See, it's a different kind
of war. We're
in a different era. We
need to view law differently.
ten months after the US invasion of Iraq, George Bush
made this statement, suggesting that the world was no
longer the place that it once had been. We were told
that indeed, a new era had begun, one in which law as
such no longer meant what it once had. This era began
on September 11, 2001 when, what the Bush Administration
designated as an "act of war," was carried
out on US soil. It was this designation of the World
Trade Center attacks as acts of war that then allowed
the President to announce only hours later that the
"war on terrorism" had begun. As Bush later
put it, "The terrorists and their supporters declared
war on the United States, and war is what they got."
A war on 'terrorism'
has proved to be a highly problematic formulation, however,
as it is not clear what exactly 'terrorism' is. In fact,
this was the case from the very moment that Bush first
publicly uttered this phrase that evening, when no evidence
was yet available to prove who was actually responsible
for the "acts of war;" there were only the
acts themselves and those who had died carrying them
out. This legacy of indeterminacy has followed the word
'terrorism' to this day. Four years on now and the "war
on terrorism" is still going strong, while the
definition of this term is as empty as it was on 9/11:
we still can't figure out what exactly the Bush Administration
means by this word, or more crucially, what one has
to do in order to fall under it, but we are re-assured
by the Administration that this is for our own good,
for our security. We have, however, been given plenty
of examples by the Administration of exactly what it means to fall under
this term - to be named 'terrorist'. It is this paradigm
violence that in the "war on terrorism" comes to replace
the law as
that which establishes a relation between violence and
justice. It is not the law, but he who makes examples
that is sovereign here. In the "war on terrorism,"
justice is served in the form of examples, made by the
United States, of what it means to fall under the word
'terrorism'. This means that what Bush refers to as
"the word of America," has undergone a change
in the way in which it signifies. That is, as the Bush
Administration's vocabulary has become increasingly
limited (so that a single word, "freedom,"
has become the answer to virtually every question),
their battery of examples has grown (Afghanistan, "enemy
world is changing for the better. The world is getting
more free and peaceful and less dangerous. Recently,
Moammar Qadhafi made a wise decision to show and get
rid of his weapons of mass destruction programs. The
British government and the American government worked
for nine months to convince in negotiations with Qadhafi
about what to do with his programs. You want to remember,
I want to contrast that with the 12 years of diplomacy
that took place at the United Nations, when nothing
happened. I mean, we had resolution after resolution
after resolution just totally ignored by Saddam Hussein.
Sometimes not ignored, but played with, is a better
way to describe it. Nine months of intense discussions
with Qadhafi worked because the word of the country
- word of this country matters. When you say something,
you better believe it. People now trust the word of
America. People now understand.
particular articulation of the "word of America,"
as something that "matters," should be taken
literally: the word matters, that is, it becomes
matter. The "war on terrorism" is the
place where the "word of America" matters,
literally - the place where the word itself becomes
matter - or rather, where matter comes to stand in place
of the word. In this configuration, where signifier
and signified coincide, and thus where all mediation
via language (the law) disappears, justice and violence
immediately coincide in specific examples (such as that
of Iraq) which serve to guarantee the law through its
momentary suspension. This moment of the suspension
of law in order to uphold it must be presented as an
example, that is, as a substitution of action for word,
an action standing in place of the word. The example
here is an expression of potential force, as Bush has
stated, "Iran and other nations have an example
Iraq shows the potential of the US ability to exert
force. It shows this potential to "Iran and other
nations." In Iraq, however, the invasion could
not serve as an example as it did not merely show
the potential of US force, but rather, directly applied
such force there (in the moment - an extremely long
one - of the law's suspension). This is the crucial
point of examples: "On the one hand, every example
is treated in effect as a real particular case; but
on the other, it remains understood that it cannot serve
in its particularity."
In Iraq, the invasion was not an example, but a purely
inarticulate expression of force through destruction,
while at the National Defense University, where Bush
later stated that "Iran and other nations have
an example in Iraq," articulating Iraq as an example
by calling it such, or on television where one could
only see a kind of generalized series of explosions
in the distance, and then buildings collapsing, the
Iraq situation no longer serves in its particularity,
indicating instead what could
happen to those countries whose leaders refuse to give
in to US demands. In being articulated as an example,
the war in Iraq is situated in the place of the word;
it is framed as a linguistic unit. Here the incredibly
destructive reality of the invasion in Iraq, its particularity,
has disappeared or rather, has
become a mere potential for other countries named
'terrorist' and it is this potential that is seen to
make the word of the United Nations meaningful:
we failed to act, Security Council resolutions on Iraq
would have been revealed as empty threats, weakening
the United Nations and encouraging defiance by dictators
around the world.
