Simon Critchley: I want to start out from the thought that vio­lence is not reducible to an act in the here and now which might or might not be jus­ti­fi­able in accor­dance with some or oth­er con­cep­tion of jus­tice. On the con­trary, vio­lence is a phe­nom­e­non that has a his­to­ry. There’s nev­er a ques­tion of a sin­gle act, one act of vio­lence, but of one’s inser­tion into a his­tor­i­cal process sat­u­rat­ed by a cycle of vio­lence and counter-violence. So vio­lence is nev­er one, it’s always at least two. So vio­lence is always a double-act. It’s always a ques­tion of vio­lence and counter-violence. And there’s a remark by Robert Young where he talks about vio­lence as a double-act between human sub­jects, sub­jects whose expe­ri­ence of vio­lence inter­po­lates them in a rep­e­ti­tion effect from which they can­not free them­selves. So vio­lence for me is this two-fold process of vio­lence and counter-violence, where sub­jects are inter­po­lat­ed in a rep­e­ti­tion effect from which they can­not free them­selves. Violence has this feel­ing of rep­e­ti­tion in rela­tion­ship to an injury, in rela­tion­ship to a basic trauma. 

If we con­sid­er the evi­dence of colo­nial­ism as an exam­ple, then I think it’s a pow­er­ful exam­ple. Violence is not an abstract con­cept for the col­o­nized. Historical amne­sia, an incu­ri­ous­ness about the vio­lence of the past, is the lux­u­ry of the oppres­sor. The col­o­nized sub­ject lives the his­tor­i­cal vio­lence of their expro­pri­a­tion vis­cer­al­ly, cor­po­ral­ly, all the way to psy­chosis, men­tal dis­or­ders, and phe­nom­e­na like pos­ses­sion, as Frantz Fanon shows in detail in his sem­i­nal text The Wretched of the Earth. In this book The Wretched of the Earth no adjec­tive is more often used than the word mus­cu­lar.” Violence for Fanon is the mus­cu­lar asser­tion of the col­o­nized against the colonist in the con­text of a nation­al strug­gle for lib­er­a­tion. Violence, Fanon says, is the absolute prax­is, a cleans­ing force, he writes, dri­ven by rav­en­ous taste for the tangible. 

And it’s through vio­lence against the colonist that the col­o­nized sub­ject can get rid of their deformed infe­ri­or­i­ty and lib­er­ates or lit­er­al­ly remake them­selves. Fanon writes Decolonization is tru­ly the cre­ation of new,” where the empha­sis should be on the word men.”

I’ve got deep sus­pi­cions about the idea of vio­lence as a cleans­ing force. The hero­ic, vir­ile, mas­culin­ist asser­tion the vio­lence is that heal­ing, bloody cru­cible through which men are redeemed and remade. Where the col­o­nized thing becomes a free man through what Sartre calls in his pref­ace to Fanon’s text the patience of the knife.” 

Nor am I per­suad­ed by Sartre’s hyper­bol­ic dialec­tic where he says killing a European is killing two birds with one stone. In one vio­lent act, the oppo­si­tion between the oppres­sor and the oppressed is sub­lat­ed, it’s over­come, aufge­hoben, and the for­mer­ly col­o­nize sub­ject feels for the first time a nation­al soil under its feed, Sartre says. 

There is a glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of vio­lence in Sartre, and in Fanon, that wild­ly exceeds the accounts of vio­lence that we can find say in Marx, or in Sorel, or indeed in some­one like Lenin. And Hannah Arendt, in her prob­lem­at­ic cri­tique the Fanon, makes the pow­er­ful point that maybe this wild excess of a dis­course of vio­lence is caused by what she calls the severe frus­tra­tion of the fac­ul­ty of action in the mod­ern world.” So in a sense there’s an inter­est­ing thought here that maybe exces­sive rhetorics of vio­lence, dis­cours­es on vio­lence, are caused by…the fact of impo­tence, the fact of the frus­tra­tion of action in the mod­ern world. And if we can if that’s true for say Fanon, we could say it’s even more true for more recent dis­cours­es on vio­lence. I’m think­ing of some­one like Žižek, where we get this exces­sive dis­course of vio­lence which might be as it were linked to as it were the frus­tra­tion of the fac­ul­ty of action. So we should be sus­pi­cious of that, too. 

However, what remains irrefutable in Fanon is the under­stand­ing of vio­lence as lived, his­tor­i­cal expe­ri­ence of expro­pri­a­tion whose effects con­sti­tute the dai­ly humil­i­a­tion of the wretched of the Earth. When vio­lence is under­stood in this way, there is no doubt—and this is my point in these remarks, there’s no doubt that prin­ci­pled asser­tions of non­vi­o­lence miss the point, right. So my prob­lem here is with prin­ci­pled defens­es of the idea of nonviolence. 

