Monday, October 19, 2009

Terrorism, Security and Mediation

Lefort describes democratic society as a place in which "social interdependence breaks down and that the citizen is abstracted from all the networks in which his social life develops and becomes a mere statistic. Number replaces substance" (Lefort 19). In this formulation, Lefort agrees with Jameson that the rise of the democratic society, which coincides with the rise of nationalism and late capitalism,

Keenan's statements about terrorism's relationship with media - "isn't terrorism always in a codependent relationship with the media; doesn't it - unlike, precisely, a simple military confrontation between two conventional forces - essentially work through public opinion, hearts and minds, and persuasion?" (Keenan 60). Though Keenan chooses not to focus on this in his paper, in light of our screening of Control Room, it is one I would like to address.

If terrorist groups are dependent on the media as Keenan claims, it would seem that all the media attention devoted to the war in Iraq and the larger American ideological War on Terror only draws further attention to the terrorist groups. If one goes back to Anderson, it would seem that terrorism employs one of the same basic tools as nationalism does - print capitalism, now in its 21st century form and inclusive of television and virtual media. Except now, because of the increased transnational flows, the boundaries of the imagined community of the nation are fading.

This reminds me of Arjun Appadurai's book "A Fear of Small Numbers", where he states that terrorism is “a kind of metastasis of war, war without spatial or temporal bounds. Terror divorces war from the idea of the nation”; anyone could be a terrorist, and anyone may be a terrorist’s target as well (Appadurai 92). Print capitalism, once a building block of the nation, now expanded to global capitalism, is thus proposed as being a destroyer of the nation as well. Terrorism's unboundedness - it could be anywhere and everywhere at anytime - creates an instability within us and we channel our uncertainty into fear. The The War on Terror is the political manifestation of this intrinsic fear of the Unknown, and Appadurai claims that the most fearsome of terrorists is the figure of the suicide bomber. As a single person uninhibited by traditional rules of war, political systems and physical boundaries, the suicide bomber could be anyone, and anywhere, and could strike at any time, and it is the mere prospect of his attack that incites fear into civilians. Furthermore, his target can be the civilian, because his intent is precisely to cause as much damage as possible. The Iraq War, so tied to 9/11 and the war on terror, is one fueled by the fear of terrorism and the fear of the suicide bomber is translated into the hyper-awareness of guerrilla attacks. As Control Room shows, the US military is fearful of everyone, evidenced by their compulsion to consider everyone a suspect. It is a war driven by the constant fear of the terrorist.

This new, unbounded, transnational war and the unknowns and uncertainties that is produced is what drives fear. The known, on the other hand, is always mediated. What is known about terrorism, what is known about the Iraq War, is always mediated, and it is the person who is best able to manipulate ("spin") the representation of the situation is the one who is control. The ability to shape discourse is thus power. The US military as portrayed in Control Room is seen to be continually engaging in this battle to manage information and representation when it focuses entirely on Jessica Lynch instead of the invasion of Baghdad, when it targets Abu Dhabi and Al-Jazeera, when it tears down the statue of Saddam and so on. This goes back to last week's readings about secrecy and national security. Secrecy, such as the unwillingness of US military to release the locations of its troops, is key to maintaining national security. As Control Room shows us, what is authentic and real is lost in the multiplicity of representations; going against a realist view of the world (and proposing instead a constructivist construction), power lies not in the actual economic and military might, but in the ability to "spin" the story and manipulate the public's perceptions. The war, as Al-Jazeera's producer says, is about victory, and history is written about the victorious, and victory is symbolized by the toppling of Saddam's statue.


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