The metaphysical essence of nihilism embodies a radical devaluing of reality and a depreciation of life in being ontologically fixated on non-being and at times appealing to positivistic scientism to flatten existence and grasp it simply as perishable. A materialistic take on worldly affairs could also potentially naturalize the concrete and pragmatic political and economic exercising of violence and actualize the unfolding of its will to power. Although religion posits its own variegated values in celebration of nature, life, and humanity as signs of divine creation, some of its interpretations of divinity and scripture could potentially downgrade the worthiness of our sensory and temporary being-in-the-world by only valuing a belief in the supra-sensible and otherworldly transcendence that underpins it. Such penchant in religiosity if left unmonitored spiritually and theologically might result in the praxis of bellicosity rather than contribute to pacifying or overcoming aggression. A revengeful resentment towards worldly existence could sacrifice the value of life in the name of the articles of faith. Taking these situational aspects into account, we reflect herein on the metaphysical conditions in which nihilism and violence become harboured not only in a materialist will to power but also within the folds of religious belief.
American University of Beirut- firstname.lastname@example.org
The English translation of this fragment reads as follows: ‘… cause meanwhile the savage works of war to sleep and be still over every sea and land; for you alone can delight mortals with quiet peace…’ (This is an Epicurean invocation of Venus in classical Latin poetic verse). See: Lucretius, De rerum natura [On the Nature of Things] (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, Loeb Classical Library 181, 1975), I. 29-31.
I am using the expression ‘scientism’ here in a specific manner to designate discursive or conceptual frameworks or modes of thinking that ground themselves in the natural and exact sciences in view of making statements about the human condition, the meaning of life, and generate ‘world-pictures’. Such penchant in thought is meta-scientific in the sense that its propositions emerge from a scientific foundation and yet in their further unfolding they cease being rooted in science. They constitute a body of statements that evoke science while being extrinsic to it. An example of this is when a physicist, or biologist talks about religious faith based on their own scientific worldview, albeit their statements in that context are not the propositions of their respective sciences of physics or biology.
In mediaeval Latin this would have amounted to the phenomenon of ‘killing a deity’ (deicide).
Martin Heidegger (1954) “Die Frage nach der Technik”, in Vorträge und Aufsätze (Pfullingen: Verlag Günther Neske), pp. 13-44; esp. pp. 23-28.
I am referring herein to the international takfîr cult of violence, namely the network of factions that associates itself with Islam while being ideologically bent on charging the majority of Muslims with apostasy, and is operative in our era in Syria and Iraq, and known in an abbreviated appellation in Arabic as “dâ‘ish”, and in the Anglophone media and press via the acronyms: ‘ISIS’ (‘ISIL’ or ‘IS’ [‘Islamic State’]). This cult has exceeded even the cruelty and aggressiveness of the franchises of terror of al-Qâ‘ida and the organizational groups that resemble it in the Levant, Iraq, North Africa, Afghanistan, Yemen, etc. The killing fields at the hands of dâ‘ish are not restricted to militancy via conventional weapons, they also use suicidal bombing indiscriminately by hitting civilian populations, and resort to slaughters by hand in primitive public rituals of human sacrifice and revengefulness: beheading, crucifixion, or burning captives alive. Recordings of such acts are disseminated in cybernetic forms through sophisticated videography and photography techniques. They also publicly promote the practice of slavery. We are not aiming in this context to analyse the formation and operational mode of this group via geo-political, economic, and international as well as regional affairs aspects, even though all these are valid and essential to understand it as a phenomenon and to learn how to confront its violence. Our objectives are restricted herein to the way their embodied action and discourse manipulate religious idioms in branding their form of Islamism and in implementing the forcible call of allegiance to their leadership (al-bay‘a). Even though we have been reflecting on the cruelties of such factions in our age (which may also have in part some root causes in decades of violence against and from within the Muslim communities, be it colonialist/imperialist and/or local oppressions, especially in the Near East), we still heed the wisdom of the ancient Chinese proverb that ‘it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness’, our focus remains therefore set on reflecting on ‘nihilism’.
We appeal herein to Baudrillard’s social and visual analysis of the post-modern globalization era of information technology processing and communication, which on his view turns reality into a domain of simulacra and converts the simulated environment into a hyper-reality that gives the image of what is almost unreal. He says: ‘Le simulacre n'est jamais ce qui cache la vérité – c'est la vérité qui cache qu'il n'y en a pas. Le simulacre est vrai’ (‘the simulacrum is never what conceals the truth – rather it is truth that conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true’). See: Jean Baudrillard (1981) Simulacres et simulation (Paris: Galilée), esp. pp. 9-10.
Such a state of affairs leads to interpretation upon interpretation in vicious repetition and aimless play of signifiers. Such phenomena were divergently hinted at in the analysis of speech and writing, and of the horizons of hermeneutics in the works of Gaston Bachelard, Martin Heidegger, Paul Ricoeur, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and Jacques Derrida.
An example can de derived herein from the unmediated current application by ISIS in Syria of the seventh-century CE apocryphal ‘covenant of ‘Umar [ibn al-Khattâb]’ (‘ahd al-amwân or al-‘uhda al-‘umariyya), which was possibly reached at the time with Sophronius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, in order to regulate the affairs of the Christian (and Jewish) community (as ‘dhimmî’ [ahl al-dhimma]) in return for protection and toleration under Islamic governance and jurisdiction. The treaty of ‘Umar may have been itself negotiated on the basis of an earlier Roman legal code as embodied in the sixth-century CE Codex Justinianus, which was practiced in the Byzantine territories and was part of the Corpus Iuris Civilis. This is one of many examples of the trans-historical and non-contextual practice of imposing an ancient edict (from the seventh-century) on modern life (in the twenty-first century).
This state of affairs is akin to what has been witnessed in the first century of Islam with the Khawârij who charged their coreligionists with apostasy and declared jihad against them. They even turned violence into an aesthetic experience through their poetry of negation in locales of desolation. For an analysis of their worldview on violence in terms of interpreting their poetry, see: Tarif Khalidi, ‘The Poetry of the Khawârij: Violence and Salvation’, in Religion Between Violence and Reconciliation (Beiruter Texte und Studien Band 76, Orient-Institut, Beirut), ed. Thomas Scheffler (Würzburg: Ergon-Verlag, 2002), pp. 109-122; esp. pp. 114-115, 119-121.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1886) Jenseits von Gut und Böse: Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft [Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future] (Leipzig: C.G. Naumann), Aphorism 146.
‘The desert grows: woe to him in whom deserts hide!’ (Dionysus-Dithyrambs). See: Friedrich Nietzsche, Werke in und Briefe drei Bänden (München: Carl Hanser Verlag, 1954), Band 2, p. 1243.