Exploring Terrorism: Numinosity, Killings, Horizons
...after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. '...Impenetrability! That's what I say!'
'Would you tell me, please,' said Alice, 'what that means?' 'Now you talk like a reasonable child,' said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. 'I meant by "impenetrability" that we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don't mean to stop here all the rest of your life.' 'That's a great deal to make one word mean,' Alice said in a thoughtful tone. 'When I make a word do a lot of work like that,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'I always pay it extra.'... (Alice didn't venture to ask what he paid them [the words] with; and so you see I can't tell you.)
--Alice in Wonderland, chap. 6
...kikhánei d'ex aelptíes fóbos. [From unexpected directions there comes terror.]
--Archilochos of Paros, 7th Century B.C.E.
The Numinous (Sacred/Demonic) Dimension of "Terror" and Capitalism Today
[The "war on terrorism" is] the bombing of an abstract noun.
--Terry Jones (formerly of Monty Python)
What is "terror"?1 I start from the Oxford English Dictionary, which glosses its meanings as: 1. intense fear, fright or dread. The Geneva Bible of 1560 translates Psalms lv.4 as "The terrors of death are fallen upon me," and the term was often used with portentous, supernatural events such as the death of Christ or the irruption of Pan. This provides a bridge to the second main meaning: 2. the action or quality of causing [such] dread; terribleness; and a thing or person that excites terror, as in Addison's "The Messiah appears cloathed with so much terrour and majesty" (1712). Such fossil remnants in English point to a depth dimension which seems to me to underlie in a semi-conscious way the word’s present uses. At the basis of many, perhaps all, religions there lies what the Old Testament (Torah) calls emat Jahveh, the uncanny "God-dread" or "terror consubstantial with God," and the Greek tradition calls deîma panikón, "panic terror."
Already Epicurus slyly remarked that we should have no reason to blame deviants if pleasurable things liberate them from the mental terror (fóbous tês dianoías) caused by celestial portents—such as comets or eclipses—or by death or by pain (maxim X). In other words: religious faith seems to begin with a strong admixture and participation of terror, whereas philosophical or scientific inquiry begins with wonder that stimulates, without terror. Epicurus's great poetic interpreter Lucretius explained religion as stemming from dread of death and other anxieties, in verses that have been scarcely bettered since:
hunc igitur terrorem animi tenebrasque necessest
non radii solis neque lucida tela diei discutiant, sed naturae species ratioque.
[Therefore, this mental terror and these dark recesses have to be routed
Not by the Sun's rays nor by the shining arrows of day
But by an examination of nature and its causes.]
Rudolf Otto, who dug up the religious tradition of "the totally Other" centering on numinous horror, glosses it as a combination of unutterable terror with ensnaring fascination, a numbing and paralyzing surprise that simultaneously also attracts. That terrible force engenders in people attempts at propitiating and domesticating it by means of either magical participation or religious devotion, conjuration, and consecration (Otto 13-16, 32, 42-43, and see the comment in Türcke 135-37). However, such a force can also be found in non-religious events of both wide and profound impact, which apart from natural catastrophes are usually—since the French Revolution—political events. Thus, Yeats calls the 1916 Irish insurrection "a terrible beauty." As in that poem, Easter 1916, "All, all is changed utterly." Such events, whose political quality is grounded in (though usually not confined to) the Christian salvationism of Easter resurrection, portend an utter annihilation of all known orientations, akin to Death, the king of terrors (as in the 1611 Bible: "His confidence... shall bring him to the king of terrours"—Job lviii.14). The force of the term "terror" waned, then, together with classical religious feeling. This is palpable, for example, in the 1660s' "Ode to the Royal Society" by Abraham Cowley, which praises Francis Bacon for breaking the "Monstrous God" Authority that made children and superstitious men afraid with "Ridiculous and senceless Terrors!" (Heath-Stubbs & Salman 107).
Yet the tradition was then reinvented within the sphere of supposedly rational politics, where the concept of terror—instead of divine and supernal—grew lay and as it were democratic, potentially lurking everywhere, applicable first by the divine right of the Powers that Be, then by revolutions, and finally by smaller groups from below. Historically, the breakthrough of the laicized concept of "terror" came about in the Jacobin State at the time of Robespierre, and was aimed at the "evil" States. Group terror/ism, which followed later in the 19th century, for a long time (with Russian Narodniks, European anarchists, and even the 1930s' IRA) limited its targets to military and higher State officials against which it claimed to be retaliating. Thus, the exclusive focus on non-State terror/ism is a blatant invention of contemporary State propaganda. It seems that "terrorism in the strict sense, the random murder of innocent people, emerged as a strategy of revolutionary struggle only in the period after World War II,... after it had become a feature of conventional war" (Walzer 198; my italics)—in other words, after the new "total war" had grown to be "the combination of unlimited use of highly destructive weapons [with] unlimited war aims" (Liddell Hart, cited in Kunz 40). Walzer perhaps overlooks some cases between the two World Wars, but those would detract in no way from his main point: that the globalization (that is, blowback to Europe) and "democratization" of wars in the age of capitalist imperialism was a return to pre-Enlightenment colonial and religious wars. Before this, both professional officers and professional revolutionaries cultivated "a kind of warrior honour" which impeded random killing of civilians—with the tacit exception of the colonies whose "savages" were arrogantly deemed to be outside civilized norms. Thus, when such revolutionary assassins are called terrorists, this is "a... victory for the [State] champions of order" (Walzer 197), and this officially force-fed semantics is an important component of politically and psychologically repressing the reality of killing civilians. This reality can be represented by defining terrorism as a strategy which consists in pursuing political power by striking dread into the civilian population through exemplary killings among them. Walzer’s definition was much the same. In this context, it is a historical fact that terrorism by non-State groups is a reaction to mass State oppression and State terrorism; I shall focus on this in Section2.
