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Breaking the Spiral of Violence

"A combination of secrecy and political self-censorship toward the military shields this development of an absurd military waste-technology which produces the continuing arms race of the US, an arms race with itself."
Peter Lock is a peace and conflict researcher in Hamburg. His article is translated from the German on www.friedenskooperative.de.
Breaking the Spiral of Violence

By Peter Lock

[This article originally published in: Forum, Friedenskooperative 1/2002 is translated abridged from the German on the World Wide Web, www.friedenskooperative.de/ff/ff02/1-64.htm. Peter Lock is a peace and conflict researcher in Hamburg.]

Commentators bluster about a new era beginning with September 11. However everything will be just as it was in the past, only worse.

Poverty grows worldwide. The islands of prosperity increasingly become fortresses. The development of risky innovative products on international financial markets, for example new "hedge funds", further propel the neoliberal project of globalization. The relative political strengths shift dramatically. Government parties and the opposition in western industrial states fight for a place at the table of the great coalition against terrorism... Protection of liberal democracy becomes the pretext of its abolition without the least evidence of the preventive efficacy of authoritarian measures.

Internationally friends of terror, dictators, kleptocrats and warlords are courted and accepted as members in the upper house of the international coalition against terrorism. Nevertheless the management of this coalition controlled absolutely by the US remains "top secret". The choice of terms shows that it is an opportunist asymmetrical project. A coalition is terminable at any time while an alliance against terrorism implies relations of mutuality.

According to the dominant official version, we are at war. If one believes the Reaganist team from the Cold War reactivated under Bush, this political state of emergency will last another 25 years. Freed from democratic resistance and supported by a wave of the patriotism, nationalism and chauvinism of the American people, the rightwing political establishment in the US from the president down to the oil interests can carry thorough its project of a unilateral dominance of the global economy. The answer to terror is terror. National security is more important than the constitution; military courts replace ordinary courts. When enforcement of national interests is uppermost, moral limits and limits of international law for military actions are broken. The constitutional state erodes inwardly. The strength of fundamentalist currents in the United States manifest in the execution of the death penalty accounts for the political consensus to respond with counter-terror. The near future will show how far Europe will be forced into action and whether Europe's involvement in the battle against terrorism will be moderate. In any case, the confrontation will be stylized as total and therefore non-negotiable. Insistence on unconditional capitulation again marks American foreign policy.

In times of war, state action becomes a secret commando-affair. The military apparatus and other security organs grow rampantly in the shadows of secrecy. Deficient criticism of inefficiency reveals them as protected bureaucracies of the soviet style. Despite constant mismanagement, the Pentagon has already been provided with additional billions by the Congress. The Pentagon is openly entrusted with a state program to avert a recession and expects growing infusions of appropriations from this program (Aviation Week and Space Technology, October 15). The beginning of armament Keynesianism in American economic policy appears in the leading air armament journal (Aviation Week and Space Technology) which is filled with new procurement orders week after week. Even military journalists complain that the secrecy is assuming absurd forms. The armament bureaucracy and the different security organs change into a closed system no longer controlled by Congress. In its arrogance, this system endangers the American interests which this Babylon of waste pretends to protect (Aviation Week and Space Technology, October 15)...

Adding all the military aircraft, tankers, electronic protection and other infrastructures, military equipment worth at least four billion dollars is directly involved. Still no one denounces the economic and ecological madness of these military actions. A combination of secrecy and political self-censorship toward the military shields this development of an absurd military waste-technology which produces the continuing arms race of the US at the end of the Cold War, an arms race only with itself.

Profiteers of September 11

For conservatives, the terrorist attack offered an unexpected opportunity for remaining in power in the long-term. Through membership in the coalition against terrorism, degenerate dictatorships in Arab areas and other Islamic countries receive new economic possibilities. As in the Gulf war, their cooperation will be rewarded with debt cancellations and inconspicuous military "stability assistance". Russia sees itself confirmed in its misanthropic strategy in Tschechnya. In Europe, the danger exists that the "close alliance" with the US will not be used as a moderating influence on American policy. Instead the national security state threatens to be proclaimed in the US and executed step by step.

