With this first dossier of WKO we are initiating a global project the goals of which deserve some explanation, mainly because much of it is about un-doing what came before us, namely, the agendas, habits, and methods of Area Studies. It is our belief that the time has come, rather than to “rethink” them, to “re-do” them.
In this project, the Center for Global Studies and the Humanities (at Duke University, Durham, NC, USA) is one location, one node, among what we expect will be many other institutions constituting themselves as other nodes in a variety of places as South America and the Caribbean; North and Sub-Saharan Africa; East and South Asia; Western, Eastern, and Southern Europe; Russia and Central Asia; and the Middle East. One of our goals, in creating this structure for WKO, is to open up a decentralized space for conversations, to create a network with many nodes, with each node becoming a site for debates, discussions, dialogues, knowledge production, and transformation. We are seeking to create a new way of connecting that will enable leaders of social movements, intellectuals, politically engaged scholars around the world to get in touch with one another more directly than what has been so far customary. We will no longer go through Paris, Berlin, London, or New York, via universities or other channels of communication in order to establish dialogues with one another. What we propose—and this first dossier is a good illustration—is something quite different from what an area specialist does when “studying” the rest of the world from a locale usually in the West and usually in the North Atlantic where knowledge and capital accumulate, where “culture” is produced, and appropriation of land and resources as well as exploitation of labor take place. What we propose is that crucial issues of the current world order and imperial/colonial differential in the distribution of power be identified, explored, debated, and analyzed by scholars and intellectuals in diverse geo-historical as well as scholarly “locations,” i.e., multiple regions and countries but also multiple languages and religions, and a variety of disciplinary trainings. Simultaneously, our goal is to counterbalance the limitations of publishing houses, too—whether university presses or trade book houses—in putting people outside and beyond the North Atlantic world in conversation with one another.
The dossier you are beginning to read reveals our intentions rather well. In the first place, we intend to address issues of current interest that are, simultaneously, historically grounded. Secondly, our intent is to bring into the conversation multiple histories, for example Arab and Islamic histories that originated outside the gates of ancient Greece, but even among those that had their beginnings within those very gates, noticing and differentiating all the forking paths in various histories, as for example the bifurcation of Rome through Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire. Also, there are those that came into being both before and beyond Greece, like ancient China and India, and those that came after Greece but were totally independent, until the sixteenth century, from the legacies of Greek and Roman histories, as was the case with the Aymaras, Quechuas, Nahuatls, and Maya-speaking people in the Americas.
Of course, we are aware that English is the lingua franca although we are aware also that for most of the people on the planet, English is not our language; we are just using it. Those of us for whom English is not our native language engage from the very beginning and from different local histories in border thinking and epistemologies. If thinking is inseparable from language (not necessarily written and not necessarily alphabetic), neither the vocabulary and the grammar of “thinking” are universal, nor the language of thought shall be one. WKO’s general orientation is to break away from imperial ways of thinking that are entrenched in “modernity” and its darker and constitutive side, “coloniality.” Worlds and knowledges otherwise is an invitation to extend Immanuel Levinas’s “otherwise than being” beyond ontology and, above all, beyond the Judeo-Christian tradition in which even Levinas himself was still caught. What is there to be found in that “beyond,” in that “otherwise” is what we will find out in the process.
The first dossier, Human Rights, Democracy, and Islamic Law brings together a theologian of liberation, Franz Hinkelammert, of German origin and dwelling in Latin America since the late sixties; a U.S. political theorist, Michael Shapiro, who lives in Honolulu and is based at the University of Hawaii; and Ebrahim Moosa, a scholar of the history of religions and Islamic Law, from South Africa, based in the U.S. at Duke University. Also in the dossier are commentaries by Robin Kirk, an author and an activist who worked for 12 years with the Human Rights Watch organization covering the Andes, and by Bartolomé Clavero, based in Spain, a Distinguished Professor in institutional law and the history of law at the University of Seville.
