UNDERSTANDING SUICIDE TERRORISM COMPRENDRE LE NOUVEAU TERRORISME. In partnership with: Institut Jean-Nicod - PDF

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UNDERSTANDING SUICIDE TERRORISM Description : Who are the suicide bombers? What are the causes of suicide attacks? What are the possible lines of defence? Two papers, one by the American anthropologist
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UNDERSTANDING SUICIDE TERRORISM Description : Who are the suicide bombers? What are the causes of suicide attacks? What are the possible lines of defence? Two papers, one by the American anthropologist Scott Atran, the other by the Turkish sociologist Nilüfer Göle, have been open to discussion for a month by a panel of invited discussants. Two different ways of understanding the phenomenon of suicide terrorism. COMPRENDRE LE NOUVEAU TERRORISME Qui sont les terroristes kamikaze? Quelles sont les causes des attentats suicides? Quelles sont les lignes possibles de défense? Pendant le mois de juillet 2003, deux textes, un par la sociologue Nilüfer Göle, l autre par l anthropologue Scott Atran ont été ouverts à la discussion par un panel de discutants invités. Deux approches différentes des sciences sociales pour comprendre le phénomène des attentats suicides. Les textes sont disponibl In partnership with: Institut Jean-Nicod Moderators: Noga Arikha (Institut Nicod), Gloria Origgi (CNRS, Institut Nicod), Dan Sperber (CNRS, Institut Nicod) Guest Panel: Avigdor Arikha (Painter, Art Historian), Jean Bethke Elshtain (University of Chicago), Ian Buruma (Bard College, Writer, journalist), Kenan Cayir (Istanbul Bilgi University), Anthony Dworkin (Journalist, Editor), Shmuel Eisenstadt (Van Leer Institute, Jerusalem), Jon Elster (Columbia University), Roger Friedland (University of California Santa Barbara), Diego Gambetta (Oxford University), Francisco Gil-White (University of Pennsylvania), Herbert Gintis (University of Massachussets), Jeff Goodwin (New York University), Gene Hammel (University of California, Berkeley), Nicholas Humphrey (London School of Economics), Ugur Komecoglu (Bilgi University, Istanbul), Christine Landfried (Universität Hamburg), Pénélope Larzillière (University of Warwick), David Lehman (University of Cambridge), Peter Alexander Meyers (Université la Sorbonne), Mohammad Nafissi (London Metropolitan University), Stefano Nespor (lawyer, Milan), Pasquale Pasquino (CNRS, Institut Nicod), Ian Pitchford Creighton (University in Omaha, Nebraska), Henry Rosenfeld, Alain Roussillon (GTMS, EHESS), Olivier Roy (CNRS), Basel Saleh (University of Michigan), Dr. Howard Shevrin (University of Michigan), Dan Sperber (CNRS, Institut Nicod), Herbert F. Spirer (Columbia University), General Todd Stewart (Program for International and Homeland Security), Lionel Tiger (Rutgers University) - Close Encounters: Islam, Modernity and Violence - Islam, Modernité et violence Nilufer Gole (EHESS, PARIS) - Genesis and Future of Suicide Terrorism- Genèse et futur de l'attentat suicide Scott Atran (CNRS, Institut Nicod) Close Encounters: Islam, Modernity and Violenc Nilufer Gole (EHESS, PARIS) (Date of publication: 1 July 2003) Abstract: The terrorists were trained and acquired engineering and technical expertise in the United States and in Germany, effortlessly emulated the common lives of Western suburbia; performed in full recognition of the supremacy of the media and they were tuned in to the forces of (anti) globalization. The attack was an attack from within. The terrorists themselves were a product of the modern world, using modern arms, attacking modern targets. Islam was not turning against some kind of external, colonial or occupant force of modernity. In an ironical sense, Islam was never so close to Modernity. Nilüfer Göle, «Close Encounters : Islam, Modernity and Violence», has been previously published in Understanding September 11, edited by Craig Calhoun, Paul Price, and Ashley Timmer, The New West Press, New York, The terrorist moment I was driving down the hill on the campus of Bosphorus University with Ugur, a PhD student of mine working on Islamic coffee houses in Istanbul. We were discussing the new forms of Islamic appearances in secular public spaces, when my cellular rang. It was my niece Zeynep, who works in international banking (plugged in constantly to the internet and to information networks), and who informed me of the catastrophe. At that very moment only one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center along with the Pentagon was hit. I rushed home to watch the television and found myself witnessing the second attack. I was sitting stunned for hours in front of the screen zapping between CNN, Turkish and French channels and trying to find words that will give meaning to the images. The scope of destruction and the incessant repetition of images were creating a hypnotizing effect. Images were acquiring a sort of autonomy in the mind working their way through senses and emotions rather than being processed by words and rationality. It took me several days to shake off this state