Bush Administration views the Security Council resolutions
as pure and simple threats, a written representation
force which can only work if that force is expressed,
or realized in some violent way (a way that matters).
An example of this power must be made somewhere. When
Bush claims that "[n]ine months of intense discussions
with Qadhafi worked because the word of the country
- word of this country matters," while twelve years
of diplomacy through the UN accomplished nothing, he
is stating directly that diplomacy (the word) alone
will not work, some (violent) thing must take the place of the word (diplomacy) here. The 'word of the UN' is not enough without
the 'word of America'. The "war on terrorism"
is precisely the place where the force of law is expressed
through the (re)presentation of (US) violations of this
law as examples of its being-upheld. In this context,
the relation between violence and justice assumes an
immediate form in the example.
implicit argument of the Administration's is that examples
must be made in order to specify, to determine, these "shadowy
forces" with which it is at war. The argument is
that "terrorist networks" are resistant to
language - they indicate precisely the place where language,
and thus law, proves to be inadequate. This articulation
of a group of people as resisitant to language has a
long history. It is the history of colonial states depicting
those who occupy lands, which these states wish to colonize,
as savages - animals. The assertion that a group of
people are resistant to language or that they "cannot
be negotiated with," is the placement of these
people outside of language, and thus outside of the
law. In this way, the mode of engagement with such a
people will necessarily be one of brute force. The ability
of a state to place persons outside of language and
thus outside of the protection of the law - the power
to produce a group of human beings who are considered
animals - is an indication of the limitation of the
notion of 'human rights'. Once a state can declare a
person to be beyond the most basic rights of a human
being established by the Geneva Conventions, as the
US has done in the "war on terrorism" through
their novel term "enemy combatant," the meaning
of this set of Conventions becomes conditioned by an
absolute sovereign (here, the Bush Administration) who
decides on what is and is not human.
is why, although necessary, the criticism of the United
States treatment of prisoners, or "detainees"
held in Abu Ghraib seemed to fall short of an effective
target. The criticism of this most obvious instance
of abuse, complete with photographs taken by those who
were carrying out the abusive acts, seemed to suggest
another way of handling prisoners, one seen to be more
'humane'. But the choice between these two modes of
detaining bodies against their will, due to suspected
terrorist involvement or to actual capture in combat,
is strictly undecidable from the Bush Administration's
standpoint, as in having fallen under the word 'terrorism',
these persons detained by the military were no longer
considered human, or part of the "civilized world."
Without any concrete evidence to link these 'detainees'
to 'terrorism', the soldiers in charge of the prisoners
along with the 'intelligence' interrogators were then
given the task to produce such evidence through the
extraction of information from those detained as suspected
terrorists. One of the key tactics employed by the suspects'
captors is that of humiliation. The images of the abuses
served as proof of the systematic nature of this approach:
the subtraction of dignity in order to produce a pure
body, no longer a part of 'humanity', who thus occupies
the proper place of terrorist (animal outside of law)
and can then serve as an example, to future "enemy
combatants" captured of what will happen to them,
while showing the rest of the world what a terrorist
actually is. A norm of animalization
was being produced. This production of a norm was part
of the strategy, supposedly for extracting information from these bodies, but the subtraction of dignity or 'humanity'
was seen as a precondition
to the extraction of such information. The Bush Administration's
term "enemy combatant," which strips suspects
designated as such of all protection under the Geneva
Conventions, and thus considers them to be literally
(legally) inhuman, is the legal articulation of this
precondition. "Enemy combatant" inscribes
a place for the production of the inhuman within US
law. The systematic torture serves to realize this designation
of humans as below or outside of 'humanity'. The set
of actions that are explicitly prohibited in the law
in order to protect human dignity, become, in the place
of "enemy combatant," the set of actions to
be carried out in order to subtract that very dignity
which is to be left in tact in the 'civil' situation.
The set of protections that the law draws out become
the programmed set of targets in the place of 'terrorism'.
