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A Postnihilist Manifesto: Making Afghanistan and other margins the locus for world emancipation

 

 

By Saladdin Ahmed 

October 31, 2021 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — Just before her execution, in 1919, the internationalist revolutionary thinker Rosa Luxemburg, in a speech in Berlin, said, “if the proletariat fails to fulfill its class duties, if it fails to realize socialism, we shall crash down together to a common doom.”[1] Around the same time, Walter Benjamin, at the age of twenty-seven, wrote, “Only for the sake of the hopeless ones have we been given hope.”[2] After about twenty years, on an autumn day, fascism brought death to Benjamin too, who was another excluded voice in Europe, yet certainly one of its gentlest souls of all times. 

Those desperate calls for creating real hope in a world that is stuck in despair and moving into an abyss remain ever more relevant. The geographies of intensive suffering have shifted here and there, but ultimately the crash down has only become worse,[3] and the only true hope is the one that will emerge from amid the doomed and the hopeless ones. 

Afghanistan is in the margins of the margins of today’s world system, but that is precisely why it should be recognized as a locus where multiple forms of oppression -- material and ideological, nationalist and religious, capitalist and patriarchal -- are experienced on a daily basis, especially by those who are marginalized even by the local standards within the Afghan society. As the oppressed majority in Afghanistan have become the victim of false calculations of empires, as the Pakistani, Turkish, and Qatari regimes are busy making deals with the Taliban murderers to slice up and sell everything above and beneath the land in Afghanistan, the horizon may seem hopelessly bleak to every ordinary Afghan, regardless of what they may or may not believe and what they may or may not give up on.

At a moment like this, giving in to either false hopes or hopelessness will prove to be fatal for the Afghans who have already been deprived of the most basic conditions of a proper life. Precisely because of the bleakness of the horizon, the marginalized have no choice but to totalize the struggle, to refuse any form of compromise with the messengers of the Dark Ages and the missionaries of neoliberalism. The former rulers who now shamelessly speak of a “new Taliban” want marginalized Afghans to shut up, submit, and accept their fate as a population not worthy of life on the planet. For they perceive the population in Afghanistan as nothing but primitive tribes whose world is determined by religious mythology while they, shamelessly and without a sense of irony, portray themselves as the heirs of the Enlightenment, the representatives of universal liberty. They had negotiated Afghanistan’s fate with the Taliban in Qatar only to abandon all Afghans overnight, yet they blamed the Afghan victims for not putting up a fight against the Taliban, whose jihadis by then already had at their disposal every imaginable technology of killing, while most Afghans were struggling to secure the next meal thanks to the extreme poverty that has been jihad’s and neoliberalism’s gift since the end of the 1980s.    

The truth is that those who have appointed themselves as the world spokespersons of liberty are liberty’s worst enemies. The bourgeois elites in the West are the true tribalists whose intellectual incapability had led them to believe the strive for freedom is unique to Whiteness. Like the Taliban and the rulers in the imperialist centers of Islamism, including Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey, they want the silenced Afghans to believe that their political fate is forever decided within religion. This mentality of the ruling elites is racist through and through. By virtue of being so utterly racist, those elites lead the contemporary world’s true tribalist camp against every struggle for inclusive emancipation whether in Asia, Africa, Europe, or the Americas. More than that, they are also the actual sectarians because they perceive humans through sects. They respect all sects and disrespect all humans. To these nihilists, only actual lives are not worthy of respect. Every bloody patriarchal and racist institution, authority, and canon is respected only to further depoliticize everything that is political and politicize everything that is not political. It is as if they tell their victims, ‘Suffer to death. Do not worry; will respect your culture. Keep dying in larger numbers. Do not worry; we will pay your murderers their due respect on your behalf.

They advocate for the plurality of forms of oppression, which are enshrined in the dominant culture in every patriarchal, nationalist, and class-based society,[4] while they have created endless death traps on every possible route that could be taken by those who escape tyranny, death, and unfreedom. They have made life impossible in most of Afghanistan and made every possibility to escape the death camp that is Afghanistan also impossible. The image of a helpless Afghan female victim may be the subject of sympathy in the liberal media, but as an actual human being, as a concrete individual, an Afghan woman is denied a chance to escape death and humiliation by all governments of nation-states, from Iran and Turkey to the liberal democracies in Europe and North America. 

