|Author:||Brian J. White|
|Title:||Guerillas in the Mist: U.S. Counter-Terrorism, Neoimperialism, and the Images of the (Fluid) Other|
|Publication info:||Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
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Guerillas in the Mist: U.S. Counter-Terrorism, Neoimperialism, and the Images of the (Fluid) Other
Brian J. White
vol. 3, no. 2, Winter 2002
Guerillas in the Mist: U.S. Counter-Terrorism, Neoimperialism, and Images of the (Fluid) Other
On 6 June 2000, the U.S. National Commission on Terrorism released a report, titled Countering the Changing Threat of International Terrorism, that raises hard-hitting challenges for political, social, and resistance theorists who have grown comfortable in the belief that destabilizing static figurations of identity reliably produces a degree of liberation. The report marks a consequential shift in the way the U.S. government is representing the identity of its enemies. Noam Chomsky's claim that terrorism is embroiled in a politics of language still holds true: In our ideological system, we have a very simple way to handle it. When the guys we don't like do it, it's terror. When the guys we do like do it, it's retaliation" (60). What is new, however, is that a non-essential notion of the other" seems to have crept into the report, been turned upon us, and co-opted to strengthen the logic of U.S. totalitarianism.
What is the changing threat of terrorism to which the report refers? Simply put, it is becoming more difficult to locate (and deterministically to classify, codify, and bring under a controlling gaze) those guys we don't like. The report paints an international picture in which terrorism has become so local" that the terrorist seems both nowhere and everywhere. The terrorist-as-other, echoing postmodernism's move toward dispersed subjectivities, has become increasingly elusive. According to the report, terrorism's funding and logistical networks cross borders" and are less dependent on state sponsors" (6). Terrorists often lack a specific political or nationalistic agenda" and rely on loose affiliations" (3). Border-crossing? Loose affiliations? The absence of nationalistic master-narratives? Has postmodernism overrun national policy, or has national policy overtaken the logic of postmodernism? The answer reveals itself in the unbalanced dissolution of the identities at stake.
During the Cold War, the population of the United States was invited to remain fearful that a nuclear attack could come at any moment. But we always knew from where and whom the attack would come. Indeed, it was the looming specter of that evil-other, Soviet Communism, that provided some sense of reason to the Cold War. The recent report by the National Commission on Terrorism marks both a shift from and an extension of that logic, changes which hinge equally and precisely on its articulation of identity. Unlike the historical Soviet threat of communism, the contemporary threat of a terrorist attack, according to the report, can come from anyone, anywhere, and at anytime. The source, location, and agent of terrorism are each represented as fluid. In turn, the Commission's proposed response is to strengthen and secure the U.S. sense of Self against this enemy whom can neither be seen nor heard. As such, the Commission recommends a host of measures designed to broaden the domestic and international power and sovereignty of the United States government. Clearly, the critical rhetoric of contingent and boundary-crossing subjects is being waged against those of us committed to interrogating relations of domination via the disruption of rigid Western boundaries.
But this does not require that we remain hostage to (the) discourse. Terror, violence, domination, and subjugation are always modes of interaction. The image of the terrorist presented in the report obscures this. It articulates domination as action emanating from one position (them) and directed towards another position (us, democracy, freedom). It attempts to mask interdependency by pitting terror against autonomy, subjugation against freedom. A model of analysis that refuses these binary distinctions can begin to counter the logic of domination which relies upon them; call such a model A Declaration for Interdependence" if you will. For, if the terrorist is becoming more elusive, it stands as a clue to the growing elusiveness of our own international practices and the need for us more rigorously to engage with the construction of each. A model of interaction prevents the one from ever being understood without the other.
This essay reads the 2000 report by the National Commission on Terrorism as both a cultural artifact and as a political document. The sixty-four page report, commissioned by the 105th Congress, comes in the wake of a growing number of highly publicized terrorist attacks against the United States in the 1990s: the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City, the attacks against U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the border arrests of foreign nationals suspected of targeting Millennial New Year's celebrations in the United States.
