a subject

The Ex-Muslims Forum on Twitter alerted me to an article by Tariq Ramadan. Here’s how it begins –

Culture constitutes an essential element of human life. As people have risen up across the Middle East and North Africa, the diversity of their cultures is not only the means but also the ultimate goal of their liberation and their freedom. Though imperialism was primarily political and economic, it was also cultural; it imposed ways of life, habits, perceptions and values that rarely respected the societies under its domination, that seized control of minds — a true colonisation of human intelligence.

Globalisation extends to culture, often leading, in the societies of the Global South, to self-dispossession. Genuine liberation, the march toward dignity and democracy, requires a “cultural uprising” in all dimensions of its popular, artistic, intellectual and religious expressions. The importance of culture and the arts in undertaking the task of re-appropriation is critical: the tools of thought and tradition must be used to lend shape and substance to the sense of belonging that alone can guarantee the well-being of individuals. If there is no culture without religion, and no religion without culture and if, finally, culture is not religion, the issue must be explored; the complex questions of values, meaning, spirituality, tradition and the arts — the factors that give form to history, memory, nations and identities; that transmit well-being and freedom, or fail to — must be faced squarely.

Notice something odd?

It doesn’t say anything. It solemnly points out the obvious, without saying one thing an average teenager doesn’t already know.

And the whole piece is like that. It goes on for eleven more paragraphs, emptily stating obvious truths for no apparent purpose. Here’s a bit at random –

To assert culture, memory and identity is to assert that they are meaningful, to affirm that they are capable of addressing the challenges of the day. To assert one’s self is to become a subject, to take full responsibility for one’s heart, body and mind, as well as for one’s fellows, one’s society, and for nature itself. The imperative of coherence is incontrovertible; the very condition of genuine well-being and freedom.

Uh huh. Who could disagree? Who could care? Culture is meaningful; you don’t say! To assert one’s self is to become a subject; okay, now what?

It gives academics a bad name, that kind of thing – just blathering for the sake of it. Or to put it another way, the imperative of coherence is incontrovertible.




  1. says

    Sounds kinda like that “dialogue” we’re getting from the Slymepitters recently. I wonder what this Ramadan guy is trying to cover up with all this word-salad…

  2. johnthedrunkard says

    So Ramadan writes:

    “Though imperialism was primarily political and economic, it was also cultural; it imposed ways of life, habits, perceptions and values that rarely respected the societies under its domination, that seized control of minds — a true colonisation of human intelligence.”

    How many readers will even think about how true this statement is of ISLAMIC imperialism?

  3. Julia F says

    John @3: I thought of Islamic imperialism when I read it, so I guess there are at least two of us.

  4. Bruce Gorton says

    Actually I would argue that it is completely and totally incorrect. Culture is not of central importance, and it is not the goal of any liberation movement.

    It is centrally oppressive, focussing on establishing traditional orders which cannot really be questioned without you being caste out of the true culture ™ of your peers.

    Culture is the tool of the oppressor – such that the Nationalist Party in South Africa sought to preserve culture at the expense of the well-being of people, such that the Nazi party pushed its conception of Aryan supremacy, such that the British empire pushed its concept of British values. The Golden Dawn truly values Greek culture, because it is only under the auspices of such culture that the fist can gather support.

    Stripped of fear we do not naturally gravitate towards culture, but rather a blend of common interests that may intersect with people who may be different to us in their background, but arrive at the same point of humanity through various winding paths. Stripped of fear we become explorers of the strange, unified in our interest in learning from those who succeed, and avoiding the mistakes of those who fail.

    Culture serves to attempt to prevent this intersection by promoting authorities to maintain itself. The tribal chief, the Imam, the priest, the party official or the pundit. It strives not to produce the change which betters the world, but stymy it.

    American culture exists in part to be able to call people who disagree with conservatives on gay marriage, their choice of religion, their belief that they should receive a fair wage for their labour or vote for the party that is not conservative unAmerican.

    Art if it is any good doesn’t actually tap into culture, but rather the common humanity of all people. Whether it is in fine sculpture or fine verse, it seeks that commonality that we all share in who we are and inspires us to improve. The art that supports culture, is simple propaganda caging in the minds of its admirers rather that giving them wings.

    True liberation movements seek to reduce fear – they seek to bring prosperity that the people do not fear for their next meal, they seek to bring freedom that the apostate does not fear to speak, they seek to bring security that there are no weak or strong, but people striving together to achieve together, each contributing as best they may as individuals not simply to the wellbeing of one tribe, not simply to the fortunes of one tribe, religion, party or state but to all, that all may say that they are better for the existence of all.

