Imagined Terrorists

Posted by sepoy on September 03, 2010 · 2 mins read

I have a new piece, The cultural damage of the 'war on terror' up at the The Review, National UAE, September 2. 2010.

It was a difficult piece for me, mainly because I have perhaps too much to say on this, and I began to ramble and it was only the finest critical editing that the littoral Indian Ocean world has ever seen - by Jonathan Shainin - that it is this coherent. It all started with the thought of reviewing Amitava Kumar's brilliant book, A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb, and then, following his example, looking at the arts.

I find it intriguing that the most potent responses (for me) to the figure of the Terrorist, that I can point to are all from female artists - Lorraine Adams, Daisy Rockwell, Rajkamal Kahlon. Adam's book, Harbor, was one of the only ones to actually grant some interiority and some ordinariness to its protagonists - who skirted at the edges of being and becoming terrorists. I highly recommend the book, especially for the ways in which it imagines the domestic lives of the newly immigrant in USA. I speak from experience. Kahlon's work shifts the viewer's relationship to the pre-understood, pre-categorized text — the autopsy reports in her Did You Kiss The Dead Body? or the colonial history in her Cassell's. It is this capacity, to force a re-articulation of the already assumed, which stands in stark relief to most other American responses to 9/11. Sadly, I couldn't include more discussion of all of these artists but that is why there is CM. Expect more on those fronts, here.

In any case, have a read, and come back to tell me what you think.

PS. Qalandar has some astute observations - seemingly, as much to my piece as to Daisy Rockwell's essay which covers this same terrain.


najeeb | September 03, 2010

you make some interesting points with respect to the failure of imagination when it comes to dealing with terrorism - the massive inability to act against potential threats led partly to 9/11 and the billions spent over preventing terrorism have created thus far more terrorists than one could eliminate. That, for sure, is one part of the equation. But as muslims, while the outcry over alienation and torture of innocent muslims or brown skinned people is entirely justified, a massive cleansing operation is needed in creating an ecosystem where life is valued and violence is rejected, whether it be against the extreme form of terrorism as exhibited by groups like Al-Qaeda or the jingoism exhibited by muslim groups over perceived offense against muslim symbols (cartoon fiasco for instance). What frustrates a lot of observers is the inability of muslims to come together to eliminate these threats within; (which i believe is a bigger threats to Islam than the western forces, the same way I perceive the corrosion of civil rights, degradation of values as exhibited through Abu-Ghuraib and Gitmo to be the death knell for American way of life than the potential harm caused by terrorists), instead the singular focus of muslim groups seems to be fighting the discrimination and perceived injustice against them. Muslims have to identify that the political islam that seeks domination is a streak that needs to be eliminated and the violence unleashed on innocents often defying the basic tenets of Islam is an aberration that needs to be fought with tooth and nail. I haven't followed this blog long enough to see what camps people belong to, but nevertheless, i think a considerable effort is necessary in that direction.

Qalandar | September 04, 2010

Najeeb: I don't disagree with much of what you are saying. But in terms of linking it to this blog/associated camps, there's a bedrock issue: terrorists, Taliban-types tend not to read it. With the result that if bloggers/commenters here did begin decrying the violence routinely, it would become like an echo chamber, as "we" all tend to agree with the basic premise that (e.g.) suicide bombing is a bad thing anyway. Obviously a blog is a relatively free-form medium, and all bloggers will at times write about something that strikes their fancy/moves them/affects them a certain way on a certain day -- who hasn't blogged or tweeted some variant of "the horror! the horror!"? -- so my comments refer to the more programmatic aspect of what I read you as saying. I might add that where it is a closer question -- e.g. silence on the Ahmadi question among all levels of Pakistani society, including the liberal/elite/call-it-what-you-will -- I believe Sepoy has grappled squarely with that issue. Don't mean to speak for anyone else, just my two cents...

omar | September 04, 2010

Manan, your article is good but it does seem to be aimed at people who are living in the West or in other safe places outside Pakistan. It seems to have little relevance to the current situation in Pakistan. You should check out how many Shias have died in Pakistan, how many Ahmedis, how many secular ANP members, now many Barelvis. And then the kind of terror used by the MQM to maintain its hold over Jinnahpur. And then at the army's efforts to keep its good jihadis alive while whacking the bad ones and doing all this without letting bloody civilians into power and while milking America and China and Saudi Arabia . ..I know we are all part of one worldwide civilization. But different places can still have different priorities.... I am afraid this piece is set in a different world than the one now dominating the agenda in Pakistan. ....the calculations there are very different from the ones that are the concerns of the world in which this is set...

sepoy | September 04, 2010

Omar, it should be pretty clear from both the title and the content of the piece that I am talking specifically about America, and then about the war on terror and its cultural implications.

omar | September 04, 2010

I know, its clear enough. I didnt mean to say "why write this"? I was blowing off frustration. With the cricket scandal and the board trying to brazen it through on one side and the mass killing of shias in the last few days at the other end, its just the reading your article seemed so disconnected from what was going on in my head....which is not to say you should always write about what is going on in my head. Its a good article.

Ajit | September 05, 2010

Whether a terrorist has an interiority interesting enough to worry about is a matter perhaps for neuroscientists. Maybe St. Thomas Aquinas was right, there is nothing at the heart of evil. The difference between popular Indian reaction (read "Bollywood") to terrorism as compared to the US, the answer is easier to understand. Indian attitudes are rooted in Indic religions which recognize no absolute good or evil. Abrahamic religions have a more bipolar approach to these categories. Both the terrorist and his victim are both united and separated by this "common understanding".