- www.counterpunch.org - https://www.counterpunch.org -

Same As It Ever Was: The GWOT and Colonial History


Since the events popularly called 9-11, the general public of the western nations have grown used to ever intensifying security measures.  These measures affect the way the public travels, attends sporting and musical events, and thinks about those who don’t look like them.  Long gone are the days when one could buy an airline ticket with cash at the counter and walk on a flight without showing identification.

In her 2018 book, Deport, Deprive, Extradite: 21st Century State Extremism, Nisha Kapoor examines several cases of Muslims living in Britain accused of lending material support to terrorism.  In her examination of these case studies, she exposes the abuses of the British internal security apparatus and its intimate collaboration with the much greater security apparatus of the United States.  The processes she reveals describe a Kafkaesque web that is impossible to escape once one is trapped in its threads.  Indeed, virtually every case she explores ends with the individual targeted by the surety services taking a plea no matter how flimsy the evidence against them is.  It’s as if they are found guilty and sentenced before the trial like those in the Queen of Heart’s courtroom found in Lewis Carrol’s Through the Looking Glass.  Indeed, Kapoor quotes from this fiction in her text too make that exact point.

Although many US and British citizens were (and are) appalled at the torture and extraordinary rendition of suspects, in part because of the illegality of the practice, fewer seem opposed to the practice of legal extradition.  As Kapoor points out throughout her text, this policy is actually quite similar to extraordinary rendition in how it is actually carried out.  Like those who are moved illegally via extraordinary rendition, the suspects extradited (usually to the United States) are hooded, bound and tortured.  The fact that their movement is legal only points to the weakness of the law.

Underlying the case studies discussed in the text is Kapoor’s contention that the practices of rendition, extradition and the accompanying torture and abuse of detainees are a continuation of strategies and policies established under colonial administrations in the past.  In other words, they are racist and therefore dismissive of the subject’s humanity and importance except as a target of abuse and imprisonment.  Their very existence demands suspicion of crimes against the regime and their rationale of any actions (or thoughts about actions) is not rational but the result of a fanaticism.  In the nominally secular world of the western regimes primarily involved in the capture and imprisonment of these suspects it is the religion of Islam which is the cause of their irrationality.

Another important context that is crucial to the text’s understanding of the “war on terror” is Kapoor’s emphasis on the fact that this entire project is a direct extension of liberal governance and philosophy.  In her writing, she references John Stuart Mill and other liberal philosophers’ disparaging comments on non-Western civilizations.  Furthermore, she draws a clear line from liberalism to authoritarianism, pointing out that as the judicial element in such governments has been weakened, the legislatures have given more and more power to the executive, which has rendered any existing balance of power virtually meaningless.  In other words, the pretense that liberal government is somehow different from authoritarianism has been ripped away by the increasingly invasive, harsh and repressive measures undertaken in the name of the war on terror.

Unwritten, but clearly present is this essential fact:  the more time that passes under this regime of what Kapoor justly calls state extremism goes on, the fewer people there will be  who can remember when liberal governments were more liberal than illiberal and human beings were not suspect at birth. Deport, Deprive, Extradite is not merely an examination of human rights abuses of the recent past; it is also a harbinger of a harsher future.  One would do well to heed its warning and act against the possibilities it discusses.