of apathy and contact my friends who lived in the States. To my surprise, they all gave a very detailed, precise and personalized account of the moment. As I am doing myself right now. How they learned about the attack, where they were and what exactly they were doing at that very moment, how they reacted emotionally and worried about their close ones, were meticulously described in their s. A colleague witnessed the catastrophe from very close. He was changing planes in Washington when the plane hit the Pentagon, had to leave the airport and took the first train allowed to leave town....i was worried about S. because he was in New York and I couldn't reach him by phone... Meanwhile, S. heard the first Trade Center blast when he was in the shower. Thinking it was a car wreck, he went to the window and looked out. I'm attaching the photo he took from our living room window, hoping your software can open photos. Indeed the photos, sent around the world digitally, were hinting at the visual experience of the moment, as a snapshot. Maybe for the first time in history a terrorist event was being witnessed live, in real time, as an ocular experience and by so many people. September 11 was experienced personally, visually, simultaneously and globally by those situated in different locations and publics. The terrorist moment took place in a global public space. The personal stories of those who were in the vicinity of the World Trade Center were particularly intense. But all, from different parts of the world, in Cairo, Montreal, New Delhi, Barcelona and from different publics, Muslim or Western, expressed a personal need to locate themselves and give a personal account of the circumstances under which they first heard about the terrorist attack and how they reacted to it. The media, the newspapers, the internet, most conversations, all moved and circulated information, stories, ideas and pictures among different publics. Through repetitive images and the circulation of anecdotes, the moment was recorded and engraved in our collective memory. As in the case of an earthquake, the loss of a loved one, a fracture occurred; a fracture which took command of the memory. A sense of before and after developed as in the case of a tragic date. Narrating meant recapitulating retrospectively and over and over again the factual details from a personal angle; as if memorizing the moment could help to comprehend the tragic event. September 11 now became 9-11, a date, a history-making moment, or rather a history-vanishing moment. Either way, we witnessed how the personal and the historical were intrinsically connected. History with a capital H was written with a collectivity of personal narrations from different locations. We had the impression of entering into History through a personal gateway. The terrorist instance turned into a calendar day, a historic moment. By the way in Arabic, in Turkish, and in Persian the same word, tarih stands both for a date and history. September 11 took place in a concentrated yet relatively short temporality, peculiar to an act of terrorism. Yet within the moment of terror were condensed different temporalities, ages of history. Terrorism on September 11 and the US counter-attack on the Taliban opened up the Pandora box of a collective unconscious reminiscent of the Crusades and drawing upon distinctions between the civilized and the barbarians. Layers of history and memory were compressed and juxtaposed without chronological order in that moment: the hijackers viewed their action in reference to 7thcentury Islam (especially the ten-year period between 622, the year of the Prophet s flight from Mecca and 632, the year of his death) during which the battles of the Prophet built Islamic society, against the infidels.[1] Whereas for the western publics, the act evoked the shadows of very different historical moments, ranging from the Persian invasion of Athena, the Turks attacking Vienna, the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, to the recent bomb attack at the World Trade Center in Visualizing violence Different realities and distant temporalities are brought together by these collages that fix the history of September 11; history understood both as an image and the narrative attached to it.[2] On September 11 the instant as fracture and the image as violence imposed themselves on the mind. Since then we are trying to find appropriate words, sort out a narrative that will accompany them. Terror as usual was faceless, but also voiceless. Likewise New York; mutilated and muted. Silence accompanied the catastrophe. Absence of demands on the part of the perpetrators, absence of meaningful narratives on the part of the spectators. We were reduced to being passive spectators; it was like watching a silent movie on the apocalypse. Those who could see the World Trade Center watched in silence behind their double-glazed windows; others watched in real time in front of their television screens. Terrorism burst into the stage of history, but the spectators were reduced to silence and to impotence, their