chapter  11
15 Pages

Subverting discourses of risk in the war on terror

BySUSAN BIBLER COUTIN

New discourses of risk and security create surreal forms of governance. Uncertainty is now a rationale for taking preemptive military actions (Aradau and van Munster, this volume), informality is considered potentially terrorist, profiling focuses on modeling the normal rather than the abnormal (de Goede 2003 and this volume), and surveillance is extended to entire populations (Amoore, this volume). When trained on risks that are deemed unquantifiable and dangers that are considered unknowable, surveillance, profiling, policing, and criminalization become something other than knowledge practices – perhaps what might be better termed forays into the unknown. Before the unknown can be entered, however, it must first be produced. This is accomplished through a time warp of sorts, in which future yet unspecified dangers are made ever present, and in which past actions are taken to have led to something other than current realities and can therefore no longer be considered valuable precedents (Beck 2000; O’Malley 2000). This break with the past (as referenced by the fact that, in the US, the attack on the US Pentagon and the World Trade Center is known by a date, 9/11) is taken to simultaneously have led the present and the future to converge. In this time warp, actions take on the character of gestures, grounded in both hope and despair. As Aradau and van Munster note in their contribution to this collection, British Prime Minister Tony Blair justified the decision to send troops to Iraq, despite a lack of proof that Iraq’s government had weapons of mass destruction, by asking, ‘‘Would you prefer us to act, even if it turns out to be wrong? Or not to act and hope it’s OK?’’ (quoted in Aradau and van Munster, this volume). Similarly, in a 2002 speech outlining the Iraq threat, US President George Bush stated, ‘‘Many people have asked how close Saddam Hussein is to developing a nuclear weapon. Well, we don’t know exactly, and that’s the problem. . . . Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof – the smoking gun – that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud’’ (White House 2002). In the face of catastrophe, it is presumed better to do something than nothing, even if the consequences of doing something are not clear.