- Continental Philosophy and the Palestinian Question: Beyond the Jew and the Greek by Zahi Zalloua
In "On the Jewish Question" (1843) Marx famously reckons with the problem of political emancipation's disarticulation from human emancipation. Without the latter, Marx argues, the former can conscript the minoritarian difference signified by the figure of the Jew into a liberal regime of rights and recognition that structures a highly delimited space for the expression of human flourishing. Indeed, in a mid-19th century moment of ascendant, if severely uneven, political inclusion in Europe, global processes of racialization ensured that freedom's containment within the domain of liberal reason did not contradict the formations of colonial administration and imperial violence across the Americas, the Caribbean, Africa, and South Asia. A century later, Nazi Germany's systematic investment in intra-European genocide revealed the radical contingency, to say nothing of the catastrophic paucity, of such nominally inclusionary impulses. The geographical wellspring of European Enlightenment became home to the Third Reich's programmatic, industrialized, and targeted decimation of perceived racial, sexual, and embodied forms of difference, whose paradigm case was the Jewish community.
Zahi Zalloua's Continental Philosophy and the Palestinian Question: Beyond the Jew and the Greek compellingly argues that out of the Holocaust's ashes emerged a tradition of critical theorizing intent on plumbing Enlightenment [End Page 539] reason's depths, and keen to posit ethical approaches to alterity capable of forestalling future mass atrocity. The abstract figure of the Jew was again crucial to the elaboration of such a tradition. Circumscribing this figure, however, was a spatiotemporal proximity to a genocide whose scope and scale was nothing short of epochal. What's more, Jewish alterity as philosophical abstraction was intersected by the historical elaboration of political Zionism, reconfiguring in a post-World War II conjuncture its long-standing dialectic of liberal freedom and colonial violence. A Zionist state-building project in Palestine already several decades in the making was predicated on an avowedly exclusionary ethno-nationalist understanding of Jewish community, vitalized by a longer European practice of settler colonization as conduit for political emancipation. This form of Zionism was generally incapable of an ethical orientation to Palestine's non-Jews. The dispossession of over 750,000 Arab Palestinians in the early moments of the state of Israel's founding, Israel's post-1967 military and administrative occupation of Palestinian territories, the normalization of highly adumbrated forms of political sovereignty on offer to Palestinians after 1993, and the ongoing institutionalized subordination of Palestinian citizens of Israel, coalesce in the present to invite sustained inquiry into Continental philosophy's foreshortenings and limitations as well as its sites of potentiality. It is an invitation far too rarely accepted—making Zalloua's book all the more necessary today.
Zalloua unfurls an incisive reading practice that seeks to release from the tradition of Continental philosophy ethically robust ways of thinking Palestinian futurity. Across five rigorously argued chapters, Zalloua treats a wide range of critical thinkers—Levinas, Agamben, Balibar, æ L ç ek, Finkielkraut, and Badiou among them. Such work requires accounting for the occlusions produced by thinkers (such as Levinas) who, after World War II, recast the Jew from an abstract figure of alterity into the paradigmatic Victim against which all ethico-political claims of recognition and responsibility were to be measured. In the book's important first chapter, Zalloua establishes the origins of Levinas' capacious approach to alterity, even as the limits of such an approach were revealed in Levinas' refusal to countenance the atrocity of over one thousand Palestinians massacred in the Lebanese refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. Levinas' blindness on this point is not anomalous or isolated, Zalloua argues, but rather reveals important heuristic limitations sedimented in the tradition of Continental philosophy.
In response to these limitations, one cannot simply substitute the figure of the Jew with that of the Palestinian. The book cogently demonstrates that to conceptualize Palestinian alterity in this way risks reifying the exclusions of identitarian forms of recognition. At the same time, figuring the Palestinian as only a...