Notes on Democracy and Terrorism
(I am re-publishing these notes as they give the theoretical framework to argue why, for example, the Euro-group response to the Greek Syriza’s victory this year have much in common with the recent attacks in Turkey and Tunisia by right wing Islamist groups in terms of their objectives, and shared doctrines as to the public sphere.-Arturo)
The terrorist act is not as it is commonly presented, a mere manifestation of hatred by a purely anti-democratic movement or society towards the democratic and ‘secular’, modern society.
Rather, terrorist assailment is tactically more of an acknowledging catastrophic gesture, a recognition of a more potent and destructive weapon: that of the tumultuous democratic will, a ”volonté generale” of the democratic populace that is unpredictable, irrational, and easily manipulated by the vast propaganda campaigns of its recognized political parties. That is to say, the volonté generale is presumed to be always irrational, unpredictable, malleable.
That presumption is often written off in dramatic or theological terms as ”human nature” (as if describing a riddle of the ancient Greek theater) Yet it is a doctrine integral to the political practice of liberals as well as of terrorists, advocated by the advisors and image-makers of Kennedy and Obama, as well as the consultants of right wing religious militias and commercial advertising agencies.* (The current status of political and social sciences as ”sciences”is arguably also inherent to such determinism, the doctrine of political wills and movements of peoples as being necessarily blind, fearful, always irrational forces to be manipulated by technical engineering, where political science blends with the public relations theory used in advertising.)
The terrorist group is not so much anti-democracy, as it is a foreign party (representing foreign attitudes and interests) or an unrecognized local party. Despite its foreigness, its illegality or its apparent incongruity with liberal democracy, it nonetheless strives to participate in the local scenery of political campaigns. The party making use of terrorist stratagem introduces itself along a short cut, the most spectacular entrance it can possibly secure for itself, by engineering a sudden act of destruction and shock, barbarity. By definition it is a master of media sensation. Such media sensation is apparent in Da’esh and the Salafi onslaughts in the mediterranean. Isis killed Turkish students of a youth wing of a socialist party in one onslaught just after the new post-Erdogan government was announced; similar bombings have been carried out of late in Tunisia. These aim to subvert democracies yet also have Salafi representatives within politics in Europe and in Arab and Middle Eastern countries.
The use of media can also be seen Marine Lepen’s Front National, which uses the scandal-monger as well as directly enlisting comedians, similarly in the Dutch Freedom Party and other right wing anti-liberal movements which sport direct participation in democracy despite often announcing their disbelief in democracy and their support for nativist youth gangs.
Political and electoral organizations, no less during ”times of peace” make use of fear, adrenaline, impulsivity, and the irrational as part of the democratic process. And trauma is perhaps the centre-piece of nearly every extreme national movement that can either try to establish certain forms of (ethnocentric or national) democracy where it previously did not exist, or which eliminates democracy after entering power democratically, only to subvert the constitutional order with majoritarianism as soon as it accomplishes this.
Terrorism is a useful tactic when democracy is reduced to the vision of official intellectuals who have seen democratic functioning as a machine-like process of the powerful elected parties requesting the public’s seal of approval after decisions have been made in deliberations that entirely excluded the general public. The seal of approval for new missiles, new wars of intervention, retribution, the elimination of rights and freedoms, and foreign conquest are easily found in the after-dusk of the terrorist party’s theatrical manifestation.
In the time of ”participation” and ”participatory” politics, occurring in 21st century, Western countries have in many cases already seen the erosion of democratic constitutional order (the liberal order, whose features included such amenities as the Independent Judiciary that cannot be coerced by state or police organs such as, say, the Department of Immigrations. Such dependence of the judiciary signals the total emptiness and violation of democratic order, at least according to the romantic theories about democracy existing before the neoliberal and austerity wilderness of recent years)
In the discourses of participation and consensus politics, exuding from the economic far right and the cultural political left, there is a pretension of having abolished the elitist vision of democracy, that of merely requesting the public’s seal of approval once polices have been pre-determined in the enclosures and corridors of the palace and of the central offices. Participation pretends to directly involve constituencies, in more brutal snags with direct confrontation and sensation, the massive expressions of hatred are justified as ”emancipation” or ”democratic”
In fact ‘participation’ usually means that the democratic participation, at its barest and most unthinking, is vastly multiplied so that the public is invited to constantly voice opinions and provide a constant flurry of the seals-of- approval. Perhaps this can be most easily exemplified in the mundane use of the ”like” function for political statements on social media, with facebook and twitter as a political ”ratings” census and a public speaking apparatus constantly monitoring the degrees democratic volition. A continuous stream of seals of approval are gathered for politics that are either incomprehensible or are authoritarian while packaged and sold as populist. Such call to ”participation” is actually a form of increased pacification of the public, as once achieved by television advertising when the ratings system was still a privately maintained experiment, less accurate and not yet interactive and public.