  5. brianpansky says

    I wonder about the “there is no cluture without religion” I assume that does not actually mean “culture would be impossible if beliefs in the supernatural didn’t exist”

    sorta hit me funny? Is that just me? maybe it’s the definition, maybe my tired mind is reading it wrong. It was a bit difficult to read through this…

  6. M, Supreme Anarch of the Queer Illuminati says

    Art if it is any good doesn’t actually tap into culture, but rather the common humanity of all people.

    That sounds almost indistinguishable from the arguments objecting to the expansion of, say, the study of literature away from the “canon”. Somehow “the good art is the universal art” always seems to mean “the good art is the art that speaks to the people in a position of cultural authority”. I’d say, on the contrary, that all art is specific — but that the various dialects of art may be easier to communicate among than languages.

    Of course, the Tariq Ramadan approach would take for granted that it’s impossible to communicate cross-culturally*, which is even worse.

    (*OK, in a nit-picky, sense, “perfect” communication is impossible even between people who share language, culture, and history — but we can make a pretty good approximation.)

  7. Bruce Gorton says

    M, Supreme Anarch of the Queer Illuminati

    Actually, what I mean is the exact opposite, the good art is that which challenges culture, actively or passively undermining authority. For example skeptical poetry about Mohammed may seem culturally specific to the Saudi writer, but it pushes towards universal values of freedom and away from Saudi specific values of respect.

    Meanwhile An American Carol is distinctly shit. It strives to instil the value of xenophobia and American supremacy, while romanticising America’s history.

  8. otrame says

    People are using an awfully narrow definition of “culture”. The anthropological definition of culture is the full range of learned human behavior patterns . Religion is part of it, even if you aren’t religious. Both those who wish to maintain the status quo and those who wish to change it are part of the culture. As human beings we swim in an ocean of culture.

  9. Wave says

    It’s unbelievable that he lectures at Oxford.

    I once watched a wonderful and hilarious exchange between Sarkhozy and Ramadan on french television.

    Sarkhozy was trying to obtain Ramadan’s opionion on stoning women to death by asking him to just answer “yes or no” as to whether or not he was in favour

    Ramadan couldn’t answer and by the time Sarkhozy had finished with him the audience was in stitches.

    Ramadan is just an ambulating keg of cliched jargon.

  10. says

    Did you really see it? It gets summarized every time anyone writes about Ramadan. I think you just read about it, as I’ve read about it.

    Also I don’t believe the part about hilarity and the audience being in stitches. It’s not actually funny, and I don’t think people found it funny at the time.

  11. Wave says

    Yes I’ve watched it several times. It’s from about 2010, or so. And yes, the audience did break out in laughter because of the way Sarkhozy ridiculed Ramdan’s ( most telling) intransigence on such a serious subject

    It was an excellent smack-down.

    Ramadan no longer has much credence in the francophone world…so they shipped him off to Oxford.

  12. Dave Ricks says

    I ran a Google search for Tariq Ramadan stoning and I found this video with English subtitles.  That video fits the description of the 2003 debate with Nicolas Sarkozy described on Wikipedia under the heading Views/Debate.

    For Ophelia versus Wave: +1 point for Wave: Sarkozy wiped the floor with Ramadan, but Ophelia read that already, so that’s a tie (1-1), then +1 more point for Ophelia: The time frame cannot be 2011, and +1 more point for Ophelia: Nobody could be laughing about stoning as the death penalty for adultery. The woman’s reaction face at 1:49-1:51 and 4:41-4:44 is not laughing. Nobody in the video is laughing about stoning in particular, or laughing about the conflict between these values in general.

    Also for Ophelia versus Wave: One of Ophelia’s peeves – that makes her write her books and her blog – is people claiming to know things that they do not or cannot know. So Wave, you’re on the wrong side of that, and your Google-Fu needs to tighten up now.

    For Sarkozy versus Ramadan: I don’t feel completely comfortable with Sarkozy, but I saw a TV journalist say that if you can’t make someone answer a question, then at least you can make the audience see the person is not answering the question. And Sarkozy easily succeeded in showing the audience that Ramadan was unable to say Ramadan was personally against stoning as the death penalty for adultery.

    For my personal opinion, I get what otrame said above about anthropology, I wish more people from other fields like anthropology and sociology and psychology were involved in these discussions or debates.

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