FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Bin Laden Won the War on Terror

by

The idea for this article came to me after the shootings in San Bernadino; all it really required was another atrocity to give it legs. A dysfunctional part of me hoped I might get out of having to write it. If the War on Terror was ever meant to be won, by now it must be classed as a monumental failure for the West. Any conventional war that becomes bogged down in a protracted quagmire is generally regarded as a zero sum gain at best.

The roots of the War on Terror in moral panic narratives means that we rarely seem to even ask the question as to whether or not it’s actually getting us anywhere. If we don’t care that it isn’t, that begs the question as to the role War on Terror narratives play in public discourse, whether we care if our ideas mean anything or whether we just care about being right.

Between the rise of Islamic State, the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, the second round of Paris attacks, San Bernadino and now Belgium, all prominently displayed in the media because the perpetrators are not on our side and the victims are affluent westerners, it does not seem that terrorism is going away. On the contrary, it seems that it has made more and bolder incursions into the bubbles of apathetic individualism that dominate the safe and conspicuously comfortable existences of those of us safely removed from the consequences of the military adventures instigated by our national governments.

Indeed, the apathy seems almost to extend to each atrocity now, as the ritual outrage from political leaders who have new ideas on how to deal with the problem of non-state terrorism other than to beat their chests and lower themselves to the level of those provoking them precipitates a marked war-weariness. To be sure, Osama Bin Laden and his associates responsible for the original great Atrocity in the West a decade and a half ago achieved their primary goal of provoking the Great Satan into expensive, economically self-destructive wars.

Then there were the useful side effect of polarizing West and Middle East, driving moderates into the arms of fundamentalists on both sides of the fence and enabling radical fundamentalists in Congress, who for their part were more than willing to oblige their Islamic counterparts by dismantling remaining democratic forms in the name of defending them from the loyal opposition who had the same goals.

In this sense the War on Terror was never anything more than therapeutic psychodrama, one in which ‘the emotional release of the protagonists takes precedence over what is actually being said . . . It is an expression of their pain and powerlessness confronted by the decay and dereliction, not only of their familiar environment, but of their own lives too — an expression for which our society provides no outlet’ (Stuart Hall, Policing the Crisis).

Having been cast to this end as a War on Terror, the Western response to the terrorist attacks in the United States of 2001 has displayed characteristics that are far more accurately cast as moral panic. A number of key characteristics points inexorably towards this conclusion.

*The conflation in War on Terror narratives of object and relation, such that terrorism as a relational phenomenon in reality is reified into an object, one that can be demonized, targeted and attacked according to conventional means. The reification of terrorism from relation into object for this purpose also means that, rather than something that can be understood rationally, it functions instead as a propaganda trope — one that can never be defeated, but that nevertheless supplies virtually endless fuel to the fire of perpetual war.

*The reification of terrorism into an object that can be fought and defeated through conventional warfare as a subject of war propaganda necessitates application of the processes known to sociology as the ‘production of deviance’ and social psychology as ‘moral disengagement. In engaging in the production of deviance while giving way to moral disengagement, those responsible for creating War on Terror narratives rendered themselves cause and cure of the same problem, a paradox reflected in their tendency to perpetuate the feared outcomes of enemy success (eg. the destruction of what remains of civil society and democratic rights and freedoms) in the name of combating them.

*The systemic and deep-seated cognitive dissonance characteristic of War on Terror narratives between rhetoric and actions, as its proponents waged state terror utilizing literally the same methods and propaganda tropes that Adolf Hitler used to start World War II abroad, while dismantling what remained of democratic freedoms at home in the name of defending them from evildoers who hated freedom.

The events cast as a War on Terror, then, add up in the real world to a Terror Scare, a moral panic over terrorism. As a characteristic feature of this moral panic, therapeutic psychodrama expressed as War on Terror narratives have served to enable class war waged by the political classes of Western democracies against their own people, for the defense of the vested interests and class privileges of the opulent minorities on whose behalf the system of representative democracy was designed and in whose interests it has always functioned.

This is nothing out of the ordinary, but on the contrary entirely consistent with the prescription of James Madison articulated during the Constitutional Convention to the effect that the primary function of government should be to ‘protect the minority of the opulent from the majority.’ To the extent that that is the case, War on Terror narratives have served the same blame-shifting, scapegoating and generally distracting function that the Domino Theory played for western imperialists during the Cold War.

To the extent that those who have internalized the values, methods and goals of the Terror Scare as their own continue to parrot War on Terror mythologies as their own in militant ignorance of fact and militant defiance of logic and reason for the sake of enabling therapeutic psychodrama, we can assume that they neither expect or desire an end to war. On the contrary, the specter of terrorism reified through the conflation of object and relation into a propaganda motif and a moral panic trope provides an opportunity for perpetual war, a permanent scapegoat to blame for everything wrong with the world.

An ideological crutch of this kind only ever becomes more necessary as the consequences of lowering oneself to the level of those provoking us come home to revisit us, even if it was a convenient way to gain greater control over remaining oil supplies and buttress the petrodollar regime at the time. The destructive dynamic set in place only has one ending, just as there is only one person who really gains from it; no prizes for guessing who.

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 5.05.31 PM-1

Ben Debney is a PhD candidate in International Relations at Deakin University, Burwood, Melbourne. He is studying moral panics and the political economy of scapegoating. Twitter: @itesau  

More articles by:
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
Binoy Kampmark
Headaches of Empire: Brexit’s Effect on the United States
Dave Lindorff
Honest Election System Needed to Defeat Ruling Elite
Louisa Willcox
Delisting Grizzly Bears to Save the Endangered Species Act?
Jason Holland
The Tragedy of Nothing
Jeffrey St. Clair
Revolution Reconsidered: a Fragment (Guest Starring Bernard Sanders in the Role of Robespierre)
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail