Are We All Americans? Kakar’s Distinction between “Community” and “Communalism”


In the journal entry below, I continue my reflections on Indian psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar’s The Colors of Violence.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Following up form yesterday:

Kakar uses a good distinction between “community” and “communalism.”  To use his formulation on pp. 191-192:  “Communalism as a state of mind, then, is the individual’s assertion of being part of a religious community, preceded by a full awareness of belonging to such a community.  The ‘We-ness’ of the community is here replaced by the ‘We are‘ of communalism.”

But–again–what if the very “awareness” of being a member of a community–one’s “cultural/communal identity”–does not, as he says, “precede” the “assertion” thereof, except and unless it is a retrospectively cast myth/fiction of the origin of the community, membership in which is being “asserted”?

P. 191, before the sentences already quoted, Kakar borrows Oscar Peterson’s suggested stages of “an individual who, as a consequence of a shared threat, is in process of self-consciously identifying with his or her ethnic group.”  But is the very constitution of the ethnic  group itself as a definite “we” another, retrospective projection of itself as already having been there all along?  And isn’t the very constituting of a threat as a “shared” one a part of that very process–i. e., isn’t the “sharing” itself something that must be communicated in Heidegger’s sense in Being and Time [whereby “communication“–Mitteilung,” in German–is taken seriously in its etymological meaning of sharing with], in order to come into being at all? 

Following Peterson, Kakar says the first stage of “the change from community to communalism” is:  “First, I declare to all who share the crisis with me that I am one of them–a Hindu, a Muslim [or whatever].”  With regard to that, it is striking to think of the headline in Le Monde the morning after the 9/11 attacks:  “We are all Americans now.”  Then go on to compare both (“all Americans” [on one hand] and “all Hindus,” or the like [on the other]) with Eisenstein’s notion of all Germans of conscience identifying themselves as Jews [when Nazi persecution of Jews first began]–how different history would ahve been had that happened after Kristallnacht in 1938, for example!  Those three cases of self-identification with/constitution of a self-defining group are significantly different from one another, in ways that deserve to be studied.  For example, there is something offensive [to me] about the Le Monde identification, especially insofar as it is an identification with the very “community” that marginalizes all member of “other” communities, and silences/refuses to let be heard/to hear the voice of the marginalized that sounds in the 9/11 attacks.  In contrast, insofar as globalized capitalism marginalizes both Hindus and Muslims in the “global market,” constitution of, and identification with, either of those two communities, “Hindu” or “Muslim,” has a liberatory potential completely lacking in the constitution of, and identification with, a global “American” community, as in Le Monde.  That last is not at all liberatory.  In contrast to both, “we are all Jews” in Nazi Germany is wholly liberatory, and escapes the very oppression of any “communalism” at all in favor of a constituting and identifying with a genuine, genuinely open community.  (And I’d be willing to venture the guess that only “open” communities [such as, in that context of Germany in 1938, would have been constituted and identified by “We are all Jews”] are “genuine” communities, as opposed to communalisms, so to speak, at all.)

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