Creating Enemies, Defining Terror, and Justifying Anything

We are known by the enemies we keep creating. Of course, one can point almost anywhere and find barbarism, now and in the past, there and also here. The dictionary definition of “Terrorism” is “government by intimidation.” It most recently devolved in the U.S. lexicon of endless war “on terror” – since 9/11– as any violence by those the ‘patriotic’ U.S. speaker perceives as a threat to U.S. “interests” anywhere in the world. Anyone who may object to U.S. military incursions into his/her country is not a “patriot” or “freedom fighter,” but a “terrorist.” In its recent usage, the term “terrorist” has become loaded with emotional content.

The term has pretty much lost its traditional meaning. It is now so widely used to refer to anyone the speaker hates or opposes that it means little more than to designate an evil other. Someone who protests the clear cutting of old growth timber in the Northwest is now called an “eco-terrorist.” The term has simply devolved into a symbol of hatred — regardless of whether the hatred is ‘justified’ by specific behavior — especially when the speaker, as is typical, represents the interests of the global business elite. The terrorism meme has become an effective tool in maintaining endless wars by fanning the fires of hatred of the evil other. Hence, the growing number of hate crimes directed at anyone who appears to the ignorant observer to look ‘Islamic.’

Empires of Terror

So-called “non-Western cultures” have experienced localized terror for centuries. Afghans suffered British attempts to colonize and later Soviet attempts to install puppet governments. The Mujahideen fought off the Russians, ran drugs, took millions of dollars in cash delivered by CIA operatives, killed villagers and became the Taliban. The U.S. has also attempted to govern the Afghans by intimidation (and bribes) ever since its first bungled attempt to kill Osama bin Laden, and has continued to do so since killing him.

Governments everywhere are corrupt, but some have more technical ‘fire power’ while others have an unfamiliar fanaticism. Taliban brutality is more than matched by the techno-terror reigned down upon wedding parties, villages, and even “insurgents,” via CIA drones. Indiscriminant murder-at-a-distance can easily be just as brutal as by those ISIS fighters who would more directly behead innocents. But one can maintain a psychological distance from one’s own brutal acts by the lexicon of “targeting” in the detached mode of video games. A person’s willingness to invoke the term “terrorist” seems mostly based on whose side executes the terrifying acts of ruthless violence. It is also an easy means of dehumanizing the ‘object’ targeted by the killing machine’s operator. Beheading is barbaric and maybe even insane, but it is as brutally honest as it is physically direct.

What, exactly, is so special about Western culture that it’s violence escapes the label of terror? Is it merely that it perfected more powerful technologies of violence and deployed them on other cultures before anyone else? That resulted in colonialism, imperialism, and now economic ‘globalization’ – global financial domination supported by military intervention wherever thought useful to retain economic control. Is that more rational or less brutal than tribal fighters resisting U.S. invasions?

Cultural one-upmanship is pointless. Those with more power can invent and deploy more clever technologies. But remember: technology is simply a material way to do something. But, what is to be done? Well, since most money for “innovation” in technological development is spent for military purposes, death and destruction are its primary purpose. In any case, the globalized war machine continues to inflict more damage on the planet as well as its people, than any other institution – even Wall Street. But of course, Wall Street is one of the prime movers of the military-industrial-political complex and its drive for endless billions in contracts for esoteric often unworkable technologies of warfare, which cost billions to operate, and are inappropriate for the military operations they are supposed to enhance.

Justifying Terror by Creating Enemies

Does the U.S. incarcerate more people than any other nation because over the last few decades we have produced more and more evil people who must be arrested and imprisoned? The so called drug war has criminalized a huge segment of society by targeting vulnerable Black and Brown youth in neighborhoods, ignoring the white college and working classes that uses drugs at about the same rates. Is that not a form of governing by intimidation? The growing chorus of reports of police killings of Black and Brown young men on America’s streets reflects the governing of those neighborhoods by intimidation. Yet the “terrorist” meme is reserved for those others who are on the other side of the authoritarian mission of the corporate state.

The Kill Team,” a recent production of PBS’s Independent Lens, documents a platoon of U.S. soldiers some of whom participated in gratuitous killings of Afghan civilians. In their naïve boot-camp brainwashed minds, they felt the need to do what they had been trained to do: kill people. It is hard to not be stunned by the mindless dehumanization of The Other by these barely past teenage boys. Officially sanctioned night raids of civilian homes, excused by the flimsiest ‘intelligence’ are not really that different.

