COMMENT: (Internet) Tubes, or Strands Braided into a Rope That Binds?

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.


A few days ago I finished reading a work entitled Pax Technica: How the Internet of Things May Set Us Free or Lock Us Up (2015).

According to the entry on Wikipedia, the author Philip N. Howard is a sociologist and communication researcher who studies the impact of information technologies on democracy and social inequality. Howard assumed a professorship in Internet Studies at the University of Oxford’s Oxford Internet Institute on 1 July 2016.

In a brief description given on the website for the project, pax technica refers to what Howard sees as:

a future of global stability built upon device networks with immense potential for empowering citizens, making government transparent, and broadening information access.

I plan to write a detailed decolonial / counter-racist analysis and critique of this work in due course, drawing attention to what I perceive as

  1. the author’s framing of his argument against a tacit backdrop of ostensibly colour-blind (un-raced, race-less, de-raced etc.) liberal political commitments – what critical race philosopher Charles W. Mills refers to as the ‘ideal (social) contract’ masking the ‘racial contract’ associated with Racial Liberalism, and
  2. the mobilization of Orientalist logics in constructing a binary of ‘open and democratic’ vs. ‘closed and authoritarian’ societies, the latter of which is exemplified continuously by China (but also Iran, Turkey, Russia etc). (In this connection, I should like to refer interested readers to the following essay: Sayyid, S. (2005) Mirror, mirror: Western democrats, oriental despots? Ethnicities 5(1): 30-50.)

Howard contrasts the internet of the pax technica with China’s attempt to create its own rival, alternative internet and extend it to other parts of the world, rhetorically suggesting that the internet of the pax technica is somehow a poly-centric / non-centric / de-centred global technological force for good insofar as it is open and democratic (sic) in contrast to the provincial, closed and authoritarian internet being created by the Chinese. Yet what is completely missing – or rather, elided (obscured, concealed etc.) – from his argument is the fact that the internet of the pax technica is, in fact, highly centric, i.e. it is structured in terms of a core and periphery; moreover, this centrism is specific, viz. Eurocentric / West-centric.

What is further elided is that the internet historically-emerged in the US in the context of the Cold War as a project of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the military. While conceding that the historical origin of a thing does not necessarily determine what that thing might become, I want to suggest that we should not fall into the trap of ‘liquidating the historical’, and that at least in the case of the internet, its origins in Western military concerns is embedded through historically-sedimentation. One only needs to ask Who Controls The Internet? to gain some clarity on this point. For this reason, and notwithstanding decolonial (as contrasted with white / Western liberal) concerns about freedom, autonomy, censorship, surveillance, equality etc., I think it is interesting to consider China’s attempt to create a rival internet as a resistant intervention against US / Euro-American hegemony in the terrain of network technologies; in short a veritable ‘clash of (internet) civilizations’.

However, more on this in due course, God-Willing (insha’Allah).

For now, I want to turn attention to another work that I have just started reading:

Tubes - Andrew Blum I was particularly struck by the following extracts which appear on pages 6-9 in the Prologue which I reproduce here (with emphases added):

Thinking of the Internet as a physical thing has fallen so far out of fashion that we’re more likely to view it as an extension of our own minds than a machine. (p.6)

We seem to have exchanged thousands of years of mental cartography, a collective ordering of the earth going back to Homer, for a smooth, placeless world. The network’s physical reality is less than real—it’s irrelevant … [T]he Internet is a landscape of the mind. (p.7)

The Internet may seem to be everywhere—and in many ways it is—but it is also very clearly in some places more than others. The single whole is an illusion. The Internet has crossroads and superhighways, large monuments and quiet chapels. Our everyday experience of the Internet obscures that geography, flattening it and speeding it up beyond any recognition.  (p.8)

The Internet has a seemingly infinite number of edges, but a shockingly small number of centers. (p.9)

For all the breathless talk of the supreme placelessness of our new digital age, when you pull back the curtain, the networks of the Internet are as fixed in real, physical places as any railroad or telephone system ever was. (p.9)

I’m extremely interested to explore the physicality (materiality, corporeality, embodiment etc.) of the internet – and the internet of things (IoT) – from a decolonial perspective in terms of geo-politics (where) and body-politics (who) of knowing and being. I then want to explore such materiality of internet connections – or ‘tubes’ – in terms of how such connections might be used to maintain, expand and refine global systemic White Supremacy (Racism) under late colonial modernity, thereby binding ‘the Other’ (the non-West, the Rest etc.) into a technological dependency complex.

