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These are some rough ideas of something I am trying to work out. But given the timliness of Bush’s comments to what I am thinking I felt it important to put something out there for some feedback:

The worst thing to happen to the War in Iraq is for Bush to have gone to Vietnam and to see things working well. It has become for him proof about the power of democracy and freedom to prevail in the fight over evil and (Islamic) Fascism. I really these terms are nuanced and not all applicable to past or present Vietnam, but this is how Bush sees the country. There is an obvious reply here, if freedom prevails in Vietnam even though we left it to be under the heel of a communist regime, does that not prove we do not need to be in Iraq to bring them freedom? Possibly, but with Bush in the White House that argument needs not be fleshed out because we will be in Iraq to bring them whatever it is we bring them.

The main problem with the War in Iraq is how US policy is grounded. Clearly there are some issues about planning that need to be examined. But there is something larger at work. The goal that Bush wants has been turned into such a mythic figure of happiness that it now stands as the coercive utopian ideal. These ideals are so powerful that any sacrifice becomes worthwhile and any deviation is seen as the embodiment of evil.

William Connolly discussed this in his book about the effects of St. Augustine. While the passage I am about to re-cite is discussing polytheism as opposed to monotheism, it is applicable as Bush’s war of a value versus the all of the different fanatics and their polyvalent (the individuals may not be fighting for multiple values, but the aggregated enemies of the US are polyvalent). This clash is automatically predisposed to not only resistance but also to a violent response to such resistance.

The key defect in the multiple, limited, disputing pagan gods is that they did not have enough power, separately or in combination, to hold out the realistic prospect of eternal salvation to hu8mans, a prospect “which is the essential aim in religion.” Augustine endows his god with omnipotence to enable it to deliver on the promise of salvation. He endows it with care for humanity to make it want to do so. When these three demands are combined (omnipotence, care and salvation), you generate a god who must be the author of an intrinsic moral order and you have a moral order under powerful pressure to constitute itself restrictively and coercively. (The Augustinian imperative. NY: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. p. 48-9).

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What about Pan Am flight 103? Was it also the result of terrorism rhetorics? The tragic incident over Lockerbie epitomizes, for the American public, the ultimate proof of terrorism’s extreme danger. What is altogether missing is a public appreciation of the extent to which terrorism discourse itself might have contributed decisively to the tragedy. Pan Am flight 103 was preceded by the downing, “by mistake,” of an Iranian passanger [sic.] airliner by the American warship Vincennes. Most experts and family members of the Pan Am victims remained skeptical with the official version that blamed two Libyan officers; the clues pointing to Iran were simply too obvious to ignore. In any case, what made the crew of the Vincennes commit so grave a mistake as to sacrifice with impunity the lives of 290 airline passengers? Isn’t this the reality-making force of a discourse that allows itself to act as it assumes the enemy will? In doing so it provokes as well the self-fulfilling reaction from the enemy that proves that it was the feared monster after all. Nevertheless, the incident that has turned into the paradigm of terrorism for the American public has been viewed by some terrorism experts as a type of “blood feud.” It is by forgetting the symmetry between the Iranian airliner and Pan Am flight 103, and by erasing the assumptions and justifications surrounding the Vincennes’ “error,” that terrorism discourse conceals its own self-generating logic. (J. Zulaika & W. Douglas. 1996. Terror and taboo: The follies, fable sand faces of terrorism. NY: Routledge.)

I know I have cited and discussed from this Zulaika & Douglas book before, but I try to choose these nuggets at random. Besides, I really liked this book. It was fascinating to read and that was before September 11 and our current (pre)occupation in the War on Terror (hereafter called WoT.) Some dismiss the writings before September 11 as anachronistic, but these writings are now timelier than ever as they address the exact same problem but do not reflect the trauma we are so fixated on trying to suture. The same reason doctors should not operate on their children is a reason why these writings are so valuable: we are too emotionally involved to see clearly.

There is a clear parallel to draw between the cover-up Zulaika & Douglas reference to the current WoT. This is not to say it was the US government’s doing, I do believe the al Qaeda story we are told, but there is a government dismissal of why al Qaeda did what it did. Some will dismiss, they have when others said it, what I am about to say as sympathy for the evil-doers but it is not sympathy. No matter how cruel al Qaeda thinks we have been to them and their cause it does not justify what they have done, but we should take some time to at least understand why they did what they did. Unfortunately, Bush is happy to dismiss this as hatred of America and as sympathy for them.

