Sunday, August 29, 2010

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Muslim, Muselmann, Concentration Camps

In Homo Sacer, Agamben elucidates on the issue of fact and law, wherein in under sovereign power, fact and law were considered different entities. However, bare life maintains Agamben, is subject to a state wherein this distinction is lost. The loss of this means that fact and law become interchangeable giving rise within normal public life to a state of concentration camps, which was the structure during the Nazi era in these camps but has since then lead to the evolution of camps in our public lives. We are effectively living under the aegis of life within a camp, bare life subject to a sovereign power, law suspended for ever. This has been an evolution in the scheme of things since the camps in Europe and lead to a similar situation in Bosnia and so on. Detention centres for illegal immigrants are the new concentration camps if not camps of extermination, since the immigrants are subject to adhoc laws and sovereign power and will.

Agamben borrows from Foucault's concept of Bio -politics and also makes it quite clear. Within the ambit of bio-politics, the state takes over the body and subjects it to its will, deriving from a loosening of association between fact and law. This is also a factor that eventually helps create a scene where productive and non-productive lives are differentiated and then lets in reign the medical scientists to allow the state to create a space where euthanasia can be debated, for bare life versus fact and law, camps and bio-politics merge together.

It is interesting to consider this conception of camps in our political and social midst as an aporia and also as a sign that needs recognition. In her Precarious Lives and now in her Frames of War, Judith Butler starts with her conception of precarity and precarious lives, focus sing on illegal detention in Guantanamo, and over indefinite detention and then over the distinction between useful and useless lives. Grieving over useless lives will never be an issue and hence the process of mourning and grieving must be considered in reference to grievable lives, lives that matter. Hence, Butler asserts, the American lives lost in New York are grievable under this concept and Iraqi and other Palestinian lives, lives belonging to faces that we don't know and see and hence cannot grieve over. However, Butler asserts that thses people, who are being killed by American- European sovereignty are already dead, faceless and nameless.

Butler scoffs at the idea of her brave writing and goes one step further in saying that the abuses at Abu- Ghraib in Iraq are the culmination of this process of ungrievability, useful and uselessness. She takes on Sontag's assertion that Photography is without narration and does not lead to any resolution and speaks of the frames within which such pictures of abuse and torture must be seen. That photos need an authorial signature and that this author must be considered present even outside the frame of this invisible author must never be forgotten, Butler adds the idea of the lack of mourning over these issues to her fundamental idea of precariousness of life. However, she laments that while all lives should be considered precarious, under the present frame, it is only some lives that are deemed so.

I think about the framework in which both Agamben and Butler work, basing theit thoughts on Foucault's concept of biopolitics and wonder whether the Guantanamo camps must also not be considered as concentration camps if not camps of extermination, for the individuals within this space are subject to a space that does not obey the customary distinction between fact and law. Sovereign power reigns supreme, the individuals are deemed indefinitely detainable and subject to a state of exception, which becomes the norm. Hence, the torture chambers of Abu Ghraib become a camp for this political experimentation, for not only are these people faceless, they are nameless and hence outside any legal status as either subjects or citizens or refugees. Arendt is quite clear about the rights of man in this reference though she does not ever write about bio-ploitics within the camp setting nor does Foucault make any reference to these camps.

Agamben refers to the title given to Jewish inmates of concentration camps as Muselmann, for a Muslim was a term used for these Jews in camps who were in a state of total apathy, devoid of life, will, power, face, name, useless, expendable and using Butler's terms, outside precarity, ungrievable. And now, in and outside Euro- America and under their patronage elsewhere, the Muslim not as Muslim but as Muslim, as Muselmann.