As such, the primary condition to be met before extracting
information from those named 'terrorist', is the production
of an animal in the place of the human who has been
named "enemy combatant," thus justifying the
suspension of this body's 'human rights'.
Agamben has suggested an "essential proximity"
between the spheres of language and law in that they
both operate by presupposing an outside with which they
then maintain a relation: "just as language presupposes
the nonlinguistic as that with which it must maintain
itself in a virtual relation [...] so that it may later
denote it in actual speech, so the law presupposes the
nonjuridical (for example, mere violence in the form
of the state of nature) as that with which it maintains
itself in a potential relation in the state of exception."
The presupposition of a state of nature in which unjustified
acts of violence are carried out - a kind of violence
before the law - with the Bush Administration has been
re-named as 'terrorism'. 'Terrorism' holds the place
of "state of nature" in this Administration's
rhetoric. Terrorism is the outside with which the law
must maintain a relation and the Administration has
become the sovereign who decides what exactly is to
be considered terrorist, and thus, as they so often
put it, not a part of the "civilized world."
In this way, it is the Administration who decides the
relation between law and life.
paradoxical structure - of violating the law in order
to make it meaningful or of suspending the law in order
to indicate precisely where it is applicable - is what
Agamben refers to as a "relation of exception,"
which he considers to be the "originary formal
structure of the juridical relation." As he explains,
"[t]he particular 'force' of law consists in this
capacity of law to maintain itself in relation to an
exteriority. We shall give the name relation
of exception to the extreme form of relation by
which something is included solely through its exclusion."
In the "war on terrorism," the very word 'terrorism',
indicates the place where the law maintains a relation
to that which is outside of it. In this sense, to fall
under the word 'terrorism' - to be called a terrorist
- is to fall outside of the juridical order and to thus
be subject to the pure 'force' of law, or, what Agamben
has referred to more recently in State
of Exception as "Force-of-
'Law' being crossed out to indicate that "what
is at stake is a force of law without law."
The incredibly broad set of definitions of 'terrorism'
employed in the "war on terrorism," which
allows for almost any activity to be capable of being
considered terroristic, has meant that the Bush Administration
has come to occupy a position in which, by naming people
'terrorists', they have been able to wield that pure
force of law without law, which Agamben locates in the
"state of exception," where "a pure violence
claims to realize an enunciation without any real reference."
An instance of such an enunciation without reference
is the pure, inarticulate, brute force applied on Baghdad
in the US "shock and awe" attack there, which
only acquires a reference retrospectively at the Pentagon's
National Defense University, where Bush presents it
as an example of the force (of law without law) which
the US is capable of exerting on "Iran and other
is at this point, in being named "terrorist,"
that what is named such can no longer be adequately
represented by a name - a word - in language (by the
law). Rather, that which is named 'terrorist' must come
to occupy the very place of this word/name in language,
immediately, as an example. This is precisely what 'terrorism'
taking place of language - the place where all that
appears, appears as an example, and thus in the place
of the word. Once one has been named a terrorist, all
of his or her actions and words will be seen as examples
of terrorism. This indicates the degree to which the
US has come to occupy an absolute position of power:
ultimately the Bush Administration decides what will
fall under the name 'terrorism' and will thus be simultaneously
cast outside of
language (in the sense that whoever is named such
is immediately considered to be without language and
thus cannot question this most basic fact of having
been named terrorist)
while being condemned
to the "purely linguistic" (in that everything
s/he does becomes an example of terrorism; all actions
come to occupy the place of the word 'terrorism'). This
is precisely what Agamben describes as exemplary being:
"purely linguistic being. Exemplary is what is
not defined by any property, except by being-called.
Not being red, but being-called-red,
not being Jakob, but being-called-Jakob,"
not being terrorist, but being-called-terrorist
"defines the example."
In this way, 'terrorism' holds the place where the decision
by the sovereign is made regarding that to which the
law can be applied: whomsoever is named terrorist is
outside of this sphere and serves only as an example
of 'terrorism' and the force
of law without law which the sovereign can exert
upon those designated as outside of the law.
fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the World Trade
Center were the bookends of a long transition period.