Similarly, terrorism and the periodic terrorist attack fulfill a role that can no longer be fulfilled by television (the leftist film-maker Pier Paolo Pasolini noted how the Italian people’s capacity for cultural and political engagement was far more deeply corroded by television than by the years of Mussolini.) In a time that is too tumultuous for Tv, and when use of television for pacifying an audience has been subsumed by social networks and apps, sporadic high-intensity terrorism or constant ”low-fidelity” terrorism enter into play as ‘democracy management’. Terrorism, if worthy of its name, of course instills fear, leading people to consume in order to calm themselves, or to withdraw bank savings and to sell properties before their worth plummets on the market, and (as is well-documented elsewhere) leads to the popular welcoming of securitization policies. Perhaps the revolution will not be televised, but the counterrevolution by all means is televised in order to be effective (see for example how the Chilean and Argentinean coups d’etat of the 1970s, or the much more recent and arguably mimetic Egyptian military coup of 2013 used the entertainment spectacle, slick productions and television. The video mega-productions of Da’esh or I.S. also logically come to mind under the slogan ”the counter-revolution televised”)
The democratic society after the terrorist act, has a symptom of a ”hyper-republicanism” and bureaucratization, in that a characteristic of republican society—the census, which in the United States since the 1950s is accompanied by the television ratings system, inherent to political life or its paralysis—is constantly being taken, with the semi-conscious participation of the public that registers its habits, comings and goings and existence throughout the day in its usage of the internet and phones and in the physical movement through endlessly surveilled areas. Emotions of hatred or disaffection are taken and expressed in matter-of-fact, statistical tongues, not unlike the “Stimmungs-berichte” or ”Mood-measurement” broadcasts of the Nazi Third Reich.
”Level-of-satisfactions” or ”quality of life” surveys become inescapable, and one participates in surveys against any free choice or will. The survey, though seemingly placid and legal, is inherent to surveillance, by more than a mere etymological word-play. Such new attitudes and realities, having to do with hysteria and estrangement—the survey, the constant petition for the seal of approval in progressive packaging—is what arises as companion and consequence of the after-dusk of a terrorist group’s manifestation by violence.
Discussions on terrorism and on Islamic extremism usually forego Hindu terrorism or narco-terror ism, or for that matter, state terrorism and the imperial armies that target civilian populations are not typically included though they have a similar effect on the political social fabric of the attacked society. More importantly they forego economy, focussing instead on a political structure or on the morbid logistics of militarization, while ignoring economic aspects. Yet the terrorist group’s manifestation of will is a response to economic liberalism in the stage of abstract speculations capitalism: in the system of speculations capital, there is enormous importance placed by economists on the emotion fear as driving impulse, as well heavy investment in apparatuses put in place by the investors, the government and capitalists so as to keep fear at a constant or predictable level, while inhibiting excessive, irrational panic and scandal. This is because a certain level of fear maintains the habits of civilians putting their savings in the banks and not withdrawing them at once in a drastic motion. Panic or the hysteria caused by a false rumor can lead to mass behavior among particularly the middle class of removing savings. This concern of speculations capitalism for the intimidated middle class is because the middle class are, in ”human numbers”, more populous and bigger than the investors, and the professional business investors are more cool-headed and rational, cold-blooded than the amateur investors, therefore less likely to act in panicking droves that instigate major economic break-downs in the speculations society.
Panic is given a great economic significance, securing crises that allow the highest levels of business as well as the security regimes of governments to expand effortlessly.
It is inevitable that terrorism finds its place and attraction to a society where the speculations economy is completely determined by adrenaline and panic among the middle classes and aspiring petit-bourgeoisie.
*If the democratic will seems to be lending towards more rational decision making in its politics, then the society can quickly come under assault. Examples of these are: the Tunisian consolidation of democracy, which saw direct political assassinations of leftist party leaders and attacks on the Bardo Museum in 2013-14.
To consider the argument of the pro-Palestinian left of Israel’s state terror, it is exampled in the direct attack by the Israeli state against the occupied territories in response to a democratic election in which the Hamas party resulted as the winner once the votes were counted in Ramallah in 2006. This reignited in the more recent airstrikes and ground invasion of Gaza, just before the previously-at-war Hamas party and the Fatah were beginning to consolidate a Unity Government.
Latin American history abounds with examples of democratic elections meeting with direct state terror: the election of Salvador Allende in Chile or of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala led to immediate hostilities and coup d’etat towards consolidating regimes of state terror. In recent times, economics and debt warfare have replaced some of the military measures taken by European countries: then there is the decisive, direct strangulation of Greece by the Euro-group of Germany and the Netherlands in collective punishment towards Greeks for having elected Syriza.
Link to academia.edu: Notes on the Seemingly anti-democratic apparatus called terrorism