Radical History Review 85 (2003) 1-8
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No End to History
This issue is Radical History Review's response to the events of 9/11—both the horrific destruction on the day itself and the subsequent "War on Terrorism." This introduction and the rest of the issue went into production in June 2002, and we realize there may be more drastic shocks before it appears. We do not claim to be a magazine of topical commentary. Instead, we attempt to have a longer view, a radical perspective informed by the conviction, as underscored by Malcolm X, that "of all our studies, history is best qualified to reward our research." In this supposed new epoch, history is peculiarly necessary—only through its contingent narratives can we refuse the numbing absolutes of a new "civilizing mission" and return to the specificities of politics, place, ideology, and conjuncture.
The RHR editorial collective met in late September 2001 and felt the urgency of bringing history back into the dialogue of 9/11 and fighting the centrifugal pull of events, the insistence that "everything had changed," and that this "new Pearl Harbor" made the last American century old news. We decided to compile an issue inviting scholars, in and outside the United States, to interrogate, document, and reflect on the slippery political and historical category of "terror." Our intention is to break-up the monolithic discourse of terror, terrorism, terrorists, and to break down the "fourth wall" of awful spectacle erected by state, para-statal, and para-military actors, from Al-Qaeda to the Bush administration. We began with simple questions:
How do we distinguish terror from other forms of political violence? Can we or should we?
Is "state terror" a useful category, or an obfuscation? [End Page 1]
How has terror or terrorism been justified, and when, and by whom?
Can terrorism of one or any sort be justified, from a left or radical perspective?
What does it mean to refer to terrorism and terrorists as something other than polemical terms for a particular group in a particular situation?
Does terrorism as a political strategy have an affinity for, or historic relationship to, certain types of movements?
Conversely, are there categories of political struggle where terrorism is rarely or never used, and if so, why?
Can we distinguish between terrorisms of the right and the left, or do they affect societies, cultures, peoples, and governments in the same way?
Is terrorism a recognizably modern or postmodern phenomenon, linked to the creation of "the nation" or other universalistic categories?
What is the relationship of "The Terror" of 1792-94 to the various international left traditions (Jacobin, anticolonial, anarchist, communist, and so on)?
(At the end of this introduction, I will return to these questions to assess whether any answers have emerged.)
As in other recent issues, we emphasize types of historical writing that foreground explicitly political perspectives. The issue leads off with an Intervention by Lisa Brock of the editorial collective, the text of a talk she gave at a teach-in at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago ten days after the events of 9/11.We feel this is a voice that needs hearing, a challenge to ignore "patriotic" calls for unity predicated on the chauvinism of a unique victimhood.
What follows is the "Reflections" section, comprised of sixteen pieces by a diverse group of scholars. Each author was free to answer the above questions as she or he saw fit, to present any argument or analysis that seemed appropriate. We did not assign topics, though an effort was made to include viewpoints from or about different parts of the world and significant examples of political violence, whether in Chile, Ireland, Palestine, or India.
These "Reflections" can be grouped into two categories. The first includes pieces that discuss a country, place, or historical moment and present a perspective for understanding terror and its workings in a specific instance. Thus, Deborah Levenson offers a painfully intimate explanation of how Guatemalan labor organizers [End Page 2] persisted through life and then death under some of...