FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Enemy Within

by SUREN PILLAY

The recent wave of bombings in London has shifted the jaded attention of the world’s media on the ‘war on terror’ in Iraq to Europe. And of course the immediate suspects responsible for the bombing are thought to be Al ­Qaeda, either directly or indirectly.

It soon emerged of course, that those responsible were young British born men, from Leeds, who were Muslim. It was then a matter of uncovering which external enemy had manipulated these innocent young men into becoming suicide bombers. It is indeed a tragic affair, in this sordid mess that has followed the so-called war on terror, the latest tragedy being the massive loss of life in the Egyptian coastal town, Sharm-al Sheikh

That these young men were from London has been presented as an even greater shock, since they were ‘one of us’. One of us should know better than to communicate a political grievance through mass killings. One of us- rather than one of them- should know better than to blow up people on trains and on busses. If one of us does something like this, then it must be due to external influences. We are born civilized, but become uncivil. They are born uncivil and can be expected to behave in that manner. This seems to be the general sentiment. Or perhaps I am reading too much into it. Perhaps it is the more benign but acceptable sentiment that since they were born into the political community known as England, that they would share enough of a fraternal sensibility with their fellow citizens, and therefore feel and identify sufficiently with them to not want to cause their fellow citizens harm. After all, as Jean-Jacques Rousseau optimistically thought, what made us unique as humans was that we felt ‘pity’ for those who shared our species identity, and we therefore would not enjoy seeing one of ‘us’ in pain.

The explanations for the actions of these young men are complex. And they cannot be reduced to a single causal explanation, like religion, class, masculinity, or history. But they certainly are shaped by, and the product of all of these factors. The most inadequate and short sighted approach, but unfortunately the one that seems to be enjoying the most currency, is to explain these actions through the religious identity of the perpetrators. Whilst their religious identity might frame their logic, their actions cannot be reduced to it automatically, since that would mean that everyone who shared that religious identity would be going about doing the same thing, as the Ugandan scholar Mahmood Mamdani has pointed out in a new book on the roots of terrorism in the world today. What concerns me most in the shock about them being British is the question that is not being asked publicly when responsibility is taken for the actions of these young men. If you recall, responsibility it is said, lies with their religion, with certain Imams, or bearded foreigners who arrive and depart mysteriously. But the compelling question must surely be why was it, that these young men, born in Britain, did not feel the supposed fraternal relations of compassion for their fellow nationals? This is surely a question that needs exploring too? To ask this question however is to distribute the ethical burden of the actions of these men more widely, to people and institutions who seem to want to be entirely the victim in this story while not wanting to acknowledge any role whatsoever in creating the conditions for the kinds of tragic actions unfolding as we speak in England and Iraq today

The individual biographies of these young men are important, and so too are the very local chronicles of their communities in Leeds, in Birmingham, in Bradford. Experiences so sensitively recounted by British authors like Hanief Kureishi, in the 1997 film My Son the Fanatic, for example. But it also the tale of other places in Europe and the United States, where seemingly well intentioned, well mannered, compassionate young men have gone off to fight wars in distant lands.

Why is it that they do not conform to the conventional story of modern nationalism? Why is it that they chose not to give their life to the country of their birth, but chose to give it against the country of their birth? Why has the story of modern nationalism – the story of hundreds of thousands of young men and women who have spilt their blood in the name of patriotism in two world wars and many smaller ones- failed so dismally here?

The violence of these young men must, I am suggesting, not only be understood through religion and culture, or through the politics of the Middle East, but also in terms of the political history of their citizenship in Europe- the experience of generations of young people who have witnessed the humiliation of their parents who went to England, to seek a better life or to flee a war, as economic migrants or as political refugees.

