Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

There’s No Place Like CounterPunch

There's no place like CounterPunch, it's just that simple. And as the radical space within the "alternative media"(whatever that means) landscape continues to shrink, sanctuaries such as CounterPunch become all the more crucial for our political, intellectual, and moral survival. Add to that the fact that CounterPunch won't inundate you with ads and corporate propaganda. So it should be clear why CounterPunch needs your support: so it can keep doing what it's been doing for nearly 25 years. As CP Editor, Jeffrey St. Clair, succinctly explained, "We lure you in, and then punch you in the kidneys." Pleasant and true though that may be, the hard-working CP staff is more than just a few grunts greasing the gears of the status quo.

So come on, be a pal, make a tax deductible donation to CounterPunch today to support our annual fund drive, if you have already donated we thank you! If you haven't, do it because you want to. Do it because you know what CounterPunch is worth. Do it because CounterPunch needs you. Every dollar is tax-deductible. (PayPal accepted)

Thank you,
Eric Draitser

What is to be Gained by Calling It “Terror”?


Politicians know better than most that words function politically. More than offering some definitive truth to a situation, the use of language conditions what is further possible. The decision therefore to label the horrifying spectacle of violence witnessed on the streets of Woolwich in South London yesterday as a “terror attack” will have consequences. But what is actually to be gained from labelling it in such a way instead of a criminal act, politically motivated violence or just pathological derangement?

Let’s be clear from the outset, the murder of the British soldier was appalling and should be condemned. Whatever the political grievance, there is no justification whatsoever for the attempt to severe the head of a person in broad daylight. Such violence is undoubtedly beyond comprehension to many of us in the Western World. Unfortunately that cannot be said for some places where our military continues to have a lasting presence.

Before all the facts were established, politicians and media alike were quick to declare that the violence “looked like terror”. This justification was made on two counts. Firstly, it was presumed that the target for the violence was a military personal. The second, more compelling at the time, was the footage of an assailant who stated without remorse for the action: “We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you. The only reasons we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day. This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. We must fight them”.

Further adding as if to claim that the burden of history left him with no option: “I apologise that women had to witness this today, but in our land our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government. They don’t care about you.”

The British Home Secretary, Theresa May, immediately responded by declaring that the vicious assault on the soldier was more than an individual crime but an “attack against all of us”. This justification however raises a number of serious questions. Assuming that the violence was politically motivated does that necessarily imply that the attack was on the entire fabric of our society? And what does it mean to collapse the military with the civic so that no distinction can be established?

Not only has the role and function of our militaries been radically transformed beyond “defence” as they have been given the oxymoronic task of fighting for peace, under the auspices of the War on Terror many have been deeply uncomfortable with their interventions and the violence this created. Violence, it must be added, many even in the policy world believe to be the source of the today’s fundamentalism. Moreover, if we are to use the words of the assailant as justification for political motive, should we not take these more seriously and open them up to rigorous scrutiny?

Like the violence witnessed at the Boston Marathon last month, it is evident that this spectacle of violence was markedly different from the horrors of 9/11 and 7/7. No longer purposefully aiming for “mass casualty” shock appeal, the numbers of victims are much less in number. That does not demean the nature of the tragedy. It does however raise the question as to why these localised acts of violence can still be presented as part of a continuum of threat that endangers global security?

Michael Clarke, the director of United Kingdom’s less than impartial think tank the Royal United Services Institute, speaking on the BBC called the perpetrators of the attack “Homicidal exhibitionists”. They represent a handful of individuals – possible lone – who crave the media spot-light and shock through the celebratory nature of violence as a public spectacle. This may well be true, but the question remains why do these particular acts shock us while the comparable events in other parts of the world are barely considered? Indeed, why are we so fixated in the contemporary period on these types of “media-events” instead of the continual violence many suffer on a daily basis which just so happens to occur outside of the spotlight?

Such events continue to be presented to us as random. This is not incidental. Random events strike without warning. They offer in other words no credible foresight. Some even reason that we need to accept their inevitability. Surely, however, if we accept that the violence is political then there is nothing random whatsoever about it occurrence? Political violence is always a process. It always has a history. Its spectacle as such cannot be divorced from the violence which precedes it. Neither can a solution be found unless it faces up to the altogether more difficult political task.

Perhaps one of the more disturbing aspects of the violence was the manner in which the video of the assailant went viral. This should not escape our attentions. Our culture is fascinated by spectacles of violence. From Hollywood movies, video games, to nightly dramas, violence seems to grab our attention more than any other performance. Maybe this alone demands more in depth scrutiny and more ethical consideration?

We must remember that “Terror” by definition is morally and politically loaded. Far from offering to us an objective assessment, it immediately invokes ideas of barbarity and evil, even though the act of violence is deemed to be pre-mediated, rationally calculated, and politically motivated. What is more, neatly setting apart bad guys from good guy, it rightly de-legitimates some forms of violence, yet morally authors others as necessary for the protection of the core values of societies.

Its peculiarity however is that while terror is a political term, once applied it consciously prevents serious politically discussion. Terror offers no compromise. There is nothing to be negotiated. There is no credible politics to be spoken of. More than failing to even entertain that the term may be brought into critical doubt, what remains is a framing of the violence in such a way that militarism reigns supreme. Terror in other-words sanctions the need to meet violence with a violent response.

It is no doubt disturbing to see this type of violence come to our cities streets. It is also deeply unsettling to witness the assailants remaining at the scene and continuing to calmly walk about and justify their actions to a filming public as if the violence was normal. For violence to have any shock value it must appear somehow exceptional. And yet to understand it fully we need to take seriously the claim that its exceptional qualities are wholly dependent upon highly contingent factors. Not least which side of the political divide we just so happen to have simply been born into.

We may remain shocked, angry and outraged by the violence witnessed on our screens. This is an understandable human response. Too often we forget that emotions matter. There is nothing however to be gained by labelling it a “terror attack” other than to perpetuate a climate of fear that fuels hatred and extremist positions on all sides. Dealing instead with it as either a localised form of criminality that should not be dignified with a political response or a politically motivated attack outside of the Terror frame may just allow us to break this tragic cycle of violence.

Brad Evans is director of Histories of Violence, Global Insecurities Centre, School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies (SPAIS) at University of Bristol.


More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians