Friday, June 27, 2014

A JIHAD FOR LOVE: Better Fewer, But Better

My previous post about TREMBLING BEFORE G-D elicited quite a few engaging and thought-provoking reactions that led to to further investigation.  In this sense, I want to begin with an analysis of A JIHAD FOR LOVE, co-produced by G-D's Dubowski and director Parvez Shama, but utilizing the insights I derive from my own reading of Lenin's final public work, Better Fewer, But Better.  From here, I will hope to outline the way this film both suggests a space within Islam that is open to a liberatory praxis embracing homosexuality while simultaneously failing to counter narrative and ideological devices used to enforce the military-industrial hegemony.
JIHAD FOR LOVE, like TREMBLING BEFORE G-D, follows an array of LGBTQQ religious worshippers trying to navigate their sexual and gender difference in a patriarchal set of norms.  However, because the separations between Church and State are less cemented than in the Western nations that Orthodox Jews live in, these queer Muslims must also navigate through the official state repression of homosexuality by their various governments.
Better Fewer, But Better is perhaps a fundamental text for understanding modern organizational politics.  Dated March 2, 1923, it was Lenin's final attempt to undermine the growing stagnation of bureaucracy in the Soviet government and political machinations of power broker figures like Stalin.  Using the example of one inspection group in the Bolshevik government, he puts forward a schematic that is both brilliant in regards to critiquing praxis while simultaneously spelling out, in sometimes graphic detail, both the authoritarian edges that insured his power base and the trends in the Soviet government that the Fascist movement would adapt from Leninism.
However, the notion of power and hegemony is also important to understand, and Lenin is so adamant in his conception here of how to attain such ideological gains that the insights are worthwhile.
Thus, in the matter of our state apparatus we should now draw the conclusion from our past experience that it would be better to proceed more slowly...If we do not arm ourselves with patience, if we do not devote several years to this task, we had better not tackle it at all.
In this sense, Lenin is primarily concerned with the notion of quality over quantity in the attainment of the ideological hegemony required for his project.  This notion of time, that the Bolshevik hegemonic project can only be reached with a certain kind of moderation, especially in regards to the NEP (Bukharin's argument), introduces the essence of Althusser's notions about ideology and culture.
Our state apparatus is so deplorable, not to say wretched, that we must first think very carefully how to combat its defects, bearing in mind that these defects are rooted in the past, which, although it has been overthrown, has not yet been overcome, has not yet reached the stage of a culture, that has receded into the distant past. I say culture deliberately, because in these matters we can only regard as achieved what has become part and parcel of our culture, of our social life, our habits. We might say that the good in our social system has not been properly studied, understood, and taken to heart; it has been hastily grasped at; it has not been verified or tested, corroborated by experience, and not made durable, etc. Of course, it could not be otherwise in a revolutionary epoch, when development proceeded at such break-neck speed that in a matter of five years we passed from tsarism to the Soviet system.
What is being made clear is that the Leninist project is one requiring generations, and so the notion of the proper Bolshevik is evoked, but in a much more scholastic sense of intent.  He writes in this regard:
What elements have we for building this apparatus? Only two. First, the workers who are absorbed in the struggle…Secondly, we have elements of knowledge, education and training, but they are ridiculously inadequate compared with all other countries…In order to renovate our state apparatus we must at all costs set out, first, to learn, secondly, to learn, and thirdly, to learn, and then see to it that learning shall not remain a dead letter, or a fashionable catch-phrase (and we should admit in all frankness that this happens very often with us), that learning shall really become part of our very being, that it shall actually and fully become a constituent element of our social life. 
What is presented with this article is Lenin's notion of the ontological alteration of a social order geared away from capitalism and towards Bolshevik hegemony.  For example, he suggests the following in basic statistical tallying:
