“In this interview, he unveils and critiques the ramifications of the ‘war on terror’, from the conservative and liberal rhetoric of the intellectuals and commentators who have emerged, to the theories of ‘radicalisation’ which have fuelled counter-terrorism programmes in the west.”
Is everywhere a war zone now? How does this connect to the rhetoric of the ‘war on terror’?
The promise of the ‘war on terror’ was that we would kill them ‘over there’ so they would not kill us ‘over here.’ Hence mass violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, Yemen, and Somalia – in the name of peace in the west. The “Authorization to Use Military Force” that the US Congress passed in the days after 9/11 already defined the whole world as a battlefield in the ‘war on terror’. President Obama continues to rely on the authorization to give his drone-killing programme a veneer of legality. This is the old colonial formula of liberal values at home sustained by a hidden illiberalism in the periphery – where routine extra-judicial killing is normalised.
We all know the ‘war on terrorism’ kills more civilians than terrorism does; but we tolerate this because it is ‘their’ civilians being killed in places we imagine to be far away. Yet colonial history teaches us that violence always ‘comes home’ in some form: whether as refugees seeking sanctuary, whether as the re-importing of authoritarian practices first practised in colonial settings, or indeed as terrorism. The same patterns repeat today in new forms.
Colonial history teaches us that violence always ‘comes home’.
For Muslim citizens in western states, these dynamics bring an enormous burden: they are reduced to the false choice of moderate or extremist, good Muslim or bad Muslim. The question that hovers over their very being is whether they will detach themselves from their connections to zones of violence abroad or channel that violence within the west. But this question is not posed directly; it is always displaced onto the plane of culture: do you accept western values?
This framework imposes itself relentlessly on Muslim public expression, rendering suspicious anyone who refuses to engage in rituals of loyalty to western culture. Meanwhile, ISIS casts these Muslims as living in the “grey zone” between western imperialism and the claim of a revived caliphate.
What results is a mutual reinforcing of the militarized identity narrative on both sides: the jihadists point to numerous speeches by western leaders to support their claim of a war on Islam; and western leaders legitimise war with talk of a ‘generational struggle’ between western values and Islamic extremism. What is striking today is the tired rhetoric of military aggression – Hollande’s “pitiless war” – once again recycled, despite the obvious failures of the past 14 years.
Where did the ISIS attackers in Paris come from? Can theories of radicalisation explain what drove them?
Theories of radicalisation developed by think-tanks, intelligence agencies, and academic departments linked to the national security apparatus have tended to make a number of false assumptions in their attempts to understand jihadist violence. First, they assume a deep difference between ‘Islamic’ and other forms of political violence; the history of political violence in the twentieth century – particularly in colonial contexts – is therefore forgotten and its lessons ignored. Second, they assume some form of Islamic religious ideology is the key factor in turning someone into a terrorist; some analysts grant the relevance of what they call ‘perceived grievances’ or emotional crises as enabling factors but ideology is still taken to be the primary cause.