- Intolerable Violence
Vengeance from the Borderlands
Writing in the New York Times on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, the philosopher Simon Critchley posed a seemingly impossible question. “What if,” Crichley mused, “nothing had happened after 9/11? No revenge, no retribution, no failed surgical strikes on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, no poorly planned bloody fiasco in Iraq, no surges and no insurgencies to surge against; nothing” (Critchley 2001). Hindsight is of course a wonderful thing. That is of little consequence here as a peaceful response was never a consideration. There were wider political and economic considerations to factor that were all about the governance of people and the exploitation of resources. If there was to be peace, it had to be imposed through the violence of our terms. Such has been the failure of the liberal political policy and modes of governance for the past decade or so. And such has been its veritable undoing as its spectacles of violence have exposed more fully its fleeting concern for humanitarian obligations. If there is a contemporary embodiment of liberal market state it now looks eerily familiar to Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son, the strength of the omnipotent force undone by its narcissistic appetitive for destruction, which has tragic consequences for its own children. Brian Massumi understood this logic better than most. As he would explain in respect to the pre-emptive strike on Iraq due to it being a “potential” haven for Al-Qaeda, which ended up creating the very conditions it claimed to destroy:
Iraq, he [President George Bush] said, was a staging ground for Al Qaeda. Yes, the cynic might say. Iraq was a staging ground for Al Qaeda and Al-Qaeda-like terrorist groupings—but only after the invasion, and as a direct result of that pre-emptive action. It was the U.S. invasion that created the conditions for Al-Qaeda to move in and capitalize on the chaos and resentment the invasion [End Page 201] unleashed. The retort to that, following the logic of pre-emption, is simple. It happened. That’s the reality. Iraq did become a staging ground for terrorism—which only goes to show that the potential was there after all. … [Hence] it is fundamental to the logic of preemption to produce what it is designed to avoid.(Massumi 2014)
Under such circumstances, one is never entirely sure what monsters will be created. The most recent example of the new violence and its brutalizing embrace of the spectacle can be seen in the violent rage of the Islamic State (ISIS), which has caught politicians and security analysts completely off guard. The real tragedy however is that the violent logics and dystopian outlook of this movement do not represent a radical departure. They evidence certain mimicry of the system they claim to destroy. Indeed, analysed from the perspective of the spectacle, it becomes clear that the horrifying images projected from the chaos of our own creation, suggests a complex interplay of forces wherein the logics of neoliberal violence are manipulated and turned back upon themselves, creating a truly monstrous double that shatters any belief that there may be peaceful relations amongst the world of peoples. Neoliberalism’s retreat from social costs, ethics, and its embrace of a kind of instrumental and technological fanaticism has always contained a monstrous logic, but ISIS has pushed that logic to the extreme and turned it into a political weapon, a weapon in which vengeance carries its weight as a not so hidden structure of political power. As Noam Chomsky writes, “It is not pleasant to contemplate the thoughts that must be passing through the mind of the Owl of Minerva as the dusk falls and she undertakes the task of interpreting the era of human civilization, which may now be approaching its inglorious end” (Chomsky 2014). ISIS, in short, merely accentuate the logic of a system whose dystopian imaginary pushes the spectacle of violence to the nth degree to the creation of truly ungovernable voids in full broadcast ignominy.
Dealing with the violence of ISIS requires political contextualisation and serious engagement with not just their politics...