Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Liberal interventionism at home...

Just a tiny post of little worth (more substantive stuff coming soon - I promise; and who could resist a 'principled opportunism'/natural law post, and something on left liberalism/republican freedom), I was just reading this article about the new counter-terrorism stuff (although the Guardian headline is ridiculous, clearly the confrontation with the Muslim Council doesn't overshadow the launch of an anti-terror strategy, it's absolutely integral to it), anyway, this got me thinking about the relationship between the external war on terror and the internal war on terror.

As I've constantly stressed, what I find most important about the war on terror is the way that it gives a select group of states the ability to intervene - seemingly with impunity - in a temporally and spatially unlimited way, seemingly against anyone, but practically against a certain number of target states (whose ranks swell and shrink according to needs). However, as I have also noted there has been a shift in emphasising that a whole range of 'intervention' options are open, quite apart from just military force (although let's not pretend that the war on terror didn't always involve these options becaus it did). The situation is thus created whereby states can 'intervene' (broadly construed) in those states that are in some way 'at risk' of generating terrorism, or harbouring terrorists. This obviously involves constructing some kind of 'model' (e.g. the 'rogue state') which has certain objective characteristics that produce terrorism. In order to prevent this these states have to be transformed, or contained - as such 'liberal' interventionism is a key aspect of the war on terror.

What's interesting is the way that this is reflected in domestic life, especially in the UK. This is seen above all in anti-terror legislation, which increasingly concerns itself not with terrorist acts - but with support, glorification and radicalisation, what I've always found fascinating about the anti-terror laws is the wa in which the definition of terrorism is so ridiculously broad as to potentially cover any number of activities, in this way the potential for unlimited intervention, which we see internationally, is produced internally as well.

But more disturbing is surely all of this counter-terrorism strategy stuff. Because here, it's not concerned with regulating acts (and most of the anti-terror stuff was concerned with acts, even if it is with acts which clearly ought not to be criminalised) but with creating subjects. Counter-terrorism strategies are obsessed with looking at what 'causes' someone to 'become' a terrorist. The aim is to intervene and stop these processes. This is - of course - the perfect complement to the war on terror's liberal interventionism abroad; in both circumstances the intervention can seemingly go unchecked in its quest to create liberal subjects.

This focus is - I think - very important. Because of course the point is that those 'objective characteristics' which produce terrorism (or what we would think of as terrorism) are often the self-same conditions that produce political radicalism. When this is combined with the broad sweep definitions of anti-terrorism, the state can quite legitimately police the radical left under the aegis of anti-terrorism, indeed, as Alberto Toscano has astutely noted a propos the Tarnac Nine, any radical political activism can be portrayed as a type of 'pre-terrorism'.

This is obviously why we also need to question the declared purpose of anti-terror legislation. Internationally, I would argue that one of the driving forces behind the war on terror has been the decline in the imperial power of the US and its attempt to legally entrench a hegemonic coalition. Might anti-terror legislation 'at home' serve a similar function insofar as it legitimates a vast extension of state power into social and political life. Furthermore, is it not telling that anti-terror legislation has found its greatest use not against terrorists, but against left critics of the government in times when its legitimacy is in crisis.

Of course, this doesn't mean the argument is in bad faith. Perhaps (and indeed this seems probable) from the perspective of liberal-democratic capitalism anyone who opposes in a radical way this state of affairs is - at the very least - a potential terrorist. This in fact seems to be the message that underlies a whole host of legislation, action plans, school sylabuses and in fact the entire 'citizenship' course (which school children have shoved down their throats).

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