Academic journal article Knowledge Cultures

Terror(ology) in the Time of "Cosmopolitanism"

Academic journal article Knowledge Cultures

Terror(ology) in the Time of "Cosmopolitanism"

Article excerpt


The time of this Special Issue is, amongst many other times at work, the time of an understanding of the world as cosmopolitan(ized). (1) By being globally promoted and disseminated, this world-understanding becomes a global imaginary (e.g. cosmopolitanization, globalized world) and a global-self-description (e.g. the cosmopolitan subject/citizen). This imaginary/description involves, amongst many other things, a specific, blithe sense of cosmopolitanism as

* feeling at home everywhere and nowhere,

* being mobile and adventurous,

* sharing a common world and a common human promise,

* encountering others and respecting them (as if nothing other than respect might be owed to some others),

* learning about others (but usually obtaining comfortable, "convenient" or useful knowledge about them),

* being exposed to roughly similar global risks, and

* viewing the time-space frame as that of cosmopolitanization.

In most discourses operating within such confines cosmopolitanization denotes, to borrow from Gayatri Spivak (2004, p. 76), "globalization as seamless unification of the globe achieved". Having criticized this conception of cosmopolitanism and this imaginary time and again (e.g. Papastephanou, 2015) I will not cover the same ground here. In virtue of my previous writings, I am justified, or so I hope, to take the distance from such cosmopolitanism that the quote-marks in the title of the present essay effect. Thus, I use "cosmopolitanism" as subtext and temporal setting within which the terror which preoccupies this essay unfolds.

The temporality of terror in the "cosmopolitan" era has found political philosophy largely unprepared. Despite terrorism being a political issue, the resources of political philosophy have been, as Samuel Scheffler (2006) asserts, "of limited assistance in trying to understand it" (p. 3). On the whole, Western political philosophies (2) have been "philosophies of prosperity, preoccupied with the development of norms for regulating stable and affluent societies" (p. 3). Issues of others' sufferings have been addressed from the realm of charity and global aid and from a domestic and domesticating perspective. Various philosophers have considered problems outside their territories from an "inwardly patriotic" viewpoint, (3) echoing trends and sensibilities of their own polities and focusing on familiar categories and explanatory tools. In my opinion, philosophers explore the violence that citizens exert on each other within their own state from a homely perspective unable or unprepared to view the violence their state inflicts on others or indirectly triggers in spaces outside the polity.

My remark that political philosophers (even the self-declared "cosmopolitans") have been inward-looking when approaching otherness converges with Scheffler's (2006) following point: "when philosophers have looked beyond the boundaries of their own societies" to address issues of global justice, "they have generally done so from the perspective of affluent, western societies whose responsibilities to the rest of the world are in question precisely because their own power and prosperity are so great" (p. 3). However, Scheffler's point does not intend strong criticism of this philosophy. He detects the above-mentioned philosophical unpreparedness only as an indication of the need for discursive enrichment better to theorize terror. Thus, he claims that "the recent political philosophy of the affluent, liberal west may not afford the most useful point of entry for an investigation into problems of terror and terrorism" (p. 3). Yet, other than that, he considers "entirely appropriate that political philosophers should address themselves to the questions that actually vex the societies in which they live" (p. 3). I disagree. This could have been true, had political philosophers not claimed the "we, cosmopolitans" as self-identification and self-description, either outspokenly or implicitly, and had their countries not been implicated in the production of some of the questions that vex other societies. …

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