Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Creating Reality

Two not-new books of political analysis by ivory-tower intellectuals have simultaneously held my attention recently. Both are still in print (with links below) and both are absolutely as relevant today as when they were published a few years ago -- except that the issues they discuss have in the meantime slipped toward some even more remote and invisible back burner of public awareness.

The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do." -- Ron Suskind, "Faith, Certainty, and the Presidency of George W. Bush," The New York Times Magazine (October 17, 2004)

quoted in The Rhetoric of Terror / by Marc Redfield
New York : Fordham University Press, 2009

I began these reflections about suicide terrorism immediately after September 11, 2001. Since then, there have been four assaults by the United States and its allies against "Islamic terror," in two of which (Afghanistan and Iraq) the USA was the major warring party and in two (Gaza and Lebanon) the crucial political supporter and arms supplier of the major warring party (Israel). At the time of writing, all four wars are still ongoing and have already resulted in massive losses of life that immeasurably exceed anything terrorists have managed to do. This imbalance is not a matter of bad motives versus good but simply of greater technological capability. Western states (including Israel) have now massacred thousands of civilians and imprisoned large numbers without trial; they have abducted, tortured, and assassinated people they claim are militants and laid waste to entire countries. Their opponents, no doubt, would have done the same if they could. But this display of destruction leaves me with several worrying questions to which I have no adequate answers: (1) Is there something terrible about the mere fact of large numbers being killed, or is it the notion of disproportionality that disturbs? (2) If the civilized Western states did not intend the large numbers of civilian deaths in the wars they have initiated, does this absolve their leaders of all culpability? (3) If the vast majority of the citizens of these democratic countries support the destructive policies of their elected governments, are they in some sense also its partial agents? I have read some of the debates on these matters without becoming any wiser.

On Suicide Bombing / by Talal Asad
New York : Columbia University Press, 2007