When, in November 2005, young men began torching cars and ransacking supermarkets in the suburbs of Paris, they made no demands and had no programme or manifesto, so it was left to intellectuals and commentators to try to make sense of three weeks of rioting. The violence had to have some deeper significance, they said; it couldn’t be just a meaningless paroxysm.Last December, in a NY Sun review of a book about the Danish cartoon affair, Derbyshire writes:
But what if the firebombing and pillaging were in fact just a self-destructive acting out? What if things were as they appeared to be? It’s a fallacy, says Slavoj Zizek in his new book, to suppose that violence must always have a deep-lying cause susceptible of rational articulation. Intellectuals often succumb to what he calls a ‘hermeneutic temptation’ when they search for the ‘real reasons’ behind this outbreak of violence or that. Zizek takes as an example the violent reaction by some Muslims to the Danish newspaper cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. Many Western liberals fell over themselves to insist that the protesters’ motives weren’t ‘really’ religious but actually had to do with Western imperialism, the situation in Israel-Palestine and so on, as if theology were always and everywhere nothing but the misplaced expression of legitimate rage.
We should [the author argues] see certain kinds of discomfort, offended feelings, and so on as being among the unavoidable costs of free thought, inquiry, and argument. The Muslim protesters who besieged the office of the editor of Jyllands-Posten were entitled to his respect, but not his "submission." Failing to recognize that these are not the same threatens to make free expression itself the "victim."(via Norman Geras)