Worse still, non­vi­o­lence can be ide­o­log­i­cal tool intro­duced by those in pow­er in order to ensure that their inter­ests and adverse­ly affect­ed by a vio­lent over­throw of pow­er. Nonviolence here becomes a nego­ti­at­ing strat­e­gy. Frantz Fanon writes, with with­er­ing irony in The Wretched of the Earth, non­vi­o­lence he says is an attempt to set­tle the colo­nial prob­lem around the nego­ti­at­ing table before the irrepara­ble is done, before any blood­shed or regret­table act is com­mit­ted. And as ever in this dialec­tic between Sartre and Fanon, Sartre exag­ger­ates the point in the most extra­or­di­nary way. It’s a won­der­ful sen­tence. He says, 


Get this into your head: if vio­lence were only a thing of the future, if exploita­tion and oppres­sion nev­er exist­ed on earth, then per­haps dis­plays of non­vi­o­lence might relieve the con­flict. But if the entire regime, even your non­vi­o­lent thought is gov­erned by a thousand-year-old oppres­sion, your pas­sive­ness serves no oth­er pur­pose but to put you on the side of the oppressor. 

History is a seem­ing­ly unend­ing cycle of vio­lence and non­vi­o­lence. And to refuse its over­whelm­ing evi­dence in the name of some a pri­ori, or prin­ci­pled con­cep­tion of non­vi­o­lence, is to dis­avow his­to­ry in the name of an abstrac­tion that in the final analy­sis is in the bad sense ideological. 

And that’s my prob­lem, if you like. That his­to­ry, vio­lence, is not one thing, it’s two. It’s a phe­nom­e­non that has a his­to­ry. It’s a cycle of vio­lence and counter-violence. And to reduce the ques­tion of vio­lence to some prin­ci­ple as to whether there can be vio­lence or not is to just dis­avow his­to­ry and to assert a posi­tion that risks being con­formist, ideological. 

That said, there are con­texts. There are con­texts where tena­cious pol­i­tics of non­vi­o­lence can be effec­tive. For exam­ple, Gandhi’s strat­e­gy of satya­gra­ha, non­vi­o­lence, in the con­text of British colo­nial rule in India. There are con­texts where an imi­ta­tion of Gandhi’s tac­tics might also prove suc­cess­ful, as was the case for sev­er­al years in the 60s with the Civil Rights Movement in the US and the words indeed of Martin Luther King. 

There are con­texts where tech­niques of direct action that my friend David Graeber calls non­vi­o­lent war­fare” may prove effec­tive and time­ly. We can take non­vi­o­lence all the way to the lim­its of vio­lence with­out actu­al­ly becom­ing vio­lent. There are con­texts where a dif­fi­cult paci­fism that nego­ti­ates the lim­its of vio­lence might be enough. And one hopes that in most cas­es it would be enough. 

But. But, and this is a huge but.” There are con­texts, mul­ti­ple con­texts, too depress­ing­ly many to men­tion, where non­vi­o­lent resis­tance is sim­ply crushed by the forces of the state, the police, and the mil­i­tary. In such con­texts the bor­der sep­a­rat­ing non­vi­o­lent war­fare to vio­lent action has to be crossed. Politics is always a ques­tion of local con­di­tions, local strug­gles, local vic­to­ries, and local defeats. And to judge the mul­ti­plic­i­ty of such strug­gles on the basis of an abstract con­cep­tion of non­vi­o­lence is to risk a dog­mat­ic blindness. 

So does a com­mit­ment to nonvio­lence such as some­one like me would have, an ethics and pol­i­tics of non­vi­o­lence, exclude the pos­si­bil­i­ty of vio­lence? That’s the ques­tion. I don’t want to go down the root of Fanon with this hero­ic, mas­culin­ist, vir­ile dis­course of vio­lence. But can a com­mit­ment to non­vi­o­lence exclude the pos­si­bil­i­ty of vio­lence? That’s the ques­tion.

And Walter Benjamin in his famous text Critique of Violence writes the fol­low­ing, which for me dis­tills the prob­lem. He says, every con­ceiv­able solu­tions to human prob­lems, not to speak of deliv­er­ance from the con­fines of the world-historical con­di­tions of exis­tence obtain­ing hith­er­to, remains impos­si­ble if vio­lence is total­ly exclud­ed in prin­ci­ple. So every con­ceiv­able solu­tion to human prob­lems remains impos­si­ble if vio­lence is total­ly exclud­ed, in prin­ci­ple. So we can­not expect a rad­i­cal change in the state of human beings in the world if we exclude vio­lence as a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple. And Benjamin is mak­ing a cru­cial point here. In the polit­i­cal sphere, it makes lit­tle sense to assert and hold to some abstract, prin­ci­pled, a pri­ori con­cep­tion of non­vi­o­lence. As is well-known, the stan­dard objec­tion to say, anar­chist uses of polit­i­cal vio­lence always turns on this point. It will be said, How can you jus­ti­fy your use of vio­lence? Shouldn’t you be com­mit­ted to nonvio­lence? if you resort to vio­lence, don’t you begin to resem­ble the ene­my that you’re fight­ing against?” 

