The warriors of Islam battle against emptiness
What keeps the world spinning today, he argues in substance, is shallow and ephemeral enthusiasm in the realms of politics, intellectual endeavour and the arts. In each case the yearning is for instant fame, not reputation, for money, not achievement. Even more shallow, and infinitely more dangerous, is collective religious fervour and the resurgence of narrow identities. No less worrisome is the homogenisation of cultures.
All this explains, he says, why China, quite apart from its imperial ambition, is a banal country or why Japan's quest for identity is so troubling. America, as is evident from its misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, cannot look beyond its nose. A wave of mediocrity sweeps across the length and breadth of Europe. The warriors of Islam battle against emptiness…. -- Dileep Padgaonkar
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Debray Growls At A World In Chaos
By Dileep Padgaonkar
19 December 2009
To engage in a conversation with Regis Debray, one of France's most stimulating public intellectuals, is to expose oneself to an avalanche of unorthodox ideas. From the study of his fourth-floor apartment in the Latin Quarter he casts a disabused glance at the chaos assailing the world from all sides. Aeons ago, after disastrous stints in the company of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, he renounced all craving to change the course of history through an armed, left-wing revolution. His flirtations with democratic socialism first with Chile's Salvador Allende and later with Francois Mitterand of France also proved to be short-lived.
Once he bade farewell to any direct truck with the political establishment, Debray devoted all his time and energies to what he believed was his true vocation: writing. Over the past quarter of a century his output novels, extended essays, columns in the press, books on art, religion and 'medialogy' (a discipline he claims to have forged) has been prolific. Each publication generated fierce controversy. His critics, especially on the left, have damned him for promoting ideas that they think belong to another, reactionary age: the importance of the state and nation, the need for a robust national identity, the role of religion in human affairs and so forth.
Debray, now touching 70, asserts time and again that he has been, remains, and will be a materialist, an agnostic, a man of the left but with a Gaullist underpinning. In his most recent book, The Fraternity Moment, he rails against what he calls the 'religion of the contemporary West'. The central beliefs of this 'religion' relate to activism about human rights; a preference for unabashed individualism to the detriment of the common good; an endorsement of the market ideology as the be all and end all of human progress; a condescending attitude towards other faiths and cultures in the name of pluralism and tolerance; a subservience to the 'videosphere' (where the image reigns) at the cost of the tried and tested value of the 'graphosphere' (where the printed word is supreme.)
All this explains, he says, why China, quite apart from its imperial ambition, is a banal country or why Japan's quest for identity is so troubling. America, as is evident from its misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, cannot look beyond its nose. A wave of mediocrity sweeps across the length and breadth of Europe. The warriors of Islam battle against emptiness.
And India? Debray says that India was once known in the outside world for its poverty and spiritual lore. Today, it is known for its impressive economic growth, its achievements in high-end technology, the drive of its entrepreneurs and its vibrant democracy. What is missing, however, is what Gandhi and Nehru ensured for India: a very special voice in the comity of nations.
What the international community desperately needs now, he concludes, are strong states. For, when a state begins to withdraw from public life, the clergy move in, the banker calls the shots, the mafia advances. Moreover, individuals, communities and nations need frontiers or markers to defend their specific identity. The abolition of frontiers, much like mass migrations across national borders, leads to an upsurge of bigotry. It heralds the return of the barbarian.
This does not mean erecting walls between communities and nations. Rather we need to build bridges provided water flows beneath them. And by water Debray means fraternity between peoples rooted in their cultures and specific ways of life and in a humanism bereft of double-think and double-speak. Trust Debray the quintessential 'committed spectator' of human grandeur and human follies to light firecrackers beneath the seats of power, religious authority, do-gooder secularism, celebrity and wealth. That is why to emerge from a conversation with him is akin to stepping out from a sauna.
Source: The Times of India, New Delhi
Confusion worse confounded.