But first I want to query: why did a lay or secularized world, proclaiming rational politics increasingly supposed to represent the will of (the) people, use terror? The only answer I can see is that the economico-political situation in secularized societies was radically at odds with their proclamations of equality and fraternity, so that there were in fact no rational politics in the age of mass exploitation and warfare. While classical religions were now de facto and in many cases even officially divorced from sociopolitical life, the sources of religious feeling—of intense fear and fascination—did not dry up but were fed anew by reaction to exploitative and murderous disenchantment and diverted into new channels, virulently seething out of semi-conscious repression. Destiny did not pass into the hands of (the) people but re-established itself as the World Market, whose commanding godhead was Profit and executive agent the State. Arguably, it also retained or re-established traits of male gender and age domination (patriarchy) akin to feudalism and slavery. While officially desacralizing, modern capitalism resacralizes in new and unsuspected (therefore also less controllable) ways. As Hobbes was perhaps the first modern theoretician to divulge, fear is what holds together social order. The absolute market domination turns the selection mechanisms for its many called and very few chosen into "a new variant of destiny, which sometimes absolves or damns in ways as inscrutable as that of the Calvinist God" (Türcke 9).
This means that the shocks against the human nervous system and sensorium did not grow smaller in the mega-cities of capitalist industrialization. On the contrary, as Benjamin well learned from the poets of Paris beginning with Baudelaire (and we should add the poets of all other tremendous mega-cities, from Blake's London to Brecht's Berlin, Garcia Lorca's New York, etc.), they became more frequent, and therefore had to get ever more intense in order to pass the heightened threshold of perceptive attention. The only defence against existing fear and terror of everyday life was to be found in further, prophylactic and homeopathic, administration of fear and terror. As all students of ancient religions know, Otto's "Numinous" is not the positive Holy of schizophrenic Christianity. The Old Hebrew qados or Greek hagios meant a phenomenon that makes the perceiver shudder or shake in fright and awe; it is a mysterium tremendum, the ambiguously dreadful mystery not conceivable without terror. Equally, the Latin poet's tag auri sacra fames did not mean "holy hunger" but "frightful or tremendous hunger after gold." Capitalist society returned, with increasing high-tech speed, to such archaic myths and structures of feeling. The Nazis' open adoption of such feelings and myths—for example, their deep though (or because) repressed fascination with the Wagnerian "gold of the Nibelungs"—was only the consistent totalization of these bourgeois tendencies. What they seem to have done is exclude astonishment and reverence from the classical "numinous" in favour of direct terrorizing intimidation by political power and violence (Brinkmann).
This involution should surprise no one who has taken seriously Marx's great chapter on commodity fetishism, which was the first and remains the most stimulating discovery of a central mainspring of this resacralization. The old monotheistic godheads were monolithic, while commodity has both use-value and exchange value at the same time. Insofar as the market, based on exchange-value and the engine of profit, is the ultimate instance of Destiny (the instance of salvation or damnation), commodity is literally a fetish, a manifestation of divinity. Simultaneously and to the contrary, insofar as the market is finally a monstrously perverted instance of conveying use-values (corn, cloth, or informed knowledge) to people, commodity functions merely as a surrogate taking the place of divinity or of a supreme survival value (isotopic to it)—like Godot instead of God. An ontological oscillation comes about,2 producing differences both at different times and at different ends of the market (say the stock market vs. the supermarket): the new godhead is powerful but occulted and intermittent. This is why it can successfully hide itself within the temples of official economics and politics: if you look at it with the naked eye, it is not there (you could not see capitalism in a photo of the Krupp factories but only by analyzing how they function, remarked Brecht). This is also why saying that capitalism is a new religion does not quite hit the target unless its newness is duly articulated and stressed, for capitalism simultaneously is and is not what we knew as religions heretofore (you need dialectics). The strong ritual cults of capitalism are not simply nostalgic metaphors, nor are they its be-all and end-all. Into the gap of these oscillations the audiovisual shocks of mass media insert themselves, exasperating them.
A similar discourse should, to my mind, be developed about the second main fetish within capitalism, labour-power as the alienation of Marx's living labour. Unfortunately we don't have much on this by either Marx or Benjamin, but it clearly partakes of the Janus nature of commodity (and indeed underlies it). Labour-power is both sold as a commodity and yet not fully separable from the body's living labour. In particular, Debord's spectacle as a key to present-day class hegemony reposes on reified presentations of the body in erotics, warfare, and so on, which induce an even more intimate ontological oscillation. The need to alienate and freeze labour into disembodied machines on the one hand and invisible outsourcing on the other can clearly be seen in modern warfare (a labour of destruction, true, but labour nonetheless), with its helicopter shelling and high-altitude bombing. This may serve to retrospectively characterize analogous developments in the clearly antagonistic (as it were) daily mini-warfare within production relationships in general.
Markets were always associated with spectacle (clowns, jugglers, magicians, conjurers); the masses that gathered needed relaxation after transacting affairs and had money to pay for it. Indeed, spectacle came in even before and as a part of transacting business, for goods were praised by criers, they were arranged and doctored, etc. The term stock-market comes, so the US legend goes, from stock (cattle) led to fairs in old New York and watered on the way to make them seem fatter. Initially circumscribed in time and place, markets grew from local fairs on a given saint's day into a permanent marketing, infinite in space and time—like the Bushist war. The basis was laid for what Debord has called the society of spectacle: a society where spectacle (seeing extraordinary matters) has become a dominant, if not the dominant.
Capitalism notoriously despises and fears independent aesthetics: art. But capitalism has since its inception used spectacular "commodity aesthetics" (Haug) to make wares circulate. Indeed, one could say, with Türcke (9-11), that it has always incorporated a kind of totally pragmatic sub-aesthetics, which is not a cloak it could shed but a skin, its protective appearance without which it would die. In that respect, fairs rivalled temples in their use of spectacles and spectacularity, of fascination with judicious admixtures of fear/ terror. Both pretended to reveal the mysteries of destiny, and both sometimes obliquely managed to convey it (say in tremendous stock-market crashes like 1929). The fetish of commodity differs from old wooden fetishes of local godheads primarily by being consubstantial to the usable commodity and not standing outside it to be independently adored (though the difference grows thin in today's speculative futures markets). But it also differs in being constantly challenged and alerted by competition between sub-species of fetishes—something unknown to static or "cold" societies before capitalism and leading to irresistible heightening of sensational spectacle. (An exception like the Late Roman Empire, when Mithra, Isis, and Christ competed with the local godlings, confirms the rule and throws an interesting light on today's Late American Empire.) Not only theology but also political economy and even neurophysiology—the way spectacle changes people's sensorium and perceptive capacity—are now needed to cope with the global mega-fetish and its ramifying variants.
