If terrorisme is defined as ‘the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal,’
then terrorism at the very minimum condition is an act within a single political relation (not community).
But then if we look into theory, for instance in communist (Lenin, Mao), German (Strauss, Von Clausewitz) of French (50ties) intellectuals (pick your poison) you often find the idea that terrorism is a reactionairy form of war. Terror is asymmetric war. A war with unequal means.
Now if history was a whodunit, then that would matter a lot morally. Sadly, morality does not reach back towards biblical claims to rights. Any attempt to right a historical wrong is bound to repeat the horrors of the original wrong.
We live in a world that is in a state of constant territorializations, deterritorializations and re-territorializations, and that logic expands to many fields. It can be technological innovation, scientific revolution, inventions in any ‘line of flight’; say: any ”techne” that mediates relations. And it can be war, religion, changes in the climate or whatever.
Still. Just think of contemporary terrorism. R.A.F. (DE), The Weather Men (USA) were home grown symptoms of a lack of integration of certain groups in society. There was a clear Marxist analysis of this phenomenon (and even inspiration towards it). Whether or not this analysis was correct, any historian can easily reconstruct the social-economic reality in order to explain the birth of these home grown terrorist attacks.
Now in the case of our terrorism, it is important to discriminate between the religious justification that terrorists give and the political and economic analysis of that same event and this starts with looking at the linguistics. Webster defines terrorism as the local use of violence, in order to influence global layers.
Terrorism, is succeeding. They territorialize the symbolic space of Europe. Cynically we could say that: with the use of cheap weapons and cheap lives, they manage to become the first item on the agenda of world powers. Some conservative with a bitter temper could say that it’s the final dream of democracy to have such direct political influence.
But in fact this person would be mistaking. Democracy presupposes a speech community. Perhaps some post-modernists might believe we live in such a ‘global village’, but nobody actually believes that. A speech community, is not an easy concept, although it is relatively easy to phantom. In ancient times, we imagine ‘people going to the market to see what’s being said’. In the 19th century design of Nation States this speech community is secured in a ‘representative’ regime (Ranciere 1991, 1993, 2006, 2014). Representative democracies were the outcome of centuries of political and religious upheaval in Europe. The managed to overcome insolvable differences on a higher (state) level. And this symbolic lift, is the material from which the very idea of a ‘state’ is built. In it, identities of the Europeans are constructed.
The incredible success of the State spread around the globe, and today any territory is administratively part of a state. That however does not imply in any way that states are equally successful around the globe.
Now lets remain in the cultural vocabulary I mentioned above. European identities are constructed in an identification of a national administration of which the CEO’s are elected. The integration of the masses into the state forms a perfect tautology that equates ‘I’ with ‘us’: I am my nation, my nation is us. This is the foundation of the remarkable European success in the 19th and 20th century, but it is also the cause of atrocities within or abroad.
Us or them?
Now lets say that terrorism in Europe is European. Or (thesis 1) ‘Terorrism commited by European citizens on European soil’, is European Terrorism. Then there are facts that actually support this thesis. Namely: Most European terrorists actually have European citizenship (they are us (thesis 2)).
Now from a political view, it is not difficult to see that this matters. If European citizens violently reacts to the European rule of law, then this hints to a disintegration of the state. They no longer identify with the state, and so we ask: are they us? And the answer to this then, is negative. They are not us.
This has consequences.
- The most brilliant political act of European muslims (who are definitely suffering most under the current terrorist attacks) today would therefor be to denounce terrorism not as muslims, but as nationals. ‘I a Dutch citizen denounce terrorism, for the sake of my state.’ And not: ‘I, a muslim denounce terrorism, for the sake of my Quran’. Why be reduced to a literary critique? If you sincerely are us, you would not support any damage to us.
- On the other side of this event, we find the politicians. If thesis 2 is actually true (which seems up for debate these days) then Hollande’s declaration of war (and its echo in other nations like The Netherlands) can be reread autoimmune: ‘We attack us, now we are at war with us.’ And the same question arises: who are we?
If the second hold any truth, then we can analyse terrorism as a political problem within the state (which is our specialty). If we however tend to address the problem as either a colonial or anti-colonial. Colonial if you criticize the shockingly unequal economic integration of ‘us’ and ‘them’, and anti-colonial: ‘They are invading ‘us’.’ This is the actual rhetoric of ‘populist’ parties that have arisen all over Europe.
The definition of terrorism can also hint at neither the colonial or the anti-colonial analysis. In spite of globalist cultural and media, and the existence of a complicated economic globalization, is can be analysed as a domestic problem. In fact, that’s the classical challenge of the state: how to integrate a community with unsolvable disagreements (Ranciere 1995)?
The answer was economic integration. Regular jobs and taxation, administration and state identification were the ingredients.
For sure, this history cannot be copied indefinitely in ever new situations. Still Europe could draw a reaction from its own political tradition and increase its global power when it makes yet another symbolic shift from its humble and divided origins of court houses, shires, counties and what have you, from the nation state, into a European Representation that organizes continental elections.
That would be a dream that is worth increasing our speech community.
If young Europeans attack their culture because of an absolute misidentification with the State, then their conduct is fundamentally different from a youngster who has become religiously inspired and now finds himself in absolute opposition to the rule of state. The latter is a religious fanatic and the former is one of the millions in European precariat.
For the former religious repression justified to protect the state and repeat the horrors of former wrongs of the Other, for the latter we might react in a directly opposite way: we have to give more room to islam; emancipate islam into public representation in order to correct the wrong of Ourselves.
It remains meaningless to unleash the chain of cause and effects that lead to our situation in order find out who holds the best moral claims in this conflict, but it is meaningful to imagine the ways forward, towards a reterritorialization in which democratic co-existence is possible.