Terrorism, Inc, or the Family of Fundamentalisms  

  Vol II : issue 5

  Pete Seeger
  S.K. Singh
  Vladislava Gordic
  N.S. Madhavan
Nida Fazli
  Vinay Lal
  Only in Print

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Vinay Lal

Among the most arresting of the tidbits that emerged in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon was the news that George W. Bush had abandoned the capital. His entire deportment marred by an offensive smirk, the vocabulary of a high school student and painfully evident difficulties in thinking beyond the limited briefings devised for him by his equally mediocre advisers, the present occupant of the White House has never cut a very dignified figure, but the visceral impression of the President of the United States cowering in his bunker in an undisclosed location must have struck the US government as one that cried for immediate elimination. Who could have thought that the lines which Auden appears to have scripted for Osama bin Laden — "In a lonely field the rain / Lashes an abandoned train; / Outlaws fill the mountain caves" (‘The Fall of Rome’) — would serve as an apt description for an outlaw president gone into hiding? The similarities between bin Laden and Bush merely begin here: both are scions of wealthy families, and both are enchanted by guns and military solutions. The CIA, in the figure of Papa Bush, is the symbiotic link between the two.

Bush diverted his energies after the events of September 11 towards the creation of an ‘International Coalition against Terror’, but this is much ado about nothing: all too often the US has declared that it will act unilaterally when it must, and much like the coalition of a decade ago, when Saddam Hussein was the villain of the piece, the present coalition means little more than the partnership of the US and its dependent mother, Great Britain, with various errant vassals and truant children cajoled, bribed and threatened into cooperation. The official narrative has also conjured an ‘International Coalition for Terror’, more popularly known as the ‘Al-Qaeda network’: this is a coalition of Muslim fanatics, though occasionally it is feared that the network may successfully appeal to that worldwide coalition of Muslims known as the ummah. Yet, at other moments, it appears that just as the singularity of the US as the sole superpower and preeminent rogue state cannot be denied, so — notwithstanding all claims about the ‘network’ — the US would be only too pleased if its efforts yielded only bin Laden, "dead or alive". Bush and bin Laden have much more in common: "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists", intoned the President — an assessment shared by bin Laden, whose taped message to the world states candidly: "These events have divided the whole world into two sides", the "side of believers and the side of infidels." If anything, bin Laden’s parochialism is slightly less offensive: whereas Bush concludes his addresses to the nation with "God bless America", as though God should care about nation-states or has earmarked America as especially deserving of His approbation, bin Laden is content to observe, "God is great, may pride be with Islam." The fundamentalism of fanatical conviction knows no boundaries; rogues do understand each other. The world is caught between two long arms of extreme parochialism.

Mixed media by SUNIL PADWAL

Many frameworks and points of reference have been brought into service to characterise the events of September 11. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the media recalled the treachery of the Japanese at Pearl Harbour (1941); other commentators, endowed with a longer historical memory, noted that mayhem on this scale on the American mainland was last witnessed during the Civil War (1861-1865); and indeed, one may have to go further back, to the sacking of Washington in 1812 by Britain, now America’s most "trusted friend", to discover a moment when the US may have been humbled by the unpleasant experience of vulnerability at the hands of a foreign agent. America’s discovery that it is no longer inviolable, and that it may be susceptible to the very suffering that it has so cavalierly visited upon others, is frequently mentioned as one of the most chastening aspects of the September 11 events. The idea of Fortress America turned overnight into an anachronism, the Hollywood fantasies transmogrified into the real. Yet others suggest that this quest for precedents is nearly fruitless: the enemy is now "invisible", dispersed, nomadic and insofar as the US has targeted the Taliban government of Afghanistan as the chief sponsor of the Al-Qaeda network, it is slipping into the well-worn groove of thought that requires a state entity for an enemy. Bush has on nearly every formal occasion since September 11 spoken of a "new" kind of war, an "unconventional" war, though the clear implication that savage terrorists refuse to subscribe to civilised standards for warfare is really the more interesting subtext of his pronouncements. No American official doubts that they alone know what constitutes the "right" kind of warfare. Guerrilla warfare-type military engagement is frequently mentioned by commentators, and Vietnam is often invoked; but this comparison is scarcely apt, since the terrorists lacked the advantage of fighting on their own turf and ferried themselves to their destinations on little else but rational cost-calculus and steely determination. Perhaps military strategists at the Pentagon would be well advised to shelve their Clausewitz and embrace the nomadic and rhizomatic tropology of Deleuze and Guattari if they wish to bring the hydra-headed monster of terrorism within their ambit.

The tropos of war extends beyond to the culture of war, to the "war on drugs" and even "the clash of civilisations". America needs war to lift it out of both collective depression and the vacuum of manifest destiny. War is the reigning metaphor of American experience, it dominates the idioms of speech and conduct: in the last decade alone, the airwaves have been full of the "war on cancer", the "war on crime", the "war on drugs". The largest hoaxes are bathed in the language of war: thus all types of crime have declined, but with 2 million Americans in jail, the country has the largest prison population in the world. If Palestinians could be locked away, doubtless Israel would be entitled to declare success in its war on the aspirations of a people. The trillions of dollars expended in the "war on cancer" have yielded almost nothing by way of a cure, but cancer research is a sacrosanct cause which no one dare criticise and it is one of the largest profit-making enterprises in American medicine. No modern power has so consistently been at war with such a wide range of political regimes; no other culture has so elaborate a mythology of guns, so profound an affection for the right to own guns, so immense a laxity in gun ownership laws and such a gun-ridden political climate that presidents openly declare their membership in the National Rifle Association. Americans are by no means unique in experiencing the adrenaline of warfare, but their celebration of it has a distinct tinge, uncontaminated as it has been by the possibility of war striking home. World War I, to which the United States was a strategically late entrant, lifted the country to the ranks of the great powers; World War II elevated it to the status of the supreme power. Despite all the sound and fury over the expense of the Gulf War, it was an immense boost to the American economy, and to that very large segment of it which trades in arms, ammunition, warplanes and all the paraphernalia of modern warfare. Imports of American armament by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which were already among the most generous of clients, doubled in the aftermath of Desert Storm. Politicians and the much-feted "American public", whose "compassion" and "values" are tirelessly trotted out at every turn, recognise that war is good for America. That, alone, raises the most terrifying prospects for the future of humankind.

It may be that the "war on terrorism", predicated on the prior framing of the terrorist attacks as a "war", will be modelled on the &