Of the ten-member Commission, three are scholars: Richard K. Betts (peace studies), Jane Harman (political science), and Juliette Kayyem (counter-terrorism policy). But these voices are heavily outweighed by corporate (which also means federal, military, and high-tech associates) interests.  L. Paul Bremmer III is Managing Director of Kissinger Associates, a firm which analyzes political risks for corporations with international investments. The firm was recently under federal fire for helping Banca Nazionale del Lavor (an Italian Bank) provide Iraq with over $4 billion in unreported loans from 1985 to 1990. Maurice Sonneberg is the Vice-Chairman and senior international advisor to the investment banking firm of Bear, Stearns & Co.. Wayne A. Downing, General, U.S. Army, is Director of Science Application International Corporation, a high-tech research and engineering company. Its own web-site explains that it helps the Department of Defense, the FBI, and other agencies combat terrorism, cybercrime, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction" (www.saic.com). Fred Ikle is Chairman of the Board of Telos Corporation, which builds information technology companies to leverage on the Internet. He is also Director of Zurich-American Insurance Companies. John F. Lewis Jr. is the director of global security for Goldman, Sachs & Co., one of the leading global investment banking firms worldwide. Gardner Peckham is the managing director of the government relations firm of Black, Kelly, Scruggs & Healey, which focuses primarily on issues of international trade and defense. And lastly, R. James Woolsey is the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The source material for the report was mostly taken from interviews conducted by the Commission with over 125 experts" in counterterrorism (eighty percent of those interviewed have some official capacity in the U.S. government, primarily with the Department of Justice, the Department of State, the FBI, and the CIA; the rest come from the private sector and academia; one interview was with a member of the ACLU). More broadly, the report ushers in a new political representation of non-essential otherness while minimizing the constitutive interdependency informing the Self and Other. Essentialist notions of identity operate on the belief in an impenetrable difference between static configurations of the Self and Other. But the Commission's report is able to do away with, at the symbolic level, that static notion of otherness. At the same time, however, the report quietly re-articulates a logic of non-interaction between bodies, identities, and political interests. It is precisely because the report minimizes such interdependencies, I argue, that it gives away its secret and a key to problematizing and moving beyond its constructs of identity.
Representation as Mis-Representation
When George Lucas released his 1977 blockbuster Star Wars, none of us could have suspected, although we all should have known, that the emissary of evil and the emissary of good not only drew their power from the same Force, but they were bound by relations of blood. The narrative maintained both cultural purpose and narrative suspense—not surprisingly in the midst of the Cold War—by seemingly pitting the forces of pure good against the forces of pure evil. Lucas tricked us all. He chose to reveal only certain elements of the relationship between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. That is, the representation was a mis-representation of the actual connections between their two identities.
A population led to be fearful of a terrorist who is, according to the Commission's report, increasingly difficult to predict" (3) is a population fooled in precisely the same way. The recent discourse on terrorism functions to create a perceived inexorable separation between those who inflict terror (the evil other") and those to whom it is directed (the good Democratic self"). The relations between these two identities and the contextual, historical, and material factors that determine those relations are obscured. Indeed, one connotation of terrorism" is that it is chaotic and un-provoked. The Washington Post helps perpetuate this fantasy in its summation of the report's findings, saying there exists a well-financed, fanatical and global terrorist network" (my emphasis, Loeb, 4 June 2000 A1). Nowhere in the Commission's report do we find the term fanatical." Yet the use of fanatical" helps to reassure the U.S. public that terrorism never exists as retaliation to specific United States foreign policies. The discourse helps paint an image of the terrorist as existing outside reason and explanation.
Ambassador L. Paul Bremmer III, the chairman for the National Commission on Terrorism, seems to address this ideological bias in U.S. discourses about terrorism in the introduction to the report. He writes that the Commission was mindful of several issues while deliberating:
However, in the body of the report there is a wholesale neglect of said reasons." Section-headings such as Good Intelligence is the Best Weapon Against International Terrorism," Pursue a More Aggressive Strategy Against Terrorism," and Strengthen Efforts to Discourage All State Support for Terrorism" indicate an overt focus on responsive measures. An interest in discerning the reasons" behind terrorist acts would have produced sections such as, Pursue a More Aggressive Strategy to Understand and Prevent Terrorism," essential activities if the Commission were truly committed to taking into account the reasons people turn to terror and, where appropriate and feasible," addressing them. Instead, the report quickly dismisses its early and brief humanitarian qualification, and continues throughout its entirety to mis-represent the hegemonic political, military, and economic relationship the United States maintains with much of the world. This evasion is most clear in the simultaneity of Bremmer's acknowledgment that Terrorists attack American targets more often than those of any other country" (iii) and the subsequent decision to leave out of the report any analysis of particular U.S. foreign policy, military, and trade activities that have in the past and might in the future incite terrorism-as-response. In essence, the Commission asks us to conclude that the United States is relatively innocent on the global stage while terrorists, on the other hand, do a whole lot of damage without logical provocation. The Commission writes, Most terrorist organizations active in the 1970s and 1980s had clear political objectives" and sought specific political concessions," whereas today terrorism is simply designed to kill as many people as possible" (2).
Positioning terrorism outside of the realm of politics or economics releases the United States's corporate agenda of free trade" from having any role in provoking retaliatory acts of violence.  The Commission's report purposefully removes the United States from its real existence as a dominant world power by manufacturing an image of its national and political independence. In fact, the construction of a fluid, non-particular notion of the terrorist helps to distance the U.S. from particular international relationships. The report insists that a terrorist may lack a concrete political goal" (3), thereby" releasing U.S. international politics from implication. Certainly, U.S. political influences would be met with political responses. But by de-contextualizing and de-essentializing the nationalistic, political, or cultural identity and actions of the terrorist, the United States's political actions become exonerated from having any tie to terrorism. Simply, the report mis-represents as action that which is interaction. It even goes so far as to explain that terrorists act out of mistaken interpretations of U.S. foreign policies, because of perceived oppression or economic deprivation" (iii), or perceived American hegemony" (my emphasis, 3). In this model of U.S./terrorist relations we would certainly be excused for thinking that the United States's democracy (and since democracy is inextricably intertwined with capitalism at this historical moment, we can justifiably draw some connections between U.S. national interests and corporate interests) has absolutely no politico-economic desire to tap the material and human resources in every other part of the globe. These are but unfounded perceptions." The ideological coding of the report invites us to ignore these desires (even though Ira Herbert, the former CEO of Coca-Cola, clearly articulates them in an unrelated interview: We market in more countries than belong to the United Nations," and Back in '65 the Arab countries warned us that if we gave a franchise to Israel they would throw us out. I remember sitting at a meeting where our position was 'We simply can't allow somebody else to tell us to whom we can and where we can sell our product'" [4,5]).
