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

January 24, 2017
Anthony DiMaggio
Reflections on DC: Promises and Pitfalls in the Anti-Trump Uprising
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Developer Welfare: Trump’s Infrastructure Plan
Melvin Goodman
Trump at the CIA: the Orwellian World of Alternative Facts
Sam Mitrani – Chad Pearson
A Short History of Liberal Myths and Anti-Labor Politics
Kristine Mattis
Democracy is Not a Team Sport
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Mexico, Neo-Nationalism and the Capitalist World-System
Ted Rall
The Women’s March Was a Dismal Failure and a Hopeful Sign
Norman Pollack
Woman’s March: Halt at the Water’s Edge
Pepe Escobar
Will Trump Hop on an American Silk Road?
Franklin Lamb
Trump’s “Syria “Minus Iran” Overture to Putin and Assad May Restore Washington-Damascus Relations
Kenneth R. Culton
Violence By Any Other Name
David Swanson
Why Impeach Donald Trump
Christopher Brauchli
Trump’s Contempt
January 23, 2017
John Wight
Trump’s Inauguration: Hail Caesar!
Mark Schuller
So What am I Doing Here? Reflections on the Inauguration Day Protests
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Trump and Isis Have More in Common Than You Might Think
Binoy Kampmark
Ignored Ironies: Women, Protest and Donald Trump
Gregory Barrett
Flag, Cap and Screen: Hollywood’s Propaganda Machine
Gareth Porter
US Intervention in Syria? Not Under Trump
L. Ali Khan
Trump’s Holy War against Islam
Gary Leupp
An Al-Qaeda Attack in Mali:  Just Another Ripple of the Endless, Bogus “War on Terror”
Norman Pollack
America: Banana Republic? Far Worse
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
We Mourn, But We March!
Kim Nicolini
Trump Dump: One Woman March and Personal Shit as Political
William Hawes
We Are on Our Own Now
Martin Billheimer
Last Tango in Moscow
Colin Todhunter
Development and India: Why GM Mustard Really Matters
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s America—and Ours
David Mattson
Fog of Science II: Apples, Oranges and Grizzly Bear Numbers
Clancy Sigal
Who’s Up for This Long War?
Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail