chapter  1
4 Pages

Introduction: Philosophy, politics, terror


The US military doctrine governing its war on Iraq tells us that ‘Shock and Awe are actions that create fears, dangers, and destruction that are incomprehensible to the people at large, specific elements/sectors of the threat society, or the leadership.’1 This is as good an account of terrorist actions as any, not least because it reminds us that terror is something familiar – all too familiar. Terror is neither new nor peculiar to particular times, places or ideologies; it is not confined to non-state actors. For decades, people around the world have been living through terror: mental patients in North America and the UK in the 1950s, the people of Chile from 11 September 1973 until their liberation from Pinochet, the people of Argentina under the military junta from 1976 to 1983, and countless others since 1945 – in Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, China, Sri Lanka, Burma, Algeria, Tunisia, Kenya, South Africa – to mention only the most well known cases. Nor does ‘terror’ name an ideology. It names a strategy and/or a tactic, always with specific objectives in mind, always justified within particular discursive practices. Acts of terror are instrumental and may serve any number of ends. Labelling as ‘terrorism’ the actions of political organisations attempting to effect change through violence makes two mistakes. First, it mistakes the pursuit of political ends as the pursuit of terror for its own sake; second, it conceals the terroristic nature of actions which are described otherwise.2 In another sense, of course, it may be to make no mistake at all, but to attempt at once to promote and to enforce a discourse within which those two mistakes flourish. That is to say, it promotes and enforces a linguistic regime which justifies the prosecution of the so-called war on terror – or, more recently, the ‘war on terrorism’. That this ‘war’ should have been quietly cancelled by Obama and Miliband (the British foreign secretary) soon after the former’s inauguration signals a significant shift.3 However that may be, the hegemonic discourse still persuades us that ‘terrorism’ and terrorists are our antagonists.