Their neoliberal project to establish a new world, a world in which liberty was supposed to prevail, has come down to occasional pleas to the Taliban to change its manners. For it might be somewhat embarrassing to the world capital of liberalism and democracy if the Taliban continues to carry on its punishments in public. Sure enough, the new Taliban, who has graduated from the Qatari and Turkish schools of neoliberal Islamism, has learned not to commit torture and murder in city squares. Its leaders learned that doing business within international relations and arenas requires the deployment of a degree of public relations measures. However, from the perspective of the silenced majority, from the perspective of reason, there is no such thing as moderate murderers versus extremist murders, relative death versus absolute death, or partial freedom versus freedom. 

Do the oppressed majority have any rational choice other than total negation?

The oppressed should once and for all realize that those who have already been excluded from the world will not be invited back on humanitarian or moralist basis. Equality is not something to be approved by those whose very authority is built on extreme inequality. As fascist forces of various trademarks have been rapidly taking over different parts of the world, emancipatory movements must not hope for mercy or compromise; rather, they must totalize and universalize the will to negate, within and without, metaphysically and politically, sanctified borders that divide human society into antagonistic populations. Precisely because the state of affairs could not get worse for the marginalized, we must reject anything short of complete and unconditional human equality across the world. 

The ruling groups have never stopped imposing their unbearable reality in the name of deities of justice, missions of spiritual enlightenment, and messengers of salvation. In the meantime, whenever the silenced, nameless, and faceless have demanded an end to their subjugation, whenever they have expected an end to social institutions that inflict various forms of suffering on them, they have been demonized and criminalized in the name of a set of higher moral values sanctioned by the sacred. 

Of course, the sacred is there to justify the unjustifiable and render the intolerable tolerable. Wherever the oppressed progress in bringing down some of those sociopsychological walls of fear and guilt, they are told that the recognition of their freedom is impossible, that the realization of a world in which their lives and dignity could be secured is a mere utopia. On the other hand, those same realistic preachers promise the miserable another life, an after-death world, a Disney-like land, secured for those who submit to the metaphysics of inequality eternally and accept their fate silently. Somehow, realizing a life with basic dignity for everyone is utopic, but heaven without basic molecules, without any possible laws of physics, for an infinite number of previously living beings, is realistic. Somehow a program to end mass murder and mass oppression is utopic, but the belief in a paradise reserved for beings who are no longer living, or assumed lives who are no longer actual beings, is not utopic.  

The next revolution will not be announced in the Parisian cafés; rather, it will rise from the margins of the margins of the margins of the world. In fact, it has already been taking place and gradually and steadily growing in the margins of India, Kurdistan, Sudan, Catalonia, and Mexico, among other places. 

While the local, regional, and global ruling groups cannot afford an egalitarian non-hierarchical world, the silenced from every continent and island will not be able to enjoy a life suitable to humans without a movement of total negation. The nihilism of false hopes and the despair of hopelessness must both be trashed as the first step to be even minimally realistic about life with dignity. This is true on local, regional, global, and planetary levels. 

It has become fashionable for Christian and Islamic theologians and their culturalist neoliberal allies and other apologists to market so-called “liberation theology.” We must declare forcefully and unapologetically that liberation does not need any theology. If anything, what we must focus on is liberation from theology. Only theology can make ordinary and reasonable humans tolerate endless crimes against the most powerless, such as children and minorities.[5] By the same token, recognizing basic conditions for human dignity does not need divine revelations and sacred scriptures. Christians and Muslims everywhere need to be liberated from theology. That is also to say human society as a whole needs to be finally liberated from Christianity and Islam through putting an end to the miserable life conditions that render such forms of spirituality, such superstitious systems of political destruction, widely sought after. Christian and Islamic authorities have formed an alliance to fetishize their colonial regimes of mass murder and sanctify ages-old practices of pedophilia, yet, at the same time, they have not missed any opportunity to mobilize the miserable Christian and Muslim majority against each other in the name of endless holly wars, cults, and divine orders.        

The marginalized are told that there is no alternative to the current violent and death driven order. The truth is that their only rational choice is to reject all these socially constructed systems of destruction and endless violence. When faced with ultimate violence everywhere from arenas of politics to the basic ecological conditions of life, there is indeed no alternative to total negation within a framework of universal emancipation. This is what I call postnihilism, a philosophy for those who belong to nowhere and everywhere at the same time.[6] 

Postnihilism is a philosophy for thinker-activists and activist-thinkers who do not shy away from declaring their rejection of inequality everywhere. It is a philosophy of world-changing hope inspired by the hopeless ones whose struggles are the only genuine light in a dark age; the silenced whose dreams are the only truth worth defending in a world dominated by loud ideocracy. It is a philosophy from the margins and for the margins. Remember, if there is any meaning, any auratic experience of time and space, it is in the margins of the margins. If there is any meaningful project of emancipation, it takes place in the margins, often unnoticed while most of us are busy attributing meaning to the apathy of the centers of power that are occupied by nihilists and psychopaths. Postnihilism is the philosophy of smashing the walls of fear, a philosophy that travels through existential despair and moves beyond political opium in order to negate unfreedom uncompromisingly, universally, and inclusively. Through negating the misery of unfreedom and false hopes, postnihilism consistently advances a new age and a new space for a life fully and deeply worth living.

There will never be a kingdom of heaven, but through standing with those who have been excluded from real kingdoms and illusionary heavens, you will be able to experience a freedom from which actual and imaginary social privileges, private properties, national allegiances, fetishized killing machines, and spiritual congregations have always deprived you. The revolutionary march of the marginalized may be dismissed today, tomorrow, and the day after, but it will inevitably reach and reconstruct every corner of the world. 

The revolution of the hopeless ones is our only true hope.

Notes

[1] Rosa Luxemburg, 2004, The Rosa Luxemburg Reader, eds. P. Hudis and K. B. Anderson (New York, NY: Monthly Review Press) 364.

[2] Walter Benjamin, 2004, “Goethe's Elective Affinities,” in M. Bullock and M. W. Jennings (eds.), trans. S. Corngold, Selected Writings, Volume 1, 1913–1926, 297-360 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press) 356.

[3] Saladdin Ahmed, 2019a, “One Hundred Years After World War I, Are We Heading Back to the Abyss.” OpenDemocracy, June 30:

Saladdin Ahmed, 2019b, “The 21st-Century Crossroad of Islamism and Enlightenment,” TelosScope, last modified December 10: 

Saladdin Ahmed, 2020, “When We Lose the Ability to be Shocked, Fascism has Already Arrived,” Institute for Social Ecology: 

[4] To quote Walter Benjamin again, “There is no document of culture which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” Benjamin, Walter, 2006, “On the Concept of History,” in H. Eiland and M. W. Jennings (eds.), trans. H. Zohn, Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Volume 4, 1938–1940, 389–400 (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press) 394.

[5] Slavoj Žižek makes this point brilliantly: 

The majority of people need to be anaesthetized against their elementary sensitivity to the other’s suffering. For this, a sacred Cause is needed: without it, we would have to feel all the burden of what we did, with no Absolute upon whom to off-load our ultimate responsibility. Religious ideologists usually claim that, true or not, religion makes some otherwise bad people do some good things. From today’s experience, we should rather stick to Steve Weinberg’s claim that while without religion good people would continue doing good things and bad people bad things, only religion can make good people do bad things. Slavoj Žižek, 20212, “Christianity Against the Sacred,” in Žižek, Slavoj and Boris Gunjevis, God in Pain: Inversions of Apocalypse, 43-72 (New York, NY: Seven Stories Press), 44-5. 

[6] For a comprehensive account of postnihilism, see (forthcoming) Saladdin Ahmed, 2022,  Revolutionary Hope after Nihilism: Marginalized Voices and Dissent (London, UK: Bloomsbury):

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