We know of many incidents and patterns of practice in the military from Abu Graeb to Guantanamo that are at least as irrational and brutal. Jeremy Scahill’s book, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, chronicles the covert wars of intimidation waged around the world in the name of “the War on Terror.” These wars on diverse peoples only breed resentment and hatred for those who have invaded their countries. The terrorism meme has worked as domestic propaganda, even though the intimidation of the peoples of Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and beyond, cannot salvage the empire.

Mohamedou Slahi has been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay since 2002, despite being cleared by multiple courts of any wrong doing. Even with heavy blacking out of major portions, his Guantanamo Diary reveals much more than what is widely known about the torture that goes on there. It also expresses the power of the human spirit in the face of incalculable suffering, torture, and intimidation. His enduring humanity cannot be destroyed by the terrorist meme. Can our humanity survive it too?

The Militarised “Big-Data” Threat to Non-Violent Civil Action

The stories just keep coming. The NSA and the big corporations have been sweeping up massive amounts of data on all Americans. And of course, most others in the world who are “connected” in some way are being spied upon too. We cannot fail to notice that widespread surveillance has become routine practice in diverse institutions. Less widely discussed are the various means by which public and corporate institutions are collecting large quantities of increasingly detailed information on everyone. “Big Data” is all the buzz where institutional efforts are made to manage everyone’s behavior to control politics and increase profits.

Pervasive police violence upon the most vulnerable populations has become a widely discussed public problem since unarmed black teen Michael Brown’s murder-by-cop. Many instances of excessive or entirely gratuitous “use of force” are now posted on social media every day. The growing split between dominant institutions – whether corporate, government, or militarized police – and the general population, is palpable.

Local law enforcement agencies continue to move toward full militarized weaponry and the “warrior cop” mentality as they more closely align with the DEA, ICE, NSA, the military, et al. Police departments are increasingly populated by violence prone individuals largely incapable of and uninterested in “keeping the peace.” Any civil objection to an institutional injustice is treated like and defined as ‘potentially’ terrorism related. To defend civil liberties is becoming an activity dangerously close to being considered ‘subversive.’ We are fast moving toward becoming a much more closed society, characterized by widespread violent repression of dissent.

Climate chaos is already upon us, yet it is treated in politics as if it were just another issue to be considered later because we don’t really know everything about it yet – no rush. The ever-expanding “terrorism” meme excuses every imaginable abuse of civil liberty and personal information. Little in the way of constitutional rights remains protected from the secret machinations of the “deep state” of “Democracy, Inc.”

The neoliberal economic and “third way” political ideologies both assert endless economic growth as the solution to the catastrophic conditions unbridled growth has created. Despite the failure of that growth to contribute to the pursuit of human happiness, it is touted as both good and inevitable. More and more institutional resources are poured into “big data” collection for use in managing the pseudo-democracy of corporate controlled politics and anti-democratic voter suppression.

In short, it’s all going in the wrong direction. Environmental progress is advertised as carbon emissions continue to grow. A massive turnaround is necessary in the very short term. Yet, corporate and governmental power – whether gestures of environmental concern are made or not – continue on the path of financialized economic growth and extractive capitalism. The necessity to take immediate collective action to slow the accelerating mass extinction is politically ignored. The power elites are not about take the responsibility to initiate the social mobilization necessary to begin the Great Transformation from the doomed carbon economy to an economy that will not destroy the whole earth system.

Only widespread civil collective action will get the attention of the power elites, which continue their exploitative rampage across the planet. They seem hell-bent on continuing on the path toward species extinction beyond the point where mitigation of climate disruption and its catastrophic consequences is no longer possible. The possibility to mount a massive popular uprising demanding the complex techno-economic and social transformation necessary seems unlikely. So, where do we go from here?

Increasingly overt and not entirely polite collective actions to draw attention to the immediacy of the crisis are necessary. But that presents a dilemma. The institutional forces of the status quo are increasingly turning to militarized violence in response to any interference with their exercise of power. There is no question as to where the physical power resides. The people have only one form of power: their numbers. Despite the fact that most people know that something is very wrong, it is extremely difficult for most folks to get the information needed to realize how critical the situation is. Knowledge is power.

Yet, numerous situations of past social transformations and/or revolutions – not merely one group overthrowing another and taking power, but actual rapid structural change – have demonstrated the unstoppable power of large numbers of people united and acting peacefully. The only viable counter to institutional violence is massive non-violent civil disobedience. Of course, the situation today is different than in colonial India or Poland under Soviet domination, or South African apartheid, or various other historical cases. But in nearly every case where the population mobilized for peaceful change, it succeeded. Still, every situation is different and calls for particular tactics and strategies. So, we must find our own way.