The Conference Part Three: Ends and Means
22 February 2009
A further speaker at the Jerusalem Conference on International
Terrorism (JCIT) was Paul Johnson, a British historian, author of some 40+ books
and a former adviser to Margaret
Thatcher. George Bush II awarded
him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He has written for The Spectator and was
also editor of the New Statesman. One of his sons founded Standpoint, a
conservative political magazine, another is a multi-millionaire
greyhound track merchant and chairman
of British Channel 4
since January 2004. Paul Johnson, a conservative Catholic, spoke of 'seven
deadly sins of terrorism', and it is possibly the most lengthy and complex
commentary of any speech at the conference.
Initially, Johnson sought to adopt the clean binary moral oppositions of other speakers.
"The truth is, international terrorism is not part of a generalised problem. It is a specific and identifiable problem on its on; and because it can be isolated from the context which breeds it, it is a remediable problem. That is the first thing we must get clear." - Johnson, International Terrorism
It is a contradiction in terms to think any such problem can be isolated from the context which breeds it, as long as that context continues to exist. One could, theoretically, kill all the terrorists alive today. But that won't stop people becoming terrorists in the future. In fact, it could make it more likely. Implicitly, Johnson is here employing the same philosophy as Pipes, Bush and the rest, of terrorism being an other, opposed to the civilisation of the west. He went on to claim:
"It is almost impossible to exaggerate the threat which terrorism holds for our civilisation. It is a threat which is in many respects more seriously than the risk of nuclear war, or the population explosion, or global pollution, or the exhaustion of the earth's resources." - Johnson, International Terrorism
Shortly before leaving office, Bush II warned the incoming Obama
that terrorism was the greatest threat
to the US, a view endorsed by the US Dept. of
Defense, the CIA and Interpol.
Similarly, the last head of MI5 and the current one have given speeches and
press conferences on the terrorist
threat. Similar sentiments have been expressed regarding Germany, France
This is once again a kind of doublethink, that it is simultaneously impossible
to overestimate the threat from terrorism, yet it is possible to distinctly
isolate that threat from the context giving rise to it. It is a unknown known,
if you like, something that is affirmed as being known at the same time as an
affirmation which makes knowing it impossible. Frankly, it's horseshit.
The deeply religious and moralistic Johnson would go on to paint a near-apocalyptic vision of that threat, seeking once again to institute a binary opposition, between terrorism and civilisation. After discussing comments by 18th century writer Edward Gibbon, he said:
"Now, nearly 200 years later, we cannot be so sure. The principles of objective science and human reason, the notion of the rule of law, the paramountcy of politics over force, are everywhere under growing and purposeful challenge, and the forces of savagery and violence which constitute this challenge are becoming steadily bolder, more numerous and above all, better armed." - Johnson, International Terrorism
Also in 1979, the French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard
published his seminal essay The
Postmodern Condition, which describes a similar challenge to the
Enlightenment notion of civilisation to which Johnson refers. In particular
Lyotard identifies two meta-narratives, or grand narratives - orientating
ideologies that seek to explain history and justify the existence of
institutions. The two in particular that concern him are the narratives of emancipation
and speculation, which refer to the great Liberal and Marxist political
traditions of using the state to improve the lives of the people, and the great
logical and scientific traditions which use the discovery of knowledge to
progress human society. Both narratives had suffered a tremendous beating by the
reality of 20th century politics and history. The narrative of emancipation
might tell a great story of liberating Europe from the threat of Nazism, but for
all the millions killed and billions indebted what emerged was the Cold War,
which would claim millions and billions more. Likewise, the narrative of
speculation might tell of tremendous progress in medical technology but we've
witnessed the increasing analysis and control of human behaviour and the
domination of technology by the few for power and profit.
It is out of this failure of political and scientific ideologies of the Enlightenment that the institutions of power have seized on this Machiavellian philosophy of manipulating a threat to justify power.
