CATCH ME IF YOU CAN
by Mahmoud Hojeij
'Terrorism' is what we call the violence of the weak, and we condemn it; 'war' is what we call the violence of the strong and we glorify it.
The performance and style of wars are, in other words, the celebration of humanity and technology. It has proven, through history that humans are willing to do anything their mind thinks of in order to fight and kill other humans, now that their war over nature is almost over. Not only that, it has shown that governments, usually democratic, are willing to change the dictionary to fit their plans and strategies. In an article by Slavoj Zizek for London Review of Books (Volume 24 Number 10 May 23, 2002), he writes:
"When Donald Rumsfeld designated the imprisoned Taliban fighters 'unlawful combatants' ( as opposed to 'regular' prisoners of war), he did not simply mean that their criminal terrorist activity placed them outside the law: when an American citizen commits a crime, even one as serious as murder, he remains a 'lawful criminal'. Perhaps the category of homo sacer, brought back into use by Giorgio Agamben in Homosacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (1998). Is more useful here. It designated, in ancient Roman law, someone who could be killed with impunity and whose death had, for the same reason, no sacrificial value."
Zizek continues to describe how the society is divided into those who have the choices with respect to others who have no choice but to take the risk. He writes:
"The logic of Homo Sacer is clearly discernible in the way the western media report from the occupied west bank: when the Israeli Army, in what Israel itself describes as a 'war' operation, attacks the Palestinian police and sets about systematically destroying the Palestinian infra structure and resistance…..which brings me back to the 'unlawful combatant', who is neither enemy soldier nor common criminal. In short, what is emerging in the guise of Terrorist on whom war is declared is the unlawful combatant, the political enemy excluded from the political arena."
It has become very clear that the paradox of sovereignty consists in the fact the sovereign is, at the same time, outside and inside the juridical order. The dictionary looses its meaning in this case and thus language fails to express itself. An example of that is the word 'terrorist'. It reached an extent that it deprives itself from its own meaning, it could mean inside or outside the word at the same time.
Giorgio Agamben explains in his book, Homo Sacer (Sovereign power and bare life, Stanford University Press, p.18):
"It has often been observed that the juridico-political order has the structure of an inclusion of what is simultaneously pushed outside. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari were thus able to write, "Sovereignty only rules over what it is capable of interiorizing" (Deleuze and Guattari, Mille Plateaux, p.445); and, concerning the 'great confinement' described by Foucault in his Madness and Civilization, Maurice Blanchot spoke of society's attempt to 'confine the outside', that is, to constitute it in an 'interiority of expectation or of exception.'"
Zizek continues in his article to write:
"Thus the Orwellian motto "war is peace" finally becomes reality, and military action against the Taliban can be presented as a way to guarantee the safe delivery of humanitarian aid. We no longer have an opposition between war and humanitarian aid: the same intervention can function at both levels simultaneously."
This leads to the fact that war as a word and as a concept can easily become peace and vice versa. So any word can even mean its opposite if you have the power to present it so.
Giorgio Agamben in his introduction (Homo Sacer: Sovereign power and bare life, Stanford University Press, p.1) takes another look at the issue, he writes:
"The Greeks had no single term to express what we mean by the word 'life'. They used two terms that, although traceable to a common etymological root, are semantically and morphologically distinct: zoe, which expressed the simple fact of living common to all living beings, and bios, which indicated the form or way of living proper to an individual or a group."
In our world, the life of someone has two different meanings. It could mean a sacred life that needs to be saved, protected or nourished and a meaningless life that needs to be educated, changed or destroyed. The life and the death of a soldier do not mean the same when it comes to power and wars. Media will go all the way to cover the death of an American soldier in Iraq and remain silent about the deaths of Iraqis, noting that both died in the same explosion and under the exact same conditions and time. This is the ultimate meaning of the paradox that Schmitt formulates when he writes that the sovereign decision "proves itself not to need law to create law."
The law depends on language to spread in the same way war depends on technology to achieve its goals; language and technology become a way of life and both are essential to humanity to communicate and become. In other words, both are violent and can act in opposite directions. Those who fail to speak and those who become at the loser end are threatened to disappear and not to live anymore. Their only escape is to act as an exception and thus become engaged in the game of war and technology by "taking up Nancy's suggestion, we shall give the name ban to this potentiality of the law to maintain itself in its own privation, to apply in longer applying. He who has been banned is not, in fact, simply set outside the law and made indifferent to it but rather abandoned by it, that is, exposed and threatened on the threshold in which life and law, outside and inside, become indistinguishable". (Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer : Sovereign power and bare life, Stanford University Press, p.28)
According to Zizek, there is a lesson to be learned here from Carl Schmitt. The division friend/enemy is never just a recognition of factual difference. "The enemy is by definition always invisible: it can not be directly recognized because it looks like one of us, which is why the big problem and task of the political struggle is to provide/construct a recognizable image of the enemy; providing it with concrete features which will make it into an appropriate target of hatred and struggle."
Language will continue running away with man trying to reach it, in the same way technology will always be ahead of man; both will always arrive before his understanding so he will suffer from his avant-garde status. Man would never be able to catch language nor technology, in the same way that no one would be able to catch any nation or anyone if the word 'catch' lost its meaning and this how the world slips into meaning creating a dictionary as an 'exceptional' experience. In the time being, imagining the enemy so hating it would become easier and cheaper, that would be the way out for man to try to gain time until he understands why language and technology, if ever caught, would allow him to become.
Wolfgang Schirmacher concludes it best when writing in Homo Generator: Media and Postmodern technology, (New York 1994):
"Through style alone the self overcomes the hidden danger that attends every use of technology. What you call your tools and for which you claim "total control" is in fact, shaping your imagination and limiting your options."
There is a saying in Argentina that each night God cleans up the mess the Argentines make by the day. How I wish Einstein heard that before he wrote, in a recently disclosed letter to Heinrich Vangleer, Einstein wrote from Berlin in 1917: "All our lauded technological progress - our very civilization - is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal." (John Stachel, The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, vol. 3, The Berlin Years: 1914-1933, Ed. Princeton University Press).