I contend al Qaeda is in the midst of a civil war within Islam. Unable to gain ground in this war because of the riches of it’s enemy, al Qaeda has sought out the source of it’s enemy’s wealth: the US. We prop up the Islamic modernists with our patronage of oil and our military assistance. Thus al Qaeda, like the IRA, needed one of two things to happen. If al Qaeda could convince us to remove our patronage or to get us more involved so other Muslims would then see just how involved we are then they would gain ground in this internal conflict.

Al Qaeda’s plan then needed a way to catalyze us into action. They did what we have done, attacked non-military religious targets. Fundamentalists see our western mechanism of development and trade and commerce as a direct attack upon traditional Muslim values. Al Qaeda thinks our religion is money and so they struck at what seemed to the ultimate symbol of that religion, the World Trade Center. There is a reason the only 2 foreign-born terrorist attacks on US soil targeted the same place. The towers (still) hold symbolic value and we reacted exactly in a manner they wanted. Bush says those of us that disagree with him are giving in to what they want by conceding the fight. While conceding the fight was a desirable outcome of the attack, so is what Bush is doing. His binary black/white world fails to see the world is at least tertiary (black/grey/white.) A third way should have been sought out.

I digress from Zulaika and Douglas. We can see this pattern of war fought in Saudi Arabia against the very people that become al Qaeda. Modern forces there terrorize the conservative Muslims. They do this terrorism with US made thumbscrews, with US made tanks, with US soldiers looking on, with US led sanctions against infrastructure development in Iraq. Even if we do not do all the things al Qaeda claims we do, the material conditions in those places are such that those claims have credibility. Why is that? It is this credibility, not the actual truth of the claims, that needs to be fought and countered. Yet Bush seems to have fallen the al Qaeda trick.

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Here is another passage I recently found in my files. Although it was written before the current terrorism ‘craze’ it still seems as erudite to me now as it did to me then. Some would say this passage does not speak to contemporary times, and in response (does this argument not prove the very argument it is supposed to refute?) I would contend that this book was written in a state of terroristic ‘craze’. The book was a study of Spain and the Basque problem at a time when ETA was very active and most of the Spanish population was concerned about terrorism. While things may have changed here in the US since the publishing of this book, it is arguably the same environment as the environment that created the book.

It is hard to imagine a better and more widespread example of what Richard Hofstadter labeled “the paranoid style in American politics” than the rhetoric of experts such as Claire Sterling. She replicates, almost literally, the fears of other alleged grand world conspiracies, such as the panic that broke out at the end of the eighteenth century in New England against the Bavarian Illuminati, and which merited a leap into fantasy by the other well-known author John Robinson when he charged that the association had been formed “for the express purpose of…OVERTURNING ALL THE EXISTING GOVERNMENTS OF EUROPE.” Soon the Illuminati were held to be the Antichrist and denounced from the pulpits of New England, even though it is uncertain whether any of them ever came to the United States from Germany. The anti-Masonic movement of the 1820s and 1830s reflects the same obsession with conspiracy, thus illustrating the essence of the paranoid style, which posits “the existence of a vast, insidious, preternaturally effective international conspiratorial network designed to perpetrate acts of the most fiendish character.” Such an apocalyptic framework is quite characteristic of terrorism discourse. (J. Zulaika and W. Douglas. Terror and taboo: The follies, fables and faces of terrorism. NY: Routledge. pp. 53-4.)

There is a conversation on many blogs that I read about conspiracy theorists and why those conspiracies believe what so few believe. I think this passage sheds some light on the topic. The mainstream story we are told is a conspiracy theory, so why is the counter-narrative so preposterous from a rhetorical perspective? It is a peculiarly American political narrative that makes the conspiracy a credible story for our community. There are probably many arguments, beyond this note and my background, which illustrate this peculiarity. Analysis of conspiracy theories, which some of the writers are not guilty of omitting, needs to begin not with the conspiracy inquiries but rather an examination of conspiracy theory versus conspiracy theory. Why does one gain more salience than the other? That should be the starting point of these discussions.

The passage, however, should not be used only to counter the War on Terrorism critics, but should also be a lens through which we examine the War on Terrorism. Zulaika and Douglas seem particularly prescient as they could be writing 5 years later without having to change a single word from this passage. I could do some work and find the ramblings of our administration to highlight the passage in to-day’s context, but I will not. The passage is, I believe, an enthymeme: everyone knows the continuation without needing it to be told to them. If I am wrong about this, if you do not see the Bush criticism in the passage above then let me know and I will expound.