What has this all, fascinating as it may be, got to do with terror? I would claim that the link is implicit in all the talk about the potentially tremendous mysteries, the dread and fascination brought by the fetishes of spectacularized commodity and spectacularized labour-power/spectacularized body. But to put it explicitly: in my defining of terrorism as a strategy which consists in pursuing political power by striking dread into the civilian population through exemplary killings, the psychological and neurophysiological element is "striking dread" or intimidation. It is well known also to theology, salesmanship, and war planning: "The problem of revolution, as of war, is to destroy the will of the enemy and to force him to capitulate.... War, like revolution, is founded upon intimidation... killing single persons to intimidate thousands" (Trotsky 66, 70). Terrorism, the practice of inflicting terror, is thus—among other things but to my mind decisively—a stance, the expectation of political gain by killing civilians (this last element, by the way, is not involved in Trotsky's use of the term). Terrorism is a matter of influencing the collective imagination through huge bodily harm, by transfer contagion: an exasperated form of psychophysical warfare grafted upon techniques of economic and political propaganda in the warfare-cum-media age. This transfer contagion has dreadful intimidation as political end and exemplary killings of civilians as consubstantial means. The actions of and reactions to al Qaeda (itself a reaction to US domination) are holy warfare of the monotheistic kind: Good against Evil, In God We Trust vs. The Great Satan. Marx concluded that the commodity cannot be understood without returning to some uses of theology. The same can be said for its bastard offspring with war-as-spectacle, terror/ism.
A further important turn of the screw to commodity fetishism was the extension and huge multiplication of industrialized audiovisual shocks, spreading from the mass cities discussed above, by the use of mass technologies and by increased leisure time. This has been best analyzed for the mass press and then for the new media, from movies through radio to TV. It flows out of a fundamental difference introduced by the new, dynamic fetish of commodity. Guy Debord has argued that the spectacle ruling our social imagination has a tautological character in that its means are at the same time its ends. In a way, in terrorism means and ends can only be sundered for a retrospective analysis, for immediately they coincide. What I have called group terrorism is not only spectacular, it is parasitic upon the existence of mass media as a mass spectacle of "infotaiment." Many media critics immediately noted this after September 11, best perhaps Umberto Eco:
Bin Laden's purpose in striking at the Twin Towers was to create 'the greatest spectacle in the world,' never imagined even in catastrophe movies.... He was not waging a war, in which the number of eliminated enemies counts: he was precisely sending a terrorist message, and what counted was the image.
The stab of dread seen at the epistemic remove of a TV screen is, as in horror movies, overlaid by the situational awareness of the safe living room—a dreadful entertainment. Without global media, there would in all probability have been no strikes at the Twin Towers. Beyond the number of victims (about which see part 2 following), what major difference is there between such group terrorism and the State terrorism that likewise kills civilians and likewise sends a media message of intimidation to potential enemies? It is that US State terrorism masquerades as war for noble humanitarian reasons and therefore evades global awareness of its killings wherever it can, in order to present them as surgical strikes in justly measured retaliation (or at worst as collateral errors, which are then never counted in the media). This is effected by controlling media through patriotic intimidation but where need be also through killings (as in the US bombing of the Belgrade TV station or its tank shelling of the journalists’ hotel in Baghdad).
Of course, we should be careful to use terms derived from theology in the same way Marx did: as tools¾taken from a repository of human methodologies surprisingly fit for modern capitalism but coded in an absolutist religious age and way—rather than as our final horizons. Benjamin put it well, with characteristically pithy extremism: "My thinking relates to theology as the blotting paper to ink. It is entirely imbued with it. Yet if the blotting paper had its way, nothing that was written would remain." (I.3: 1235). This centrally means recognizing the sea change between the religious or absolutist type of numinous horror, using fear for pain, and its subsumption into humane creativeness, where ensnaring fascination sheds its paralyzing aspect and turns into cognitive wonder (as Epicurus and Lucretius implied). Freud differentiates the uncanny from what is purely gruesome (14: 364), but this has been best debated apropos of art. I know no better encapsulation than Baudelaire's dictum: "C'est un des privilèges prodigieux de l'Art que l'horrible, artistement exprimé, devienne beauté, et que la douleur rhythmée et cadencée remplisse l'esprit d'une joie calme" [It is one of the marvelous privileges of art that the horrible, when expressed artfully, becomes beauty, and that rhythmical and cadenced pain fills the mind with tranquil joy] (466).
Focus on Killing: Some Consequences
We sincerely believe that terrorism is a negative weapon, that it in no way produces the wished-for results, that it can push a people to oppose a given revolutionary movement, and that it leads to loss of life among its practitioners much higher than the advantages derived from it.
--Che Guevara, Guerrilla Warfare
It is needful therefore to ground our discussion by returning as far as possible to the data about killings of civilians by States as compared to those by non-State groups. I gave some examples in another article (in S&D #32), but they need to be updated. The killings in "civil wars" with little direct foreign armed intervention (for example, in South Africa, Afghanistan between the interventions by USSR and USA, Colombia, ex-Yugoslavia, Sri Lanka, central Africa, and possibly Algeria and the Chinese "cultural revolution"—to which I devoted a section in the other article) are difficult both to evaluate numerically and to allot to State or insurrectionary group intervention, and will therefore not be represented, though I would tend to view them as terrorist on one or both sides.3 To situate the data, however, some delimitations have to be recalled and re-examined.
I propose to focus sharply on my above definition of terrorism as the targeted killing of civilians. There follows from it, as the second step essential for any proper understanding, that we must insist upon the distinction between State and non-State or group terrorism—the French word groupuscule, small group, often comes to mind here. (Of course, these two originators may overlap when States finance, protect, and often organize paramilitary or gangster groups for murders they don’t want to be seen as committing—as happened not only in Latin America and Africa but certainly in Greece and probably in Italy, Northern Ireland, and indeed the USA. Furthermore, we might well wish to count a good part of the casualties of invading State armed forces—say, US soldiers—as victims of the State that brought them there and the group that killed them, but I wouldn't know how to count that.) However, the argument developed in section 1 above leads me to consider the secondary distinction I made earlier between religious and political group terrorism as being much less significant. The shift in the last 160 years or so from non-State group violence in the name of social classes to that in the name of ethnic groups and finally religions is certainly worth understanding (cf. Jurgensmeyer), but whether the Oklahoma City bombing was the expression of a Christian fundamentalist or a "Sons of Gestapo" hate of the US State seems to me far down on the scale of cognitive relevance in any general politico-epistemological approach. Here too, the hegemonic common sense of the media and think-tanks proves fallacious.