What is important for us to recognize in the report's initial invocation of the political, ideological, or religious convictions" behind terrorism and then the almost immediate claim that terrorism is founded on perceived oppression" (iii) is how the qualifier perceived" is used to distance the U.S. from any responsibility. The former operates to code terrorism as fanatical (as stemming from either non-Western ideological or religious beliefs) while the latter neatly removes any existence of an oppressor from the act of oppression (terrorists don't respond to American hegemony," they respond to perceived American hegemony" ).
In contrast to the model of terrorism presented in the report, a critical model which foregrounds domination-as-interaction draws attention to the uncomfortable reality that people usually blow things up for a reason. The motivations behind such acts must be allowed to surface in our politico-cultural discourse on terrorism instead of allowing their systematic neglect by policy makers as a means of evading self-incrimination. Specific forms of human interaction produce corporeal effects, and these effects, in turn, re-produce specific relations of bodies. This last point is especially important. Terrorism, and any form of domination for that matter, is always a material relation of bodies. Bodies struggle over resources; they interact in order to survive, to do business, to communicate, to revel in pleasure, and to inflict pain. This fact by no means negates the importance of critical inquiries that focus on less corporal techniques of discipline and regulation as structures for the control of subjects. The increasing institutionalization of panoptic measures in order to organize populations more efficiently must be a real, tangible concern if we are to understand the limits of democracy. Yet one mechanism of these panoptic techniques is to create the appearance of a distinction between the individual and society, between the see-er and the seen. This is the founding logic of discipline's efficiency. It operates to mis-represent the direct and inseparable connections of bodies.
It is ironic, then, that a discourse on terrorism which posits the terrorist outside politics may be constructing a representation of the material conditions that encourage terrorist actions which is not too far removed from reality. Chomsky writes, You cut off every political option for people and they are going to turn to terrorism" (Chronicles 56). Salam al-Marayati, executive director of the Los Angeles Muslim Public Affairs Council, in response to the 1997 Islamic resistance movement's suicide bomb in Israel, keeps the interaction between peoples/interests/bodies in view. While his Public Affairs Council, like us, regrets the violence, their statement explains, Because the Palestinian people have no avenues to redress their grievances, some of them have been pushed beyond the margins of society and have adopted violent reactions to express their despair and suffering" (Press Release, 21 March 1997). Unfortunately, we are having to look beyond the National Commission on Terrorism in order to find glimpses of the fuller picture.
If representations of the terrorist-other as outside politics" and on the margins of society" maintain some veracity, then what element within the Commission's representation of terrorist" is being misrepresented? (And this is one question from which those of us who study relations of oppression—such as race, class, and gender studies—might certainly benefit.) Again, the element being misrepresented is the interdependency between U.S. foreign political and economic policies and the actions of so-called terrorist groups. The 105th Congress which commissioned the report would be less threatened by criticism challenging the report's essentialist or non-essentialist image of the terrorist than it would by criticism focused on demystifying the image of independence defining the United States's relationship to other parts of the world. Put another way, it is less of a threat to existing relations of power when we say terrorists don't always act that way" or your image of the terrorist is racist" than when we say terrorism can only be understood as the effect of interaction." The former two exonerate; the latter implicates.
The (Silenced) Necessary Other
The idea of identity (whether social, cultural, or national) certainly carries with it an internal tension. The construction of a subject (the self, the United States, democracy, individual rights) pre-defines the locations existing external to it (the other, the enemy, anarchy, terrorism). These are its necessary others. But while the constitution of a sovereign subject—most apparent in the ontology of a nation-state, or the belief in the individual—produces the other, it is also necessary to silence the other. The voice of the other, or a model of the dialogic, threatens the coherency of a discourse which pretends a real divide between the democratic-self and the terrorist-other.
This silence, then, is the efficient logic of domination. Were the evil other allowed to actually speak (back), it would blow open the fantasia of discourse. bell hooks explains, To have a nondominating context, one has to have a lived practice of interaction." Using the existing terminology, she terms this a subject-to-subject framework. I always think that whenever there's the possibility for exploitation, what intervenes is recognition of the Other. Recognition allows a certain kind of negotiation that seems to disrupt the possibility of domination" (241). Acknowledging the tangibility of the other as the effect of interaction makes for an unsettling discussion on terrorism, especially for those persons whose power and profit depend upon the necessary existence of the other. This is no more apparent than in U.S. Representative Richard Gephardt's controversial appointment and rescinded nomination of Salam al-Marayati from the National Commission on Terrorism. Al-Marayati would have provided a problematic voice in the Commission's deliberation. Not because he favors violence, but because his insistence on understanding the reasons why people resort to terrorism would have shifted the focus of the report to one of prevention—a suicidal focus for those 45 government agencies who receive budgets to fight terrorism.