The story of many immigrant communities who have never been made to feel completely welcome, since, as British-Caribbean sociologist Paul Gilroy was to succinctly put it: ‘there ain’t no black in the Union Jack’. Modern European liberal democracy, which prides itself on tolerance, plurality and diversity, surely needs to account too for the intolerance that those of other skin colours, other faiths, and other geographies have experienced in places like France, Germany, and England which has made them, even after successive generations, so at odds with their new found homes as to not completely feel ‘at home’. The profoundly challenging question also raised by these events is therefore how to construct a political community which is substantively more tolerant of different ways of being in the world, that is open to truly cosmopolitan encounters with the Other, in which both sides are mutually transformed rather than requiring one side to assimilate in order to be truly acceptable as ‘European’, or ‘British’, or ‘French’. This should be amongst the long term answers to the present insecurity, rather than putting all hopes in greater policing, monitoring, and surveillance, because the failure here is a matter of politics not policing. And therefore the challenge is a political one, not a military one. And it is a political challenge to the modern liberal democratic state in particular, so long seen as a culturally neutral set of rights, against which all others’ ways of life are to be measured.

SUREN PILLAY, a lecturer in the Dept. of Political Studies at the University of the Western Cape, can be reached at: spillay@uwc.ac.za

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
May 26, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Swamp Politics, Trump Style: “Russiagate” Diverts From the Real White House Scandals
Paul Street
It’s Not Gonna Be Okay: the Nauseating Nothingness of Neoliberal Capitalist and Professional Class Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
The ICEmen Cometh
Ron Jacobs
The Deep State is the State
Pete Dolack
Why Pence Might be Even Worse Than Trump
Patrick Cockburn
We Know What Inspired the Manchester Attack, We Just Won’t Admit It
Thomas Powell
The Dirty Secret of the Korean War
Mark Ashwill
The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position
John Davis
Beyond Hope
Uri Avnery
The Visitation: Trump in Israel
Ralph Nader
The Left/Right Challenge to the Failed “War on Drugs”
Traci Yoder
Free Speech on Campus: a Critical Analysis
Dave Lindorff
Beware the Supporter Scorned: Upstate New York Trump Voters Hit Hard in President’s Proposed 2018 Budget
Daniel Read
“Sickening Cowardice”: Now More Than Ever, Britain’s Theresa May Must be Held to Account on the Plight of Yemen’s Children
Ana Portnoy
Before the Gates: Puerto Rico’s First Bankruptcy Trial
M. Reza Behnam
Rethinking Iran’s Terrorism Designation
Brian Cloughley
Ukraine and the NATO Military Alliance
Josh Hoxie
Pain as a Policy Choice
David Macaray
Stephen Hawking Needs to Keep His Mouth Shut
Ramzy Baroud
Fear as an Obstacle to Peace: Why Are Israelis So Afraid?
Kathleen Wallace
The Bilious Incongruity of Trump’s Toilet
Seth Sandronsky
Temping Now
Alan Barber – Dean Baker
Blue Collar Blues: Manufacturing Falls in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania in April
Jill Richardson
Saving America’s Great Places
Richard Lawless
Are Credit Rating Agencies America’s Secret Fifth Column?
Louis Proyect
Venezuela Reconsidered
Murray Dobbin
The NDP’s Singh and Ashton: Flash Versus Vision
Ron Leighton
Endarkenment: Postmodernism, Identity Politics, and the Attack on Free Speech
Anthony Papa
Drug War Victim: Oklahoma’s Larry Yarbrough to be Freed after 23 Years in Prison
Rev. John Dear
A Call to Mobilize the Nation Over the Next 18 Months
Yves Engler
Why Anti-Zionism and Anti-Jewish Prejudice Have to Do With Each Other
Ish Mishra
Political Underworld and Adventure Journalism
Binoy Kampmark
Roger Moore in Bondage
Rob Seimetz
Measuring Manhoods
Edward Curtin
Sorry, You’re Not Invited
Vern Loomis
Winning the Lottery is a State of Mind
Charles R. Larson
Review: Mary V. Dearborn’s “Ernest Hemingway”
David Yearsley
The Ethos of Mayfest
May 25, 2017
Jennifer Matsui
The Rise of the Alt-Center
Michael Hudson
Another Housing Bubble?
Robert Fisk
Trump Meets the New Leader of the Secular World, Pope Francis
John Laforge
Draft Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Unveiled
Benjamin Dangl
Trump’s Budget Expands War on the Backs of America’s Poor
Alice Donovan
US-Led Air Strikes Killed Record Number of Civilians in Syria
Andrew Moss
The Meaning of Trump’s Wall
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail