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

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians to the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
Rivera Sun
Accountability: An Abandoned American Value
Philip Doe
Colorado: 300 Days of Sunshine Annually, Yet There’s No Sunny Side of the Street
Joseph White
Homage to EP Thompson
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
DNC Playing Dirty Tricks on WikiLeaks
Ron Jacobs
Education for Liberation
Jim Smith
Socialism Revived: In Spite of Bernie, Donald and Hillary
Robert Koehler
The Heart of Order
David Macaray
Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex
David Cortright
Alternatives to Military Intervention in Syria
Binoy Kampmark
The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act
Cesar Chelala
Guantánamo’s Quagmire
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
William Hughes
From Sam Spade to the Red Scare: Dashiell Hammett’s War Against Rightwing Creeps
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
August 25, 2016
Mike Whitney
The Broken Chessboard: Brzezinski Gives Up on Empire
Paul Cox – Stan Cox
The Louisiana Catastrophe Proves the Need for Universal, Single-Payer Disaster Insurance
John W. Whitehead
Another Brick in the Wall: Children of the American Police State
Lewis Evans
Genocide in Plain Sight: Shooting Bushmen From Helicopters in Botswana
Daniel Kovalik
Colombia: Peace in the Shadow of the Death Squads
Sam Husseini
How the Washington Post Sells the Politics of Fear
Ramzy Baroud
Punishing the Messenger: Israel’s War on NGOs Takes a Worrying Turn
Norman Pollack
Troglodyte Vs. Goebbelean Fascism: The 2016 Presidential Race
Simon Wood
Where are the Child Victims of the West?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail