Terrorism, Mass Hysteria and Hegemony in India

All incidents in India that have occurred recently, which go by a blanket name terrorist attacks, have been viewed as self-explanatory. A terrorist and his acts don’t need any explanation. A terrorist is like any other professional who is supposed to do what he is trained for. Why does he do that – is not a question to be asked. It is his own “free will” which clashes with others’ free will. Haven’t we been time and again accused of talking about the human rights of the “terrorists” while “ignoring” those of the soldiers and policemen who are “victims” of the terrorist attacks? Their opposite location with respect to the hegemonic centre does not mean anything.

I feel the post-modern capitalist celebration of relativism indicates towards an important aspect of the reconstruction of power, civil society and expression in the age of finance capital. The footlooseness of faceless finance capital characteristic of this age has intensified the process of solid melting into the air to an ever-increasing degree – every click on the keyboard makes, changes and destroys billions of lives every moment. This has led to a multiple crisscrossed entrenchment of every segment in the society trying to hold on to something solid – an identity or something… In the process, every ‘melting’ identity poses its own language which could not be understood beyond the space-time of its posing. This is what we can call a continuous process of subalternization, of manufacturing subalternities that cannot act, but simply react in the hegemonic paradigm. When useful things become commodities, their self-expression (through their own use-value) is incomprehensible in the market, they must express their worth through the hegemonic reactive monetary expression of exchange-value – a general form of value.

Thus, the resolution of “civilizational” conflicts (between various levels of subalternities) is possible in the within-the-system framework only through a generalized cutthroat competition or simply mutual annihilation – the well-armed and defiant robots clashing with each other – “the terrorists”, the security personnel etc. The only language that is mutually understandable is that of the guns and bombs… So the citizenry can’t empathize with the terrorists, they are always aliens. And so are the (counter)terrorists and their ‘innocent’ protégées for “them”. They are reduced to reactive agencies within the hegemonic game-plans. They can only react to each other’s moves.

Today’s terrorism is a desperate cry to make others’ listen to what subjects/terrorists are unable to express and what “others” either refuse to hear or are unable to understand. It is the failure and crisis of self-representation let out in the hegemonic language of coercion and terror. This seems absurd but this is as absurd as the absurdity of the conjuncture.

The whole arrogant security discourse that the media and security mafia in India pose is far more absurd than the defiant terrorist attacks. What can be more absurd than the astheticised victimhood of the “great” India that they sell while being slyly proud whenever a terrorist attack takes place in the country, as that makes them feel to be in the league of the greatest victims of global terrorism – the US, UK and Israel. So now we have our own 9/11. This is the level of discourse in the Indian media in the context of the Mumbai incidents.

The recent unabashed display of an elitist, confessedly, “anti-political” stress on security infrastructure and technology to resolve every conflict and the aim to put away politics on security matters are nothing but an insistent inability and a lack of will to understand conflicts. Nobody is asking for an everyday democratic control over every aspect of social life, rather what is being provoked by the panicky bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie in India is a hysteria in favour of a trans-political security and intelligence machinery – which can easily become a permanent coercive, of course, an efficient, bureaucracy which regulates the social life.

Terrorism in the present shape is not a threat for the system but like its counterpart is an opportunity for the hegemony to create consensus to (counter)terrorise (and subalternise) the alienated voices and stop them from becoming a meaningful and organised threat to the system by transcending their own subalternity. Anyway, as a prominent postmodernist, postcolonialist scholar categorically said, “Who the hell wants to protect subalternity? Only extremely reactionary, dubious anthropologistic museumizers. No activist wants to keep the subaltern in the space of difference… You don’t give the subaltern voice. You work for the bloody subaltern, you work against subalternity.” (“Interview With Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak”, Ariel: A Review of International English Literature (July 1992), 23(3):29-47)

The Economic Function of Terrorism?

And why not? At the time when a global recession is on its way, there is a need to increase public spending to revive the economy. And Baba Keynes himself told us once – “Pyramid-building, earthquakes, even wars may serve to increase wealth, if the education of our statesmen on the principles of the classical economics stands in the way of anything better”. What is better than a war on terrorism which never ends – it will lead to a constant militarisation, and an expansion of the security and armaments industries necessary for boosting effective demand.

Is this really a conspiracy theory?

Terrorism and anti-terrorism in India

In India there has been a growing demand from political, media and business elites for stringent ANTI-TERROR legislation. In their pursuit to repress their own fear, they demand fear among the public so that the public doesn’t terrorise the masters. At opportune moments and places, to aid them (one can never tell whether there is conscious mutuality or not) we have ghastly incidences like yesterday’s in Delhi, or earlier this year’s in the BJP run states. Such incidences effectively create a required legitimation for such McCarthyite demands. You need to just watch the tv news channels with their distinguished guests and “ex”s from politics, police-military bureaucracy and new ‘security intellectuals’ who unabashedly demand repressive laws to control their own fear and create fear among the “faceless” “terrorists”.

Probably matters of coincidence – in the morning of the tragic day we read about “the UPA government speaking in different voices over the need for enacting tough anti-terror laws by the States”. The government’s National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan openly favours the Gujarat government’s proposal for a state law against “terrorism”. And there was a considerable coverage on the opposition party’s three-day conclave which was entitled “Terrorism to be the BJP’s major poll plank”. The party leader Rajnath Singh said that “only after Advani becomes Prime Minister will there be a decisive initiative”. And in the evening there are blasts throughout Delhi. What a day-case for anti-terrorism.

If you are conscious of the material organisation of newspapers and media reporting, you will find this pattern repeated daily.

US Supreme Court Justice Brandeis while disagreeing with the Court’s analysis in upholding a conviction for aiding the Communist Party in Whitney v. California (1927) (though concurring with the disposition of the case on technical grounds), made the most brilliant case possible within a liberal democratic framework against fascistic ideologico-legal regimentation:

Those who won our independence… knew that order cannot be secured merely through fear of punishment for its infraction; that it is hazardous to discourage thought, hope and imagination; that fear breeds repression; that repression breeds hate; that hate menaces stable government; that the path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and proposed remedies; and that the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones. Believing in the power of reason as applied through public discussion, they eschewed silence coerced by law — the argument of force in its worst form. Recognizing the occasional tyrannies of governing majorities, they amended the Constitution so that free speech and assembly should be guaranteed.

Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burned women.