During that period those of us who think about foreign
policy for a living searched for an overarching, explanatory
theory or framework that would describe the new threats
and the proper response to them. Some said that nations
and their militaries were no longer relevant, only global
markets knitted together by new technologies. Others
foresaw a future dominated by ethnic conflict. And some
even thought that in the future the primary energies
of America's Armed Forces would be devoted to managing
civil conflict and humanitarian assistance.
would like to turn to this statement of Rice's and suggest
here that the Bush Administration's immediate response
- to the attacks on September 11, 2001 - of putting
the nation at war, despite the lack of any specific
enemy at that point, has something to do with "those
who think about foreign policy for a living" that
Rice mentions here, searching for an "overarching,
explanatory theory or framework that would describe
the new threats and the proper response to them."
This search for a way of naming the enemy is here delivered
in the typical defense and security jargon, but we only
have to skip a few lines down in Rice's speech to find
the standards by which the Administration is evaluating
this particular enemy: "America faces an existential
threat to our security - a threat as great as any we
faced during the Civil War, the so-called 'Good War',
or the Cold War." Here she compares the current
"war on terrorism" to three other major wars
in which the US was involved. Her reference to the Second
World War as the "Good War" and her reiteration
of this comparison of the Second World War and the "war
on terrorism" through her suggestion of a relation
between the attack on Pearl Harbor and the World Trade
Center in other speeches points to a strategy of legitimization
which belies a more profound desire on the part of the
Bush Administration as a whole, all of whom seem to
suggest a relation between the two wars. Bush himself
has put it this way,
an earlier generation,
America is answering new dangers with firm resolve.
No matter how long it takes, no matter how difficult
the task, we will fight the enemy, and lift the shadow
of fear, and lead free nations to victory.
an earlier generation,
America is pursuing a clear strategy with our allies
to achieve victory.
all their talk about this new kind of war that the US
is involved in, deep down, there's a connection between
it and the "Good War," and this connection
is articulated not only as one of legitimacy in terms
of security threats and an attack on the "homeland,"
but also as one of values: both wars are said to be
about liberation and freedom and thus ultimately fought
in the name of the Good.
notion of engaging in the Good by means of a war of
liberation is precisely the fundamental
fantasy of the Bush Administration. The "Good
War" is after all, the war that none of the Bush
Administration was able to participate in. It is the
war of that "earlier generation," that Bush
refers to and which has been famously hailed as "The
Greatest Generation" by newsman Tom Brokaw, in
his book by that title. To be a part of such a generation
- made up of "ordinary Americans making extraordinary
sacrifices" in the name of freedom (the Good) -
this is what structures the symbolic framework of the
Bush Administration's 'vision' of the world. It is not
that the Administration is in-itself evil, but rather
that their fundamental fantasy demands an articulation
of evil as such. As Bush puts it, in a plea to that
new generation which he sees his Administration leading,
ask our youngest citizens to believe the evidence of
your eyes. You have seen duty and allegiance in the
determined faces of our soldiers. You have seen that
life is fragile, and evil
is real, and courage triumphs. Make the choice to
serve in a cause larger than your wants, larger than
yourself and in your days you will add not just to the
wealth of your country, but to its character.
assertion that "evil is real" is the very
centerpiece, the absolute condition, of being able to
"serve in a cause larger than your wants,"
according to the Bush Administration's fantasy of being
a great generation involved in a 'good war'. As Bush
put it in a photo opportunity on the day after 9/11,
"This will be a monumental struggle of good versus
evil. But good will prevail."
'Terrorism' is the word which occupies this place of
evil, it is the sign
that evil is real.
Fantasy of a 'Good War'
her book, Ethics
of the Real, Alenka Zupancic describes Jacques Lacan's
notion of "fantasy" as "the fundamental
relation between the subject and her desire."
In this sense, the fantasy of the Bush Administration
is their relation to the desire to lead "The Greatest
Generation," to be on a mission in the name of
the Good, by eradicating evil as terrorism. This relation
takes the form of a war
in the name of the Good. Such a fantasy can be seen
as posing an ethical problem in that it seems to require,
in its current configuration in the "war on terrorism,"
the killing of large numbers of innocent people and
the accompanying invocation of terror throughout the
globe, on a scale that may come to exceed both the First
and Second World Wars (here it is significant that the
body developed in order to prevent such a catastrophic
global war after the Second World War, the UN, is the
very body which the US has now deemed incapable of dealing
with terrorism). In this scenario, we have the paradoxical
outcome of the "war on terrorism" producing
that very thing which it claims to be fighting.
