Sunday, March 10, 2002

The folly of living up to the stereotype

After a few ill-advised attempts to enter the current-events fray in blogdom (particularly my unilateral declaration of genocidal war on Glenn Reynolds for writing something dicky), I basically gave up on the idea of being a self-referential, interblog-linking uberpundit, shucking the crass world of the fray for snarky commentary in the discussion areas of better people's weblogs and airy, erudite, and remote essays on whatever topic interests or intrigues me at a particular moment in time. And things that piss me off. Those always work. But I'd better return sometime to the original point and inspirational root of this weblog, the plasticity of language, and its misuses for deception, lies, brutality, and theft. Otherwise I will lose myself in a miasma of intellectual jerkoffery.

From Little Green Footballs: the LA Times reprinted a bit of commentary from the Arab News, a delightful little soufflé penned by the esteemed John V. Whitbeck.

Whitbeck stands in august company; whoever he is, and I care not ever to make his acquaintance, he marches ranked in the battalions of prevaricators, dispatched at the command of an ugly ideological imperative to eliminate the term 'terrorist' from the descriptive lexicon of the gens. He shits on this word in order to ruin it. Let us engage in linguistic coproscopy, hmm?

The greatest threat to world peace today is clearly "terrorism" — not the behavior to which the word is applied but the word itself.
Ah, yes, this essay begins with the necessary opening hyperbole - that the world stands in greater peril from the dictionary-linguistic definition of terrorism than it does from human acts conventionally defined as such. Well, it's a clear statement of position.
For years, people have recited the truism that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." However, with the world's sole superpower declaring an open-ended, worldwide war on terrorism, the notorious subjectivity of this word is no longer a joke.
Robotically reciting an asinine 'truism' does not make it true. Inverting the 'truism' - saying that 'one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist' - is a pointless activity - we learn nothing new; we have restated Whitbeck's point - which is that terrorism and freedom-fighting are inherently interlinked and interchangeable concepts, and that third person interpretations of 'terrorism' can amount to no more than subjective, idosyncratic, and individually autochthonous reflectivities - aggregated illegitimacies - all third-person subjectivities in conflict with the originator's intended conception of the 'terrorist act' are inherently invalid.

Whitbeck subsequently states a further point - that power and authority held by observers separately or in aggregate have no legitimacy in framing the moral debate about the definition of behavior putatively coming under the rubric of 'terrorism.' The subjectivity of the USA disqualifies it from judging the moral substance of the 'terrorist act', while the physical power of the USA inherently disqualifies it from applying its own valuations of that self-same 'terrorist act'.


The word is dangerous because many people apply it to whatever they hate as a way of avoiding and discouraging rational discussion and, frequently, excusing their own illegal and immoral behavior.The word is dangerous because many people apply it to whatever they hate as a way of avoiding and discouraging rational discussion and, frequently, excusing their own illegal and immoral behavior.
According to Whitbeck, the employment of the term 'terrorist' is inherently flawed - the term's moral implications blind its users to the real universe, because it allows them to justify illegalities and immoralities. What utter horseshit hogwash! Whatever rhetorical baggage Whitbeck and other assorted protoplasmic chazerei may hear in their addled heads, 'terrorism' is not a politically valenced word - it only defines a mode of warfare and politics: that mode of politics in which political activists use force and violent coercion to instill fear in their political enemies in order to achieve their policy goals. Simple enough - people who use violent, deadly force to scare their enemies into submission are terrorists. Political and legal theorists since Grotius and Hobbes understand that violence is socially corrosive, and that the state, as the constituted agent of law, needs must have a monopoly on the use of violence. The standard definition of terrorism long excluded states from being in the category of perpetrator - however, historically recent examples require the inclusion of states in this category. Regardless, defining a terrorist is only a matter of defining the means, thrust, and goal of that terrorist's demonstrated actions. If the goal of the sue of violence to to deter actors from implementing their own policies or from opposing the implementation of policies congenial to those of the terrorist, by inspiring fear and terror of the consequence of disobeying the user of violent coercion, than that is terrorism.
There is no shortage of precise language to describe the diverse acts to which the word "terrorism" is often applied. "Mass murder," "assassination," "arson" and "sabotage" are available. However, such precise formulations do not carry the overwhelming, demonizing and thought-deadening impact of the word "terrorism," which is, of course, precisely the charm of the word for its more cynical and unprincipled abusers.
That 'thought-deadening impact' is an inherent feature of the word in liberal societies. That reaction is not illegitimate - the use of violent coercion in the public realm is antithetical to Enlightenment values. It utterly disputes the legitimacy of the concept of human equality and the concept of the human commonwealth. The state, as guarantor of the citizenship of sovereign individuals, is utterly vitiated when it is deprived of the monopoly on legitimate uses of violence, because the universal codes that states enact to preserve their bodies' politic cannot be enforced. Governance becomes a naked contest of warfare. Long experience with political terrorists has proven to the vast, overwhelming majority of citizens in the West that the costs of legitimated violence utterly outweigh its potential gains-in-use. Furthermore, disaggregating the political goal of 'terrorist' actions from the acts themselves only serves the threadbare preservation of mobilizing dignity on the part of the inspiring political movement. If terrorist actions can only be seen as the actions of criminals, absent political motivation, genuinely corrosive and evil political movements escape necessary examination, censure, or destruction.
Most acts to which the word "terrorism" is applied (at least in the West) are tactics of the weak, usually (although not always) against the strong. Such acts are not a tactic of choice but of last resort. To cite one example, the Palestinians would certainly prefer to be able to fight for their freedom by "respectable" means, using F-16s, Apache attack helicopters and laser-guided missiles such as those the United States provides to Israel. If the United States provided such weapons to Palestine as well, the problem of suicide bombers would be solved. Until it does, and for so long as the Palestinians can see no hope for a decent future, no one should be surprised or shocked that Palestinians use the "delivery systems" available to them — their own bodies. Genuine hope for something better than a life worse than death is the only cure for the despair which inspires such gruesome violence.
This paragraph should leave any reader properly aghast. Whitbeck disputes not the use of violent coercion - but merely its moralistic evaluation. The idea that violence is a tactic of last resort is questionable; what is risible is that violence is inherently ideologically and programmatically justifiable without reference to consequence. That the Palestinians legitimately have the right to employ conventional weapons of war or weapons of mass destruction in their struggle against Israel - that they have the right to go to war against Israel, because of the peculiar moral idiosyncratic character of their policy goals - Whitbeck accepts unquestioningly. Of course, the converse - that Israeli Jews should have the right to wage war to defend themselves, Whitbeck by implication certainly has denied. If terrorism is a valueless term, how yet can Israelis become illegitimated and the proper subjects of murderous force because their conduct is described as 'terroristic'? 'One man's terrorism is another man's freedom fight', indeed.

Let us, of course, skip to the end

If the world is to avoid a descent into anarchy, in which the only rule is "might makes right", every "retaliation" provokes a "counter-retaliation" and a genuine "war of civilizations" is ignited, the world — and particularly the United States — must recognize that "terrorism" is simply a word, a subjective epithet, not an objective reality and certainly not an excuse to suspend all the rules of international law and domestic civil liberties which have, until now, made at least some parts of our planet decent places to live.

By depriving us of the useful moral categorization and condemnation of 'terrorists', Whitbeck serves their goals. Depriving violent actions of their political and moral character merely serves to enshrine that Hobbesian state of perpetual, all-embracing civilizational war, by denying opponents of the moral high-ground necessary to mobilize populations against their outrages. If coercion of the weak by the strong is illegitimate, and the latter is not the case, how can the state of laws be preserved, oh International Lawyer? You gutless, lying, moralistically prevaricating get-of-a-suppurating-dromedary - fuck off and leave my language alone.

No comments: