La Comunidad met in November of 2018 to honor Fernando Segovia to celebrate his academic integrity, scholarly innovation, and political interventions. In this context, the brave leaders of the organization, Loida Martell and Ahida Pilarski, invited wonderful speakers (and myself) to address a timely issue: the contributions that Fernando’s scholarship can make to elucidating “Fake News” in the U.S. in particular and, considering the deep diasporic horizon of our honoree, in the Caribbean, Latin America, and the globe. My co-panelists were without a doubt excellent choices for this panel. Both Jacqueline Hidalgo and Corinna Guerrero are wonderful Latinx scholars trained in Biblical studies. Furthermore, they are wonderful companions to Fernando since both of them have a solid background in a rather traditional area of scholarship and have explored beyond this training to innovate with the most cutting-edge tools enriching, in this way, both Biblical studies and Religious Studies as a whole. 
However, I was, one could say, an odd choice. I was happy and honored to participate but an odd choice nonetheless. Attendants of the meeting could wonder how a sociologist of knowledge trained in Jewish thought could do justice to the work of Fernando. Yet, my participation shows precisely how our honoree’s work reaches interlocutors well beyond what are considered his formal fields. This essay, which expands on my presentation last November, will not attempt to showcase Fernando’s contribution to Biblical scholarship. I have decided to spare my reader from reading such an amateurish piece. Instead I will explore how the work of Fernando has contributed, and can contribute, to elucidating the phenomenon of “Fake News” well beyond Biblical scholarship, Christianity, and even Latinx thought. This is not to say that his work is not a turning point in the above cited fields. What I am suggesting is that the significance of Fernando’s work can be seen beyond the realms of what Africana thought calls “disciplinary decadence.”
How, then, can Fernando’s work contribute to elucidating Fake News? While I have been reading Fernando’s work for years, I only had a chance to understand its impact when I assigned one of his texts to Muslim students in a summer course that I regularly teach in Spain. The title of this article was “And They Began to Speak in Other Tongues.” I imagine now that my Pentecostal Latinx readers are having a ball with this situation. A Jew assigns to Muslim students a text written by a scholar of Catholic background about speaking in tongues. I ask my readers then to enjoy their ball but also to keep reading for a little bit longer. It is useful to remember that Fernando’s innovative approaches to reading texts is a solid confrontation with what many of us understood as dead-ends of difficult writings. So the question is, what does Fernando mean when he alludes to “speaking in other tongues” in this article’s title?
In this text, Fernando explores paradigmatic shifts in Biblical interpretations across different scholarly models and generations. His interpretation, as has been the case for decades, intentionally shocks literalist and simplistic interpreters. For many of us, “speaking in tongues” evokes a group of chosen individuals who are infused by the divine spirit. This authority grants these individuals the power to lecture to the multitudes about revelation, evangelizing them from an allegedly gained authority. Fernando, however, reads Acts 2:4-5 carefully and interprets “speaking in other tongues” in a very different way. It is not, he argues “that the same group” of those chosen, “now [once in power] speaks in other tongues to the multitudes at large” and that they can claim divine authority. But, guided by liberationist and decolonial interpretations, he argues that it is “rather that the multitudes at large have begun to speak in other tongues, in their tongues.”
In Fernando’s interpretation of the text, the multitudes speak in their tongues. They speak back. They speak to authority. They challenge authority. The multitudes, if we practice a drash (a Jewish exegetical discursive method) of Fernando’s work, are not looking for the authority of universal truth. They do not appoint themselves evangelizers of a supreme authority. On the contrary, they form a different community. This is what the text will call this community a “diverse city of critics.” The multitudes who speak in tongues do not look for unicity and uniformity. Their speaking in plural tongues means, above anything else, diversity and the potentiality of critically confronting totalitarian discourses of authority when they take shape within the community. This confrontation with totalitarianism is precisely what resides at the core of the revolutionary potential of Latin American, Latinx, and Caribbean communities. Communities confront the totalitarianism of Eurocentric thought by speaking languages categorized as barbaric and destined to disappear. The city of barbaric critics, then, confronts the core of the modern project: the wound of coloniality.