In the meantime, I invite interested viewers to watch the following short video which graphically illustrates the where of the internet:

I should also like to draw viewers’ attentions to the following talks by Blum:



Islamic Counter-Racist Thought Food #56

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

Consider this:

The history of racial capitalism .. is a history of wages as well as whips, of factories as well as plantations, of whiteness as well as blackness, of “freedom” as well as slavery.

Extract taken from “To Remake the World: Slavery, Racial Capitalism, and Justice” by Walter Johnson.


LINK: Critiques of Recalling The Caliphate

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

Those interested in the work of Critical Muslim Studies theorist and rhetorician, Salman Sayyid, might want to check out the following critiques of his recent book, Recalling The Caliphate: Decolonization and World Order (2014), all of which problematize Sayyid’s reliance on the conception of ‘the political’ due to German philosopher, jurist and political theorist, Carl Schmitt:

[1] Can We Bring the Caliphate Down to Earth before the Recall? by Selim Karlitekin

According to Karlitekin:

If Turkey exemplifies Sayyid’s Islamic rule, the step before the Islamicate, then we have a huge problem. Sayyid’s practicing decolonialists are nothing but opportunists who are collaborators in a veritably corrupt interest group. Like Ahmadinejad, who drained the oil revenues for years to come while enriching his partners, the Erdogan government transformed armchair Islamists I knew personally into bureaucrats of a repressive and conservative hegemony and is using state power to relocate wealth in the hands of its loyals. The grass is always greener on the other side, and Turkey enthralls with its spectacle of power. ‘Islam’ is far from the sacred that uproots: it is the order-word of the day.

I do not have answers myself, but as a historian working on the Khilafat movement in India, I see a missed opportunity, a road not taken, for people were spellbound by Islam as an order-word. People who called themselves Bolshevik Muslims, from Sultan Galiyev to Obeidullah Sindhi, imagined a new Islamic politics that does not bow to Sultans, zamindars, the elite, the ulema, or mollahs but converged with the proletariat, the poor, and the subaltern. Muslim suffering was and is a fact, but ‘hegemonic projects’, I argue, can only end up proliferating/displacing suffering. Muslim nationalism and Soviet authoritarianism then smothered back this communism of dissensus, but a politics of the weak without a proper name is still our best chance.

In a response to a comment on his post, Karlitekin maintains that:

[Sayyid’s] obsession for ‘hegemonic projects’, tallying with a nefarious Schmitt, I find as a Muslim, is non-Islamic, is a replication of the colonial nature of modern policing as Ranciere would argue … The great fallacy in Sayyid’s book for me is the way in which the mode of politics is taken to be given. It is the nature of politics to be hegemonic, to be based on friend/enemy distinction for him.

[2] The World and Deracination by Anthony Paul Smith

According to Smith, “Sayyid claims that the Islamic venture is ‘not dissimilar’ to the Western enterprise of crafting a common humanity (p.23). Such a humancrafting is part and parcel of a political project, for which Sayyid largely accepts Schmitt’s definition, and so this humancraft takes place via divisions of friend and enemy, of killable and not, of enslaveable and human.” On this basis, he concludes that “[Sayyid’s] deploying of a decisional apparatus … is (Occidentally) philosophical through and through.”

Smith goes on to state that:

To proclaim that there is an ontological Islam is to place Islam [at] the level of Being, making politics a question of Being itself. This strikes me, as one who does not rightly pass as a Muslim, as a strangely Western and colonized aspect of Sayyid’s argument. For there are resources in kalam for thinking existence without Being but not without Oneness.

Indeed. Yet there are Islamic(ate) resources beyond kalam – specifically, those of Akbarian barzakhian hermeneutics and anthropo-cosmology / theosophy – which might be preferable in order to think / read Islam existentially rather than attempting this via recourse to Schmitt, Heidegger and Wittgenstein (ala Sayyid).