Since World War 2, the overwhelmingly major source of State terrorism directly and indirectly is the US State, that is, key ruling-class fractions in its military-corporate establishment. Though censored from all the media, this has been pointed out many times by Blum, Chomsky, Herman, Herman-O'Sullivan, George, Sluka ed., Stohl-Slater (see Works Cited), and other critics. The USA was, up to the advent of Bush Jr.'s escalation, officially committed to the doctrine of "low intensity warfare" (cf. Klare-Kornbluh) which was—like its predecessor "counterinsurgency"—as a rule indistinguishable from terrorism; as Chomsky points out (9-11, 90), all of them go back to the Nazi counter-resistance model. Counterinsurgency already went more than halfway toward undeclared warfare (in which killing civilians would be counted as war crimes), prefiguring thus the Bushist adventures. It was applied in Cuba, Kampuchea, Laos, Lebanon, Libya, Nicaragua, and almost all the rest of Latin America—and going further back, in the Philippines.
However, it would be unfair not to point out that others also participated in State terrorism. These were often US client-States, such as Chile and Greece under military rule, Indonesia, Guatemala, El Salvador or Colombia, but sometimes they were merely encouraged by the US (and secondarily by the Russian Stalinist) example: Turkey, Argentina under the military, Kampuchea under the Khmer Rouge, Russia in the Chechnyan secession war, various Central African governments. A special case, which pioneered practices later adopted by the USA, was Israel's interventions in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. Rummel has calculated that in 1900-80 between 180 and 360 million unarmed civilians were killed by their governments.
I shall subsume Herman & O'Sullivan's Table 3.1 (from A. George ed. 41f) and information from all other sources in the following twofold table confined to some main examples. A caveat: all data are estimates, subject to much error (usually upward correction would be needed), but they should be correct indications of the order of magnitude, and thus usable as qualitative indications and for comparative purposes:
Table 1. Civilians Killed By State Terrorism (main instances in last 40 years):
|During US intervention in Vietnam:||over 2,000,000|
|US-inspired Indonesian army pogrom of "Communists" 1965-66:||500,000-over 1,000,000|
|Intervention by South African, French, and US proxies in Angola and Mozambique:||over 500,000|
|During US bombing in Kampuchea:||at least 200-400,000|
|By the Pol Pot regime in Kampuchea:||ca. 200-400,0004|
|US bombings and proxies in Laos:||ca. 350,000|
|By the Indonesian army in East Timor:||up to 300,000|
|US-organized army repression in Guatemala 1962-96:||200,000|
|By the Indonesian army in western Irian (New Guinea):||80,000|
|US-organized army repression in El Salvador 1978 on:||70,000|
|By the Russian army in the Chechnyan secession war:||perhaps 40-65,000|
|By the Turkish army against Kurds 1984 on:||several tens of thousands (number not found)|
|Argentinian "disappeared" & others killed 1976-83:||perhaps 45,0004A|
|Israeli and US excursions into Lebanon, 1982-96:||ca. 38,000|
|US bombings of Iraqis in 1991 Gulf War
Counted as "smaller fry," but think about each of these zeroes as being bodies in pain and terror:
|perhaps 20,000 or more|
|US-organized Contras in Nicaragua:||7,000;|
|Iraqi poison gassing of Kurds 1988:||ca. 5,000;|
|US-organized army repression in Chile:||at least 3,000;|
|Israeli military killings of Palestinians:||several thousand (number not found) up to 1993 (including the first Intifada) and at least 2,000 from 2000 on|
|US invasion of Panama 1989:||2-3,000;|
|US and NATO bombings of Serbia:||2,000.|
A special case is the killings of civilians by the US army, mercenaries, and allies in the two present wars—not only because they are ongoing and open-ended, but also because they arguably should be called war crimes. However, since no war was declared and since the Bush Jr.'s administration's does not apply the Geneva Conventions on war prisoners, more mileage might be got by treating these one-sided wars as State terrorism (Table 2).
A. State terrorism overtakes group terrorism killing by a factor of between 500 and 1,000:1. While we might dispute definitions and terminology, the fact remains that under any name the media of rich countries, the "North," do not devote even one hundredth of the space spent on anti-North terrorism to noting (never mind analyzing) the horrendously huge killings going on in the "South" (see the classic Herman Real, Chomsky, and for Latin America up to the 1980s also Cockburn).
Table 2. Killing of Civilians by the US Army, Mercenaries, and Allies in the Two Present Wars
|US and allies' intervention in Afghanistan 2002:||4,000 (and counting)|
|US and UK army and allies during Iraq invasion from 2003 on:||10,000 or much more (and counting)5|
This is not only an offence against reason but shows also a clearly racist bias: some lives are held to be worth 1,000 times less than others. Even the accurate accounting of the "White" victims as against the difficulty of knowing the exact number of thousands killed in the "coloured" parts of the world points to this. The Nazis' shooting 100 "lower race" hostages for one German has had a good progeny.
B. This does not mean that the terrorist groups, whether claiming to be left-wing, Arab/Islamic, Irish (Ulster) Catholic or Protestant, or whatever, are as a rule morally any superior to the State killers. A radical left-wing commentator speaks of the Italian "red" groups' practices as using mafia tactics, "assassination of prisoners, a mysticism of violence, cynicism, arrogance, and disregard for others' lives even independent of their role in the enemy machine" (Massari 421), which much likens them to the US, Israeli, and other State terrorists; moreover, the "red" groups' infiltration by State apparats is still being debated. Most terrorist groups (with exceptions among those composed largely of intellectuals) have a macho mentality, and the religious groups seem to be entirely male.
Table 3. Civilians Killed By Group Terrorism (main instances in last 40 years)
|Italy (by "Red Brigades" and neo-fascists) 1968-82:||334|
|Palestinian killings of Israelis 1968-81:||282|
|Germany (by RAF and others) 1970-79:||31|
GLOBAL TOTAL 1969-80 (CIA estimate):
|Oklahoma City bombing 1995:||ca. 150|
|Palestinian killings of Israelis during first Intifada||ca. 700|
|Killings in Bangla Desh (mainly by "Islamists") 1996-2003:||ca. 100|
|"Islamists" based in Chechnya, 1999 on||over 1,000|
|Palestinian killings of Israelis during second Intifada, 2000 on:||up to 900|
|Al Qaeda attack against USA, Sept. 2001:||ca. 3,000|
|Killings in India (mainly by "Islamists") 2001-2004:||ca. 200|
|Bali nightclub explosions by "Islamists," Oct. 2002:||over 200|
|Al Qaeda attack on Madrid commuters, 2004:||ca. 200|
C. The above tables not only do not count the wounded; they also don't count the indirect but very real and often huge numbers of dead from other consequences of those killings. A good summary is presented by Marc Herold in a chart about ramifications of bombings. Beyond military deaths (entailing widows and orphans, and demographic imbalance) and the direct civilian deaths and injuries, it lists environmental costs, health costs, refugees, and the huge economic and psychological burdens which all these (together with destroyed infrastructure and remaining unexploded ordnance) puts on everybody surviving, leading to premature death and other loss of life for decades ahead. For Afghanistan alone, Herold notes that besides ca. 4,000 (by now) civilians killed, there are 4-7,000 civilians injured, many often badly maimed and requiring prostheses, a minimum of 3-4,000 refugees dead of hunger, disease, and cold, ca. 50,000 unexploded cluster bomblets, long-term health menaces—probably carcinogenic—from uranium, cyclonite, and perchlorates detritus from ordnance, etc. (in Malik ed. 217-19). In general, all the data about people killed by States should as a rule (except in civil wars) be multiplied by at least three to get the number of short-term victims only, while the group killings, with less efficient technologies, seem to entail a smaller proportion of non-lethal victims. Counting not only the killed but all serious bodily lesions would probably up the State vs. group terrorism proportion, perhaps nearer to 2,000:1.
Let me take only three further examples. The first is the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan which Clinton's government bombed, allegedly mistaking it for a chemical weapons plant. It thus destroyed 90% of Sudan's capacity to produce affordable medicine for malaria, tuberculosis, parasites, and other preventable diseases. The German ambassador to Sudan estimated that several tens of thousands of Sudanese have died as a result (Chomsky, 9-11 48f).
Second, the carefully avoided matter of uranium (wrongly called "depleted uranium") used in US and NATO ordnance. Vast areas of Iraq-cum-Arabia, of Afghanistan, and of ex-Yugoslavia and the Adriatic Sea (as well as many US and NATO soldiers, only in Italy ca. 300) remain poisoned by this highly toxic-cum-radiating material, possibly mixed with plutonium—a weapon of long-term mass destruction indeed. The British Atomic Energy Authority calculated for the First Gulf War of 1991 that 500,000 potential deaths may be involved in that area alone (Pilger, New 51-52, 95). However, as compared to the 400-500 tons of uranium then used, in the 2003 war between 1,100 and 2,200 tons were used, so that the potential deaths might be between 1.5 and 2.75 million people (Zucchetti ed. 112, 229; Baracca 155, and, on radiation statistics, Bertell). This would be worse than Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
And of course, the best documented case are the dead from the total consequences of that war in Iraq 1991-2002, which killed more people than all the Mass Destruction Weapons in history, hypocritically invoked by the US government even though it is itself so far the only user of atom bombs and the main user of chemical weapons (Pilger, New 8). UNICEF estimated in 1998 that ca. 7,500 people were dying each month in Iraq due to the devastations of its infrastructure in 1991 (bombing of food warehouses, flour mills, water-treatment facilities, etc.—cf. Needless) and to the embargo: a Twin Towers' outrage every 12 days for 11 years. In all, the best estimate of the rise of mortality attributes 1.2 to 1.5 million indirect Iraqi deaths to the effects of the 1991 war, the majority of them small children. As the New England Journal of Medicine editorial of Apr. 24, 1997, put it: "The Cuban and Iraqi instances make it abundantly clear that economic sanctions are, at their core, a war against public health" (Malik ed. 367). So is any State violence against civilians conducted by bombing (US) and heavy artillery (Israeli). So are the tens or hundreds of thousands of mines, cluster bombs, and uranium-encased shells lying about in Serbia, Iraq, and Afghanistan (the mines are to be found in every zone of the 100+ wars of recent decades), continuing to explode, poison, and kill every day.
D. This introduces the age-old phenomenon of killings without weaponry. If we go further, beyond either State or group terrorism, is it possible not to at least mention, and propose for further consideration, what I would call eco-killings (that is, slow or sudden destruction of the eco-sphere)? Again, I shall take only one example, out of very many possible ones—the 16,000 people killed in the Bhopal explosion and poisoning. In 1984 poisonous fumes escaping from the plant of Union Carbide covered 20 square kilometres of territory in the densely populated city of Bhopal (where the US company located its plant to avail itself of underpaid labour and generous tax incentives by the Indian government and to avoid the modest demands of US labour unions and tax authorities). 8,000 Indians died almost immediately, and about 500,000 were poisoned, of whom 8,000 more have died of the poisoning up to now, with countless illnesses continuing and incessantly adding to the number of the dead. On the night of the poisoning, the local management of Union Carbide sounded no alarm; it even turned off the plant siren “to avoid unnecessary panic.” When 3,000 New York employees and workers were outrageously killed in 2001, all the world’s media rightly reminded us of it daily and for months on end. The Bhopal killings—morally and physically just as outrageous, even if due to criminal negligence rather than criminal intent, to criminally bad planning rather than criminally good planning—were news for a few days, and have since been rarely, if ever, followed up by Western mass media. Instead, Union Carbide entered into lengthy litigation with Indian authorities, who finally accepted $470 million as a (quite inadequate) compensation for the poisoning that affects also those born years later (see the victims's site www.bhopal).
It would be inhuman to blame people for commemorating and analyzing either the Twin Towers or the Bhopal mass killing by itself. But it is equally inhuman to isolate one and forget the other. We live in one world, united if not by sympathy then by mass migrations, imposed WTO trade rules, imposed IMF financial rules, military satellites, unending warfare, and news media (and by now also by protests against all these). No analysis can possibly be persuasive unless it takes both these kinds of slaughter into account. Responsibility for the 16,000 killings lies with capitalist business people centered in USA whose supreme value is greatest possible profits in the shortest possible time; responsibility for the 3,000 killings lies with people whose supreme value is the return to the slower, pre-profit times of direct patriarchal and slave-owning exploitation, without a world trade centered in the USA. The disregard for lives of people is equal. It is the callous stance of killers, or more precisely mass murderers.6
Regarding these two types of killer organizations we must unyieldingly adopt what I would like to dub the Mercutio principle: "A plague on both of your houses!" (Romeo and Juliet).