I think that the time has at last come when we must work in real earnest to improve our state apparatus and in this there can scarcely be anything more harmful than haste. That is why I would sound a strong warning against inflating the figures. In my opinion, we should, on the contrary, be especially sparing with figures in this matter. 
This is the absolute definition of praxis.  Lenin creates an image of a grass-roots social strategy grounded in a philosophy of historical materialism and guided by a type of enthusiasm for the Soviet project that grounds itself in literacy of the apparatus.
In paralel, consider the principal textual analysis utilized by the LGBTQQ Muslim advocates.  The primary source of the argument traces back to the passages in the Koran about Sodom and Gomorrah, which are called 'the people of Lut' (Lut is the Arabic name for Lot):
The people of Lut rejected the messengers. Behold, their brother Lut said to them: “Will ye not fear (Allah)? I am to you a messenger worthy of all trust. So fear Allah and obey me. No reward do I ask of you for it: my reward is only from the lord of the Worlds. Of all the creatures in the world, will ye approach males, And leave those whom Allah has created for you to be your mates? Nay, ye are a people transgressing (all limits)!”
They said: “If thou desist not, O Lut! thou wilt assuredly be cast out!”
He said: “I do detest your doings.” (Surat ash-Shuara: 160-168)
We also (sent) Lut: He said to his people: “Do ye commit lewdness such as no people in creation (ever) committed before you? For ye practise your lusts on men in preference to women : ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds.”
And his people gave no answer but this: they said, “Drive them out of your city: these are indeed men who want to be clean and pure!” (Surat al-Araf: 80-82) 
The people of Lut rejected (his) warning. We sent against them a violent Tornado with showers of stones, (which destroyed them), except Lut's household: them We delivered by early Dawn,-  As a Grace from Us: thus do We reward those who give thanks. And (Lut) did warn them of Our Punishment, but they disputed about the Warning. (Surat al-Qamar:, 33-36)
The basic coordinates of this discussion begin with John Boswell's Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century, published in 1980.  In it, the late Philologist and Professor of Classics at Yale makes a thorough argument for the notion of a pro-LGBTQQ reading of the Bible, same-sex Catholic wedding ceremonies, and a theological basis for a Roman Catholic acceptance of LGBTQQ people based on the textual re-orientation and re-evaluation.  In terms of Sodom and Gomorrah, Boswell re-translates the story to substitute general same-sex activity with rape and prostitution as a general social norm in the city, that the two towns were tremendously inhospitable to sojourners.  This notion has been adopted by both Christian and some Jewish congregations, and so the application to an Islamic context is not unthinkable, especially in terms of textual historiography.  The Quran was written several centuries after the death of Christ, and so also claims to be a final communication of the Divine with mankind through the Prophet Mohammad.  In perhaps a less grandiose sense, it can also be emphasized that this sort of meta-textual acknowledgement of the previous two testaments, including a certain effort to correct and expand on certain Biblical stories, is present throughout the book, especially in the case of Surat Maryam, the chapter devoted to a still-virgin Mary whose son Jesus was not God's equal.
Of course, the reaction in the film from straight mullahs to homosexuality is unilaterally negative, which creates a paradigm of power and bigotry ironically parallel with the American defense interests.  For example, Iran is demonized while Saudi Arabia, home of the holy sites, is barely mentioned.  Egypt gets off with a sort of fair shake to be expected for the Mubarak regime, which shows this film's age.  Ultimately, the West is made to look far safer for LGBTQQ Muslims from Iran than Turkey, essentially dismissing Rumi and the mysticism of Sufism while failing to examine how Western imperialism has made these issues so prevalent to begging with in the Middle East.
In the end, the message of ijtihad that Irshad Manji has proposed is re-iterated, but this ideological project carries within it certain limitations, including a failure in the realm of true social justice that delineates praxis from hegemony.  Furthermore, the reality is that ijtihad was also invoked by Usama bin Laden, and his re-translations of the Koran were the excuses for mass murder and renegade terrorism.  This sort of inter-connection between capital and notions of ijtihad presents obvious connotations of anti-democratic and pro-Western ideologies, and as such challenges the film's legitimacy in a fashion that is simply irredeemable.

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