When we foreground the context of interdependency surrounding these logics of domination, however, the image of the evil other" reveals itself to be of far greater purpose to a government's implementation of social, political, and economic control over its citizens and fortunes than does the possibility of peace. At the height of Reagan's Cold War, the existence of the Evil Empire" was astonishingly profitable for those industries and persons contracted to wage the war. But the same holds true today. According to the 2001 Budget of the United States Government, The Federal Government will allocate more than $306 billion in 2001 to defend the United States, its citizens, its allies, and to protect and advance American interests around the world" (171). Nearly one-hundred thousand dollars will have been contracted out to protect and advance American interests" in the time it took me to write this sentence. Chomsky writes in reference to the Cold War:
On the contrary, a replacement has quite easily been found in what the Commission refers to as the growing danger of the terrorist threat" (iv). But the important thing to note here is that the pattern of needing an other is always prior to the specific enemy. The pattern struggles for completion by invoking the other, the enemy, or the terrorist, even when there is great uncertainty as to the actuality of, for example, a terrorist.
The mid-air explosion of TWA 800 is a poignant example. Armed with scant and conflicting reports, both the prestige press and the State Department repeatedly referred to the tragedy as the bombing of TWA 800" and, on more than one occasion, re-circulated the circulation of rumor that Iran may have been responsible (see, for example, the U.S. Department of State press briefings, 19 July 1996, 5 August 1996). Underscoring the interdependency that constitutes identity reveals how both essentialism and anti-essentialism mask particular relations while at the same time justify others. Larry Johnson, former State Department and CIA counter terrorism official, admits in a televised interview, once the threat of the Soviet Union disappeared, we've got a lot of national security bureaucracies and other bureaucracies that are looking for a way to justify their existence, and many are scrambling to get the counter terrorism bonanza."
But I have entered uncomfortable political territory. If the pattern of needing an other validates the protectorate" function of the State, then a government can never persistently adopt a strategy to prevent either domestic or international terrorism. A strategy of prevention would train its eye on the interactions of bodies. It would analyze real," as opposed to perceived" U.S. hegemonic interests. It would mark how the discourse of otherness produces a powerful federal subsidy for the military, technological, intelligence, and biomedical industries which exist to combat those fanatical groups who rise in terror against perceived American hegemony." A textual analysis of the National Commission on Terrorism's report exposes that these are not its ultimate goals. Acknowledging that counter terrorism programs exist in the individual budgets of 45 departments and agencies of the Federal Government" (34), the federally-mandated Commission would destroy the logic of its own creation were it to recommend strategies to prevent terrorism.
A further example of the way the report begins by noting and then forgetting altogether that there are reasons why people become terrorists is the Executive Summary" of the report's findings: Priority one is to prevent terrorist attacks. U.S. intelligence and law enforcement communities must use the full scope of their authority to collect intelligence regarding terrorist plans and methods" (iv). The preventive strategies immediately following this statement include allowing the CIA recruitment of unsavory sources," expanded FBI authority in the use of electronic surveillance," and budgetary increases for counterterrorism efforts by the CIA, NSA, and FBI [which] must be given higher priority" (iv). The government's definition of prevention" denotes something very different from understanding the motivations behind terrorism.
Clearly, while the rhetoric of prevention finds a surface articulation in the report, any analysis or policy recommendation designed to understand terrorism in order to prevent it is noticeably absent. Instead, the report provides an unprecedented cadre of recommendations aimed at fortifying the U.S. government in order to cope with more loosely affiliated, transnational terrorist networks [which] are difficult to predict, track, and penetrate" (3). Recommendations include addressing the possible gaps in the government's statutory authority" (37), determining whether the government should legislate for itself additional legal authority" (38), and the transfer of command authority to DoD [the Department of Defense] in extraordinary circumstances" (v). It stresses the importance of preparing for imminent catastrophic terrorism, including attacks utilizing chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) materials. It recommends subsidizing long-term research and development" projects (42). The report explains:
Not ironically, the Commission talks of prevention while at the same time ideologically coding terrorism as a global a priori. As such, prevention" is an empty symbol precisely because it resides in a context which presumes there will always be terrorist attacks in the future" by future terrorists." Indeed, it resides in a context in which the protectorate" function of the State that commissioned the report depends upon the already-always existence of mist-ified, shadowy Others.
Another example from U.S. popular culture comically illustrates this complex interdependency/interplay between the unbalanced formation of the Self and Other.  While the plot of Kinka Usher's satiric film, Mystery Men (1999) abounds with amateur superheroes, there is one professional superhero, Captain Amazing, who has systematically rid the city of all crime. He has, not ironically, become a commercial billboard in the process. Advertisements and logos cover his superhero uniform. Captain Amazing draws so much media attention that his body has become prime advertising real estate. But soon, his sponsors begin to retreat, back out of contracts, and fail to sign future promotional contracts. A shift has occurred in which his crime-fighting sprees no longer sustain the audience's attention. It is not because the audience has become bored with the crime-fighter, but they have become bored with his crime fighting. He so effectively rids the community of crime that he destroys the logic of his own existence.
