The pornography of horror (part2)

Meanwhile an English translation of Abdelwahab Meddeb’s essay has appeared on signandsight — so here is the second part of the essay, in John Lambert’s translation:

The pornography of horror


The horror of martyrdom was most dismally illustrated by the decision by Hamas leader Nizar Rayyan to stay at home with his four wives and eleven children although he had been informed that his residence figured among the hundreds of targets listed by the Israel Defense Forces. Despite knowing this he decided to expose himself and his family to collective martyrdom. His house was blown up by the dreadful missiles which, after flying in a horizontal trajectory, turn at a right angle and bury themselves up to thirty feet below the surface of the earth where they explode, pulverising everything around them.

The horror of Mahmud az-Zahar, one of the military leaders of Hamas, promising “victory” in the street battles on the third day of the ground offensive. This victory which in his words “will come with God’s permission” (bi-izhni ‘llah), will not come at all, because the God he invokes cannot be convened. He will not be present, just as he was not present at the worst disasters which confused those who believed he would be, whatever their religion. They should know that a God like that will never do anything more than what men do. He will be conspicuous by his absence, so that those who adore him can measure themselves against the ordeal and the doubt to which they are submitted by the intensity of their faith.

The horror of the cult of technology symmetrical to the cult of the martyr, illustrated by the satisfied smile of Tzipi Livni at the Elysée Palace beside President Nicolas Sarkozy and her colleague Bernard Kouchner, a smile of society politics while children and women died under high-precision bombs. Mrs Livni used the opportunity to state that there was no need to accept the “humanitarian ceasefire” proposed by her hosts.

Yet another horror burdens Tzipi Livni, who during her army’s ground offensive stated that it is impossible to avoid incurring civilian victims because the Hamas fighters move freely among the populace.

Such horrors add to the horror of Hamas which takes the population hostage by making it what – in reference to the jihad or “holy war” – it calls “resorting to the human shield”.

The horror which the Israeli press does nothing to mitigate, criticising in advance the ineffectiveness of this war and comparing it to Lebanon’s war against Hezbollah. Certain columnists think that in fact this war will not achieve its objective (delegitimising if not weakening Hamas). It is true that it takes another kind of war to defeat Hamas, a war of ideas and of ideological confrontation which – alas! – has hardly started and which is far from being won.

The horror of the Czech declaration in the name of the European Union

An additional horror to put down to President G. W. Bush (perhaps the last in his eight-years in office) who maintained that Israel has the right to “protect itself”, thus removing it from suspicion.

Such events update the cry which Joseph Conrad put in the mouth of his creature Kurtz, and with which “Heart of Darkness” ends: “The horror! The horror!” Certainly, what humans have had in common in the colonial empires of the era of globalisation, from the end of the 19th century to the first decade of the 21st, is first and foremost horror.

This display of horror is pornographic, crowning Thanatos by deposing Eros and privileging the principle of death over the love of life, suspending the renunciation and the reserve which make civilisation what it is and hastening the advent of destructive, instinctive barbarity which, in according primacy to violence, spreads death and transforms populated areas into ruins and graveyards.

affirming that Israel is legitimately defending itself and so absolving it of war crimes. What to say of the 256 children among the 850 Palestinian dead after two weeks of fighting?

Abdelwahab Meddeb is a French writer of Arab origin. He was born in Tunis in 1946 and comes from a long line of theologians and scholars. He studied art history and literature, and worked as an editor for a publishing house in Paris. Between 1974 and 1988 he edited his own series of literary titles at Editions Sindbad. Since 1995, he has been professor of comparative literature at Paris X University (Nanterre). He has published the novels “Talismano” (1976) and “Aya dans les villes” (1999). His book “The Malady of Islam” (2003) gives an account of contemporary Islam. He lives in Paris.

This article was published in German in the Frankfurter Rundschau on January 9, 2009 and in French in Le Monde on January 12, 2009.

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