A few weeks back, I wrote a post titled The Serious People, which argued that the (rhetorically) fearless scourges of "Islamofascism" are actually an obstacle to dealing with terrorism, insofar as they're given to "ahistorical scapegoating, incoherent analogy, neo-Hegelian claptrap, racialist blithering, pseudobiblical militancy, and general delirium," all of which tends to get in the way of simple precepts like "know your enemy."
What I got for my trouble were comments announcing that the Left is in league with Al-Qaeda, because they have a common enemy in Bush, or Western civilization, or both, or something.
It'd be easy to dismiss this theory as a product of stupidity, malice, and wishful thinking (as I've previously done here and here). But since one of these commenters was someone whose intelligence I respect even on those rare occasions when outward evidence of it is lacking, I suppose I'll have to tear myself away from The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism long enough to address this issue more thoughtfully. (Or continue addressing it, I should say, since this post was really a preamble.)
I recently read through an interesting presentation by K.A. Taipale on the pros and cons of information warfare, and its ability to “increase dissension and friction, engender internal competition, undermine trust, and exploit ideological breaks in leadership.”
This is a central strategy of Fourth Generation Warfare, a discipline in which the theories of Foucault and Deleuze are discussed as earnestly as they're lampooned on anti-theory sites like Phi Beta Cons. (The Right has always protested a bit too much against "postmodernism," IMO.)
Anyway, Taipale quotes no less an authority than Mr. Osama bin Laden in order to emphasize how misdirection can turn military strength against itself:
All that we have to do is to send two Mujahedin to the farthest point East to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qa'ida in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human economic and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note …This doesn’t make OBL a military genius. But it's a useful strategy if you want to “directly or indirectly constrain enemy’s ability to make or implement decisions adverse to your interests.”
Putting aside the fact that OBL often seems to get what he wants from BushCo, there's a tendency in this country to obsess over terrorist tactics and rhetoric to the extent that Al-Qaeda can virtually "decide" how we run our government, legal system, and infrastructure. As Glenn Greenwald says:
We used to quote Madison, Jefferson and Lincoln to decide what the principles of our Government are going to be. Now we quote Al Qaeda. The Administration wants Al Qaeda and its speeches to dictate the type of Government we have.This reminds me of a funny story. Madame Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophical Society, legitimized her decisions by communing with an unearthly Brotherhood of Masters, who made their opinions manifest by "precipitating" letters from the spirit world (i.e., Blavatsky and her accomplices would write them, and then drop them on people's heads through trapdoors).
Later, after Blavatsky was dead, her would-be successors exalted themselves and denounced each other through a blizzard of precipitated letters. As so often happens, war in heaven corresponded with power struggles on earth.
I don't mean to imply that Al-Qaeda doesn't exist, nor even to hint that BushCo is conjuring up politically convenient messages from them a la Madame Blavatsky. It's enough to say that there's something futile in our country's endless debate over what the terrorists "want" - even in the few cases where it's sincere - given that what they want is pretty clearly to “increase dissension and friction, engender internal competition, undermine trust, and exploit ideological breaks in leadership.” In short, they want to turn our own power against us. That's asymmetrical warfare in a nutshell, as Fred Burton explains:
This powerful mandate on the defensive side is met, asymmetrically, on the offensive side by a force whose only requirements are to survive, issue threats and, occasionally, strike -- chiefly as a means of perpetuating its credibility.The curious thing is that as I said in my post on glorifying killers, some of the work of perpetuating Al-Qaeda's credibility has been taken up by American politicians, journalists, and bloggers, all of whom shriek 'round the clock that Der Ewige Muselmann is coming to kill us all with a dazzling array of doomsday weapons, as well as impractical but emotionally resonant methods like "ticking time-bombs" and mass beheadings. To challenge the credibility of these threats, let alone the wisdom of the "obvious" response to them, is in some odd way to challenge the sincerity and competence of AQ itself, and that - in an even odder way - is unpatriotic.
Again, a goal of 4GWF is to force the state to cripple itself through a useless expenditure of blood and treasure. When the state in question comprises defense contractors, authoritarians, and other opportunists, there's a danger of a symbiosis between terrorist and politicians, both of whom legitimize themselves through reference to the other's "evildoing," and marginalize their nonviolent opposition by lumping them in with the enemy.
The best part is, the more you glorify the enemy as Evil Rampant and Ululant, the more rules you can throw out the window in the name of self-defense. The more seriously your civilization is threatened, the less civilized you're permitted to be.
I'll have to wrap this up later. The remainder will be polemics, mostly, with plenty of namecalling and foul language.