In order to generate more endorsement revenue, Captain Amazing takes off his crime-fighting suit, dons his mild-mannered glasses, and proceeds to the penitentiary (as the very wealthy and politically-influential Lance Hunt) to arrange for the release of his most evil arch-nemesis, Casanova Frankenstein. Lance Hunt, with apparent ulterior motives, explains to the parole board that he firmly believes in the reformative potential of the prison system and that Casanova is rehabilitated. But the audience gets the point. Captain Amazing must release his former enemy from prison in order to remain ontologically coherent. Clearly, the discourse of Superhero and Supervillain does not hold up without the actual, material relations of bodies through which the discourse makes sense. Interestingly, identity as a category functions effectively only when it refuses the actual existence of particular bodies; at the same time, however, it needs actual bodies to remain functional.
What is important in an analysis of the Commission's report is understanding how its non-essential articulation of the terrorist-other allows for the interchangeability of the bodies that fulfil this referent. Perfecting Captain Amazing's calculated invocation of the terrorist-identity, the Commission's report has found a way to re-articulate the structure of the superhero narrative while allowing the particularity of the villain in question to maintain a large degree of fluidity. Legal scholar Ileana Porras differentiates between what can be explained as a macro-identity of terrorism and the micro-identity of the terrorist:
The discourse on terrorism is such that its only permanent defining feature is that it stands in opposition to the democratic self." Porras further explains that What changes is not the meaning of the word but rather the groups and activities that each person would include or exclude from the list . . . . The sense of the word always stays the same; it is the referents that change" (my emphasis, 298). This is precisely where Captain Amazing falters. He is unable to develop an image of the enemy that offers unlimited applicability while not having to invoke a particular body which might speak back. By allowing the particular and real Casanova Frankenstein into the paradigm, Captain Amazing scripts his own demise. What we can garner from Mystery Men is twofold. First, without some existing threat to the general population, what would be the role of the superhero (State)? In a collection of writings on terrorism, Hugh Fraser unexpectedly validates this myth when he explains that the law is the only thing which stands between humanity and a state of permanent terror" (23). And Porras shockingly explains that repressive measures short of military dictatorship are virtually recommended by the literature on terrorism" (308). The Commission's report continues in this trajectory. Second, the figuration of the other must remain non-essential enough to delimit the ability of an actual Other from ever complicating the myth.
Dialogue, Discipline, and the Simulated Other
Because I am interested in foregrounding the unavoidable interdependency informing identity, I would like tentatively to explore Seyla Benhabib's controversial construction of the conversational model" (29). The logic of conversation is a logic of reciprocity, not a logic of differentiation. So there is one function of her model I find productive for interrogating identity because it foregrounds the interaction of bodies. Benhabib's dialogic model posits that,
Her focus on a model of participation has profound implications when we talk about the terrorist-other. Domination operates by pretending interaction is not what constitutes identity. The logical result is the construction of an us/them, self/other paradigm to regulate the movement of real persons, with an ensuing secondary mechanism of silencing the other. Benhabib's presupposition that all beings capable of speech and action participate in the conversation works to collapse the subject/other demarcation. But a distinction must be noted. For Benhabib, the collapse is one of functionality and not ontology. In relation to the discourse of terrorism, her model offers a broader contextual understanding by refusing the unidirectional construction of meaning.
Although I think the functional focus of her model is productive, I have reservations about its ontological implications. It visualizes and relies upon a concreteness of the Self and the Other. Benhabib explains, we assume the other, like ourselves, is a being who has concrete needs, desires and affects" (159); neither the concreteness nor the otherness of the 'concrete other' can be known in the absence of the voice of the other. The viewpoint of the concrete other emerges as a distinct one only as a result of self-definition" (168). Benhabib imagines distinct persons; persons capable of self-definition." Her contract/conversational model further depends on the egalitarian enlightenment of each (pre-figured as distinct) body, requiring us to view each and every individual as a rational being" (158). Taken together, these elements seem to run counter to the operation of a strict conversational model, where each position is continually reworked, reorganized, and rearticulated based on the momentum of the dialogue (which is not self-defining). Furthermore, what is taken as reasonable at one moment in the dialogue may be relegated to the realms of non-reason moments later, dictated by the process and fluidity of conversation.
