9/11 1973 , or, why philosophy is more useful than you think.

Now that most of the fuss and hysteria has dissipated, I thought I would fling in my two pence worth.

For people who identify as being from “A muslim background”, or “muslim” in a political way 9/11 can be a complicated and painful experience.  Otherwise sensible people can get lost in “countering” the “extremist” narrative of people like Anjum Choudhray, whose comic book sidekicks have been making noise during todays two minutes silence.  Sunny Hundal, flanked by a whole flank of Guardian reading “moderates” have decided that they will deploy a flash mob as a counter demonstration to Islam4UK, or the Anjum Choudhray Clown Company (Weddings, stag dos and bar mitzvahs a speciality), as they are also known.

Clearly, Choudhray’s actions are ridiculous.  The problem with the “moderate” response is that it basically apes the logic of dear old Anjum.  Basically things go like this; The people in charge demand a minute’s silence for something, Choudhray (along with his eight supporters) claim they will do the opposite, and the moderates turn up to do the opposite of that.  Each party reacting exactly to the last one, belying their complete lack of imagination. 

This is the method of reactionaries.  They have absolutely no idea how to change the direction of discourse or the course of events.  Let me give you an example.  Lets say I am in a car with my friend.  My man is probably a bit of a poor navigator, and won’t listen to advice, so we have ended up taking a wrong turning.  Now, when my friend tells me that the next left turn is the one, should I say “no. The next right turn is the one”? Probably not, as the journey has gone completely wrong.  Instead I should get him to stop, turn round and go a completely different way. 

In philosophy this distinction, being made up of two kinds of, if you like “disagreeing with”, “denying” or, more properly, negating an idea, is sometimes called the difference between a determinate and indeterminate negation.  It comes into philosophy via Hegel and Marx, but has its roots in Kant.  The contemporary theorist Slavoj Zizek has put together a brilliant example which illustrates the difference between these two kinds of negation, which will be clear for any fan of cheesy horror films.  Imagine that you are trapped in a creaky house and one of your cheesy teen horror companions (a young Johnny Depp if you like) is in a bad way.  You’re worrying so you ask another friend (Maybe her out of friends) ; “Is he dead?”  According to the rules of horror films your friend could negate the being dead of your friend in one of two ways.  She might say “She is not dead”.  In which case, everything is all right and you have been saved by the indeterminate negation.  This is indeterminate because her out of friends hasn’t “determined”, if you like, something specific about poor old Johnny, it’s just that he isn’t dead.  On the other hand whatever she’s called from friends could say something much more terrifying; “he is undead”.  At which point you run away to face a bloody death, cheered up by the knowledge that you visceraly understand the, sometimes complicated looking, philosophical notion of determinate negation. 

With the “fundamentalist” jokers of “Muslims against Crusaders”, exactly the same thing goes on.  Their answer to the idea that they should stay silent to commemorate a certain massacre and no other, is that they simply will not stay silent to commemorate a certain massacre and no other. They say “he is not dead”.  The challenge is to say that “he is undead”, to negate this ridiculous idea that we should bond patriotically through a shared moment of Diana-grief for those poor people who were killed in the attacks of 9/11/2001.  Otherwise we will end up like Anjum, a stupid toddler who doesn’t know what’s good for him screaming “no” every time Mummy and Daddy say “yes”.

The determinate negation does not just deny a predicate, it asserts another one.  We assert that another 9/11 took place, more than thirty years ago in Latin America.  We remember the hope of the poor and oppressed people of the world at the election of the popular and democratic government of Allende, who promised to share the wealth of his country with the poorest people of that society.  We will not stay silent for this day and no other.  We will not stay silent at all.  We will remember this day with the music and poetry that burst out of the chests of a generation of Chileans who got a grip and realized they could change the world. 
This generation of Chileans who were massacred by the American backed fascist General Augusto Pinochet, were murdered in their tens of thousands, given up to the two great criminal enterprises that have ravaged the Americas for five hundred years; the Vatican and Imperialism. 
Victor Jarras, legendary singer songwriter and political agitator was one of many to “disappear” to a bloody death at the hands of Pinochet’s secret police.  But Jarras’ voice did not die with him.  One of his most famous songs was called “El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido” (The People United will never be defeated), and its refrain can be heard on demonstration and strikes all over the world: the people of Iran adopted a Persian translation of it as a revolutionary song that os still sung by patriots and progressives.  Jarras was not a muslim, so the people who adopted it were clearly not reasoning along the lines shared by “moderates” and “fundamentalists” that always begin “well, as a Muslim…”.  They were thinking in the most universal terms; if you fight for freedom and equality, against tyranny and servitude you are our brothers and sisters.

“Venceremos”; again this has gone round the world and been adopted by, amongst others the leftists of Turkey and Kurdistan.

 

Everyday, working people are killed in our country because they’re bosses cannot be bothered to put in proper protection, or provide proper conditions to work in.  More people have been killed by the British police than in terror attacks.  Thirty two thousand (mostly brown and all poor) children die of starvation and easily preventable diseases every day.  Eternity is not long enough to give them their silence.   Their memorial is not made of stone and it is not quiet. 
The determinate negation of the idea that the people who were murdered for political reasons in the twin towers, as Americans, are somehow more worthy of remembrance than any other, has three parts.  First, whether by Bin Laden, Bush or Pinochet these people were all martyred by tyrants.  Second, that to respect the dead is not to have an isolated, individual moment of self absorbed silence, but to fight to avenge and redeem.  I am not sure what the third part is, not that its for me to decide.  It’s the vision of a new world that is carried in the hearts of people who resist the current order.

What I do know is that we must begin with remembering September 11th 1973.  The revolutionaries of Chile, their revolution, is not dead.  It is undead. 

 

 

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