Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Terror and the Politics of Containment: Analysing the Discourse of the 'War on Terror' and Its Workings of Power

Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Terror and the Politics of Containment: Analysing the Discourse of the 'War on Terror' and Its Workings of Power

Article excerpt


'Colonial domination, because it is total and tends to over-simplify, very soon manages to disrupt in spectacular fashion the cultured life of a conquered people...Nothing has been left to chance, to convince the natives that colonialism came to lighten their darkness'.

--Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

'The existence of the disabled native is required for the next lie, and the next, and the next...'

--Homi K. Bhabha, Articulating the Archaic: Cultural Difference and Colonial Nonsense

In the wake of the events of 11 September 2001, we have been overtaken by the discourse of the 'war on terror' that was articulated and foregrounded by the Bush administration. Simply put, the discourse of the 'war on terror' was used as one of the key tools to extend the diplomatic, military and cultural outreach of the United States over much of the world, and it has to be added that many a government in the Muslim world also paid lip service to the discourse for reasons and agendas of their own. (1)

Capitalising on the anger and paranoia that had been unleashed in the United States and her allies in the wake of the attack, the rhetoric of the 'war on terror' soon took on a life of its own. (2) The declaration of a 'global crusade' against 'Islamic terrorism' only succeeded in antagonising vast sections of the global Muslim community when it was the last thing the US needed to do. The inept handling of the complex and sensitive matter of co-operation with Muslim governments also helped to ignite local tensions that had been simmering under the surface in many Muslim countries. The first to suffer were the governments of countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Philippines--all facing growing unrest due to the activities of local Islamist opposition movements within their own borders. The 11 September attacks had many long-term and farflung consequences for Muslim and nonMuslim relations. For Asian countries with sizeable Muslim minorities, it opened up old wounds after decades of internal civil conflict, and served as a justification for clamping down on local Muslim resistance movements.

The highly emotional tone of these exchanges did not, however, help to address the real underlying issues at the root of the problem itself. Worse still, the fear of Islamic militancy was exploited by some as a convenient way to whip up antiMuslim sentiment, disguised as part of the now global 'War on Terror'. In Southeast Asia, the worst affected country was the Philippines, where fears of renewed militancy by Islamist movements in the south were intensified after the New York attacks. Across the globe in Western Europe a new wave of anti-immigrant sentiment, directly mainly at Arab and Asian-Muslim migrant communities, indirectly gave support to the rise of a host of right-wing ethnonationalist parties that used the discourse of the 'war on terror' as a means to mobilise the masses against the minority communities in their midst.

Much has been written about the discourse of the 'war on terror' and its ethical as well as political impact. Amato (2007) and Gay (2007) have commented critically on how the discourse was made to serve the geo-political needs and agendas of the Neo-Conservatives who capitalised on the mood of the time to further extend the reach of America's military might abroad, and to justify a wave of unilateral military actions on the part of the United States in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq. (3) Presbey (2007) and Peterson (2007) have raised the ethical questions that are necessary to deconstruct the workings of the discourse and to expose its manifold ethical contradictions as well. (4)

My concern here is to recount the effects of this discourse and to analyse its internal workings, specifically by looking at how the discourse on the 'war on terror' was used by governments both in the West and the Muslim world in their own campaigns against domestic oppositional movements. …

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