Horror : Kiarina Kordela

It follows, first, that shuhadá is also a metaphor misapplied to suicide bombing, since (like’s Christ’s suicide) it is not an unintentional death, unless it is an intentional death “while in the service of God,” in which case only the above Marxian invocation could legitimize it biopolitically, thereby, though, also showing the redundancy of the whole excursus into the shuhadá-versus-Christian-martyrdom issue. Second, Asad’s approach displaces the structural individualizing rift in thought and power (between norm and its transcendental preconditions) to one of the currently most popular impostures of the principle of individuation: cultural difference—which displaces the internal structural rift of a universal and global situation to an external division between different groups of people. Thus, Asad reaffirms the conclusions derived from our engaging with Cavarero: the advent of modern secular capitalist biopower entails an internal rift in thought and power—between the normative field and its exception, consciousness and unconscious, normative biopower and its transcendental preconditions—the terror of which is so unbearable that, even when it is not displaced to “terrorism,” which invites horror as a defense against understanding, it can produce obfuscating readings of the situation, in spite possibly good intentions (as both Asad’s and Cavarero’s accounts testify to).

In concluding this section, it is also crucial to note that if the disfigured mass of human flesh, whether due to intentional or unintentional death, qualifies as shuhadá, it is because, as Asad asserts, it is “a sign of human finitude in the world created by an eternal deity,” and it is for this reason that “their mode of death gives them immortality,” which is exactly what the title of the shahíd always entails, for, to quote again The Encyclopedia of Islam, despite the distinction between “two main types of martyr”—the “martyrs both in this world and the next” and “the martyrs in the next world only”—what safeguards immortality is being a martyr “in the next world,” which applies to both groups.24

Now, immortality is something that can be conferred only on somebody who is sanctified, for only the sacred can transgress the biological law of mortality. This is the case, whether one conceives sacredness in so-called religious fashion (in which divinity is sacred) or so-called secular fashion (in which life is sacred). This becomes evident by bringing together Asad’s and Arendt’s voices: “[o]nly when there is a reason to suspect that conditions could be changed and are not . . . [o]nly when our sense of justice is offended” (Arendt) and “legal political means are blocked” (Asad), only then “does rage arise” to the point of “acting without argument or speech and without counting the consequences, [for this] is the only way to set the scale of justice right again” (Arendt)—a scale that evidently concerns humans’ dignity more than their own individual lives, and thus pertains to the same level as the ontological crime that assaults this dignity. And because “for Arendt . . . the possibility of acting politically,” including through rage if this is the last resort, “is part of what makes men individual and therefore human” and “what offers them a sense of secular immortality” (Asad), “rage and the violence that sometimes—not always—goes with it belong among the ‘natural’ human emotions,” so that to cure humans “of them would mean nothing less than to dehumanize” (Arendt) them and deprive them of their immortality.25 In other words, the issues of sanctification and immortality concern equally the Latinogenic term “sacrifice”— sacri-ficium, a “making sacred”—and the Islamic shuhadá, and, for that matter, of all the world-wide enraged attempts to reestablish justice when legal means are blocked.

6. “Normal” Absolute Horror and Terror

This brings us to the other terror, whose key we can find in the other exemplary case of horror—the “real horror [which] began . . . when the SS took over the administration of the camps.”26 Concluding her chapter on “Totalitarianism in Power,” Arendt notes that “[t]otalitarian solutions may well survive the fall of totalitarian regimes,” thus indicating that totalitarianism is a concept that should not be restricted to what we call totalitarian regimes (e.g., Nazism or Bolshevism) but should rather be understood as a logic and a method that any political regime could employ. (It is in this sense that I will use the term “totalitarianism” in the following.) Arendt stresses her point by noting that

today [in 1950] with populations and homeless everywhere on the increase, masses of people are continuously rendered superfluous if we continue to think of our world in utilitarian terms. Political, social, and economic events everywhere are in a silent conspiracy with totalitarian instruments devised for making men superfluous.27

By today, the increasing growth of slums and the devising of totalitarian instruments such as the UAV can only support Arendt’s diagnosis. And, as Foucault already pointed out, and Giorgio Agamben and others have extensively argued, there are several further indices that testify to the continuity between the totalitarian and the biopolitical methodo-logies, as a result of which Agamben famously equates biopolitics with “thanatopolitics.”28

My reason, however, for revisiting these by now multiply commented-upon pages from Arendt’s work is to uncouple the superfluity of humans—which, as we have seen, is the universal principle of biopolitics and, as we shall see, also that of totalitarianism—from biological or ontic death and all perils of corporeal life, which by definition is vulnerable, so as to address horror also on the purely ontological level. As we shall shortly see, Arendt defines this level in a way that deviates drastically from both Agamben’s “bare life” and Cavarero’s “corporeal” conception of “the ontological status of humans.” Arendt’s conceptualization of the ontological status of humans—their “dignity”—will allow us to move away from the horror and terror associated with the thanatopolitical aspects of biopolitics toward their functions within the ideal of the normative biopolitical situation, as a situation totally, and uninterruptedly, devoted to fostering life.29

With the shift to the SS in 1933, Arendt continues, “[t]he old spontaneous bestiality” of the SA—which was “not so much a calculated political institution as a concession of the regime to its criminal . . . elements” fueled by a “deep hatred” which, however irrational, “strikes us as a last remnant of humanly understandable feeling”—“gave way to an absolutely cold and systematic destruction of human bodies, calculated to destroy human dignity” and “individuality,” that is, “spontaneity, man’s power to begin something new out of his own resources.” Human dignity and individuality—spontaneity—had already been destroyed when “millions of human beings allowed themselves to be marched unresistingly into the gas chambers” and, although anyway “condemned to death,” they “ very seldom attempted to take one of their executioners with them.” Had they died in a deadly embrace with their executioners, Arendt argues, they would have resisted against the destruction of human dignity and individuality—an ontological crime far worse than ontic death (and a behavior, we should note in passing, yet with emphasis, that totally sets apart Nazism from so-called “terrorist” phenomena, since the latter lie far from the massive mechanized productions of death).

24. Talal Asad, On Suicide Bombing, 49; E. Kohlberg, “Shahid,” 204.

25. Hannah Arendt, On Violence, trans. anonymous (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Co., 1969), 63-64; Talal Asad, On Suicide Bombing, 47.

26. All subsequent references to Hannah Arendt, are from Origins of Totalitarianism, 453-459.

27. Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 459.

28. Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998. 122.

29. See Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer, passim; Adriana Cavarero, Horrorism, 20.

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