The decolonial reading put forward by Fernando “speaks” to the core of the modern and hemispheric problem. It was only in relation to the totalitarian discourses of some trends of Christian thought that European discourses were able to portray themselves as the only possibility for speaking, behaving, acting, redeeming, civilizing, developing, or democratizing. The totalitarian evolutionism of Euro-Christianity and its heirs in the settler-colonies speak in unison in a single tongue posting themselves as owners of the redeemed truth, negating and invisibilizing other alternatives and restricting the access to a monochromatic (monocultural, monolinguistic) path they uphold as redeeming or liberationist. A path that, tragically, may have even influenced some revolutionary projects in Fernando’s homeland. In his work, the multitudes who speak in tongues take on a different function. They confront these unique paths by presenting possibilities (languages, cultures, histories) that have been negated, rejected, invisibilized because they were not functional to the totalitarian process (whether that process took the form of Christian redemption, neo-liberal development, liberal democracy, or even in some cases left-wing revolution). These communities were, first, categorized as barbarians, as a threat, by Eurocentric thought because of their refusal to cease to exist and their growth through their resistance to the blindness of totalitarianism. If evangelization of a single and universal truth requires the invisibilization of alternatives, then the plurality of tongues challenge totalitarianism favoring multiplicity. Multiplicity of languages, multiplicity of voices, of histories, multiplicity of narratives, and ultimately multiplicity of meanings.
Where can we then hear people speaking “in other tongues” outside a normative center of thought and even censorship? A priori the current media context indubitably exhibits features that Fernando’s interpretation had anticipated. Only a few years ago, media critics have been pointing out the uniformity of major media outlets (CNN, New York Times, Washington Post, etc.), claiming that they uncritically shone the spotlight on a limited number of issues and perspectives reproducing the basic tenets of Eurocentric capitalism without attempting to question its role. Since the media was owned by such a very small part of the population interested in reproducing the status quo, the habitual style of media (even when presented in nominally other languages and using strategies specific to the internet– CNN en Español, etc.) could be likened to the traditional interpretation of tongue-speaking: a minority of chosen ones arrogating to themselves the monopoly over objective transcendental truth and evangelizing the multitudes with cultural Eurocentrism, economical capitalism, and geopolitical neoliberalism.
Yet, at that time, other internet networks started to speak in other tongues. Communities lacking the large budgets of big corporations began to produce a multiplicity of media. The messages spoke in a variety of different languages about, among others, social justice, intersectional struggles, structural violence, and alternative conceptions of liberation and revolution. These communities seemed to gather multitudes that were speaking to power from different positionalities, challenging the status-quo, and producing upheavals at different levels. Such “barbaric” communities, it is important to point out, have been resisting from their own languages for centuries and have achieved major successes. Internet was offering them the possibility of speaking from non-privileged positions and this is why various governments of nation-states across the world, cognizant of the potentiality of these new alternatives, started to persecute leakers, censor the internet, intentionally order shutdowns, and challenge net neutrality. Movements such as the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, Standing Rock, or Black Lives Matter, just to name a few, were undoubtedly diverse. But they all use new media spaces to generate the possibility of doing what the text was teaching us all along: critical multitudes speaking in tongues to authority.
This pluricultural context created by the communities’ speaking in their tongues to authority confronted a real problem. We have learned that these platforms were also used in the context of the 2016 election by Islamophobic, racist, anti-Semitic, and misogynist groups in their efforts to challenge the status quo achieved in the marriage of neoliberal economics with liberal social values. The ensuing problems were multiple. First, alternative totalitarian forces invested resources to “troll” these networks. Second, the platforms were constructed in such a way that communities were kept segregated from each other; as a result of this, much of the early discussions did not typically appear in our social media feeds. Yet presenting themselves as an alternative to the “consensus of ‘liberal media’,” these groups found their messianic figure by confusing reality TV with their contextual reality. This enabled them to emerge as a power that provoked capable of conquering state power not only in the U.S.A. but also throughout the world from Europe to Latin America to South Asia. The discourse of these totalitarian forces became particularly powerful when they appropriated the typical narratives of marginalized communities and attacked the system by proclaiming representation of the “invisible working men and women,” portraying themselves as defenders against the “disintegration of culture,” and ultimately raising the demographical danger of “white genocide.” This multifaceted process that gave raise to “alternative facts” and eventually crossed accusations of “fake news” was quickly conflated with the emergence of a revolutionary form of contesting and these discourses ended up attempting to eliminate the same pluricultural voices that tragically may have enabled their development.