"Without a doubt, princes become great when they overcome difficulties and obstacles that are imposed on them; and therefore Fortune, especially when she wishes to increase the reputation of a new prince, who has a greater need to acquire prestige than a hereditary prince does, creates enemies for him and has them take action against him so that he will have the chance to overcome them and to climb higher up the ladder his enemies have brought him. Therefore many judge that a wise prince must, whenever he has the occasion, foster with cunning some hostility so that in stamping it out his greatness will increase as a result." - Machiavelli
While the challenge to conventional power posed in the mid-late
20th century encompassed ideological, institutional and militaristic actions of
varying kinds, Johnson sought only to focus on that which inspires the strongest
emotions, the 'cleanest' moral response, i.e. violence, specifically terrorism.
If they can make the public sufficiently outraged at the violence (real or
perceived) of the other then it continues to justify our own violence.
Curiously, it's the same strategy they accuse terrorists of using, which further
undoes this apparently binary opposition between us and them.
So, to the seven deadly sins. Sin one:
"Terrorism is the exaltation of violence over other forms of public activity." - Johnson, International Terrorism
Proceeding to blame philosophers from Lenin to Nietzsche, by way of Hitler, Johnson concluded:
"The first deadly sin of terrorism is the moral justification of murder not merely as a means to an end, but for its own sake." - Johnson, International Terrorism
Having spent the previous several minutes talking about various
philosophers who spoke of violence as a means to an end, he performs a u-turn of
Blairite proportions and tries to talk of violence for its own sake, violence as
an end in itself. But how can violence ever be an end in itself? Even sadists
are seeking to satisfy some sort of craving or desire, and violence is only ever
a means to that end.
We find this same idea of violence as an end in itself, or violence for its own sake, in the work of openly Zionist professor Louis Rene Beres. Beres is on the board of directors for the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies, who seek to 'aid Israel in her quest to survive in a hostile world' and chairs Project Daniel, a near identical thinktank. He specifically identifies the Palestinian terrorists as adopting this philosophy.
"Rejecting more instrumental views of force, Hamas, PLO and all other movement organizations have now come to regard terrorist violence as an end in itself." - Beres, Arutz Sheva
However, the PLO was founded on the basis explained in the Palestinian National Covenant.
"The Palestine Liberation Organization, which represents the forces of the Palestinian revolution, is responsible for the movement of the Palestinain Arab peole in its struggle to restore its homeland, liberate it, return to it and exercise the right of self-determination in it. This responsibilty extends to all military, political and finanacial matters, and all else that the Palestinian issue requires in the Arab and international spheres." - Article 26
Clearly Beres believes this has changed, yet since 1994 the PLO have had a Negotiation Affairs Department working to develop and implement the 1993 Interim Agreement. Despite this, Beres alleges that there is no cycle of violence in the Middle East, talking only of the violence 'for its own sake' of the Palestinians, and 'carefully limited Israeli retaliations'. Essentially repeating Johnson's claim of a threat to civilisation he wrote:
"For many of Israel's enemies[...] violence against Jews is deliciously naked, tantalizing only for the sheer pain its can bring to unbelievers. The aggressivity of this violence is disinterested in strategic gains or losses. It is politically unmotivated. It wills only its own will. It is pure irrationality." - Beres, Israel Insider
This categorical idea, that terrorists believe in violence for the
sake of violence, is crucial to dehumanising them, making them seem like
sociopathic automatons driven solely by the desire to hurt and kill. Out of the
academic and into the popular realm, it also appears in MSN's Encarta
Johnson's second deadly sin is one of the most perfect examples of doublethink I've yet encountered. Expanding on the baffling notion of motiveless violence he said:
"The second is the deliberate suppression of the moral instincts in man." - Johnson, International Terrorism
Without this, he goes on, it would not be possible for terrorists to indiscriminately slaughter people. Once again this is an extremely limited, self-serving understanding by an absolutist and a moraliser. For one thing, it's probable that the opposite is true - that without a system of moral distinctions, however invalid and psychotic, such violence wouldn't be possible. One of the reasons the US equipped, trained and funded the mujahideen in Afghanistan with such success is that a religious man who believes in the afterlife will happily fight to the death against the invader, in this case the Soviets. In particular we can see this in Brzezinski's visit to Pakistan where he told the fighters 'your cause is right, and God is on your side'.