My caution, therefore, in adopting Benhabib's model is that we may perforce adopt the ontology of the concrete other. My critique of the Commission's report aims to illustrate that domination operates through inventing the idea that bodies are not connected; that one body has no direct responsibility to another; that the body is materially distinct from the conditions of its ontology. That is, those who inflict terror and those that have terror inflicted upon them do not always live in separate solar systems. Benhabib's idea of the concrete other" is not required for a model of interaction. Indeed, it works against it to some degree. The notion of the concrete other" still articulates a degree of essentialism between the Self and the Other. Although Benhabib's interest is in fostering a participatory construction of socio-political meaning, it may be critically productive to refuse the idea of the concrete other in favor of a focus on concrete interaction. A notion of bodies-as-monads reinforces an asymmetrical distribution of resources; it perpetuates ideas like the individual and private property; it perpetuates a pattern in which terrorism is taken to be the work of individual fanatics. Discourse may construct the subject as terrorist, but interaction produces the body of the terrorist. Discourse in the employment of domination conceals this. It is precisely any recognition of interdependency that the report by the National Commission on Terrorism evades. Both the report and the national coverage by the corporate press fail to go beyond the status quo perpetuation of terrorism as an always existing threat to which we are in no intelligible way connected. Indeed, the mandate which established the Commission exists to prove that we have no interconnection with others who may resort to terrorism; the mandate proves we stand in antithesis to terrorism.
It is precisely the evasion of interdependency and the constitutive function of interaction, I want to argue, that allows the invocation of terrorism to be used panoptically by the Commission. The fear of a non-essential, unseen other which can be anyone, anywhere, and strike at anytime, has a profound disciplinary effect of which Jeremy Bentham might only have dreamed. In the same moment the simulacral terrorist becomes freed from its referentiality—appearing to exist outside of reason—the United States releases itself from any implicative logic of global interdependence. The Commission's discourse on terrorism makes perfect use of this disciplinary mechanism. During the Cold War, the evil-other might have lashed out at any time, but we always knew from where the strike would come: the former Soviet Union or one of its proxy states, such as Afghanistan. Countering the Changing Threat of International Terrorism marks the moment of transition from Cold War politics to the politics of terrorism. More accurately, the report signals the transposing of Cold War policies onto the discourse of terrorism. Re-working the rhetoric of deterrence, the changing threat of terrorism" has produced a fluid image of the evil-other which can strike out anywhere and anytime. Cultural critic William Bogard writes, it's a simple and also ancient idea, but one that from the beginning develops enormous complexity: feign an observer or a field of observation, and divert, enhance, or arrest a flow" (26). By invoking the specter of hyper-terrorism (or the image of a terrorist with no essential referent), the current political discourse on terrorism becomes a disciplinary mechanism par excellence.
The report by the National Commission on Terrorism conjures up this non-essential other when it says the terrorist threat is more dangerous and difficult to encounter" and today international terrorists attack us on our own soil" (1). Such invocations are used to justify to the U.S. public the Commission's recommendation of federal subsidization of the informational technology, biochemical, and pharmaceutical industries, which are quickly replacing munitions manufactures as the lead industries in a changing military complex.  It is also being used to recommend budget and statutory authority expansions for the FBI, CIA, and the Department of Defense. The recommendation that we develop and adopt detailed contingency plans that would transfer lead federal agency authority to the Department of Defense" (40) in the event of a catastrophic attack seems, to me, the most problematic of the Commission's recommendations. And yet, it has received far less press coverage than any other recommendations made by the Commission. It moves us beyond the discussion of a society disciplined by fear to a discussion of a society disciplined by force. It has the possibility of putting into place a justified, legal, military coup d'etat were a threat to the State deemed catastrophic enough (deemed catastrophic enough by whom is never mentioned).
This latter recommendation should be even more a concern when we take into account the Department of State's own annual report on global terrorism. In Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1999, it acknowledges that Domestic terrorism is a more widespread phenomenon than international terrorism" (2). While domestic terrorism occurs more often than international terrorism, the commission invokes the fear of loosely affiliated" international terrorists to recommend government legislation concerning terrorism in general. And the State is cautious, even in its definition of terrorism, to exclude its own practices. Using a definition which has been employed since 1983, the government categorizes terrorism as premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience" (U.S. Code 22:2656f(d)). By drawing the 1983 definition into a discussion of the 2000 report, several things become apparent. First, it illustrates a shift marking the current discourse of terrorism wherein political motivations (and the international relationships informing them) are no longer foregrounded. Secondly, it reveals the extent to which the State has always employed an image of the terrorist-other that functions by distancing the State's own policies from culpability. Taken together, a fluid, a-political notion of the terrorist" used in tandem with qualifiers like subnational" allows the U.S. government increasing flexibility in the term's application to almost any group not recognized by the State as a valid, political organization. This sets in place the possibility that any challenge to the existing network of authority made from outside politics" or from the margins of society" be defined and dealt with as terrorism. And it's not a far political stretch from clandestine," subnational," and non-state supported terrorism" to anarchism," a word used more than once in reference to the WTO protestors in Seattle.  In this sense, it appears almost a necessity for the State to construct a non-essential notion of the terrorist. An a-political, non-affiliated, fanatical, fluid Other. It allows the signifier terrorist" an unprecedented amount of flexibility in its application all the while releasing the U.S. from any relation of interdependency with actual terrorist events.
