Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The abuse of terrorism

[Links fixed Thursday 23rd Aug]
As regular readers will know, I have little time for people who put the word "terrorism" in scare quotes, as if the terrorism that Bush and Brown et al talk about is nothing more than some ideological construct, some imaginary Western ethno-centric fear stirred up to justify neocon war. Terrorism is a real and terrible threat.

This makes it all the worse when the authorities invoke the concept of terrorism to clamp down on various forms of dissent that falls in to a completely different category. Ambivalent though I am about the Heathrow airport protestors (see VP at Shiraz and Janine at Stroppy for more on such ambivalence), they are not "environmental fascists", as Geoffrey Alderman libelled them in the JC this week,* nor should they be policed using laws designed to fight terrorism.

More outrageous is the German government's arrest of antri-gentrification social scientists under anti-terrorism laws as being members of an un-named "militante gruppe". As Richard Sennett and Saskia Sassen write:
"Terrorism" has two faces. There are real threats and real terrorists, and then again there is a realm of nameless fears, vague forebodings, and irrational responses. The German federal police seem to have succumbed to the latter; on the July 31 2007 they raided the flats and workplaces of Dr Andrej Holm and Dr Matthias B, as well as of two other persons, all engaged in that most suspicious pursuit: committing sociology.
Sign the open letter in their support here. [UPDATE HERE]

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Incidentally, it is interesting that the German state uses similar tactics to the Italian state in its campaign against Toni Negri: guilt by association, and the idea that academics constitute the "brains behind" terror operations, as if ordinary folk aren't capable of thinking up evil by themselves.
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*Update 2: see Michael Lazarus' rebutall of Alderman here.
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Previous: Anti-Germanism; The cheapening of the language; Anarchists against terrorism.

1 comment:

Noga said...

In his famous article: “ Politics and the English language” (1946) George Orwell writes:
“..it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything ..our language… It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.
Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. … the English language.. becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.”

Orwell was a most conscientious thinker and writer. His expostulations about the cheapening of language in the service of shrill and mostly meaningless polemics is just as relevant today, if not more so.