Hinkelammert, in his relentless critique of neoliberalism, argues in his article that one of the fundamental pillars of neoliberal philosophy was John Locke’s inversion of human rights. An inversion, Hinkelammert argues, whose conclusion is to justify the violation of human rights in defense of human rights. His prime example is the War of Kosovo, as the article was written before 9/11. It is obvious, however, that Hinkelammert’s argument could be easily extended to include the war in Iraq.
Shapiro takes on the limits of Thomas Jefferson’s concept and idea of democracy in the light of, and in the perspective from, the sector of the population that has either been marginalized or entirely left out because of the racial categorization of the modern/colonial world. Moosa brings together democracy and human rights albeit not from the local histories of their conceptualization in eighteenth-century Europe (and in French, English, and German, going back to Greece and Rome) but from an-other language, Arabic, and an other mode of thought, Islam.
Clavero’s comments are very helpful, among other reasons, for identifying the common thread that connects the three articles as well as the singularity of each of them, in opening up to that beyond and to that otherwise we are looking for with and through WKO. Kirk looks at the issues raised in the three articles that resonate in the U.S. debates about human rights and imperialism after 9/11. Her view of human rights differs from the position articulated by Hinkelammert, with which she takes issue. This could be an interesting topic to debate further.
Thus, the three articles and the two commentaries lay before our eyes a wide spectrum of similar concerns ingrained in different local histories (South of Spain, Hawaii, Latin America, the Islamic world, the U.S.) and contribute to promote the idea that “a world in which many worlds will coexist” cannot be “managed” and implemented from a uni-versal perspective, be it neoliberalism, Christianity, Communism, or Islam. The pluri-versal lies in the borders, in the interstices that have become silences and absences, hidden by the lights and noises of those mystic beliefs in a homogeneous world, a world in which everybody thinks equally homogeneous thoughts—that is, “like us,” and “us” of course is subject to any abstract universal in dispute—and the belief that such a world is desirable and, above all, possible. Contemporaneous events around the world are showing daily that a pluri-versal world is the emerging vision for the future; and that vision is emerging out of the ashes and the failures of enforcing one style of democracy and one conception of the market. The situation in Iraq has been a telling lesson, as is the continuing opposition in Latin America to the implementation of the Free Trade Agreement.
The contents of this dossier, along with the comments, contribute to our capacity to imagine a different future, a future in which the main goal is not to sell more and to buy more for less, to reproduce war to maintain peace, to violate human rights in defense of human rights, to engage in totalitarian politics in order to defend democracy, to believe that increasing production by itself enhances human life and to overlook the fact that accumulation of capital concentrates in fewer and fewer hands and the dispossessed of the earth increase in numbers daily at an equal rate.
Our goal, instead, is to join hands with those who believe that an other world is possible. There exist alternatives to the neoliberal global designs advanced by those who believe, as MacNamara did, that it is necessary to kill many in order to have a better world (as quoted in “The Fog of War,” an Errol Morris documentary film). Our vision and goal—empowerment of all humans—require, on the one hand, the decolonization of knowledge and, on the other, a new horizon on life made possible by human solidarity and the enhanced creativity of many.
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Hinkelammert, in his relentless critique of neoliberalism, argues that one of the fundamental pillars of neoliberal philosophy was John Locke’s inversion of human rights. An inversion, Hinkelammert argues, whose conclusion is to justify the violation of human rights in defense of human rights. His prime example is the War of Kosovo, as the article was written before 9/11. It is obvious, however, that Hinkelammert’s argument could be easily extended to include the war in Iraq.
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Michael Shapiro takes on the limits of Thomas Jefferson’s concept and idea of democracy in the light of, and in the perspective from, the sector of the population that has either been marginalized or entirely left out because of the racial categorization of the modern/colonial world. Shapiro’s argument, written in the early years of the 21st century, takes a new and significant meaning after the elections of 2004 and the consequences of its outcome.
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Ebrahim Moosa brings together concepts of democracy and human rights albeit not from the local histories of their conceptualization in eighteenth-century Europe (and in French, English, and German, going back to Greece and Rome) but from an-other language, Arabic, and an other mode of thought, Islam. The argument nicely complements the ones advanced by Hinkelammert and Shapiro as it points to similar dangers in the Islamic world, but also to possibilities beyond Western political theory, political economy, and ethics.
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