The Enemy arises as an immemorial figure of our imaginations. The Enemy, also named the Adversary, relating to the biblical figure of Satan, is located at the heart of the European, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern pre-modern worlds and cultures, playing a very central role in the three monotheisms: Judaism, Christianism and Islam. Satan is a prototypical figure of temptation, setting doubt and disorder. Also known under the name of Lucifer, “the bringer of dawn” or “the morning star”, he is the former purveyor of light who became a fallen angel. His rebellion and ban have been exemplary sung and narrated by the British poet John Milton in Paradise Lost (1667). He has been celebrated two centuries later as the “Prince of Exile” by the French poet Charles Baudelaire with “Les Litanies de Satan” in Les Fleurs du Mal [The Flowers of Evil] (1857). This figure can overtake different forms, faces, or genders. Lilith, the female demon, who has the capacity to take the shape of diverse nocturnal animals, is already present in different Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian traditions (see for instances Myths of Babylonia and Assyria by Mackenzie, 1915). This adversary, previously known as a light bringer, eventually condemned by divine justice to an unending exile both physical in spiritual, could be an impeccable metaphor reflecting the uses and misuses of ideologies and identities and the very important function that affects and emotions are playing out within the realm of reason, which, like our worldviews and understandings, is incredibly limited. As Gershom Scholem reminds us in the Jewish Kabbalistic tradition, Satan, or evil, is the product of a crisis ascending through the severity of divine judgment. Its advent occurs during the development of that great fire of anger that burns in God, which is normally tempered by his mercy. But when the latter is no longer sufficient to appease this pruritus, an imbalance operates, an energy exhales and breaks away from the divine, finding its own autonomy, that is “evil” (Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, 563). This dialectic between evil and freedom has been highlighted by the German philosopher Rüdiger Safranski in his 1999 essay Das Böse, oder Das Drama der Freiheit [Evil, or the Tragedy of Freedom]. Freedom, free will and the issue of establishment of norms and laws are inseparable from political action, something that essentially defines power as Michel Foucault states. In his “Critique of Violence” essay written in 1921 during the first years of existence of the Weimar Republic in defeated Germany, Walter Benjamin questions the relationships between divine violence, justice, and power in a secular society: “Law-making is power-making, and, to that extent, an immediate manifestation of violence. Justice is the principle of all divine end-making, the power of the principle of all mythical law-making.”
In any legislative power lies the notion of divine violence which naturally questions a certain approach and conception of law and law-making, of justice, and well beyond that a certain idea of history, ways of embracing and translating imaginaries that are palpable. What we want to inquire through the notion of “Constructing the Enemy” is how and to what purpose identities are defined? How this identity conception and perception encapsulate symbolic powers, draw boundaries, and thus unveil a certain definition of sovereignty? We find within the triangle figure constituted by identity, sovereignty and power the potentialities or incapacities of racial hatred, Antisemitism and Islamophobia depending on ethical and moral judgments and actions related to the political and legislative power and language that structures imaginaries and penetrates the unconscious from one generation to another. This sort of “dominant” impetus we entertain in relation to identity might operate individually in our intimacies through projection of desires, but also through the nurturing of resentments (in its most Nietzschean meaning) and feelings of incompleteness, which become political leverages in times of socio-economic and political crisis. The need for recognition and authority in a society structured by norms, the alleged importance of the gaze of others in a globalized consumer society, and how our own image is perceived (we can consider here Guy Debord’s critic in his essay The Society of Spectacle, 1967), tightened by the obsession of defining and categorizing by so-called “majorities” and “minorities”, has contributed in shaping cultural imperialism, but also predatory views on environment and otherness. This dominant propensity has fashioned our intellects, identities, territories, even our intimacies, setting a cultural unconscious that determines our futures in the dead angle of reason.