This essay originally had a very different conclusion, written well before the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and Pentagon on 11 September 2001. The essay ended with a discussion of two events that coincided with the one-year anniversary of the Commission's report: the execution of Timothy McVeigh and the United Nation's vote to exclude the United States from the UN Human Rights Commission, partly because of the Pentagon's insistence that American international activities not be covered by an international criminal court" (Revolt at the UN," A12).
But the atrocities of 11 September require attention in relation to the Commission's report on counter-terrorism; they compel exploration in relation to my arguments made here before 11 September. The horrifying loss of life in both New York and Washington D.C. demands to be understood in ways that that move beyond the prestige press and policy makers' current invocation of these terrorist acts as isolated and unprovoked if they have any hope of providing us with the knowledge of what can be done to minimize future acts of violence carried out against humanity.
This last assertion is not an uncontroversial one for me to make in the current political and social climate, where people are quick to misinterpret a desire to understand the geopolitical context surrounding the terrorist acts as a condoning of those events. Even my own, local Knight-Ridder paper contained an combative column by one of the editors, outright explaining that 'understanding' is meant as a code word for 'justifying'" (Dennis A4). But at a time when George W. Bush is forewarning the world's governments that either you are with us or you are with the terrorists" (9/20/01), the ramifications of the United States governments' reactions to the events of September 11—both abroad and at home—are much too serious to be allowed to pass unexamined and unquestioned. Our personal horror and outrage at the atrocities, our own grief and losses cannot release us from this charge.
Unfortunately, there has been a systematic evasion of any discussion that would touch on the motivations behind the attacks—an understanding of which would be the first step in any comprehensive approach aimed at preventing the social, political, cultural, or environmental conditions which invite people to react with violence. Instead, Secretary of State Colin Powell explains (if we could call it an explanation) in an interview on NPR that the attacks are directed at civilization." In his Presidential address to the Joint Session of Congress, George W. Bush provides a sense of the attacker's motivation by saying they are enemies of freedom." A model that reads domination and violence as effects of particular forms of interaction would push to the surface of the discourse on terrorism the reasons why people embark upon horrible acts. But such a project might expose what can be described as the United States's colonizing thrust both militarily and economically across much of the world. And we shouldn't read into the Commission's report on terrorism a whimsical evasion of the tangible interconnections that result in violence; a neglect it offers its citizenry in the name of prevention." The report is part of a broader, systematic rhetorical campaign, clearly articulated by the U.S. President in his statement to the Joint Session of Congress when he, too, talks about preventing future terrorist attacks by stopping them before they act and find[ing] them before they strike" instead of discussing which U.S. international policies motivate people to plot evil" against the United States.
Because the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are far more layered and historically complex than such a brief discussion warrants, I am not going to pretend that my analysis here of these policies is thorough. There is a long, historical, international relationship that has, at least in some respects, informed what happened on 11 September. The United States is not an isolated monad in the world. When we talk about understanding terrorism as a model of interaction, such interdependencies certainly predate the 90s, if not this century. And I am also not going to pretend that I know everything there is to know about the historically sedimented relationship of interdependencies comprising a century of U.S. foreign policy, because I don't know. But it is precisely this admission that brings me back to the crux of my original argument in this essay.
I often times have my students read an essay by Amy Tan titled Snapshot: Lost Lives of Women," in which the author begins by relating her childhood experience of seeing an old photograph of Chinese women. For the child, the picture depicted a faraway time and place, with people who had no connection to my American life" (321). Later, Tan learns that the women are her ancestors and relatives; there is a story behind the image; a many-faceted network of histories and secrets" to which she is intricately bound in ways she never understood. This is how many of us must certainly feel when U.S. policy makers and the prestige press employ a rhetoric to describe the attacks in New York and Washington D.C. that is but a narrow, half-developed snapshot" defining terrorism as unidirectional action. When U.S. President George W. Bush insists This war is not of our choosing" (9/14/01), when U.S. Senator John McCain defines an Act of War as unwarranted, unprovoked act of violence" (9/14/01), and when Secretary of State Colin Powell explains the attacks as an Act of War against our sovereignty" (9/12/01), then each disseminates to the broader public the same non-interactive self/other logic we find at the center of the Commission's report. If this war is not of our choosing, then it follows that the U.S. has made no prior decisions or international policy that would engender hatred towards the U.S. Unprovoked" denotes the same. As does sovereignty," implying that the U.S. is not part of a world defined by interconnections and interdependencies.