capacity to act and to intervene were blocked, their subjective will to act was annihilated. The only heroic action was that of the firemen - who dramatically turned into involuntary martyrs. During the attacks, the senses were heightened as in the case of a war, and through the media, the visual sense was traumatized. The attacks blending terrorism, catastrophe and war in one single stroke - spread through ocular violence. Building a narrative, that is, attaching a meaning to September 11 should start from the temporality of the instant and the image, and not from the long-term causes nor from the textual interpretations. In other words instead of enumerating economic, political causes or religious interpretations that have preceded the act, and advancing ethical arguments for the future, we need to fix the image first, then give a pause, free it from the past and future time horizons, suspend it in the present, and expand it in search of new details and perspectives. We can visualize September 11 as a snapshot (note that the vocabulary meaning evokes violence: both a break and an explosion), as an instantané (in French) or as an Augenblick (in German) to link temporality and image, to capture both the suddenness of the moment and the intensity of the visual. The act of terror in this perspective appears as a Momentbild, as a momentary image, that bears significance beyond that moment.[3] Once we frame the picture, then we can change the scales, shift from the micro to the macro,[4] move back and forth between the particular instance of the event and the structural long-term processes, and thereby turn the synchronic temporality of the picture into a moving picture, that is a movie (in my view on Islam and modernity) with historical agency and depth. Understanding September 11 requires building a narrative starting from the terrorist moment as an instance, that is as an exemplary incident which, in one moment, allows different temporalities to emerge, and with them, a range of issues hitherto suppressed. Furthermore, there were two instances, two snapshots, not one. It is only when the second Tower was hit, that in our minds the possibility of an accident ended, terrorism revealed itself and Ben Laden s name and Islam were associated. It is at that moment, that I found myself saying that this could not be the work of Islamists. First, the scale of terrorism, with four hijacked planes hitting four targets simultaneously, seemed to me almost too big, too American-sized, to be imagined by Muslims. Secondly, long-time meticulous preparation in silence and technological expertise were not typical of Islamic activism. I had the conviction with many others that Muslims could not have cooperated on and executed such a prefected technical action. In the first hours, Agence France Press mentioned the name of a Japanese terrorist group; with the Kamikaze tradition, technical mastery and the Hiroshima vengeance, this was a plausible rumor, it seemed to me. After all, in the case of the Oklahoma attack (1995) we were misled; the terrorists were not Islamists but white supremacist American groups. But this was obviously wishful thinking on my part. There is no neutral public and I was thinking and speaking as a member of the most concerned public: Muslim, middle-eastern and a sociologist on Islam. In my work, I have been trying to highlight modes of intersection between Islam and modernity, rather than adopting the perspective of a clash between the two. Islamic terrorism meant a triple defeat for me: religious, intellectual and personal. However, my initial refusal to believe that Islamist actors were responsible for September 11 went beyond my wish to repress this embarrassing and painful reality. My arguments on the incapacity of Muslims to undertake such a big-scale high-tech attack expressed as well a hidden contempt (selfcontempt?) for Muslims - a contempt that this very attack meant to reverse and invalidate, as I realized later. 3. A new mapping of the Islamic social imaginary The terrorists were trained and acquired engineering and technical expertise in the United States and in Germany, effortlessly emulated the common lives of Western suburbia; performed in full recognition of the supremacy of the media and tuned in to the forces of (anti) globalization. The attack was an attack from within. The terrorists themselves were a product of the modern world, using modern arms, attacking modern targets. Islam was not turning against some kind of external, colonial or occupant force of modernity. In an ironical sense, Islam was never so close to Modernity, both in metaphorical and in literal sense; so close as to collide and mutually annihilate, just as the double crush/crash of the planes on the Twin Towers tragically symbolized. The attacks of September 11 were condemned by many publics (including Muslim ones), but silently or even overtly endorsed by many others (and not only by Muslim ones). The reasons for this tacit consent were mainly enumerated in geo-political or economic terms.