The enmeshment of political, economic, cultural and identity threads has created a very specific definition of the border. Something that appears as crucial or vital to our ontological integrity and alleged survival. Each time this border is crossed by an alleged or defined alien, adversary or enemy, the strength of cultural differentiations, the legacy of geocentrisms, the assumed need to protect a territory defined as the property of a proclaimed majority enacts and legitimizes a hideous hatred unleashed to the face of the other defined and perceived as a threatening “beyond”, an other that symbolically represents death. This fear of dispossession, of disappearance, of a weakening of its own image reappears today in the rhetoric used by far-right parties, but gets also unfortunately instrumentalized by republican, sometimes socio-democratic parties and elected representatives in France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Poland, Hungary, or in the United States of America. French secularism, also called Laïcité, has been ideologically instrumentalized to mark the French Muslim community in times of political instability and global terrorism. The Muslims, their culture, faith and customs have been far too often essentialized in order to create a set of repulsion and fear distorting the numerous economic, geopolitical and postcolonial failures which are at the origin of extremist religious violences which are most of the time targeting the Muslims themselves in North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle-East. The return of Antisemitic violences, such as the torture and burning of an Holocaust survivor, Mireille Knoll, aged 85, by a group of young men in France in March 2018, the increasing profanation and degradation of Mosques and Muslim cemeteries in France in the last seven years, the entrance in the German Bundestag for the first time since the second world war of an identitarian and racist party such as the AfD (Alternative for Germany) campaigning against the notoriously baptized “refugee crisis” and against the offensively called “Islamization of Europe” should question us about our progressive ethical and political disengagement as citizens in our western democracies in the last two decades, and probably certainly since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In the aftermath of the decolonization and Shoah periods, what the scholars Alejandro Baer and Natan Sznaider have crystalized through the notion of “Ethics of Never-Again”, having its famous French equivalent in the idea of “devoir de mémoire” [duty of remembering], seemed to have been at the same time constantly weakened and proclaimed. Srebrenica, Chechenia, Rwanda are the names of a city, a republic and a country that resonates with the remembrances of promises never hold. The figure of an Enemy necessarily constructed arises again. Two wars in Iraq, the second invasion of Afghanistan, the international knot of an unending civil war in Syria has allowed the rise of a Salafist monster that seems to reflect the features of an unethical and politically immoral and irresponsible western face in a supposed postcolonial period. A period which, in fact, never ceased to be neocolonial under the name of economic interests or under the rubble of democracy.
Antisemitism, racial hatred, Islamophobia are progressing as the last electoral results in many European countries reflect. The status of refugees and migrants fleeing wars and disastrous humanitarian conditions in Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, or Sub-Saharan countries, is permanently questioned and used as a scarecrow. European conservative governments that are at once defending a globalized market economy and the permeability of borders for merchandises, want to strengthen their immigration laws, implementing in an alleged open and free market economy racial and ethnic aspects, as the study of Mezzadra and Neilson shows (Border as Method,53-59). Yet these situations in those countries are also the result of catastrophic European and American political meddling that have been diagnosed by far too many commentators and scholars like Noam Chomsky, Nicholas Mirzoeff (Watching Babylon, 2005), W.J.T. Mitchell (Cloning Terror, 2011), or more recently in an exemplary manner by Achille Mbembe (See is article, Necropolitics, 2003 and Politiques de l’inimitié, 2016). In such paradoxical circumstances where economic ideology and expansionism meets conservatism, populism and the racial unconscious, the necessity to create and delocalize political concerns inside or outside of the national borders, becomes a biopolitical issue where questions of sovereignty and power, the capacity to let live and let die, to punish or threaten requires an idiosyncratic enemy that might conflate with René Girard’s notion of the scapegoat, which precisely becomes a mean to achieve consent and satisfaction in the community in a period of crisis or disorder (De la violence à la divinité, 33-46). The Enemy converts as a lever of governance to wrest a majority blessing that should, at least locally, enable a temporary political equilibrium.
Through the emblematic and tyrannical figure of the Enemy, the secular world has been able to reclaim and influence a cultural territory deeply rooted in our collective unconscious to produce “consent”. This consent is crucial to the sovereign or to the State in order to rule. If, as Michel Foucault puts it in a series of lectures at the Collège de France, pastoral tradition from the old world was one of the essential components in the exercise of power, this very same tradition remains central in the modern world (Security, Territory, Population, 161-208). A world that strengthens its borders, territories and identities, but also a world that needs more economic, political and territorial permeability to benefit from an economic growth, to expand and conquer new spaces which permanently are at the same time socio-economic, political, and cultural. As we can see, Antonio Gramsci’s notion of hegemony, and particularly of “cultural hegemony” is a key-concept sustaining the nature of any biopolitical power and agonistic relations (Prison Notebooks – Volume II, 186). The issue of exercise of freedom in the liberal and neoliberal world is fundamentally linked to a specific form of sovereignty. Majority consent is necessary for the exercise of a certain economic and political power based on mass productivity, the mass being here perceived as an alienating concept that doesn’t allow for differentialism (Naissance de la biopolitique, 84). As we can see the majority paradigm is therefore needed for a certain conception and use of power.