Beyond This Horizon
From the point 20th-Century revolt gets separated from its roots and deprived of any concrete morality, Sade or dictatorship, individual terrorism or State terrorism become the alternatives. Albert Camus, L'Homme révolté
I wish to broach in an unsystematic way some prolonged consequences entailed by my whole discussion of war and terrorism. They have to do, at a first remove, with more general questions behind terrorism, that is, its root causes and the attitudes a radical Left may be expected to take up toward it. At a second remove, they have to do with the general sociohistorical horizons of the present period.
Though talking about how to understand various terrorisms, especially the "blowback" group-terrorisms responding to the pressures of empires, and then how to position ourselves as against them would require a book shuttling between political economics and depth psychology, at least two central points—again often made on the Left but never present in the media—ought to be recalled.
First, it is counter-productive, indeed productive of "blowbacks," that "the Western right-wing and most of the [official 'terrorism industry'] establishment furiously oppose any focus on 'root causes' of terrorism" (Chomsky, in George ed. 71). Even liberals have plaintively pointed out that a purely military war against terrorism cannot be won, that terrorism entails a struggle for the "hearts and minds" of millions of people who can be up to a significant point controlled and suppressed, but not finally persuaded by bombs and shells. Already in 1989 ex-President Carter reflected:
We sent Marines into Lebanon and you only have to go to Lebanon, to Syria or to Jordan to witness first-hand the intense hatred among many people for the United States because we bombed and shelled and unmercifully killed totally innocent villagers—women and children and farmers and housewives—in those villages around Beirut.... That is... what has precipitated some of the terrorist attacks—which were totally unjustified and criminal. (Malik 78)
It must be noted that, as in all liberal approaches, their end forgets their beginning.
In Avnery's Nov. 2001 example, the blockade against Palestinian villages by the Israeli army, which denied them water and food, does not isolate the "terrorists," but on the contrary turns them into national heroes. This holds in spades for the subsequent killings and destructions regardless of consequences for the civilian population. Equally, Avnery notes that the devastation caused by the Russian forces in Chechnya did not break but strengthened the opposing guerrilla forces. Thus, he is right to conclude that "Since terrorism is always a political instrument, the right way to combat it is always political. Solve the problem that breeds terrorism and you get rid of terrorism." It can only be durably cured by removing its root causes, psychological, political, and finally economic. In sum, group terrorism is the direct offspring of State terrorism and its preparations in hunger, fear, and exploitation. What we know of the al Qaeda cadres indicates that they come from the upwardly mobile middle class of Arab nations, mainly Saudi Arabia and Egypt (the two principal US clients), that is blocked from independence and frustrated (cf. Ali 293-94 & passim; Bishara; Minolfi). It does not take much foresight to see that such terrorist groups will become a real threat if they get mass recruits from globalization's new "informal proletariat," counting by now two fifths of active population in the "South" (Davis 26 & passim). Such reservoirs, already between one and two billion people, will be fed by further military devastations and economico-political blockages. In that sense, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are the ideal recruiting and training grounds for group terrorism.
I cannot enter here upon the huge, though not too recondite, question of how terrorism is properly to be met (a simple answer: with justice). As Chomsky pithily put it, "Drain the swamp and there will be no more mosquitoes" ("Drain"). I shall mention here only the factor of fear. In his final Comments, Debord prophetically noted how the autocracy of market autonomy and its new techniques of governing masquerade as "a perfect democracy [which] constructs its own inconceivable foe, terrorism. Its wish is to be judged by its enemies, rather than by its results"—for "compared with terrorism, everything else must be acceptable" (24). If the US and European societies succumb to the fear so zealously propagated not only by the terrorists but also by practically all of their own governments and obedient media, a vicious circle of escalation will be established. It will result in a destruction of the US social texture by adding at least $885 billion to federal deficits in favour of militarized involution:
"A society bingeing on fear makes itself vulnerable to far more profound forms of destruction than terror attacks. The 'terrorism war'... is using these popular fears to advance a different agenda—the re-engineering of American life through permanent mobilization. The transformation is well under way. The consequences, if left unchallenged, will be very difficult to reverse" (Greider).
As Franklin Roosevelt rightly said in an analogous crisis, the only thing to fear is fear itself.
Second, nobody on the Left can afford to neglect its long tradition of debates about terrorism (see Massari). Its socialist and Marxist wing has always maintained that the liberation of the masses of working people is a matter of self-organization by those masses (with further important debates as to whether parties or trade unions or other ways of organizing are crucial mediators and catalyzers for this process). It has therefore always had a twofold attitude toward terrorism. On the one hand, this wing rejected terrorism as a strategy, because such a choice both stemmed from and strengthened disbelief into the central task of mass politics: the subverting of existing class relationships. The socialists and communists held that terrorism is a desperate choice of those who have lost faith that these relationships can be reversed; furthermore, acts of terrorism as a rule strengthen the bourgeois State's hold on the orientations of working people. But on the other hand, holding that revolutionary violence is often a necessary and indeed indispensable self-defence against the dictatorial horizons of the ruling class whenever threatened, Marxists have as a rule refused ethical condemnations of most terrorist actions. Out of a long tradition perhaps it is enough here to cite the emblematic position of Gramsci commenting in 1921 on an anarchist dynamite attack against a police chief, which had been rerouted and had exploded in a crowded theatre: “This murderous attack ... is another episode of the period of chaos and barbarism into which Italy has been thrown by the economic and social crisis born of the imperialist war.... Before we absolve or condemn, we need to understand in the spirit of humanity...” (Massari 138). In other words, the hypocritical bourgeois outcry against violence and sentimentality about innocent victims (at a time of worldwide imperialist wars which produce millions of such victims) ought to give way to political analysis precisely in order to lessen such victimization. With very few exceptions, this analysis meant rejecting terrorism.
