Sunday, May 08, 2011

On Osama

Phil's trying to think of something interesting to say about Osama (with some great results) - and I'm inclined to struggle in the same way.

My initial reaction is kind of a "so what?" - terrorism isn't down to one big bad boss, as Hollywood or computer games might have you believe. The urge to pin extreme acts on one guy, or even one group (or brand?) may make for good storytelling/news headlines, but doesn't translate very well into policy.

In fact, is "Terrorism" itself a handy scapegoat, positioned right down the other, most abstracted end of the scale? A scale that focuses on the forces of Good overcoming a single Evil - whether that's a person, an organisation, or a linguistic term. Are we destined to portray things as a fight against both a 1984/Bond-style individual with bad facial hair AND an indefinable, uncatchable mode of ethics? What do we gain by setting ourselves this paradox? What do we lose?

More disconcerting is the notion that Osama was driven (at least publicly) by cultural, economic and social ideas. His rhetoric was to tackle the West's "progressiveness" - a vague term that means different things to different people. But underneath this subjectivity, what can we really say about Osama's actions? Was he an independent, "evil genius" terrorist, or was he riding a more fundamental system of the global power struggle?

To cut to the Chase: Is "new war" the continuation of "new politics" by other means?

Waging war by attacking symbols of wealth? Use of violence - unsanctioned, yet justified by the actor - as a symbol, in itself, of protest and a threat for change? The disatisfaction with "big" politics decided by some very influential minorities with some very vested interests? Do these all come down to a system of networks (the how) and symbolism (the what)?

Isn't this what's playing out in Egypt? In Syria? In London? When the threat of violence is eradicated through preventative force, how far away is the progression from terrorism to pure destruction - or at least to violence purely to show control is not all one-sided? When does the *threat* give way to a non-stop series of televised attacks?

How we approach the figure of Osama (that is, his image, his reputation and his propaganda, all seen through a Western media lens) speaks volumes about how we approach any form of modern dissent, and how we portray forces of disagreement not thoroughly proscribed in advance.

The narrative of separation, criminality, outsideness, and ultimately the causes of violence itself, will define the next century - and how "politics" will continue to manifest.

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