As I write this, however, the most economically and militarily powerful country in the entire world—the United States—is bombing one of the poorest and militarily weak countries in all the world—Afghanistan. We're bombing an enemy we cannot find. The enemy is elusive and crosses borders. It's as if the National Commission on Terrorism scripted the discussion of 11 September well before the event. A strategic planning committee the general public didn't know anything about. And all the key players have received their scripts well in advance. In his Presidential address, George W. Bush said loosely affiliated terrorist organizations" attacked the United States. Vice President Dick Cheney said terrorists are everywhere and nowhere at the same time" (9/16/01). U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld explains, These are people who operate in shadows and we have to deal with them in shadows" (9/16/01). The construction of an elusive, everywhere/nowhere enemy paints a picture of international randomness that works to de-emphasize terrorism as a particular response to particular foreign policy. But this construct also supports, as the Commission's report foreshadowed, an increase in both international and domestic U.S. militarization. Besides the CNN-style bombing (a type of bombing the knowledge of which arrives as grainy night-video we all embrace as real), examples are the immediate, military policing of the public space of airports and the construction of a cabinet-level position called the Office of Homeland Security. The latter was a position proposed in Congress last year, unknown to the general public, and never officially instituted because of its inherent danger to civil liberties. Yet now, in a statement broadcast on NPR, Senator Trent Lott insists that civil liberties don't count in war," and when asked by an audience member at a CNN Crossfire Town Meeting what the American public would know about future U.S. military activities, Senator John McCain replied, Much less than any time in the history of warfare." We are being asked to accept that an elusive enemy requires an elusive response; a response initially called Operation Infinite Justice." And when McCain says the U.S. citizens will see and hear of much less about Operation Infinite Justice than any other campaign in the history of warfare, I can't help but wonder if he is referring to the operations or the justice. At the same moment I'm insisting that a model of interconnectedness be employed in order to illuminate the material interactions that engender violence, the invocation of a postmodern terrorist is being used to justify my knowing less about international policy than the pittance the average news-consumer like myself already receives.
Perhaps those of us who favor interrelations of liberation and reciprocity over relations of subjugation can take inspiration from Edward Said's assertion that engaged criticism should speak the truth to power. For Said, speaking the truth aims to induce a change in the moral climate whereby aggression is seen as such, the unjust punishment of peoples or individuals is either prevented or given up, the recognition of rights and democratic freedoms is established as a norm for everyone, not invidiously for a select few" (100). I have attempted to argue that such a task must begin with a critique that unmasks the principle function of identity formation. At our particular socio-political moment, this function is the mis-representation of interconnections as dissociated events, persons, and things.
We pretend the body is something in-and-of itself and that individual identity can exist in isolation. By critically interrogating the relations of interdependence that inform identity, we might develop an alternate discourse which forces an analysis of particular forms of interaction as either egalitarian or totalitarian. Right now, we provide things with these attributes. We say: the individual is egalitarian; the terrorist is totalitarian. This masks the fact that the body and identity of the terrorist can only be understood as the effects of interaction. By remaining bound to a discourse which presupposes distinctions between bodies and actions, we may miss an opportunity to interrupt domination by calling its bluff.
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1. I certainly do not want to imply in this paragraph that the "scholars" whom I reference are somehow less influenced or maintain less interest in the international rhetorical and material construction of terrorism than are the corporate or political moguls. They, too, certainly benefit from the existence of terrorism: they receive recognition and monetary compensation from being part of the National Commission on Terrorism, and their academic jobs certainly make sense only within a social arena which is informed by the "lack" of peace and the existence of international terrorism.
2. While the issues of "free trade" and the "global marketplace" are simply alluded to in the report, a State Department press brief on the Commission's report finds acting spokesman Philip Reeker explaining that, "five embassy employees have been assassinated in Athens since 1975 . . . [and] twenty-four American businesses were bombed in Athens during the last two and a half years." Clearly, it is the U.S. corporate global agenda which is being referenced when the report invokes "terrorism." See Office of the Coordinator for Counter Terrorism, Department of State, Daily Press Briefing, Department of State Briefing Room, Washington, D.C. (5 June 2000).
3. The shift here in my textual analysis—from a political document to a cinematic/popular culture artifact—is calculated. I am convinced that such boundary-crossings are important precisely because the logics of nationalism, race, class, gender, liberation, and domination easily find their articulation across and through a varied range of mediums. That is, political and popular texts are, themselves, interdependent. The controversial filmmaker Spike Lee argues in a recent interview that because such issues are "woven into the very fabric of American society, [they're] going to be reflected in sports, in movies, in television, in business, and so on." See "Thinking About the Power of Images: An Interview with Spike Lee," Cineaste xxvi, no. 2, (2001): 5.
4. The recommendations made by the Commission certainly imply that such a change is needed, especially if a majority of the threats to U.S. soil in the future will come from unconventional chemical or biological weapons. And while this is the picture presented by the Commission, the Budget of the United States Government: Fiscal Year 2001 seems to support such a trend. It notes and then proposes a budgetary increase of 25% since 1993 for the federal subsidization of research and development of new technology (with noted items ranging from computer technology and body armor to vaccines developed to combat viruses and biological agents).
5. See, for example, "The New Anarchism," Newsweek, 13 December 1999, 38. In a single paragraph, the editors conflate various marginalized groups, anarchism, and terrorism, drawing a relationship between Emma Goldman, Rage Against the Machine, Noam Chomsky, and Ted Kaczynski. Perhaps even more telling of Newsweek's role in the corporate propaganda machine is that twenty pages earlier in the same issue, a large spread of people smiling or laughing is captioned by bold letters reading: "welcome to the revolution, friend" (19). Of course, the revolution is the "digital revolution," and the spread is an advertisement for RCA. If I am to read Newsweek correctly, some revolutions are apparently more acceptable than others.