Now, of course non­vi­o­lence con­ceived of as the domain of coop­er­a­tion, of mutu­al aid, the life of the social bond, is the pre­sup­po­si­tion and the aspi­ra­tion of that pol­i­tics that we can think of as anar­chist. You can find that through­out the thought of peo­ple like Kropotkin, Gustav Landauer, Malatesta, and the rest. Or as what Benjamin calls the realm of cour­tesy, peace­able­ness, and trust. 

But why should anar­chists be the only polit­i­cal agents who have to decide before­hand that they will not be vio­lent, when the spe­cif­ic cir­cum­stances of a polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion are still unknown? To this extent, the abstract ques­tion of vio­lence ver­sus nonvio­lence, the abstract ques­tion, risks reduc­ing anar­chism to what we might call the pol­i­tics of the spec­ta­tor posi­tion, where non­vi­o­lence becomes a tran­scen­dent val­ue, an abstrac­tion, a prin­ci­pal, or a cat­e­gor­i­cal imper­a­tive. In spe­cif­ic polit­i­cal sequences, and it’s always and only a case of such specifics, a local­i­ty, a series of actions, an even­tal site as Badiou would say, the turn to vio­lence is often entire­ly com­pre­hen­si­ble. The vio­lence of pro­tes­tors, crit­ics, and oppo­nents of the regime is usu­al­ly but not always a response to the provo­ca­tions of the police and mil­i­tary violence. 

And I guess the ques­tion that real­ly inter­ests me per­son­al­ly in this con­cern is at what point a com­mit­ment to nonvio­lence, eth­i­cal­ly and polit­i­cal­ly, has to con­front the neces­si­ty for vio­lence. And what’s involved in that tran­si­tion, one from the oth­er. And again, if we begin from the idea that vio­lence is not one thing, it’s always a double-act, it’s always a cycle of vio­lence and counter-violence which is in a sort of rep­u­ta­tion loop orig­i­nat­ing from a basic injury where two sides engage in a con­flict that seems to be irre­solv­able and both sides blame each oth­er, then how can we think about… To approach that ques­tion I think we have to think about his­tor­i­cal exam­ples of non­vi­o­lent move­ments which have rec­og­nized the neces­si­ty for vio­lence at cer­tain points in their history.


We begin from the idea of pol­i­tics as local and con­tin­gent, right? Which means the things are going to hap­pen and work in some con­texts, and hap­pen and…not work in oth­er con­texts. So, if it tran­spired that a stu­dent of Kropotkin, Mahatma Gandhi, was able for a long peri­od of time to pur­sue the ethics and pol­i­tics of non­vi­o­lence in the con­text of British rule in Imperial India with extra­or­di­nary suc­cess, right. Even though it result­ed in civ­il war, Partition, and all the rest. But in that con­text that was possible. 

In the con­text of say, French colo­nial rule in Algeria, that was not going to be pos­si­ble. Because the French were just gonna start killing the col­o­nized. So, we have to begin from this idea that the con­cep­tu­al nature of pol­i­tics means that it’s not a one-size-fits-all issue when it comes to vio­lence and non­vi­o­lence. They are going to be con­text where—and you know, for exam­ple I’m speak­ing in… This is going to go live in many months’ time, by which time we might know what hap­pened or not hap­pened, but Aung San Suu Kyi was released over the week­end. And she’s been argu­ing for the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a non­vi­o­lent rev­o­lu­tion in Burma. Maybe it will hap­pen. But maybe it won’t. But we can­not con­demn vio­lence, if it hap­pens, on the basis of some abstract prin­ci­ple, right. 

And the way it always works is that… Or the way it over­whelm­ing­ly works is that we have non­vi­o­lent protest move­ments which are col­lec­tive and large-scale, which is usu­al­ly antag­o­nized by the police or infil­trat­ed by the police, and pro­voked into a sit­u­a­tion where vio­lence becomes the reac­tion. And once there’s been a vio­lent reac­tion, those peo­ple can then be con­demned by the polit­i­cal author­i­ties. And they say Well these peo­ple are vio­lent, they’re smash­ing things up.” And one sees that pat­tern over and over again historically. 