Also, as Kubrick brilliantly portrayed in the boot camp section of Full Metal Jacket, all military and paramilitary organisations, not just terrorist groups, try to suppress the instincts of their recruits that aren't useful for warfare.
Beyond that, one only has to look at the letter from Osama Bin Laden, presumably the amoral terrorist in chief in Johnson's view of the world, to the American people to see that he in fact shares some of the concerns of Catholics, among others:
"The second thing we call you to, is to stop your oppression, lies, immorality and debauchery that has spread among you.
(a) We call you to be a people of manners, principles, honour, and purity; to reject the immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling's, and trading with interest." - Bin Laden, letter to the American People
The letter goes on to discuss such issues as women's rights,
pollution, wars of occupation, economic empire, usury and international law.
While a great many people would disagree with much of what Bin Laden wrote,
there's no question it is well within the realms of normal western discourse on
politics and morality.
The third deadly sin of terrorism is linked, as Johnson notes:
"The third, following directly from the first two, is the rejection of politics as the normal means by which communities resolve conflicts...
...Politics is an essential part of the basic machinery of civilisation, and in rejecting politics, terrorism seeks to make civilisation unworkable." - Johnson, International Terrorism
However, terrorism has a long, complex but well documented history
as a tool of statecraft, from direct, open state terrorism like the Move
firebombing or the Waco
massacre, to the more subtle false flag operations like Gladio. Much as the
likes of Johnson and Beres would like to characterise Arab and/or Muslim
terrorists as anti-human, amoral and anti-political, they too have a lengthy
history of cooptation and cooperation with the western military-intelligence
institutions, as Nafeez
Ahmed has relentlessly documented. Terrorism has
arguably been part of civilisation since its inception, as without the threat of
essentially unpredictable violence (whether from without or within) how would
any authority ultimately maintain its position?
Next up an old friend:
"The fourth deadly sin of terrorism is that it actively, systematically and necessarily assists the spread of the totalitarian state." - Johnson, International Terrorism
He goes on to include the fifth along similar lines:
"The fifth deadly sin is that terrorism distinguishes between lawful and totalitarian states in favour of the latter." - Johnson, International Terrorism
As we've already seen, this parallel between terrorism and
totalitarianism dominated the JCIT and became part of the ideology of the recent
War on Terror. One further example is the use of 'Islamofascism'
by Bush and others, which has drawn criticism from widespread sources.
Security expert Daniel Benjamin of the Center for Strategic and International Studies agreed that the term was meaningless.
"There is no sense in which jihadists embrace fascist ideology as it was developed by Mussolini or anyone else who was associated with the term," he said.
"This is an epithet, a way of arousing strong emotion and tarnishing one's opponent, but it doesn't tell us anything about the content of their beliefs." - BBC
Indeed, reading the two Bin Laden fatwas (1996 and 1998), there is no mention of Nazism, Fascism, Hitler or Mussolini, and though there is an apparently Koran-inspired call to arms there is nothing approximating a fascist ideology. There is lengthy discussion of American oppression and imperialism, so if Al Qaeda terrorists are inspired by totalitarianism, it seems to be that of the United States.
"The sixth deadly sin of terrorism is that it exploits the apparatus of freedom in liberal societies and thereby endangers it." - Johnson, International Terrorism
For a bunch of amoral, apolitical sociopaths motivated only by
violence 'for its own sake', these terrorists certainly seem to have a complex
political strategy, where they seek support, housing and training in
totalitarian states only to exploit the freedom of open societies and thus
undermine the very institutions which maintain such societies as free and open.
There is an element of truth here, that if your aim is to try to turn a
(relatively) open society into a (relatively) fascistic one then terrorism, or
the threat of terrorism, is a great means to do that. The strategy of
tension employed via the Gladio network illustrates this perfectly, as
right-wing terrorists were coopted by NATO to do their dirty work to demonise
communists and leftists and advance the authority of the various states over
Indeed, it is the leaders of supposedly open western societies who are seeking to subvert the institutions of law and restrict the civil liberties on which our nations are supposed to be based. The apolitical, amoral terrorists who only care about violence are apparently going to be fought via a series of increasingly ambiguous and wide-ranging legislative acts. One of the crowning accomplishments of this strategy is the 2006 Terrorism Act (UK), which among other things makes it illegal to encourage or glorify terrorism.
