Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Quote On Enemies

Couldn't help but think of the "Toronto 17" arrests and various other state-driven shenanigans when I read this -- we have no evidence one way or the other whether the fact of the arrests served only this function, but certainly the ham-handed melodrama of their form and coverage was tailored to add immediacy and urgency to the construct of "the enemy" in the Canadian imagination, as described below:

The constant presence of an enemy and the threat of disorder are necessary in order to legitimate imperial violence. Perhaps it should be no surprise that when war constitutes the basis of politics, the enemy becomes the constitutive function of legitimacy. Thus this enemy is no longer concrete and localizable but has now become something fleeting and ungraspable, like a snake in the imperial paradise. The enemy is unknown and unseen and yet ever present, something like a hostile aura. The face of the enemy appears in the haze of the future and serves to prop up legitimation where legitimation has declined. This enemy is in fact not merely elusive but completely abstract. The individuals invoked as the primary targets -- Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, Mu'ammar Gadhafi, and Manuel Noriega among others -- are themselves very limited threats, but they are blown up into larger-than-life figures that serve as stand-ins for the more general threat and give the appearance of traditional, concrete objects of war. They serve perhaps as a pedagogical tool (or mystifying facade) by presenting this new kind of war in the old form. The abstract objects of war -- drugs, terrorist, and so forth -- are not really enemies either. They are best conceived rather as symptoms of a disordered reality that poses a threat to security and the functioning of discipline and control. There is something monstrous in this abstract, auratic enemy....[T]he enemy is an example or, better, an experimentum crucis for the definition of legitimacy. The enemy must serve as a schema of reason in the Kantian sense, but in the opposite direction: it must demonstrate not what power is but what power saves us from. The presence of the enemy demonstrates the need for security.

-- Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri


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Love said...

"Bin Laden is a very limited threat?"

Scott said...

"Bin Laden is a very limited threat?"

There is this illusion in the Western mind that Bin Laden is hidden in a cave somewhere giving orders that are determining the substance of everything from protests over cartoons to the nature of the resistance to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. This is a useful misconception both to the U.S. and to Bin Laden. However, very little of the anger in Muslim communities and nations against the oppressions they experience in the current world order find expression through al Qaeda, and even among those things that have happened in the past few years that might in some way be actually linked to that organization, it is unclear how they might be connected to Bin Laden himself -- from what I understand, it is a very diffuse network, and people act autonomously but in its name, and therefore there is no organizational connection to Bin Laden for many things that Western media attribute to "al Qaeda".

Let's face it, do you doubt that he would be hitting targets in Western countries every other week if he had that capacity? Compare this undetermined but limited capacity to things like the ability of the Wehrmacht to overrun Poland, of the United States to recolonize Iraq (or destroy it while trying), of the potential during the Cold War for nuclear war between the Soviets and the U.S. to destroy life on earth. It is, when you pare away the hype, quite a limited threat.