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220 At the Base of Local and Transnational Conflicts: The Political Uses of Inferiorization Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney Magisterial theoretical contributions, always based on solid and exhaustive historical and ethnographic data, are what first come to our mind when we think of Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah. But I am now keenly aware that his work, as most evident in his Leveling Crowds (1996), has also been rooted in his passionate concern with injustice and inequality in the realpolitik of the past and present, when the forces of Western imperialism have not abated after decolonization but increased in ferocity as the United States has become a new center of imperial domination. Tambiah sees a close connection between political, economic, and cultural inequality in geopolitics and violence at the local level. His effort to analyze the factors that cause violence has been driven by his commitment to domestic and international peace. His goal has been to seek “plausible and coherent answers ” to the question of why ethnicity and ethnonationalism have been “potent bases for collective mobilization and are powerfully at work in many modern contexts at a time when global processes of modernization and homogenization are alleged to be dominant curF5920 .indb 220 F5920.indb 220 12/17/12 3:00:48 PM 12/17/12 3:00:48 PM The Political Uses of Inferiorization 221 rents” (Tambiah 1996a, 138). He identifies the root cause as imperialism , which prompts ethnonational resistance to it: The liberal democracy at home in Western Europe and the United States could assume the fierce shape of authoritarian rule abroad, the exploitation of native labor and resources, and the inferiorization , if not erosion, of the cultures of the colonized. This inferiorization and threat of cultural extinction in large part lies behind the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, Buddhist “nationalism,” Hindu nationalism, and other such reactions, and their retaliatory attitude to Western economic affluence and domination, political supremacy, alleged consumerist values, celebration of sexual eroticism, erosion of family durability, alleged “privatization” of religion and separation of religion from affairs of state, and so on. (Tambiah 1996b,14) In Tambiah’s analysis, geopolitical inequalities sow the seeds of local violence. Virulent forces of various “nationalisms” have risen as a result of the authoritarian rule executed by nations that espouse liberal democracy for their own citizens. Let me first emphasize that Tambiah’s theoretical formulation is deeply contextualized in a given sociopolitical local context, which is in turn embedded in geopolitics. Therefore it is basically different from the “Othering,” Orientalism, and other related concepts in cultural studies and in some quarters in anthropology that are not situated in sociopolitical contexts. Thus, in 1996, Tambiah offered a brilliant blueprint predicting the mess that the United States currently faces: authoritarian rule abroad, the exploitation of natural, human, and economic resources, and the inferiorization of subject peoples. As the years pass and a more sober understanding of the Middle East is emerging, we understand that the galvanizing point for Osama bin Laden and other “militant” leaders has been the humiliation and suffering of Muslims imposed by non-Muslims (Bin Laden 2005), a dynamic that cannot be reduced to the theological arguments of Islamic fundamentalists that some Americans have identified as the cause of terrorist attacks, thereby assuming the cause to be located only within. In this essay, I extend Tambiah’s insights into transnational con- flicts—the processes through which “enemies” of empire are inferiorized —by examining popular and academic explanations of those F5920.indb 221 F5920.indb 221 12/17/12 3:00:48 PM 12/17/12 3:00:48 PM 222 Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney who destroyed the World Trade Center, which has become the Ur-model for multifarious instances of contemporary terrorism. This example involves the construction of the “brown menace” at the time of the September 11 event, for which the “yellow menace” was summoned as a precedent. This article is neither on the current “terrorist attacks,” nor about the Middle East. Nor is its purpose to whitewash the Japanese aggressions and their consequences. The example is used to illuminate a broader issue that Tambiah has raised—the construction of the Other for political purposes by powerful nations. The Master Narrative for the September 11 Event Many historical facts are placed in the dustbin of history,to use Walter Benjamin’s well-known expression. But rarely do we see a caricature repeatedly replacing historical information, as happened in the case of the tokkōtai...


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