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"What the Arab peoples signify to us" by Jean-Luc Nancy

Sarah Shin31 March 2011

Jean-Luc Nancy's Libération article on intervention in Libya:

The Arab peoples are signifying to us that resistance and revolt are with us once again, and that history is moving beyond History. They are doing it, as is appropriate, with all the fortune and misfortune that it involves. At the very least they have sent an irreversible signal whose effects we can expect to see across Africa and in the odious perpetuation of the drama on Canaan's ancient land. In one of the places where we least expected this revolt to occur, a leader of the gang (officially, of the State) crushes it, ready to liquidate whoever necessary of his supposed people.

Meanwhile, other States strike at their own rebels quite forcefully, sometimes with the help of a powerful Arab neighbour. Benghazi insurgents are asking for help: this is not simple, entailing clear risks, both practical and political. Political responsibility means weighing up and dealing with such circumstances. Is this the time to invoke in pell-mell fashion the collateral risks and suspicion of (more or less) hidden interests, the principles of non-interference and the heavy guilt of a "West" that may, one wonders, include Libya itself, or Saudi Arabia or Syria, not to mention China and Russia?

It is fine for the beautiful souls of the left and the sophisticated operators on the right to sigh or protest; whether in European or in Arab countries: one must know which world we are in. We are no longer just simply in the world of Western arrogance, self-confidence and imperialism. Oh! It is not that the poor old "West" has cleaned up its act: it is simply in the process of melting in the fusion that begets another world, without sunrise or sunset, a world where it is day and night everywhere at the same time and where it is necessary to reinvent the act of living together and, before all else, the act of living itself.

So, yes, it is necessary to keep a close eye on the strikes that are aimed at undermining the vile assassin of the people; sure, it is necessary to strike - him, of course, not the people. We can no longer, with one hand, invoke the sovereignty that, with the other hand, we empty of substance and legitimacy through all the interconnections - the best and worst - of the globalised world [monde mondialisé]. It is up to the people in question and to all others, including us, to ensure then that the oil, financial, and arms dealing game that installed and maintained this puppet (among many others) in power does not start over. It is the responsibility of the peoples, yes: and it is also of course to us, the peoples of Europe or America, that this is addressed.

It is a delicate task. But at stake is what we want to live and how we want to live it, with an acuteness that we are not accustomed to. That is what the Arab peoples are also signifying to us.

Visit Libération to read the original article in French, published 28 March 2011. This translation by Gilbert Leung. With thanks to Critical Legal Thinking for use of this version. 

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