On April 3rd, 2019, we gathered at the Heyman Center for the Human­ities to cel­e­brate the pub­li­cation of three out­standing books by Jor­danna Bailkin (Unsettled), Ilana Feldman (Life Lived in Relief), and Murad Idris (War for Peace). There were a few com­men­taries and responses. I was in charge of responding to Murad. However, after reading the book I felt frankly over­whelmed by the beauty, the ele­gance and the intel­lectual depth of the book, and I could not write any­thing. So, I went to the (undis­closed) location of his current office, and I started going through his waste­basket. By hap­pen­stance, I found a dis­carded, unopened letter, addressed to Murad in Arabic. I took it with me and left the premises.

I did not even have to open it, because with digital human­ities these days, you can do all sort of postman things. So, I pre­sented it humbly to The Machine, and it gra­ciously read it for me, trans­lated it for me, and even printed it out for me, so that I could read it to the audience, and this is exactly what I did. This is the content of the letter. If you find errors, blame the machine, no machine is perfect.

New York, 19 Decade, Quartidi of Ger­minal of 227.

Dear Murad,

I hope this letter finds you and your family very well. I have just read your book, War for Peace, thanks for saving a copy for me. I would like to tell you what I think about it, given that you did not ask for my opinion. But you know the saying about everybody having an opinion that Clint Eastwood made sadly famous a lifetime ago. To give you my opinion, I need to be frank, even blunt. So, forgive me if I begin with a crit­icism, but I feel it is my duty to do it, and, like Frederic, the pirate apprentice in The Pirates of Pen­zanze, I am the slave of duty. What I cannot under­stand, for the life of me, is why on Earth you did not write and publish this book in 2008! You will say, “but I was 24!”, I know, but this is such a lame excuse. A good friend would have overcome this minor obstacle to save me a couple of years of embar­rassment in a number of graduate and senior sem­inars and a few pre­sen­ta­tions on peace and peace­making. Had I had this book at that time, my ideas would have been clearer, more bril­liant, and indeed, I would have probably started to actually think about peace, instead of just trying to come up with some frag­mentary, unfin­ished thoughts. You should have. And you did not.

But at least now you redeemed yourself and finally gave the book to the printing press. I can only imagine your struggle, your effort –are those good trans­la­tions of the triliteral root j‑h-d?—in your con­ver­sa­tions with the copy­peditor from Oxford Uni­versity Press. She or he wanted you to get rid of all those dia­critics on Arabic words, when, she or he said, those words have already been incor­po­rated in the English lan­guage. But the English lan­guage only incor­po­rates those words, those con­cepts, by elim­i­nating the cri­tique through, the dia-criticism that come with them. English lan­guage only incor­po­rates those Arabic words from Islam by taming them, by deac­ti­vating them, by putting them in a place where they can be observed, rede­fined, sub­mitted to a very basic colonial form of crit­icism, put on the spot­light of their oth­erness. So, I was moved when I read note 22 of your intro­duction, page 13, where you wrote the fol­lowing winged words:

Although the word “jihad” is now an English word, the roman type fails to signify that it is domes­ti­cated pre­cisely as some­thing foreign and that its status is a source of political con­tro­versy; in these senses, there are important dis­tinc­tions between jihad and jihād, and the stakes of writing one or the other are dif­ferent from other bor­rowings, such as algebra instead of al-jabr or coffee instead of qahwa. The italics and dia­critics make the difference.”

That was smart, how you cun­ningly explained that the roman type was unable to keep up with the chal­lenge of the Arabic word. The roman type, ha! I know you mean tyo­pog­raphy, but the other Roman Type, the Western type is also lurking behind your words. I know that to read you, I need to read between your lines, and not just on top of them.

Oth­erwise, If I read only what you have written, I would have failed to see what are the stakes of your study, how this war for peace trope in its mul­tiple iter­a­tions across a mas­culine history of ten thinkers, is, indeed, a con­tem­porary call for thought and for action, and not just “genealogies”, as you claim in your sub­title. But we know that when we talk about genealogies we are not talking about the painstaking explo­ration Fou­cault con­sidered when he said that “La généalogie est grise; elle est métic­uleuse et patiemment doc­u­men­taire. Elle tra­vaille sur des par­chemins embrouillés, grattés, plusieurs fois récrits.” Genealogies are the insti­tu­tional paths that lead to the for­mation of those insti­tu­tions while at the same time make us think that they are not insti­tu­tions, but natural, spon­ta­neous occur­rences. And what you demon­strate is that there is nothing natural or spon­ta­neous about peace, but rather, that this is an insti­tution that, becoming par­a­sitic of mul­tiple other insti­tu­tions, ends up being a problem and not a solution, ends up being an insti­tution that is the servant of war.

