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TERROR VS. CONSENT

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JOHANNESBURG, May 4 2011 (IPS) - You would have to be living in a cave in Tora Bora or North Waziristan to avoid the news of the killing of Osama bin Laden that dominated virtually all media this week. Reactions ranged from juvenile triumphalism through conspiracy theories to the scoring of cheap political points.

Attempting to digest the barrage of commentary, I was reminded of Philip BobbittÂ’s book, Terror and Consent: The Wars for the 21st century. The bookÂ’s tilt towards American exceptionalism did not, for me, invalidate its core thesis that “Like new antibiotic-resistant strains of tuberculosis, market state terrorism is a function of what we have done to eradicate old threats. That is, its principal causes are the liberalisation of the global economy, the internationalisation of the electronic media, and the military-technological revolution, all ardently sought innovations that won the Long War of the 20th century.” “Within this setting,” Bobbitt writes, “the battle ahead is not between Islam and the West, or the might of a hyperpower and the cunning of bearded men in mountain hideaways, but between terror and consent.”

If the long manhunt and massive casualties leading up to bin Laden’s killing are to achieve more than either, repairing the damage the attacks of September 11, 2001 did to the ego of a superpower, or, the elimination of a figure who had become, in equal measure, messiah and bogeyman, it must be in the direction of rolling back the assault on civil liberties and democratic freedoms that have been justified by the “war on terror”.

Writing in Salon, Joan Walsh hopes that, “this achievement could mean we get our country back, the one before the Patriot Act, before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), before rendition and torture and Guantánamo; before we began giving up the freedom and belief in due process that makes us Americans, out of our fear of totalitarians like bin Laden.” Hawkish pundits, amplified by shrill media, on the other hand, are seeking to exploit the events of 02 May, 2011 to legitimise torture, illegal detention, pre-emptive aggression and the primitive logic of vengeance over that of justice.

Among Osama bin LadenÂ’s unfortunate legacies are excuses to disregard the basic fundamentals of international law. While critics and pundits may debate the finer details and the motivations that necessitated the US operation in another sovereign state to rid the world of its most wanted fugitive, bin Laden has certainly made humanity take a step backward through another transgression of the laws governing the relationship between states justified yet again as necessary pragmatism.

Yet across the world, in the Middle East and North Africa, in particular, bin LadenÂ’s dystopian ideology has already been successfully challenged by a more compelling, alternative narrative that focuses on human rights, accountability, civil liberties and democratic governance. A narrative that has compelled powerful players to retreat, at least temporarily, from the arguments of security and stability that rationalised authoritarian regimes.

For the first time in a decade dominated by the paranoid politics of fear, we have a window of opportunity for rational debate on the issues Bobbitt’s book raises –the market state, paradigms of consent versus control, and the framing of national and international law to deal with the new, globalised threats presented by climate change, pandemics, natural disasters and terrorism by both state or non-state actors. Our choices now could determine whether we continue our piece-meal struggle that pits ever escalating violence against ever escalating threats or begin the slow, tedious work of building economic, political and social orders that provide sustainable antidotes to future bin Laden (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Ingrid Srinath, Secretary General of CIVICUS: World Alliance of Citizen Participation

 
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