[5] The division and yet the proximity between the rich and the poor; a world speaking the language of human rights, while many suffered under authoritarian regimes; those oriented towards success versus those without future; a world of citizenship versus a world of corruption, a world of libidinal consumption versus territories of famine; certainly there is a perturbing gap that fuels emotions of resentment, injustice and revenge. But enumerating long-term structural causes is not sufficient to decode terrorism. It certainly helps us to understand the historical and political stage on which the terrorist act is played out, but at the same time such arguments exteriorize and objectify the reasons of terrorism and thereby omit its intrinsic motifs and trivialize the connections with Islam. Especially when such a historical-causal understanding of the phenomenon is coupled with the liberal inclination not to reduce Islam - as a universal religion - to a particular act of terrorism, the importance of the event itself fades away. The terrorist instance becomes secondary in view of the long-term past causes on the one hand, and the ethical concerns for the future, on the other. Such self-critical Western analysis unintentionally ends up reducing terrorism to an epiphenomenon. Arguments such as Ben Laden is a product of American politics attribute full agency to the Western powers, whereas Muslims appear just as victims. Certainly, holding on to the view of a West-centered and manipulated world, however unconsciously, has a soothing and reassuring function. Yet the attacks of September 11 attempted, even if only for a day, to reverse the roles, revealed the vulnerability of the Western powers and turned Americans into victims. Although the war on the territory of Afghanistan aims to restore the power relations and ends up creating new victims, the reasons for the tacit approval of terrorists act should be sought in the direction of this displacement of power relations between the West and Muslims. September 11 undoubtedly provoked shame among Muslims, but also a hidden feeling of pride and empowerment. However this unacknowledged disposition does not mean the endorsement of Islamist radicalism, let alone Ben Ladenist terrorism. But it contributes to the elaboration of a collective Islamic imaginary. In the aftermath of September 11, the new mapping of Islamic collective imaginary which was already taking place independently of national differences, religious-confessional divisions, popular tradition, became more apparent. The Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981, Khomeini s fatwa against Salman Rushdie in 1989, the destruction of the Buddhas statues in Afghanistan by the Taliban in 2001, the attacks on America on September 11, 2001 are among the Sign Posts [6] in the making of an Islamic collective imaginary which transcends the national frontiers and religious distinctions between Sunni and Shiite Islam. It extends the territory of Islam, conquering (as in the case of futuhat ) not new territories, but the social imaginaries both in Muslim-majority and Muslim-minority situations. Each offensive constitutes a political (or rather a meta-political )[7] icon and has a religious reverberation; application of sharia (Islamic revolution), call for jihad (September 11), but also blasphemy (The Satanic Verses ), idolatry (the Buddhas statues), and usury (Western banking) reactivates and penetrates, by adherence as well as by resistance, into Muslim consciousness. The religious lexicon is used and misused to give meaning to these practices as well as to resurrect a collective Islamic repertoire. Religious idiom and the antagonism with the icons of Western culture provide a sense of collective empowerment and the elaboration of Muslim selfdefinitions. In a modern world speaking the language of emancipation, tolerance and liberalism, blasphemy, idolatry and jihad appear as a religious reminder of limits, prohibitions and duties for Muslims. These micro-acts, seemingly isolated in time and space, express both an antagonistic engagement with the West and the reinforcement of an Islamic community, umma guided by moral values of Islam. The centrality of moral values shapes the relations between religion and politics as well as individual and society in Islam. The virtuous Muslim is thus seen not as an autonomous individual who assents to a set of universalizable maxims but as an individual inhabiting the moral space shared by all who are together bound to God (the umma)[8]. Complex notions of both jihad (religious war)[9] and shariah (religious norms and laws derived from Koran and the Sunnah-words and deeds of the Prophet) as manifestations of religious obedience to God, illustrate the close linkages between the interiorization of religious morality and the community (umma) as a religious-political space. Neither jihad nor sharia are confined exclusively to the realm of ulema, politics and the State. Sharia is the foundation of an Islamic way of life. It governs every aspect of life from matters pertaining
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