Unlike the enemy, the Adversary can be accepted as an opponent who doesn’t necessarily require to be eliminated. The enemy is often defined or perceived as a threat. Enemy of the people, enemy of democracy, enemy of the nation, are the few vindictive catchphrases belonging to the sovereigntist and belligerent political language pointing out a border line traced inside and/or outside of a nation. The use of this rhetoric of enmity has empowered the stigmatization, relegation, deportation and murder of individuals and communities represented and defined as nemeses. They are remnants of a physical and symbolic frontier defined as the limit of a culture or a civilization that either requires to be erased or absorbed. Something that let us question the true nature of the “assimilation” concept in colonial and postcolonial France.
The sociological, historical and political dimensions of this multifaceted figure as a political and legal artefact of our modernity responds without any doubt to the “Friend-Enemy” political notion developed by the jurist and political theorist Carl Schmitt. Someone, who also was a strong inspirer and advocate of the Nuremberg racial Laws of 1935 (see Zarka’s Un detail nazi dans la pensée de Carl Schmitt, PUF, 2005). His political and agonist notion of “the friend and the enemy” has determined and continues to influence several domestic and foreign policies, always based on identity issues that veil whole facets of Western imperialist history linking both the paradigms of territorial domination and influence, the economy (actually global and neoliberal), and political sovereignty, which in the postcolonial, post-Holocaust and post-industrial eras continues to be measured by the ability of these nations to deploy themselves beyond their own established and recognized borders. This extraterritorial deployment is precisely done for economic reasons, linking the exploitation of energy and mining resources to local and geostrategic disorders that rather emerge as expressions of a neocolonial policy fulfilled by American, Chinese and European nations in former colonized countries (Mbembe, Sortir de la grande nuit, 307-313).
The history of Antisemitism, which culminated with the production of a visceral and thus metaphysical identity enmity against European Jewish populations, led to the creation by the Nazis of a sort of enemy “from within.” This at once transcendental and immanent hatred for the Jews was a core definition of Nazi identity itself. The extermination of more than 6 million European Jews is the result of this dynamic that is not simply a delirious dynamic happening out of the frames of History. It is the product of an ideological reflection and theorization, of means and technical progresses that have been mobilized and concentrated to generate death, pertaining to the realm of Necropolitics. In radically different registers and contexts, the inheritance of a colonial world structured by “zones” as Frantz Fanon had rightly recognized and described (Les damnés de la terre, 44), in alliance with policies of catastrophic economic interference, led, as some intellectuals and researchers such as François Burgat in France seem to attest it (Comprendre l’Islam politique, La Découverte, 2016), to the intensification of rebellious extremist movements and the hardening of identities. The terrorist Salafism that revealed itself over the past 15 to 20 years is probably inseparable from a policy of terror, as it was carried out for supposedly democratic reasons by the United States and its allies during the second Gulf War in 2003, destabilizing the whole Middle East region and leading, after the Soviet Union in the 1980’s, to a second invasion of Afghanistan. The harmful fallout from the Salafist terrorist actions has first and foremost affected the Muslims, both in the Middle East and Asia (Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan) and in Europe as well, especially in France and Germany, two countries which do not do not practice the same multicultural and secular policy as the United Kingdom or the United States.
Far from wanting to tackle this issue on a larger and directly related part of the discussions that will be part of this conference, we will not challenge the strictly ideological and political question of adversity or its agonistic expressions in democracy as they may have been theorized for instance by political theorist Chantal Mouffe, or by the philosopher Roberto Esposito, or even Jacques Derrida or Jürgen Habermas. Our main concern will be to focus on racial and Antisemitic constructions that come together and intertwine in our postcolonial and post-Holocaust eras, revealing a central figure having a biopolitical, cultural and economic relevance that structures our visions of nation-states and identities as territories of exclusion, stigmatization, violence, estrangement and power.
Selim Rauer is a PhD candidate focusing on Francophone and French postcolonial literature and drama, European postwar theater aesthetics, and French politics. This year, Selim is the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellow with the Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies. Selim is currently working with former CHGS director Bruno Chaouat.