But today, given the escalation of State terrorism by means of new weapons portending destruction of not only thousands but if need be millions (an escalation which is politically helped by what I have called group terrorism replying to the State one), I think we must be one whole notch sharper than the Marx-to-Gramsci-and-Guevara tradition. It should be said that the few exceptions allowed by this tradition should practically mean no exception to the rule of not killing civilians. As the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish concluded, "Nothing, nothing justifies terrorism" (Gush-shalom). It would remain to be discussed which civilians are what Walzer calls "politically innocent" (200). As this thoughtful and honourable liberal (as he was at the time) put it:
Hatred, fear, and the lust for domination are the marks of oppressed and oppressor alike.... The mark of a revolutionary struggle against oppression, however, is not this incapacitating rage and random violence, but restraint and self-control. The revolutionary reveals his freedom in the same way as he earns it, by directly confronting his enemies and refraining from attacks on anyone else. (Walzer 205)
That does not necessarily mean forgetting, as Brecht said at the end of Saint Joan of the Slaughterhouses, that sometimes only force (Gewalt) helps where force reigns, as self-defence against absolute oppression. But it does mean avoiding the fatal confusion of tongues where force or violence is equated with terror, in the meaning of killing civilians as example. As Engels exemplarily formulated it, "No communist has the idea of vengeance against individuals." To the contrary, while he acknowledged the unavoidable necessity of self-defence against precise enemies in his Condition of the English Working Class, he went on to argue that communism recognizes the necessity of proletarian bitterness against its oppressors, but transcends it because it is an affair of the whole mankind and not only of the workers, and optimistically concluded: "The more the English workers take up socialist ideas, the more will their present bitterness lose in savagery and crudeness" (298, see also 144-49).
Finally, I wish to open up these reflections onto the most general sociohistorical horizons, and ask two more questions, even if in a quite preliminary way. First, are we witnessing the beginning of the end of capitalism by violent suicide? Second, are there widespread popular material interests in the "North" (North America, western and central Europe, and the outlying dominions in Oceania) which make it probable that widespread popular support would be found for a fascist involution of capitalism? My tentative answer to both questions would be yes, with the rider that this is no cause for rejoicing.
David Harvey has argued persuasively that for innermost so-to-speak technical reasons of capital dynamics, "capitalism is always bound to be highly unstable unless it is held down by some coercive force (such as US hegemony backed by powerful central institutions like the World Bank and the IMF)" (xxvi). We can measure the distance travelled by capitalism since his diagnosis, dating originally back barely a decade, by the fact that the WTO-WB-IMF trefoil by now doesn't suffice to ensure the stability of capitalism, whose leading force, the USA, has therefore embarked upon permanent preventive warfare in the "South" (and more and more martial laws inside the "North" or metropolis) as the ultima ratio regum: that final argument of the rulers, brute force. We are therefore cycling back, in vastly inflated terms of space and time, to the situation of the First Industrial Revolution, which was based on a 12-hour working day, children's and women's labour, high mortality of popular classes, mass drugging, and other attendant desertifications of corporeal and mental values.
From its very beginnings, capitalism tended to a destruction of its natural basis, land and labour (today also water, air, climate, species diversity). At that earlier point, fearing the breakdown of the whole system, the British State intervened with a set of work laws that paved the way to a sustainable exploitation of the workers. The breakdowns today happen away from the “core”—in China, India, Latin America or Africa as well as in the "sunken" third of the "Northern" population—and are better masked by the more powerful and more cynical media of mass persuasion, so that there is an illusion they can go on forever, or at least "to the last Chinese." This also means there is less chance of a return to non-warfare Keynesianism, which was the second wave of staunching the hemorrhages of capital. There are no more true liberal reformists as a political force, not even in the social-democratic camp.
This does not mean that chances for fighting back do not exist, only that we cannot expect them to arise from within the existing power system of political parties and trade unions in the "North" (except for fringes). The so-called Right is gladly drifting toward fascist militarism, the so-called Left is barely a milder Right, and the admirable gut-feelings of the "movement of movements" still have to find their political horizon—the "yes" in the name of which it says "no." Probabilities (surely to be fought against) speak therefore for an Iron Heel trampling legal niceties and using increasing police violence inside and army violence outside the metropolis. This is today helped by most group terrorism, in an unholy feedback of mutual ideological legitimation of oppressions with State terrorism. Wallerstein's or Chomsky's (9-11, 19, 35) opinions that a Police State is unlikely are based, I fear, on illusions of the Keynesian period. I hope my readers may find good arguments against what I'm about to pose, and I shall be glad if they do, but a solid majority of the US (and then west European) working classes live their unhealthy lives off the super-exploitation of the real proletarians, the jobless, the immigrants, and the "South" (immigrants are the "internal South" within the metropolis), and they would sink from a low middle-class to totally proletarianized status if they did not live off it. Chances are that when it comes to the crunch their material interests will turn them, as a class or congerie of classes, to the Right, if need be a fascist Right, rather than the Left. The record of US popular support for governmental militarization expenditures and policies clearly speaks for this, though occasional opposition—as the one that ended the Vietnam War—cannot be discounted if such policies come home in the form of dead youth rather than investments (cf. Hoffmann). Capitalism will never share enough wealth to bribe the pauperized proletarians of the world: but it can bribe as well as intimidate maybe one third of its population in one sixth of the world. The outlook for civil liberties seems to me rather dim, when the question is which social group is the next one to go under. If needed, White Supremacist groups and the swarming groups of private mercenaries can easily be co-opted into an arm of State repression, as we saw in the German SA or today (say) in Colombia or Iraq.
Thus, when capitalism as we have known it collapses, what kind of successor formation will then be coming about? The age of individualism and free market is over, the present is already highly collectivized, and demographics as well as insecurity will make the future even more so: the only choice is between the models of the oligarchic (i.e. centrally fascist) warcamp and open plebeian-democratic commune. The dominant current of capitalist economico-political power has clearly embarked upon the constitution of a militarized Fortress Amerika and (less overtly, still centered mainly on police) Fortress Europe. Demented ventures such as the invasion of Iraq induce further group terrorism; if not stopped by focused popular protest, they would grow into the permanent mutual legitimation of group and State terrorism discussed in this essay.
1. These considerations follow and expand on my article "Access to an Identification of ‘Terrorism’: Words and Actions," Rethinking Marxism 14.2 (2002): 109-22.