Smith maintains that:

Part and parcel of the West’s technophilia is the reduction of human beings to things, to resources that are able to produce wealth for others and who may be absolutely alienated and even made socially dead. I am speaking of course of slavery and the anti-black racist paradigm that ideologically structured this practice of humancraft. While Sayyid declares the caliphate as a means to disrupt the world he also calls for the caliphate to perform the redemption of the umma by rooting it in the world (218). We might ask what this world is. Frank B. Wilderson and others have argued that the world (the “white world” as Fanon called it) is structured by anti-blackness, that the political world of whiteness is built upon the inclusive exclusion of black subjects by marking them as not-human (it is worth pointing out that Sayyid largely avoids the question of race, which in a book on decolonialism strikes me as strange, but we find a single reference to whiteness on page 114). We might ask if either ontic or ontological Islam is truly free of the anti-blackness that structures that world if it is driven by the same politico-ontological vision of the world as the West. Historically the answer to this is fraught, since the African slave trade was begun by Arabs and within an Islamicate normative context. While it is undeniable that the Christian West ultimately forges the anti-black world and does so through specifically Christian means, there is an anti-blackness running through Islam akin to that Christian anti-blackness.

I consider this ‘Afro-Pessimist’ criticism to be broadly well-founded and consistent with Syed Mustafa Ali’s critique of Sayyid’s position on Islamicate imperialism (sic) and slavery as outlined in Seminar 2 of his Granada Short Course “Towards an Islamic Decoloniality” (see, in particular, Seminar 2, slides 82-86 and 87-90).

[3] Rethinking the concept of the political by Nadia Sariahmed

Sariahmed maintains that “[the] conception of the political implicit in Sayyid’s text is often overshadowed by his attachment to Schmitt’s concept of the political, which hinges on the distinction between the friend and the enemy … [However,] it is a mistake, I think, to take the Schmittian friend-enemy distinction as an essential feature of the political rather than a distinctly modern phenomenon.” Furthermore, she states that:

to conceive of political conflict in [the Schmittian] terms of an existential struggle between friends and enemies necessarily produces a comportment of no-holds-barred warfare in which anything can be justified as ‘necessary’ given the existential threat posed by the enemy. In pushing against the Schmittian concept of the political I do not argue for a rejection of the political. On the contrary, I mean to ‘denaturalize’ Schmittian politics and insist upon the dramatic innovation that Schmitt signals in the concept of the political in the modern world. Certainly, if we take the example of the Prophet (pbuh) or of the caliphs or sultans who engaged in jihad campaigns for centuries, we can observe that these wars were fought under very specific rules of conduct meant to restrain violence. These were of course violent conflicts, and enemies were dealt with violently, but the level of violence was qualitatively and quantitatively different from the violence that has characterized Schmittian existential wars in the modern world.

Social transformations took place through social networks and gradually over time. Certainly there was public contestation and at times antagonistic struggle, but not any struggle with the intensity associated with Schmitt’s concept of the political. The hegemonic project of Islam was not one of rupture and violence but rather of gradual transformation. I do not mean to wax nostalgic by pointing to these past events, or suggest that we must seek to return to the way things were. Rather, in pointing out that things were not always the way we observe them to be now, we can historicize and denaturalize Schmitt’s concept of the political [emphases added].


LINK: Towards a Black Muslim Ontology of Resistance

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.


Check this out:

Towards a Black Muslim Ontology of Resistance by Muna Mire

By way of contemporary context, consider also the following piece:

The Colour of Muslim Mourning by Khaled A Beydoun and Margari Hill


Islamic Counter-Racist Thought Food #23

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

Consider the following:

There is a struggle to maintain one’s sanity in a context in which your consciousness is at war with the given. There’s nothing that’s simple or taken for granted. (Page 196)

Extract taken from “The Position of The Unthought: An Interview with Saidiya V. Hartman Conducted by Frank B. Wilderson, III.” Qui Parle, Vol. 13, No. 2 Spring/Summer 2003, pp.183-201.