• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

A generous CounterPuncher has offered a $25,000 matching grant. So for this week only, whatever you can donate will be doubled up to $25,000! If you have the means, please donate! If you already have done so, thank you for your support. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

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:

Brad Evans is a political philosopher, critical theorist and writer, whose work specialises on the problem of violence. His most recent book is: Violence: Humans in Dark Times.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 17, 2019
Steve Early
The Irishman Cometh: Teamster History Hits the Big Screen (Again)
Jonathan Cook
Israel Prepares to Turn Bedouin Citizens into Refugees in Their Own Country
Stan Cox
Healing the Rift Between Political Reality and Ecological Reality
Jeff Klein
Syria, the Kurds, Turkey and the U.S.: Why Progressives Should Not Support a New Imperial Partition in the Middle East
George Ochenski
The Governor, the Mining Company and the Future of a Montana Wilderness
Charles Pierson
Bret Stephens’ American Fantasy
Ted Rall
The First Thing We Do, Let’s Fire All the Cops
Jon Rynn
Saving the Green New Deal
Ajamu Baraka
Syria: Exposing Western Radical Collaboration with Imperialism
Binoy Kampmark
A Coalition of Support: Parliamentarians for Julian Assange
Thomas Knapp
The Down Side of Impeachment
Harvey Wasserman
What Really Happened to American Socialism?
Tom Engelhardt
American Brexit
October 16, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
How Turkey’s Invasion of Syria Backfired on Erdogan
Chitrangada Choudhury – Aniket Aga
How Cotton Became a Headache in the Age of Climate Chaos
Jack Rasmus
US-China Mini-Trade Deal: Trump Takes the Money and Runs
Michael Welton
Communist Dictatorship in Our Midst
Robert Hunziker
Extinction Rebellion Sweeps the World
Peter A. Coclanis
Donald Trump as Artist
Chris Floyd
Byzantium Now: Time-Warping From Justinian to Trump
Steve Klinger
In For a Dime, in For a Dollar
Gary Leupp
The Maria Ramirez Story
Kim C. Domenico
It Serves Us Right To Suffer: Breaking Down Neoliberal Complacency
Kiley Blackman
Wildlife Killing Contests are Unethical
Colin Todhunter
Bayer Shareholders: Put Health and Nature First and Stop Funding This Company!
Andrés Castro
Looking Normal in Kew Gardens
October 15, 2019
Victor Grossman
The Berlin Wall, Thirty Years Later
Raouf Halaby
Kurdish Massacres: One of Britain’s Many Original Sins
Robert Fisk
Trump and Erdogan have Much in Common – and the Kurds will be the Tragic Victims of Their Idiocy
Ron Jacobs
Betrayal in the Levant
Wilma Salgado
Ecuador: Lenin Moreno’s Government Sacrifices the Poor to Satisfy the IMF
Ralph Nader
The Congress Has to Draw the Line
William A. Cohn
The Don Fought the Law…
John W. Whitehead
One Man Against the Monster: John Lennon vs. the Deep State
Lara Merling – Leo Baunach
Sovereign Debt Restructuring: Not Falling Prey to Vultures
Norman Solomon
The More Joe Biden Stumbles, the More Corporate Democrats Freak Out
Jim Britell
The Problem With Partnerships and Roundtables
Howard Lisnoff
More Incitement to Violence by Trump’s Fellow Travelers
Binoy Kampmark
University Woes: the Managerial Class Gets Uppity
Joe Emersberger
Media Smears, Political Persecution Set the Stage for Austerity and the Backlash Against It in Ecuador
Thomas Mountain
Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed Wins Nobel Peace Prize, But It Takes Two to Make Peace
Wim Laven
Citizens Must Remove Trump From Office
October 14, 2019
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
Class Struggle is Still the Issue
Mike Miller
Global Climate Strike: From Protest To Power?
Patrick Cockburn
As Turkey Prepares to Slice Through Syria, the US has Cleared a New Breeding Ground for Isis
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail