Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The Narrative of Terror.

Life After History.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, which began with the Berlin Wall in 1989, the grand narrative that the US was engaged in a war against Communism came to an end. Out of the Second World War, the US came out the most powerful country in the world and it had a powerful military to justify. The threat of Communism was enough to play on to increase the defence budget. It began with the anti-Communist witch-hunts of the 1950s were actually started by the Democrats under Truman. It provided a pretext for the Korean war, as it would later provide for Vietnam and then lose in the mid 1960s. A performative contradiction emerged between the grand narrative professed by the US and the actual situation in the world. After all the US was bombing Vietnam to contain the spread of Communism, why was the US bombing South Vietnam then? A similar contradiction has arisen in Iraq and now in Afghanistan, why are we still in Afghanistan if Osama bin Laden was in Pakistan?

The collapse of the grand narrative of the Cold War came around 1990 and gave way for a new narrative. Though for a while things flat-lined as Fukuyama had declared the End of History. The events of 9/11 would open up such a narrative, though there are signs to be detected earlier than September 11th 2001. As there was a global economic crisis in 1998, as well as the hysteria around Monica Lewinsky, US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya were bombed. Osama bin Laden was the mastermind and Bill Clinton immediately seized on it. Cruise missiles were fired and nothing was hit (except for a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan) so the media charged Clinton with trying to take the heat off himself. If a Middle East connection had been found behind the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing the US would have bombed just about anything in sight, with the press cheering it on all the way. It wasn’t until the atrocities struck on American soil in 2001 that the grand narrative was opened up as the “War on Terrorism” was declared.

The grand narrative of the “War on Terror” has been a self-serving narrative for the Bush administration, the commentariat and not to mention al-Qaeda. It gave the government and the media a meaningful way to simplify global events for public consumption. It also sells papers, boosts approval ratings for politicians and provides a way for Islamists to recruit young angry men in the Middle East. The US could have split the Jihadist movement in 2001, as there was a division between the Islamists who supported the action and those who opposed it. Instead the US invaded Afghanistan and in doing so united the Jihadist movement behind the new strategy to attack the “far enemy” and not just the “near enemy” of corrupt Arab leaders. In other words, the moves to "contain, minimise and marginalise" the threat referred to by Alex Massie couldn't include the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The same can be said of state-sanctioned kidnapping and torture.

As Patrick Cockburn has claimed, al-Qaeda might just be the most successful terrorist organisation in history. After all the attacks on 9/11 were committed in order to lure the US into an over-reaction in which it would wage a war against Islam. Ayman al-Zawahiri expressed hopes of this, these was the reason for the attacks on 9/11. The logic being to unite the Muslim masses against the West, the attacks succeeded in uniting the Jihadist movement as the US invaded Afghanistan and later Iraq. With the US and Britain committed to a ground war in Iraq, the threat of terrorism in the West increased significantly. George Bush and Tony Blair had done a good job of acting how al-Qaeda wanted them to. Despite warnings that the invasions would increase the threat of terror Bush led the way. We can all look and see the link between the invasions and the terrorist attacks which have struck in Western countries since then.

History Jump-Started.

The trial of Osama bin Laden would have surely demystified al-Qaeda, it seems as though the assassination has the potential to bring the grand narrative to a close. It could make way for a new narrative. With the snake decapitated there are few ways for the Republicans to criticise the administration and a second term may be secure. There are also few ways to justify the current occupation of Afghanistan, a contradiction could easily rise from the depths of American ideology to the surface and manifest itself in political crisis. Whether or not it can be managed by simply claiming that the US has to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan is another matter. If the man is dead what is the point of occupying Afghanistan? The hopes look slim for the “War on Terror” to be bolstered in any significant way. Yes, there are terrorists still out there. There are also Communist regimes in Cuba, North Korea and China among a few other places and yet there is no hope of kick-starting the Cold War.

The only conceivable way the grand narrative could be maintained is if there is another invasion. The most valuable, in strategic and economic terms, are Pakistan and Iran. But to even justify a war another baddie has to emerge from the shadows. There is no one in sight who can fill the shoes of Osama bin Laden. Not even Ayman al-Zawahiri, the de facto leader of al-Qaeda. It should be noted that there is word of new names being added to the terrorist watch-list, as a consequence of the raid and the information found at the compound in Abbottabad. There is a great deal of speculation over how the Pakistani government managed to ‘miss’ that bin Laden was living in Abbottabad. The Americans felt no obligation to inform Pakistani intelligence of the raid because they were "untrustworthy", as the CIA have pointed out. Even though Pakistan agreed to this kind of raid 10 years ago.

Barack Obama has faced a great deal of criticism from across the political spectrum. There has been legitimate criticism for his position on Israel-Palestine and then there are the allegations that he is an illegal alien, a Muslim and the bastard son of Malcolm X. It seems that there is little room for words which regard what change he has accomplished. Understandably so, there is a great deal of disappointment with him and general disillusionment with politics in the US. But Obama never pretended to be anything more than a centrist liberal. We forget that the presence of a black family in the White House has moved the perimeters of what is possible in the US. The statements he has made on torture and Guantanamo Bay have the same impact. Though the gulag is still open, we should not forget that it was totally impossible to even imagine the American President admitting torture and calling for Gitmo to be closed down. The assassination of Osama bin Laden may be the greatest contribution to ideological change Obama has made thus far.

American intelligence officials are expecting to add new names to the terrorist watch-list as a consequence of the raid on the compound. The information is from 10 phones, 10 computers and 100 memory sticks found at the compound in Abbottabad. So there are hopes for the “crazies” who will want to see the narrative survive. Nevertheless, there is a chance that this narrative might have to close and with that a new narrative will open up. The conditions for this new narrative are not unique. It would have to make room austerity at home and repression abroad. It would need to rationalise the lunge for resources in Central Asia and the Middle East. As the US loses its power it is possible that the grand narrative will be shaped even more by China. It is even possible that the decline of American hegemony could itself be the next narrative. We live in interesting times, as well as dangerous times.

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