A general suspicion manipulable at will legitimates the emergency acts of the rulers. In the coup, all the people become amateur spies or informers. Social disintegration is the logical consequence. Groups exposed to the general suspicion, above all immigrants, inevitably move close together. The politically intended or at least approvingly accepted hysteria leads to far-reaching changes. A mechanism is set in motion win which suspicion ultimately proves true by creating unbridgeable communicative distances. The general suspicion causes the communicative isolation of persons with an ideologically motivated disposition of violence although their feedback in everyday worldly and political discourse would be necessary. A terrorist path of life is the product of a perception of a social environment and world society from an acquired ideological perspective. This remains changeable at any time. Communication is a key for conversion.

In the present situation, the political task must be opposing a national security state erected under the pretext of combating terrorism. Many small steps are vital. The causes of the current terrorism must be tracked down to develop political alternatives to the "war against terrorism" and options for a more just world order that limits the milieu for terrorist actors. A tendency can be observed within the left to make a short, usually arbitrary bridge to September 11 out of traditional capitalism criticism according to the motto `one always knew how evil are the Americans or how potentially explosive is capitalism. This may contain partial truths and may relieve somewhat but hardly contributes to concrete resistance against the "new internal security" that will radically change the character of our society.

The Search for Causes

No simple formula of explanation exists, only concentric approaches to the bundle of causes of terrorism. The war against terrorism carelessly proclaimed by politics before careful analysis is mainly directed at symptoms identifiable in Afghanistan. Since war can only be a last, absolute means in dealing with conflicts, the prospects for overcoming the terrorism a la New York are poor because its roots are elsewhere. These roots are not struck in Afghanistan.

The discovery that terrorism cannot operate without a social base must stand at the beginning of analysis. Terrorism is the continuation of an unsuccessful or impossible political dialogue with other means and fatal consequences. Incalculable violence in reaching a political goal replaces political competition. The means applied on September 11 against the American-capitalist hegemony for the supposed creation of a pre-modern Islamic order have a new quality. The risks inherent in the most modern civil super-technology were intelligently assessed and used for the strike against a cathedral of the system. However this form of terrorism has the presupposition that the perpetrators have their center in a "global city" (Sassen) and can attack the hated system from its center.

These actors are different from the terrorists who shoot tourists in Luxor with a Kalashnikov plant bombs in market squares in Kashmir or are deployed worldwide as warriors of God becau8se another career isn't economically open to them. Therefore the destruction of training camps in Afghanistan's barren high-lying valleys is little more than a media-staged trophy of the American air war. Actors who perpetrate terrorist attacks from the heart of modern industrial society could not be trained there. Even if a short stay in Afghanistan is part of their biography, this sojourn may have been more a kind of ideological pilgrimage than professional training as terrorists. At most violent criminals were trained in the bombarded camps who can operate at the edges of the international system where the state monopoly of force gives way to a market of violence. The two terrorisms are presented in the media as a unity, as the war party of the Islamic Jihad. Nevertheless very different networks are probably involved.

As a result the origin of the social base of the terrorist networks should be explored. These networks are stylized as an ideological super-power that can recruit personnel as a fifth colony of a sectarian "Jihad" in the centers of the capitalist world. That the US today finds itself again in the role of the sorcerer's apprentice who can no longer control the spirits invoked in the struggle against the Soviet Union is occasionally exclaimed in leftist political discourse with unspoken gloating. However this is overrated in its significance for the present structure of terrorist networks and is not ultimately constitutive for their existence.

A Political Blockade Promoted by the West

That the Arab world and other Islamic states have been ruled for decades by more or less dictatorial regimes is more important for the genesis of these networks. Western policy has massively supported these regimes with the exception of Libya and provided military weapons and security personnel. A very delicate example was the revolt in Mekka (1979) that was crushed by the deployment of French security forces. This policy was so counter—productive in the cases of Iran, Iraq and Syria that their dictatorial regimes now pursue a policy against the West. The other regimes with the exception of Libya are valued as oil suppliers. Regimes recognizing Israel are furnished with military weapons. The American accounting office declared that the US supplied the Middle East with $91 billion in armaments between 1991 and 2000. Iran, Syria, Iraq, Libya and until recently Pakistan received no deliveries. The German army procures armament goods for $3 billion annually.

From the perspective of democratic opposition against authoritarian elites, western policy consists of raw material interests and Israel's support. The price of unrestrained squandering of energy in the US is dependence on a dictatorship in Saudi Arabia controlled by a clan of families behind a theocratic façade. More than 25% of all American oil imports come from this country.

In the context of the Cold War,.conservative potentates feared a secular opposition. Religious fundamentalist tendencies were very welcome as a bulwark against all forms of leftist opposition. In the "holy war" against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, the elites tolerated or promoted the Islamic legions. These fought shoulder to shoulder with the US and the military logistics organized secretly by the American CIA. The returning persons turned out to be a dome3stic threat to the regime. They formed a violent potential that served the religious-fundamentalist opposition and were confronted with harsh repression...

In view of the brutal oppression of the opposition and the discrediting of modernizing secular movements, parts of the distressed middle classes seeking change and the educated middle class saw a vehicle for social change in the morality of religious orientation. Since the "democracies" of the West promoted authoritarian regimes with all means, establishing an Islamic state as a religious-social antithesis to the modern democratic state, not democracy, seems to offer the only possibility for changing social conditions... Thus Egyptian Islamists have a long political and organizational experience...

On the Example of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia reveals the explosive dynamic emanating from the more or less dictatorial Arab states. The country is on the way to becoming a state militarily occupied by Americans and Brits without an institutionalized politics. The self-legitimation of the ruling clan has the figure of a state of God that develops into an apartheid dictatorship. A fundamentalist variant of Islam functions as a state doctrine legitimating arbitrary repression. The oil revenue allows the corruptive maintenance of power on one side and massive police-state methods including mutilation and the death penalty on the other. Of the 20 million inhabitants, seven million are itinerant workers without rights, mainly men without family. After university training, women are almost completely excluded from social life, strikingly manifest in the prohibition against driving a car. The ruling clan isn't afraid of depending on military services in the case of religious unrest.

The contradictions in this society intensify. Nearly eighty percent of the Saudi population are younger than 30 years of age. Many young persons pass through a university training, often at universities in western countries. However there are no possibilities of political expression and decreasing chances on the labor market corresponding to training and expectations...

In the absence of political institutions, mosques and the exile remain as places of political articulation. In the mosque, a state of God can only be criticized by reproaching it of blasphemy or deviation from the true doctrine while in exile secular criticism is possible. From the perspective of the religiously-motivated opposition, the state action of the ruling clan is sin that has its origin in collaboration with evil. Evil is represented by the West, above all America...

Islamic Diaspora

To identify the origins of the obviously efficient network of terrorists, the groups of persons living in the diaspora should be scrutinized. These trained young persons forced to emigration lack normal socio-economic developmental possibilities in these authoritarian regimes mostly organized in a state-capitalist way. In the host countries, they live more or less excluded... At the same time they face the impossibility of political articulation in their dictatorial countries of origin and increasingly lose hope of returning to their homeland and practicing a necessary activity without corrupting themselves absolutely and accepting the dominant conditions without resistance.

This makes them susceptible for adventurous fundamentalist-religious projects of total social change that see evil in the hegemony of western industrial states represented by the US. Their political logic is that the opposite side, the Saudi ruler clique, also instrumentalizes religion for the purpose of maintaining power and sees democracy of the western style as a neocolonial capitalist manipulation... This religious construction allows mobilizing against an external enemy and setting itself at the top of a broad latent anti-western and especially anti-American mood. 15 of the 19 identified airline assassins were Saudi citizens.

