Not all that long ago I watched this conversation between Slavoj Žižek, Julian Assange and Amy Goodman (of Democracy Now!).
It is a very interesting back and forth about the achievements of WikiLeaks and its impact on the world’s political and news scenes. Particularly interesting and of note, as always, were Žižek’s comments; given his ability to penetrate rather complex issues and highlight something of what is going on under the surface.
Especially of interest to me were Žižek’s remarks to Assange about how WikiLeaks is engaged in a kind of terrorism. (Here’s a link to the full transcript.)
Now, I will make a more important point as to this terrorism stuff. Let me make it clear—but I’m not crazy. I mean this in a positive sense. Yes, in a way, you [Assange] are a terrorist. In which sense? In the sense in which, as I like to repeat, Gandhi was a terrorist…
but what does this mean? Of course, you are—in which sense was Gandhi a terrorist? He effectively tried to stop, interrupt the normal functioning of the British state in India. And, of course, you are trying to interrupt the normal, which is very oppressive, functioning of the information circulation and so on…
What is your, under quotation marks, “terrorism” compared to the terrorism which we simply accept, which has to go on day by day so that just things remain the way they are? That’s where ideology helps us. When we talk about violent terrorism, we always think about acts which interrupt the normal run of things. But what about violence which has to be here in order for things to function the way they are? So I think, if—I’m very skeptical about it—we should use—in my provocative spirit, I am tempted to—the term “terrorism,” it’s strictly a reaction to a much stronger terrorism which is here. So, again, instead of engaging in this moralistic game—“Oh, no, he’s a good guy,” like Stalinists said about Lenin—“You like small children. You play with cats. You wouldn’t”—as Norman Bates says in Psycho, “You wouldn’t hurt even a fly.” Now you know. No, you are, in this formal sense, a terrorist. But if you are a terrorist, my god, what are then they who accuse you of terrorism?
This, to me, is a very interesting statement. Gandhi helped realise the liberation of India from British rule through a pronounced commitment to nonviolence. WikiLeaks has shaken the powers that be through radical commitment to truth telling. Both are, in a sense, a kind of terrorism, and in a way this puts its finger on a reality at the heart of Christianity.
Christianity remembers how Jesus effectively tried to “interrupt the normal” functioning of 1st century Israel, as the Jewish leadership and Rome had made it. It remembers that strength, dominance, violence, political corruption and totalising power were overcome by powerlessness, weakness, love, forgiveness, servitude and nonviolence. Christianity testifies to the reality that God doesn’t play games by the rules we set, so often predicated on violence and powerfulness. God, in Jesus, “interrupts the normal” functioning of the world by dying on a cross and awakening the potential and possibility of a new world and reality to be lived into, in the resurrection. (“But if Jesus was a terrorist, my god, what are then they who accused him of terrorism?”)
It is in this sense that Christianity is eschatological. Christians claim that Jesus’ “interruption of the normal,” defined by peacefulness and nonviolence, has shown us the trajectory and the goal (or telos) of creation in new creation and full arrival of the kingdom; and in turn Christians make this future present, regardless of its seemingly utter foolishness.
Christians are faithful to this power of powerlessness, this strength of weakness, this violence of nonviolence because we believe that it changes things, that it “interrupts the normal,” stopping cycles of revenge and moving us toward peace – which force and violence can’t ever truly achieve. We believe this because we hold that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection effectively changed the very fabric of what is possible for humanity.
This is why Christianity is an actual alternative to so much of what defines the as/is structures of the world. We hold that the radically nonviolent and peaceable ways of the ‘kingdom of God’ can affect change in the world, for the good.
This is why Christians could be said to be terrorists, in the sense of Gandhi and WikiLeaks. Christians, in following the peaceable and nonviolent Messiah, “interrupt the normal functioning” of a world that relies on excessive violence and ever-increasingly unstable accumulation of power. (“But if we are a terrorists, my god, what are then they who accuse us of terrorism? Who lie about killing civilians, lie about the grounds for starting war, who drop bombs via drones on innocents as well as perpetrators.”) The binaries of violence and force can never deliver peace, they succeed only in creating casualties, suspicion and fear and generating cycles of revenge. Christians offer the achievement of peace on radically different terms (nonviolent, subversive protest through love, service and forgiveness of enemies that effectively end the cycle of violence); terms which hold promise; terms which, historically speaking, tend to “interrupt the normal.”