19 Nov

A Time of Terror

We live, it is said, in a time of terror. A terror which pervades every aspect of our daily lives. To question this widely held view is tantamount to blasphemy. Yet question we should. And the question might properly take the form of who. Who experiences this terror? Who perpetrates this terror? What form does this terror take? Why do we speak of a ‘profound terror’? Is this form of terror new? Do we all experience this terror? Do I? Above all else it is the question ‘who?’ that should remain central to our inquiries. For it is around this refinement of questioning ‘terror’ that so much is apparently revealed. The question who will direct us immediately to the particularity of the present terror. We shall be able to see the faces of those engaged in the experience of terror. Although it is too early to begin to speak of the perpetrators and the victims of terror, these terms signalling an apparent evenness in the distibution of the force of terror, we, when asking the question who, will inevitably encounter the face of individuals. It is in this encounter with the look of others that the nature of terror makes itself known. Yet still the question who? announces itself; of whom, to whom. It is of paramount importance. Why? Rather than speak of the universal nature of terror we must address the specificity of its present course. The terror presently felt in the city of Baghdad will be considerably different from the terror felt in Columbia which again is quite distinct from the experience of terror felt by those who witnessed the attack on the people of New York City. This tells us something about the nature of present day terror. It indicates that although the force of terror may be described in terms that are universally understood nonetheless it becomes manifest in ways that are always unique to location, people and culture. The present terror sweeping across the middle-east, for example, undoubtedly has its roots in the logic of US hegemony and the desire, on the part of those determining the course of military conflict, to gain a supremacy within the context of the chaos perpetrated through armed conflict. Yet the form it takes, of suicide bombings, of ethnic confllict and murder under the sign of the occupation, is both new and only one aspect of the resultant conflagration spreading throughout the western world, which has through its history a dynamic and character that is unique and unrepeatable. To some extent we can comprehend the actions of an individual who has come to think that his/her life has become entirely void of meaning. Meaning or the significance that we seek to find or create in life must be acknowledged to not only guide our everyday actions but to shape our world in that the places we have come to inhabit are places where the struggle for meaning will be played out. But to imagine a life that through the sheer assault of determining forces now lacks all ability to change, alter or direct itself toward meaning is to approach the lived meaning of terror. Terror and the accompanying nihilism which directs it, both provokes and answers the call to meaning with a no. The terror enacted daily in Iraq has a particular character and a particular cause. This terror thrives upon the destruction of the very possibility of the normal practices of everyday life. It thrives upon the destruction of the location of meaning. It thrives largely because we choose it to. By destroying and laying to waste the infrastructure of Iraq, by slaughtering and maiming tens of thousands with impunity, the current regime in the United States has revealed itself as the prime mover of nihilism in the world today.


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