is this paradox that Lacan's conception of "the
ethics of desire," articulated by Zupancic as "the
ethics of fantasy," takes up. As she states, "we
cannot deny all ethical dignity to someone who is ready
to die (and to kill) in order to realize his or her
Here we can see a profound identification of the Bush
Administration with those terrorists whom they claim
to be fighting in the "war on terrorism" in
this regard, along with a point of distinction between
them: while it seems that this description of one "who
is ready to die (and to kill) in order to realize his
or her fantasy" perfectly fits the image of 'terrorist'
that we are generally presented with through Western
media, with the Bush Administration, the formulation
should be altered slightly: they are "ready to
[have others die] (and to kill) in order to realize
his or her fantasy."
goes on to say that, "We are (post)modern, we know
a great deal, we know that all these people are dying
and killing for something that does not exist."
It is precisely this
"we" from which the Bush Administration is
differentiating itself. One only needs to catch the
tail end of any speech given by Bush, particularly his
more ambitious ones, to hear him invoke "that greater
power" (God) to know that with the Bush Administration,
the fantasy they are caught up in is one which positions
them as subjects serving "the cause of all mankind,"
right next to that other, "greater power:"
cause we serve is right, because it is the cause of
all mankind. The momentum of freedom in our world is
unmistakable - and it is not carried forward by our
power alone. We can trust in that greater power who
guides the unfolding of the years. And in all that is
to come, we can know that His purposes are just and
God continue to bless America.
willingness to do anything in order to realize one's
fantasy, this "ethics of fantasy" is an ethics,
Zupancic claims, practiced by those who are "called
terrorists, fanatics, fundamentalists, madmen…"
The Bush Administration's ethics are not quite so self-less,
however, as they are indeed "ready to kill in order
to realize their fantasy" (this in fact is their
fantasy: to kill in the name of the Good), but they
are not willing themselves to die for it, although they
have no problem inciting others to ("we're in a
war… and I've asked these young ones to sacrifice for
This is precisely how the plea to America's "youngest
citizens" should be understood: "Make the
choice to serve in a cause larger than your wants, larger
than yourself and in your days you will add not just
to the wealth of your country, but to its character."
That is, this is a direct call for young Americans to
practice an ethics
of the Bush Administration's fantasy by "serving
a cause larger than your wants" in the "war
on terrorism," "you will add to your country's
character" as a nation that fights the good fight,
or rather, as a nation that fights in the name of the
Good, serving in "the cause of all mankind."
This of course implies that those upon whom war has
been declared are not a part of mankind. In fact the
desire to define mankind should itself be considered
a necessary part of the Bush Administration's fundamental
fantasy, as was suggested above regarding the Administration's
will to decide this very question. "To define mankind"
should be seen as a way of articulating "to do
the Good" otherwise.
describes Lacan's "ethics of desire," as an
"ethics of the preservation of fundamental lack
that introduces a gap between the Thing and things."
In the situation of the Bush Administration's desire
to engage in a war in the name of the Good, this suggests
that the notion of 'the Good' (the Thing) must remain
empty; it should not refer to a specific set of contents
(things) deemed to be good by the Administration, such
as the set Rice has suggested, "democracy, the
rule of law, a market based economy, and open trade." Keeping in mind that the
the Bush administration, as its relation to that which
it desires (the Good), is that of the "Good War,"
and making all of the appropriate substitutions now,
we can say that the
desire for the Good, articulated by the Bush administration
as democracy, the rule of law, a market based economy,
and open trade, is structured by the fundamental fantasy
of the "Good War" wherein extreme acts of
violence such as the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and
Nagasaki, or today the "Shock and Awe" campaign
in Iraq, can be seen as necessary in relation to achieving
the Good (democracy, the rule of law, a market based
economy and open trade).
however, we take away the Good for which the Good War
is being fought, we simply have war. As Zupancic claims,
"the lack is simultaneously constitutive of all
ideology as well as being the essential support of fantasy,
[and thus] we can suggest a truly subversive stance
towards all ideological configurations: 'Take their
lack away from them and they will collapse.'"
This works in precisely the same way for those labelled
as terrorists waging jihad on the United States and
its allies. Their calls for jihad always invoke a conception
of the Good for which they are fighting. If we take
away this good, we have unjustified acts of aggression.
That is, the US argument for their "war on terrorism"
as based on values which they deem to fill out the Good,
is structurally identical to the radical Islamic calls
for jihad. "its goal is remaking the world - and
imposing radical beliefs on people everywhere"
George Bush said this about Al Qaeda on September 20,
2001, but the same could be said about the Bush Administration.
