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Terrorist Hunter: Walter Mosley, the Urban Plot, and the Terror War

From: Cultural Critique
66, Spring 2007
pp. 21-57 | 10.1353/cul.2007.0018

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A fundamental political uncertainty of our time concerns the limits of the nation-state—the extendibility of its laws, actions, institutions, and modes of security. This political uncertainty corresponds to a problem in current philosophical trends, theories of representation, and cultural analyses of power. The stakes for philosophy and politics are the same and have to do with the constitution of citizenship and who deserves the rights and protections due to citizens, as well as how to define the contours of a humanity before now recognizable, as Hannah Arendt pointed out, only through adherence to and representation in what counts as national territory, political community, or national rule. Global capitalism is frequently theorized as a waning of nations, and it is often said that corporate multinational capital has usurped the democratic promises embodied in nation-state sovereignty and transgressed the containment of borders. Yet it is also true that the nation-state has "returned" with the burgeoning of national debt and the renewed mobilization of imperialist conquests, immigrant labor controls, and state-sponsored techno-armies. In a time of internationalized markets, the nation often seems more resilient than ever, with its repressive powers swelling outward, even as its death chimes are continually rolling. It is worthwhile, then, to think about the connections between the frequent proclamations of the nation's death and its recurrence, especially in an iron-fisted and punitive form. Is the nation somehow reaffirmed and even empowered in the multiple allegations of its demise? If so, it seems that such a narrative of crises works to collapse the nation into its role of policing, raising again the question of what can become of the citizenry such policing nominally aims to protect.

Read together, Walter Mosley's 2002 Easy Rawlins detective novel Bad Boy Brawly Brown and a 2003 memoir, Terrorist Hunter: The Extraordinary Story of a Woman Who Went Undercover to Infiltrate the Radical Islamic Groups Operating in America demonstrate a transformation in the cultural language of the nation-state, where the universality of human-rights protections under nation-state law morphs into a language of limits and privileges. Terrorist Hunter was written by an anonymous author who later was revealed to be Rita Katz, an employee of an information-gathering company called the SITE (Search for International Terrorist Entities) Institute. Whereas Bad Boy Brawly Brown relates the story of an African American detective who infiltrates the militant wing of a pro–civil rights activist association in Los Angeles in order to find a lost youth, Terrorist Hunter tells of a Jewish woman who dresses up as a Muslim woman in order to infiltrate Islamic charities she suspects are front organizations financing Palestinian, and later al-Qaida, militarism and terror.

Mosley arguably helped reinvent the hard-boiled detective tropes that Terrorist Hunter borrows. Although her book is presented as autobiographical where Mosley's is fictional, Katz employs many conventions of the detective genre in order to construct a model character for the type of police work she sees as necessary for the present political climate. Additionally, she uses, ironically, the fictional genre to make certain settings, scenarios, and character attributes identifiable as really criminal. Most significantly, as the autobiographical template grants her book a reality effect that often is difficult to reconcile with the fantastical material, she appropriates formal and generic features of the novel to bolster the sense of the real, affirming as a real threat a set of social relationships created and canonized as fiction. This serves to make her sometimes outrageous and usually extremist fear mongering and political analysis seem reasonable.

Each text indicatively uses race to define the limits of national law—but whereas Mosley assumes a language of national citizenship, Katz assumes one of criminality. This turn builds legitimacy for antiterrorist imperialism. In what follows, I first discuss how the diminishing status of the nation-state affects the politics of intervention and the administration of justice across international lines. I then address, in a reading of the two texts, how this extension of criminal law without civil protections changes the identity and positioning of the laborer from citizen to criminal.

The interaction between two texts shows how the current denationalization of labor...



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