Sunday, June 26, 2005

How To...

Give a political speech. The other half (really, I am working on a better euphenism) brought this set of links to audio files of the 100 greatest American political speeches to my attention a while ago, and I've been meaning to link to it for some time, but keep forgetting. I haven't listened to all of them, but the couple I have heard - in particular, Martin Luther King's 'I've been to the mountaintop', which is, I think, better than 'I have a dream': engaging and personal without being patronising, hopeful, even perhaps utopian, without being dishonest or ignorant about the resistance that will be encountered and the costs it will bring - are really good. The two Eisenhower speeches are also rather interesting, if only for the idea, laughable now, of a Republican president warning of the dangers of military industrial complex, and offering to share the benefits of nuclear power through an international organisation. Anyway, go, listen.

Mock political statements. Billmon does a head count in the aftermath of Karl Rove's apparent bandying-about of accusations of treachery, and finds that if liberals - in the pejorative American sense of the term - are some kind of fifth column, working to overthrow the Shining City on the Hill, the New Jerusalem is in serious trouble, because a fifth of its citizens want to bring it crashing to the ground.

Piss off your allies. Not satisfied with being unco-operative enough to leave them so in the dark about your security arrangements that they don't know the major road out of a city is blocked by trigger-happy troops, who then promptly riddle a car carrying a hostage and two secret service agents, who've just negotiated the hostage's release, with bullets, killing one of the agents and injuring both other occupants, the American government feels compelled to kidnap, from their territory, someone they are conducting investigations into without telling them anything about it, and send them to Egypt to be tortured. Unsurprisingly, the Italians are not best pleased: in fact, they're so unhappy, they've issued arrest warrants against 13 people, who they claim are CIA agents based at the consulate in Milan. I can't imagine Italian troops will be in Iraq much longer, and I can't imagine that that many other countries will be lining up to replace them, if this is the way that the Americans reward regimes which have made undoubted sacrifices to help them: Italian public opinion was never in favour of the war, and early on in the occupation, twenty or so Carabinieri were killed by a car-bomb.

Make questions of semantics into a critique of American foreign policy, via digressions into recent Italian history. Actually Existing asks how, if terrorists are those whose acts of violence are aimed at destabilisation through mass panic at the possibility of being the victim of such indiscriminate violence, the apparently targeted campaign, by large numbers of people, of the insurgents in Iraq could possibly be described as terrorist, since it is quite clearly targeted at the institutions of the nascent and cooperating state and the occupiers. I'm not sure that the distinction is anything like as sharp as Phil would like to draw it: I find it difficult to understand how the IRA - who he seems fairly clear were/are terrorists - were terrorists in his account when attacking the British Army, either in Northern Ireland itself or the mainland, since that seems much like the quasi-partisan campaign engaged in by the Brigate Rosse in Italy against the Italian state. One might say that almost any military action contains elements of terrorism, since military action usually aims, amongst other things, at sowing fear in the ranks of those it is aimed at, fear that they will be next to be targeted. To preserve the distinctiveness of the term, however, one might say that terrorism is the extension of the logic of battlefield outside of the social spaces that usually count as the battlefield: killing those who have surrended is terrorist, bombing those who are not actually engaged in acts intrinsically aiming at your harm is terrorist, and so on. By this logic, both sides in Iraq have engaged in terrorist activities, which turns the question to, who started it, and I think we all know the answer to that.

1 comment:

Phil said...

Thanks for the comments - I've made a few changes to my post in response. (Briefly, I've drawn the boundaries of 'terrorism' more narrowly: I don't think it's useful to think of state actors as engaging in terrorism, or to label groups as 'terrorist' unless terrorism clearly predominates in their activities. So the US Army is out, as is the IRA (probably).

Really, there are only two historical justifications for terrorism. Mostly, terrorists are trying to panic the government into a crackdown (which will polarise the situation, which will help their cause in some way or other). Occasionally, and rather more scarily, it's an attack on members of a group. For Emile Henry, who bombed a high-class cafe, the identities of his victims didn't matter: anyone who was in that cafe would be a member of the ruling class, and as such deserved to die (or at least to be terrorised). Returning to the quote that caught my eye, I don't see that it's possible for 'many thousands' of people to be motivated to violence in either of these ways. (With the possible exception of racial violence. Is a pogrom terrorism?)