And sure, you work on all that, and you insist in retrans­lating Greek, and Latin, and Arabic texts that are muddled, and have been scratched, and have been rewritten one thousand times, but your genealogy is not grey, it is not grey by any means. Instead, it is luminous, in the most exact concept of lumi­nosity: it sheds light into the descriptive world of semantics, of the semantics of peace, or, as you fre­quently put it in your book, using one of your favorite words, into the grammar that con­sti­tutes the art, the tech­nique whereby peace can be put in lan­guage and expand itself and its par­a­sitic char­acter through lan­guage and through actions. When I mean that you shed light into this grammar, or this semantic of peace, I mean it: you come up with a new concept that allows us to under­stand how semantic fields are formed. It is not suf­fi­cient for you to define a semantic field, to describe it, to say, here it is, there you are the semantic field of “peace” throughout history in five or six lan­guages. On the con­trary, you delve into the many dif­ferent, protean ways, in which a given dis­course of peace, which cannot be con­fused with other dis­courses on peace even if they claim to be com­menting similar sources, insin­uates other con­cepts that are perhaps more palatable than peace, because, unlike the idea of peace, they point to spe­cific emo­tions, spe­cific actions, spe­cific objects of desire. Friendship is one of them. But then, friendship is not the same in all your authors, and it is at is turn a protean insinuate of peace. Al-Fārābī’s insin­uates are def­i­nitely not the same that Thomas Aquinas, the rotund Dominican, set as his primal ones, as the nec­essary addition to concord, namely goodness, unity, and friendship (113).

And in that sense, this is also a book on friendship, and I was aston­ished to read that book on friendship getting its way through a book that did not claim to be dealing with friendship. How friendship is itself a concept that struggles to become a political and legal insti­tution, that intends, in vain, to get rid of its the­o­logical load, just like peace cannot be fully extracted from the­ologies. If any­thing, I do want to know more about this, but, Murad, I want to know when are you going to write a book on friendship, so that I can blame you for not having pub­lished it before I sub­mitted my last book for pub­li­cation and saving me a lot of embar­rassment as well.

There are so many books nested in this book. And also, it must be because this is a book about nesting. About how peace is nested in peace, and how the effusion of insin­uates are cross-nested and inter-nested, and, well, may they nest in peace. One of the insin­uates of peace that does not seem to appear often in your book is that of amnesia, or the vol­untary for­get­fulness that comes from amnesty, as one of the insin­uates of peace­making: for­getting the past, the foreign country where they (who are they, we don’t know) do things dif­fer­ently there, as Hartley wrote. Now, amnesty, and memory, and juridical memory alto­gether, seems to me to be a crucial insinuate. This is not a cri­tique, it is a way to thing with you. Amnesty is a pact, and as saint Isidore said, peace comes from pact, from “making peace”, which is one of the forms in which peace is insti­tu­tion­alized –you have to make it in your image and likeness, with your own par­a­sites and insinuates.

There is a moment, with Grotius, and with Hobbes, and with everybody writing after what some con­tem­po­raries called the invention of America –using the rhetorical word inventio, to find out– to discuss this legal-political char­acter of peace. Peace is a political issue because it is a legal issue, because in inter­na­tional law there are no longer war oper­a­tions –they are all peace oper­a­tions. You help me thinking with you, you give me the the­o­retical and semantic strength to look for other insidious insin­uates that pervade this con­stel­la­tional tra­dition in Arabic, Greek, Latin, and other lan­guages, in which the dis­course of war for peace has become one of the centers of attention.

Before, I said –and I was kind of a smart-ass saying it, please forgive me for that—that your ten thinkers are all men. But I thank you for helping me think through some other thinkers that did not make it to your book, including Christine de Pizan and her Livre de paix, written in the midst of civil wars, and how she ana­lyzes the ways of peace, that is, how she develops the par­a­sitic char­acter of peace and what are her insin­uates. I need to work on that.

I want to thank you for this. And this is my farewell for today. I would have liked to talk about how you wrote your book, about your own style. I would have liked to talk about how you redefine aes­thetics. I would have liked to talk about the central impor­tance of the “minor key” inter­ludes, which, in fact are pieces of intense lyricism, that is, the­o­retical impor­tance, actual sem­inars for new con­cepts. I would have liked to talk about all ten authors, and about our­selves. But, most of all, I wanted to cel­e­brate this book with you.



PS: You did not sign my copy of the book! [Update: he did sign it]