What is fatal in these desperate attempts at political participation in the countries of origin in the secret, massively oppressed opposition from the diaspora is that the pseudo-religious political discourse doesn't offer any platform to develop concrete strategies of social and political change. A radicalizing political movement arises without a realistic concept for changing economic and political conditions. An unrealistic vision of a pre-modern Islamic society oriented in religious ideas of order replaces a concrete alternative political project. This vision loses its concrete social reference in assuming the character of a pan-Islamic liberation doctrine unconnected to concrete social conditions.

The Autism of the Terrorist Disposition

... Since worldliness and the world to come are fused ideologically into a unity of action for the actors, a disposition for suicide terrorist acts results almost inevitably. The actors of September 11 were persons who had a comparatively privileged path of life in a modern industrialized environment. Their functional integration in the modern world of the West was the prerequisite for carrying out terrorist acts. They intelligently assessed the risks of civilian super-technology and transformed the airplane into an inconceivable means of destruction.

This terrorism functions without state support. The absence of governmental support is a presupposition for terrorist acts of this type. Even conceiving a halfway plausible interest of a state that could explain September 11 is difficult. Removed from direct state patronage, there was no concrete political horizon of interests or responsibility any more to orient these terrorist acts. The diffuse internationalist goals withdraw these acts of terrorist violence from the empirical verifiability of their ends-means relation... Che Guevarra and Bin Laden have this in common. Myths replace reality. The consolidation of their counter-pole related by marriage with western capitalism promotes their violent myth more than real acts of violence. The totalitarian organization of terrorist groups is reproduced socially the systemic opportunism of politicians in democracies who suspend constitutional limits for enforcing particular interests under the cloak of fighting terrorism...

Terrorisms, not Terrorism

... Seeing the airplane hijackers of September 11 and the bearded illiterate men from the most different Islamic countries who practice using automatic rifles in Afghanistan's barren high-lying valleys as members of a hierarchical terrorist organization is hardly convincing sociologically. Political environments offering exit-options for terrorists and enabling re-politization of conflicts are very different from situation to situation and group to group. Bin Laden's elimination alone will change little in the terrorist dispositions... This myth will offer an ideological framework to further terrorist groups that develop in specific social circumstances.

To become politically functioning, the democratic constitutional state must deconstruct terrorism. The social presuppositions must be identified to develop strategies of action. Only in this way can the cynical usurpation of fears in the population be dissolved and the repercussions of terrorism on the democratic constitutional state averted.

As a result of these reflections, two different types of terrorists can be discerned. There are poverty-terrorists who escape from paternalist societies without perspective into supposed warriors of God giving them a feeling of self-esteem and social recognition. Tens of thousands of young men are involved from many Arab and Islamic countries where more than half of all young persons often have no chance for regular paid work. In this environment, the role as mercenary in the mask of a warrior of God promises a self-confident identity denied in the homeland. In paternalist families persisting in simple and authoritarian religiosity, having a son who gives his life in the "Jihad" is celebrated as a special grace. The living spaces of these young men are disintegrated states at the periphery of the global system. More than ten thousand of them now sit hopelessly in Afghanistan in a trap that will lead to their murder if a re-socialization program isn't introduced in international solidarity for these "poverty terrorists". The social polarization and political hopelessness in their countries of origin have produced this tragic group of young men.

The second group lives in the modern age that for them is a diaspora. This group suffers in the reactionary political and economic lack of perspectives in their homelands ascribed to the collaboration of power elites with western capitalism, particularly the US. Change through democratic institutions and modernization according to the western model is seen as a cynical strategy for assuring the status quo and western oil interests. Their longing for change clings to a pan-Islamic vision of radical social change through a totalitarian counter-design appealing to a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. The religious legitimation of this counter-design justifies absoluteness and radicalism so that this unreal vision is pursued with terrorist methods.

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