Both lack an ethical perspective regarding the means
by which these values are spread. If you are not a believer,
these positions are identical, that is, they are calls
for war, nothing more.
taking up the "example in Iraq" that Bush
claims to have provided, we can see that the argument
for war there was not, however, made primarily in terms
of the Good, at least initially, but rather, in terms
of the threat Saddam Hussein posed to the security of
both the US and the world as a whole: "the possibility
remained that he
might use his weapons of mass destruction or that
terrorists might acquire such weapons
from his regime, to mount a future attack far beyond
the scale of 9/11. This terrible prospect could not
be ignored or wished away."
That is, the argument for war was justified on the basis
of the threat of terrorism (evil) and not on the basis
of liberation or the spread of freedom (the Good). Of
course, when the weapons of mass destruction could not
be found, liberation was used as yet another way of
justifying the war, but the primary argument was based
on the existence of evil, that Saddam Hussein was part
of the "Axis of Evil" (another reference to
the 'Good War' proper).
the Administration has tried to identify these two lacks,
the Good and Evil. "The survival of liberty in
our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty
in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world
is the expansion of freedom in all the world. America's
vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one."
Having been given an example, or rather, two examples,
we know what "the expansion of freedom" entails.
That "America's vital interests and deepest beliefs
are now one" simply means that to fight terrorism
is to spread the good. Invading Iraq in the name of
the "war on terrorism" meant that both Evil
would be fought and Good would be spread in one fell
swoop. Now that evil has been fought and good spread
in the wake of this battle in two separate nation-states,
we can assume that wherever the US is fighting 'terrorism'
and by whatever means, they are simultaneously spreading
the Good. However, if we remove this lack, the Good,
as Zupancic has suggested, the "expansion of freedom"
turns into mere expansion: the illegal, violent invasion
of nation-states by the US.
Or, if we remove that other lack, evil, the "defense
becomes pre-emptive violence under the Bush Administration
threat = imminent threat.
All of the Administration's rhetoric employs a lack
that it claims to either be fighting in the name of
(the Good: freedom), or to eradicate (evil: terrorism).
These lacks are how the Administration explains their
suspensions of law: the law is suspended in the name of _______ (freedom) or in
order to eradicate _______ (terrorism).
and Function of 'Terrorism'
suggests that the lack must be approached from two different
perspectives, that of its status and of its function
"on the one hand the lack is an inscription of
an impasse or an impotence in the symbolic order,"
and on the other, it holds a "constitutive function
for the symbolic order and for reality as well - without
the lack, there is no reality." Both 'freedom'
and 'terrorism' could be seen as the "inscription
of an impasse in the symbolic order" of the Bush
Administration's reality (fantasy). However, if we return
again to Condoleezza Rice's claim that those who think
about foreign policy were searching, before 9/11, for
"an overarching, explanatory theory or framework
that would describe the new threats and the proper response
to them," we can see that the world view of the
Bush Administration, their reality, is dependent upon
the articulation of "new threats," something
which was lacking after the Cold War, when communism
no longer held the place of that lack which is constitutive
of the reality of "those who think about foreign
policy for a living." As soon as the attacks on
September 11th occurred, the threats were
"crystallized" in a single name, which at
the point at which the "war on terrorism"
was announced by Bush, had no actual referent 'out in
That is, the lack of an enemy that Rice had expressed was named 'terrorism'
on September 11, 2001, significantly, before any specific
terrorists were even determined. There was suspicion,
of course, regarding bin Laden especially, but no proof.
This lack of evidence regarding whom the name referred
to was resolved at this very moment when war was declared
and the US was put into a state of emergency, thus removing
civil protections in the name of security and allowing
the Administration to search for something or more precisely,
to which this name 'terrorism' could refer. Thus began
the war on terrorism,
an empty signifier holding the place of that lack which
constitutes the reality (fantasy) of the "war on
terrorism." Without terrorism (the lack), there
is no war (reality).
is the function
of 'terrorism', the word which holds the place of the
lack described by Rice: to constitute the reality of
war: the war on _______. However, what is the status of 'terrorism' within
this reality that it serves to constitute? If we
look at the definitions of 'terrorism' given by the
United States, we can see that it is, precisely as Zupancic
describes the status of the lack, "the inscription
of an impasse or an impotence in the symbolic order."
