November 28, 2008

THEY KNOW US BETTER THAN WE KNOW OURSELVES:

Mumbai: the nihilism that dare not speak its name: The terrible assaults on the Indian city of growth and ambition suggest that contemporary terrorism is not as alien as we think. (Brendan O’Neill, 11/28/08, Spiked)

As the awful assaults on Mumbai seem to be coming to an end, with at least 130 people dead, the two questions everyone is asking is ‘who did this?’ and ‘why?’ We seem unable to work out who the culprits are (whether they are linked to al-Qaeda, Pakistan, or nobody in particular) and what they hoped to achieve with their coordinated attacks on Indian, American, British and Israeli citizens.


One Indian observer, expressing a broader sense of intellectual frustration, says it is probably pointless to investigate the ‘etiology’ of the attacks – that is, their root cause and the conditions in which they incubated – and simply accept that the attackers were ‘faceless, spawned by that global industry called international terrorism’. ‘India’s 9/11’ is discussed as something akin to a natural disaster, which came from nowhere and could hit any modern city at any time: ‘The mayhem in Mumbai is… the price we pay for living in open, democratic, liberal societies. What happened in Mumbai yesterday could happen tomorrow in Moscow, London or Tokyo.’

On one level, these existential debates about ‘who’, ‘why’ and ‘where next’ reflect the increasingly amorphous nature of terrorism itself, where groups tend not to give prior warnings of their attacks or claim political responsibility for them afterwards. Yet they also reveal something about us, about Western and mainstream societies more broadly. Our inability to name or even properly to describe the terrorist threat, our seeming abandonment of ‘etiology’, reflects a lack of intellectual clarity in the ruling capitals – a profound confusion not only about who ‘they’ are, but also about who ‘we’ are, and what it is about our societies that is worth defending from this hurricane-style ‘mayhem’ that ‘does not respect national boundaries’.
Just because their attacks can't achieve anything doesn't mean we can't understand what it is they're afraid of and lashing out at. The liberal capitalist protestant democracies are their enemy because globalization/The End of History is going to make their societies like ours. The isms have all fought against this prospect. And they've all lost at enormous expense to themselves and their host communities.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 28, 2008 10:44 AM
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