As a consequence, some have not only questioned the role of the emergence of pluricultural voices on the current scene, they also became nostalgic of the status quo that was, until very recently, insisting that only a few chosen ones could carry out the representation of objective history, thus making it totalitarian. The problem is that, a priori, the discourses of the alt-right and the new revolutionary movements seem to be proclaiming similar rhetorical moves: elevate to consciousness of the marginalized populations who were unable to make their voices heard because of a bureaucratic consensus that portrayed the marriage between economic neo-liberalism and social liberalism as the only alternative. This reading “fueled” by the old corporative guard cautions about hearing the peoples speaking in tongues because of the “radical” dangers they can allegedly bring about. Their proposal was nothing more, and nothing less, than a return to the long-standing totalitarian concentration of media power in established media, restoring Eurocentrism, capitalisms and racism… but with a human face.
The new Fascist confrontation with the established media calling it “Fake News”; it is clearly a political maneuver. Yet, it is equally problematic as the old guard’s response that lumps together very distinct projects that challenge their hegemony, categorizes them as “radical movements” and calls for an end to “all extremes”, leaving once again the marriage between neo-liberal economy and liberal politics as the only option. The existence of an apparent new enemy should not make us forget that up until a few years ago, the center of criticism was the concentration of power of the corporate media that now seems an ally. We should not become uncritical just because another, different danger has surfaced. This is especially true when the two dangers, Fascism and neoliberalism, may be two sides of the same coin. It was toward the end of the Second World War that Frankfurt School theorists proclaimed that “Fascism” and “Nazism” were nothing else than capitalism without a human face. These Jewish scholars, writing from the U.S.A. after fleeing Germany, explained that what unified the new stage with the last one was no more, and no less, than an attempt to standardize the world in a totalitarian regime in which everything belonged to a hierarchical structure that was reified and naturalized without contestation. Fascism, therefore, was corporate capitalism through other means.
If we read the current context under Fernando’s guidance we can recognize how current Trumpism and neoliberal Capitalism may overlap with one another more than with the new revolutionary movements. In both cases these are self-appointed evangelical movements that arrogate to themselves the ownership of truth and speak from their illumination to the masses. Both cases represent an attempt to organize society hierarchically under the pretense of a totalitarian framework. They both proclaim the existence of self-selection and offer a messianic mechanism that sets participants on a unique path toward ultimate redemption. The one, with a human face, seems to be worn down after decades of hypocrisy. The second, the extension without a human face, has dangerously taken control of state power. The one intends to assimilate and flatten difference in order to eradicate diversity. The latter rises when the former fails and works to eliminate difference altogether. Our confrontation is not with the particular mask or strategy the system is employing. It is with the totalitarian system that both of them represent.
Fernando’s text does, however, foresee an alternative. There is the possibility that communities can speak in other tongues without there being a need for them to assimilate or for difference to be eliminated. The system profiting from totalitarianism starts to crumble precisely when communities speak to power and insist on the need of existence of diverse languages, paths, cultures, and meanings. There is no need for the mask of a human face when there are humans speaking in a city of critics. There is no need to choose between abrasive and inclusive liberalism and genocidal, exclusive neo-Fascism when there is an alternative that does not proclaim itself as owning messianic truths. The possibility of multitudes speaking in other tongues counters the monopoly of power that we habitually naturalize in our system. This is precisely one of Fernando’s contributions to a decolonial horizon. The key is to recognize that the options with which the political presents us are two sides of the same coin because they are based on messianic discourses speaking to the people. It is only when we recognize that the ability of the same people to speak in tongues stemming from the expressions of the multiplicity of invisibilized communities of critics that we can create what the Zapatistas have been offering with their practice for over 500 years and which some of us have been learning to hear for the last quarter of century. Vamos a crear “un mundo donde quepan muchos mundos.” Let’s create a world where many worlds can fit.