This is to say that terrorism constitutes the reality
within which it then appears as the absolute condition,
and is thus incapable of signifying as other signifiers
within this reality do because its function
is not primarily to signify, but rather to ground the
very structure of signification - to guarantee the symbolic
framework of the war (on terrorism).
to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), acts
that "are a violation of the criminal laws of the
United States or any state, or that would be a criminal
violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the
United States or any state"
can be considered acts of international terrorism. This
second part of the clause, "that would be a criminal violation if
committed within the jurisdiction of the United
States or any
state" effectively states that any
act committed anywhere
in the world which breaks any
law of any state whatsoever can be considered an act of terrorism. Basically
be considered terrorist according to this definition.
be called 'terrorist' here, is to be put in that place
which establishes the very framework of the reality
of the "war on terrorism," that place on the
edge of this reality, the position in which those who
stand, literally bear the weight of this reality, this
world, on their shoulders. The war on terrorism depends
on people-being-named-terrorists. The invasion of Iraq
and that of Afghanistan depended on those countries
being-called-terrorist (via their respective leaders).
All those detained in the camps and prisons of the US
military, named "enemy combatants," called
terrorists, their situation outside of the protection
of law depends on this naming. There are no official
criteria (accessible to the public),
which would indicate a logic behind such naming. 'Terrorism'
is, strictly speaking, an empty signifier and as such,
it indicates precisely the location of the sovereign
as he who wields this name, he who can call people 'terrorist',
for in being called such, one is no longer merely a
part of this reality, but rather this reality's presupposition. This means that in the "war on terrorism,"
'terrorism' is the precise location of what Carl Schmitt
called the "sovereign exception," which Giorgio
Agamben reads as holding the utmost importance in Schmitt's
As Agamben puts it, "what is at stake in the sovereign
exception is, according to Schmitt, the very condition
of possibility of juridical rule and, along with it,
the very meaning of State authority. Through the state
of exception, the sovereign 'creates and guarantees
the situation' that the law needs for its own validity."
articulate this in terms of the Bush Administration's
fantasy of a war in the name of the Good, we could say
that all that falls under 'terrorism' becomes the very
substance which ensures the consistency of the Bush
Administration's subjectivity within their fundamental
fantasy. That which is named 'terrorism' becomes the
very stuff by which the Administration enjoys a position
of absolute sovereignty within their fantasy of a war
in the name of the Good. But this 'Good War' that they
claim to be fighting is, as we have seen, not that by
which the Administration primarily justifies its suspensions
of law. Instead, 'security', 'terrorism', and 'evil'
are the names that situate precisely where sovereign
power is exerted outside of the law. The search for
"a framework to describe threats" that Condoleezza
Rice describes is significant here. According to her
formulation, even before 9/11, foreign policy experts
were searching for 'evil', to put it in Bush's crude
terminology, rather than 'good' and, as the logic of
the "war on terrorism" indicates, it is precisely
such evil (as terrorism) which is able to keep the war
going. How can this thing, 'terrorism', which has given
the Administration such power merely
be the means by which they carry out this fantasy
of being on a violent mission in the name of the Good?
This is precisely where the Lacanian distinction between
the fundamental fantasy and symbolic
identification proves useful.
Zizek points out that Lacan differentiates between "the
fundamental fantasy that serves as the ultimate support of the subject's
being, and the symbolic
identification that is already a symbolic response
to the trauma of the phantasmic 'passionate attachment'."
In this light, we can re-define the Bush Administration's
as being that of "isolating
the nonhuman within the human,"
to which the Administration's symbolic response has
been to articulate such a desire in terms of the Good
War. That is, the "war on terrorism" as a
'good war' is the symbolic
identification of the fundamental
fantasy of "isolating the nonhuman within the
human." The "war on terrorism" depends
on that empty space of exception, held by the word 'terrorism',
where the Administration can justify suspensions of
law and thus exert a pure force of law without law upon
whatever it is that falls under this term. However,
the Administration's desire is not, strictly speaking,
for such a power, but rather, for the nonhuman
or in their own words, "the uncivilized,"
which 'terrorism' comes to signify. This is the very
thing that structures their entire fantasy of operating
that "modern anthropological machine" through
which they "isolate the nonhuman within the human,"
and thereby decide exactly what it is to be human. This
fantasy is articulated as the 'reality' of the "war
on terrorism," namely that, as Bush puts it, evil [the nonhuman within the human] is real, that we live in a world
where the nonhuman 'infects' humanity.
re-naming of the Second World War as "The Good
War" is in itself worth considering in this regard.