For the purposes of this section, the statements that are likely to be understood by members of the public as indirectly encouraging the commission or preparation of acts of terrorism or Convention offences include every statement which
(a) glorifies the commission or preparation (whether in the past, in the future or generally) of such acts or offences; and
(b) is a statement from which those members of the public could reasonably be expected to infer that what is being glorified is being glorified as conduct that should be emulated by them in existing circumstances. - Terrorism Act 2006
The outright vagueness of these laws offers two possibilities -
either the quality of civil servants has dropped catastrophically to the extent
that no one can even draft clear and sensible legislation anymore, or the
government is deliberately seeking to pass ambiguous legislation so it becomes
easier to charge, prosecute and ultimately convict people so they can get the
numbers up. It's worth noting that in the UK the first recent
terrorism/anti-terrorism act was passed in 2000, prior to 9/11, yet even under
its extremely broad and ranging definition the government they'd only managed to
convict 6 people from
561 arrests by April 2004. What followed was July 7th 2005, widely blamed on
Islamic terrorists though every aspect of the government's narrative is flawed.
Then some more legislation, and an upsurge in the charges, prosecutions and
convictions. The War on Terror by numbers.
Johnson's final deadly sin is perhaps the most baffling, or at least misleading, of them all.
"A free society which reacts to terrorism by invoking authoritarian methods of repressing it necessarily damages itself, as I have argued. But an even graver danger - and a much more common one today - is of free societies, in their anxiety to avoid the authoritarian extreme, failing to arm themselves against the terrorist threat... The terrorists succeed when they provoke oppression. But they succeed far better when they are met with appeasement. The seventh and deadliest sin of terrorism it that it saps the will of a civilised society to defend itself." - Johnson, International Terrorism
Thus, the threat from terrorism is a danger, democratic societies
becoming authoritarian in order to fight the threat is a danger, but most
dangerous of all is attempting to appease terrorists by not becoming
authoritarian. A spectacular piece of scaremongerer's logic, that no matter what
the circumstances and the outcome there lies danger. This sort of hall of
mirrors argument is basically irrefutable, because no matter what evidence you
put against it, your words will be subsumed within its contradictions. One can
only beat such an argument with will, with the determination not to be taken in
by such fear.
Against this backdrop of conceiving of terrorism in a one-dimensional fashion, isolated from the context that gives rise to it one recent story is definitely worth considering. Dr Fadl, an imprisoned former leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, has renounced violence and criticised Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.
"Every drop of blood that was shed or is being shed in Afghanistan and Iraq is the responsibility of bin Laden and Zawahiri and their followers," writes Dr Fadl.
The terrorist attacks on September 11 were both immoral and counterproductive, he writes. "Ramming America has become the shortest road to fame and leadership among the Arabs and Muslims. But what good is it if you destroy one of your enemy's buildings, and he destroys one of your countries? What good is it if you kill one of his people, and he kills a thousand of yours?" asks Dr Fadl. "That, in short, is my evaluation of 9/11." - The Telegraph
Employing the same singular, one-dimensional mentality as Johnson and others at the JCIT, the article cites Dr Fadl as one of the original leaders of Al Qaeda. However, there's practically no evidence, beyond Fadl's own boasting, that this is the case. There is, for example, no mention of him in the official memo commemorating the founding of Al Qaeda, as there is no mention of Zawahiri, and the indications are the two groups - Al Qaeda and Egyptian Islamic Jihad - didn't formally link until some years later. Once again, a loosely affiliated band of radicals is being treated as an organised network. It is important to note that as part of the UK government's attempt to 'taint the Al Qaeda brand', reported in July 2008, they sent information out worldwide:
The first dossier of material being despatched to diplomatic posts worldwide cites condemnation of al-Qaida from Sayyid Imam al-Sharif aka Dr Fadl, a former leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad. - The Guardian