2. Türcke 232-33 (and cf. 204-08) calls it "ontological indifference" but to my mind this is too static. Nonetheless I wish to record how much I was stimulated by his work. My thanks also go to a number of friends who helped. For one of the first reinsertions of the fetish theory into contemporary sociology, see Deutschmann. Of course, before and since Simmel's Philosophy of Money, and indeed Marx's notes on Shakespeare, the works not always helpfully equating money with Mammon have been legion.
3. In the exceptional case of Ulster (Northern Ireland) we have both accurate data and a painstaking examination by an anthropologist how to categorize them. Between 1969 and 1994, ca. 3,170 people were killed, of which ca. 1,490 may be called combatants, official or unofficial, while 1,640 were clearly civilians and 40 unclassified. Of the civilians, 1,070 were Catholics killed by British police and army or by the "loyalist" paramilitary, and 570 were Protestants. While the latter were killed mainly by the IRA, one fifth (or about 115) of them were killed by the British and "loyalists", apparently by mistake (Sluka, "For God" 132-33). Thus, the final count in my terms would be: victims of State terror, 1,070 + 115 = 1,185; victims of non-State group terror, 455 (this is not what you can read in English or other Western mass media). In a number of cases, I have been unable to learn how the killed victims are to be categorized, and these are not represented in my Table (e.g., the ca. 800 killings ascribed to the Basque ETA group).
4. Here, as throughout this Table, I attempt to follow the most believable or least biased sources, rejecting defenders of the State killings (which include US government and most US media estimates on one hand and the whitewashers of—say—the Pol Pot, Miloševic or Hussein regimes on the other), as well as those organizations of the victims which might have a stake in magnifying their number. There is no absolute evidential truth in these cases, but I'd be disingenuous not to mention that, despite many illusions and delusions in the pretended or real Left, I find sources such as Chomsky and Herman more anxious for truth than people to the Right of them. As a sample, I give here a rough overview of the debate concerning civilian victims of the Pol Pot regime, where my estimate diverges perhaps most sharply from what one usually finds in the mass media.
It is essential to recall that in 1969-73 US carpet bombings of Sihanouk's neutralist Kampuchea caused up to 600,000 dead and a flight of hundreds of thousands more to the only safe place, the capital city (see Porter & Hildebrand; Herman "Pol Pot"; www.moreorless; Pilger "Recalling"), and thus set the tone for what was to follow; the Far Eastern Economic Review predicted one million deaths as the result of US bombings (see "Noam Chomsky"). Herman's analysis concludes that Pol Pot's executions amounted to 100-300,000 killed, with 650-700,000 more dead from disease, starvation, and overwork (the latter should morally be in large part, though not entirely, added to his regime's horrendous record, but are not counted in my Table, for then I'd have to multiply most other figures of the directly killed by similar factors—see note 6). According to the Finnish-based encyclopedia en.wikipedia, the US State Dept. estimates the number of dead under Pol Pot at 1.2 million, which I take as the upper believable estimate, to be subdivided into killings vs. disease, starvation, and overwork. The legend of 2 million killed, often inflated to 3 or even 4 million, and still peddled by most US and allied media, arose from a French priest's book that summed up already inflated figures from US bombings plus Pol Pot killings, and which his supporters seem to have in part retracted when challenged by Chomsky (see "Noam Chomsky," from which I take the data for the rest of this note). The two strongest scholarly but mutually critical contenders in the field today, based on demographic estimates of decline from expected population rise, are Ben Kiernan, head of the Yale Cambodian Genocide Program (http://www.yale.edu/gcp), who estimates the decline at 1.5 to 1.7 million, and Michael Vickery, who estimates it at 700,000. Bear in mind that demographic decline is based on expectations of normal births and deaths, and has to be handled with great caution. Finally, the CIA estimate of the "decade of genocide" 1969-78 (including the US bombing) is 600,000, to be divided in my opinion into 200-400,000 victims of each of the terrorizing parties, and I adopt this in my Table. The most believable estimate of deaths under the Pol Pot regime is, to my mind, perhaps over 1 million, of which ca. 300,000 by State terrorist killing. This number is therefore most probably not larger than the Kampucheans dead by US State terrorist bombings—though all these numbers remain horrendous both absolutely and relatively to a small country.
For those willing to check it on their own, I recommend Google's "Pol Pot" holdings, but to stop at the first 10 of Google's 85 pages. One afternoon should be enough for an orientation. The best annotated bibliography of secondary sources on terrorism I have found is in Henderson.
4A. For Argentina, the "desaparecidos" are 30,000. However, there are also 20,000 killed outright without disappearing, and even if we assume (improbably) 25% were guerrillas, it seems the rest were unarmed civilians (see Fossati 36-38). Thence my conservative 30+15 = 45 thousand.
5. The Second Gulf (or Iraqi) War is particularly murky, for we don't have reliable information about the forces fighting the US and its allies. It seems clear that they have now become disparate: ex-Baathists and infiltrating al Qaeda supporters on the one hand and genuine popular resistance against foreign occupation on the other. At least the former wing is not averse to killing civilians for intimidation rather than as US quisling collaborators, and would thus fall under my rubric of "group terrorism." It is unclear just what the numbers and especially proportions of victims of State and group terrorism are from this time on, and I have tried to stick to the main group and the year 2003 in the figure put into my table. However, the total number of civilians killed by both sides (but disproportionately more by the US army and its allies) seems now to be 30,000 according to independent reports from Iraq and various databases accessible from www.humanrights.org (heavily slanted toward US government and para-governmental sources); this would mean 30 Iraqi civilians killed for each US soldier.
6. This ought to logically open up toward all other victims, direct or indirect, of savage capitalism on the global scale, but it would also result in a shoreless list of dead from hunger, diseases, unsafe workplaces, etc. I cited in the "Capitalism" article cautious international sources, which speak of some 40 million people dying from starvation each year, while about 500 million are "chronically malnourished," that is, on the way to dying soon, and a further 800+ million live in "absolute poverty," that is, bordering on famine and dying a bit more slowly. I shall add to this only the most recent report of the ILO (of April 2003), based on incomplete national data, citing the number of dead from workplace injuries or diseases as 2 million (including 12,000 children). This includes 270 million accidents with 335,000 dead, and 160 million cases of "occupational diseases" with, for example, 334,000 dead from "toxic substances" (carcinogens etc.). Again, the wounded would be a multiple of the dead.
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