From what perspective can the Second World War be considered
good? If the fantasy of a war in the name of the good
is the Bush Administration's symbolic
identification of that more traumatic phantasmic
attachment to "animalization," that is, if
the underlying Thing (objet
a) which structures their fantasy of a 'Good War'
is a drive to "isolate the nonhuman [terrorism]
within the human," then the proximity of the "war
on terrorism" to the Second World War is quite
other than they may be capable of admitting. Was not
the Nazi 'experiment' the ultimate project of isolating
the nonhuman (the Jew) within the human (the German
people)? If a war in the name of the good (as the "war
on terrorism") is the symbolic
identification of the drive to "isolate the
nonhuman within the human," then this ultimate
motivation behind the "war on terrorism" is
identical to what is commonly thought to be the 'evil'
of the 'Good War' proper. This is to say that either
the National Socialist's 'final solution' was good or
the "war on terrorism" is evil, for in both
instances, what Agamben refers to as the "modern
anthropological machine" is at work. The fantasy
of operating such a machine, is precisely the underlying
structure of the "war on terrorism," which
is visible in all those places that have fallen under
the word 'terrorism', where brute force is exerted by
the US upon human bodies deemed to be "uncivilized,"
part of the "Axis of Evil," "terrorists,"
or "enemy combatants." All of these names
indicate the places where the Administration carries
out its fantasy, not of a good war (which is what they
tend to claim all of these things are examples
of), but rather, of "isolating the nonhuman within
the human," and thus producing an enemy/outside
to 'mankind' - whose eradication becomes "the cause
of all mankind."
is really at stake here, what the ultimate support (objet
a) for the Bush Administration's fantasy is, is
not 'terrorism' as such, which is merely the specific
name they have chosen to designate what Giorgio Agamben
has referred to as "bare life." The 'symbolic
identification' of the Bush Administration's fundamental
fantasy may very well be the "war on terrorism"
as a war in the name of the Good, but this is only a
particular identification of the underlying fantasy
of "isolating the nonhuman within the human,"
a particular manifestation of what Agamben refers to
as the "anthropological machine," which can
be seen at work not only in the "war on terrorism,"
but also in the recent Terri Schiavo case, the Administration's
stance on abortion ("the right to life" as
they call it), their legislation against stem cell research,
and support of the death penalty. In each of these arenas,
the same demand for the state to decide on what is to
be considered human, and thus in posession of fundamental
"human rights," and what is not, and thus
subject to absolute force up until death, is being made
by the Bush Administration. This place where one can
decide on the boundary between man and animal is the
place of absolute sovereignty which the Bush Administration,
in their assertion that the "word of America matters"
- that it is what guarantees the law - has come to inhabit.
It is this very position of the sovereign who decides
on the 'undecidable' that the anthropological machine
makes possible through its production of bare
life as the undecidable. 'Terrorism' here functions
as "a zone of indifference" at the center
of this anthropological machine where "the articulation
between human and animal, man and non-man, speaking
being and living being, must take place." Whatever
comes to be in this place "is neither an animal
life nor a human life, but only a life that is separated
and excluded from itself - only a bare
life." And as Agamben makes clear, the challenge
is not to search for the least "lethal and bloody"
of these machines, but rather "understanding how
they work so that we might, eventually, be able to stop
Such an understanding of the anthropological machine
at work in the "war on terrorism" could perhaps
begin by taking the examples (of the spread of 'democracy',
'peace', and 'freedom' in the fight against 'terrorism')
that the Bush Administration claims to have given to
the world, as examples of this very machine (driven
to isolate the nonhuman, to produce bare life). In this
light, the shock and awe military campaign in Iraq,
carried out by the US, should be read as an example
of the fantasy of the "war on terrorism,"
as the drive to define civilization by producing the
uncivilized (reducing a major city to mere rubble).
That the Bush Administration refers to this as an example
of 'the spread of democracy' indicates precisely how
the Administration has defined democracy through its
symbolic identification with their fundamental fantasy
of "isolating the nonhuman within the human"
as the "cause of all mankind." It is in this
sense that the spread of democracy by the US military
continues to produce 'terrorism' as its necessary condition.