Monday, September 20, 2004

On fundamentalism and virtual terror

Jean points to Melissa Gregg's recent paper Where is the law in 'unlawful combatant'? (doc).

She begins by conjuring the now familiar music that inspires US soldiers in Iraq - and appalls people at home - then suggests that she worries much more about those inspired by religion. I've excerpted a big chunk below, but the whole paper is well worth a read.

"Why am I worried? Because in their patriotism, the singer-soldiers caught by Gittoes' camera see a religious act. When someone's saying 'God is on our side' they're no longer talking about the nation-based context for which, whatever the rules of war might be, such rules are relevant. They're talking about a Holy War. It has different rules. And how to hold them to any actual legal account is the problematic I want to address here...

The more a cause and effect explanation for terrorism is avoided, the more abstract it becomes and the more virtual any reaction to it can also become. A literally senseless cycle develops where any potential threat to the State can be co-opted into the same abstract battle. Right now, as leaders clamour to describe their contrasting regional concerns within the vote-pulling vocabulary of terrorism (the only vocabulary that George W. Bush appears to have mastered), we lose sight of the fact that 'International terror is not an "ism". It is a criminal tactic of publicity seeking for a cause, one to which the West seems astonishingly vulnerable'. The terror tag is so attractive for political leaders because it evacuates the possibility that an identifiable grievance might underwrite individual acts of dissonance. Yet it also works well in the political schema Agamben outlines, where Western leaders are forced to maintain a constant State of Emergency, for this is their sole remaining purpose and claim to legitimacy. Or as Simon Jenkins writes in The Times: 'Just when the West has conquered communism, it craves a new and potent enemy. It almost takes comfort in the car bomber'.

The War on Terror is successful because it has found a way to define a politics of the multitude—albeit a particularly vicious and gruesome one—in terms that sustain the State. It's not in terrorists' interests to have their causes lumped in to one blanket category. Those given the label are denied specific recognition as radicals supporting an actual cause, no matter how vague the cause may be. The word terrorism now has a consequence all of its own, without reference to any actual event or political tactic. And as long as this hegemonic articulation continues, as the song goes, we remain condemned to sing along to the 'United States of Whatever'...

In this paper I've tried to suggest a different site for political investment than the innate radicality of a virtual politics. While I remain open to the idea that our best hope may include the forms of mobilisation advocated in recent Italian thought, I also remain wary of the Right's current success in this same terrain. Our current political categories and concepts struggle to cope with the religious conviction underpinning justifications for the War on Terror."

And for background:

Steven Shaviro on Hardt & Negri's Multitude

Antonio Gramsci

Giorgio Agamben

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