Thursday, April 23, 2015

What is Terrorism?


I'm auditing an Earlham College class with my daughter, led by Ferit G├╝ven, professor of philosophy.  They've been boning up on recent history, with Edward W. Said's The Question of Palestine up for discussion.

Said is interested in what he calls Orientalism, a discourse shaped by the colonial past.  But then the US view of "terroism" is colored not just by the crusades, but by the so-called "conquest" of North America by an heir apparent to the British Empire (with the "imperial presidency" a consequence).
Key supporters of the War on Terror themselves see GWOT as an Indian war. Take, for example, the right-wing intellectuals Robert Kaplan and Max Boot who, although not members of the administration, also advocate a tough military stance against terrorists. In a Wall Street Journal article, "Indian Country," Kaplan notes that "an overlooked truth about the war on terrorism" is that "the American military is back to the days of fighting the Indians."
I'm plowing through An Infinity of Nations using Kindle software, tapping into a critique of conquistador type storytelling, which the Spanish were also good at.  I always think of Aguirre at the end of that Werner Herzog movie, exulting in his conquest of Mesa-America.

I was going to question Said's thesis on this basis:  that colonization of the Western Hemisphere is by definition not an Orientalist project.  But then I remember:  Columbus thought he might be in India.  Europeans called the people here "Indians".  So in that sense, "the Orient" includes the Americas.  Poetic justice.  "Welcome to the Orient" I say from my desk-chair in Indiana.
President Andrew Jackson, whose "unapologetic flexing of military might" has been compared to George W. Bush's modus operandi, noted in his "Case for the Removal [of Indians] Act" (December 8, 1830): "What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms, embellished with all the improvements which art can devise or industry execute, . . . and filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization, and religion?"
Us vs. them is, of course, a feature of all wars, but the starkness of this dichotomy -- seen by GWOT supporters as a struggle between the civilized world and a global jihad -- is as strikingly apparent in the War on Terror as it was in the Indian Wars.
I'm interspersing my post with John Brown's essay on the web Our Indian Wars Are Not Over Yet.

Clearly the militarized wall along the US-Mexico border has much in common with the wall in the Middle East.  A lot of the same technologies and psychologies are operative in both cases.  Israel and DC have a special relationship based on mutual wall building.

How does Orientalism, which converges ISIS, Al Qaeda... Hamas into a single hydra-headed beast, relate to the Cold War and another wall, now removed, plus the psychological "Iron Curtain"?  Eastern Europe, Russia... to some extent the Byzantine / Ottoman matrix forms a backdrop.

Britain inherits from Rome more than from Constantinople.  Going back to the Crusades, we need to remember Christendom forked.  Did crusaders come from Eastern Europe at all?

Christian7777 writes, on OrthodoxChristianity.net:
I know that they were victims of it, like with the Sack of Constantinople in 1204. But I'm wondering if the Orthodox had at any point in time participated in The Crusades, as in helping the Catholics fight the Muslim invaders. According to Wikipedia (which I understand is not necessarily the most accurate source of information), "The Crusades were originally launched in response to a call from the leaders of the Byzantine Empire for help to fight the expansion into Anatolia of Muslim Seljuk Turks", so I figure that at some point in time, the Orthodox were participants. Were they ever? I'm just curious.
 Then, answering his own question:
I did more research, and found out that the Byzantine Empire was involved in the First Crusade and the Second Crusade. The Fourth Crusade is where things went downhill between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church due to the Sack of Constantinople; it's very unfortunate that the attack occurred, especially because the Catholics and the Orthodox Christians were fighting together at the beginning.
Looking at nationalism as under-girded by organized religion, I can see where Said is coming from.  Fuller's thesis (hypothesis) was that supranational corporations, as distinct from organized religions, were inheriting the wealth of nations, as the concept of "sovereignty" gave way to a more unified Spaceship Earth (or Earth Inc.).

One might say Fuller anticipated the triumph of secularism but what is secularism exactly?  Isn't secularism more about the enforced co-existence of religions than their abolition?

The notion of a Liberal Orient i.e. a time when Islam was uber-friendly to religious minorities under its care, is largely romantic science fiction, contrary to fact.  However it may also be a kind of foreshadowing.  Progressive branches within the world religions already have their Parliament, seeking a rollback of any Doctrine of Discovery.

A secular Orient that (A) includes the Americas and (B) embraces STEM as not a threat to "interfaith" psychologies, has the potential to seem like Fuller's Grunch of Giants, also science fiction of a kind. The completion of East-meets-West, i.e. the blending of the hemispheres (globalization) is what the Spaceship Earth meme attempts to summarize.  Is that really so terrifying?