So this is what I mean by if a defense of non­vi­o­lence becomes as it were prin­ci­pled, that can just be an ide­o­log­i­cal posi­tion. So we need a more nuanced under­stand­ing than that. I mean Fanon is in many many ways prob­lem­at­ic, right. But what’s unprob­lem­at­ic for me is the idea that vio­lence is not one but two. Violence is a— So again, if we go to 9‍/‍11— We can go to 9‍/‍11 direct­ly in rela­tion­ship to that, and just think about it. Because where does the vio­lence begin? Who Initiates the violence? 

Well. You know, from one stand­point 9‍/‍11 was an unpro­voked attack on US civil­ians, right. And for­eign civil­ians work­ing in New York. That’s one dis­course. And because the United States was attacked, that then jus­ti­fies the coun­ter­at­tack in Afghanistan and a for­tiori the inva­sion of Iraq and the rest of the bewil­der­ing far­ra­go of fias­co and lies that has unfold­ed in the last years. 

But if you read Osama bin Laden, as I tried to do in the years after 9‍/‍11 to try and find out more, you dis­cov­er some­thing else, right. That the vio­lence of 9‍/‍11 is a counter-violence. The Al Qaeda nar­ra­tive, or the bin Laden nar­ra­tive, is the vio­lence that we engage in is jus­ti­fied as a response to the vio­lence that you engage in in our lands. If you occu­py our lands, Saudi Arabia, if you sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly and rou­tine­ly dis­hon­or the Muslim world, this will be your reward. If you had­n’t com­mit­ted vio­lence against us, we’d do noth­ing against you. Bin Laden says that Al Qaeda has no beef with Sweden. Sweden’s done noth­ing in the Muslim world, there­fore we will do noth­ing to Sweden. 

So, the point being. There’s this won­der­ful bin Laden mes­sage called The Towers of Lebanon,” where he talks about watching…on tele­vi­sion, right, so the whole as it were spec­tac­u­lar, medi­a­tized ver­sion— You’ve got bin Laden watch­ing on tele­vi­sion the Israeli navy bom­bard­ing Beirut. In 1982. And they’re bom­bard­ing Beirut, and what is there in Beirut? There are tow­ers in Beirut. Towers on the front. This was the play­ground of the Arab world, right. And then bin Laden gets the idea of mis­siles going into tow­ers. Missile, tow­er, mis­sile, tow­er. Missile, tow­er, tow­er fall down. And 9‍/‍11 is just the con­se­quence of that, right. The idea came from the Israelis, in bin Laden’s imagination. 

So, the point being that it’s nev­er one but at least two. The vio­lence is always in this log­ic of vio­lence and counter-violence. And that is the jus­ti­fi­ca­to­ry dis­course on both sides. We’re right to respond because what you did to us, we’re right to respond because of what you did to us. And the mutu­al mis­un­der­stand­ing begins from that point. 


The way this works… This is where you know, trau­ma… So vio­lence is… Violence comes out of this… Violence has this repet­i­tive effect, right. Violence, counts-violence. Think about Israel/Palestine, or British/Irish rela­tions and…you know. Which…let’s say at the moment are in a rea­son­able con­di­tion, but are incred­i­bly frag­ile and will always be frag­ile. Because the least act of provo­ca­tion will acti­vate that trau­mat­ic injury, which will then lead to anoth­er repet­i­tive cycle of vio­lence. So if you think about sit­u­a­tions of con­flict, we have a sit­u­a­tion where both sides feel injured, both sides feel aggriev­ed, and both sides feel jus­ti­fied in their injury and aggriev­e­ments and what­ev­er. And that then leads them to feel jus­ti­fied in what they do, right. 

And this is where we have to understand—I guess it’s what I was say­ing in my remarks before, but vio­lence is dialec­ti­cal. To say the vio­lence is not one is to say that vio­lence is dialec­ti­cal. It’s always a ques­tion of a col­li­sion between opposed yet equal­ly jus­ti­fied claims to what is right. I think this is— If we don’t begin from this under­stand­ing, we sim­ply won’t get any­where. If we begin an attempt to under­stand 9‍/‍11 from the idea that there’s right on one side and wrong on the oth­er side, we get nowhere. Both sides claim to be right. So what we have in 9‍/‍11, as an exam­ple, is a sit­u­a­tion of a dialec­ti­cal col­li­sion of vio­lence between mutually-opposed and mutually-justify claims to what is right. 

And that is a trag­ic sit­u­a­tion. It’s the sit­u­a­tion that Hegel describes as what’s going on in ancient tragedies like the Oresteia and in the Antigone and the rest. What’s required is that word, or that act, or that process by which that mutu­al oppo­si­tion can become rec­on­ciled in some way. And that’s what eludes us in most polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tions. I mean we— If you think about Israel, Palestine, November 2010, it sim­ply eludes us how this thing could become become rec­on­ciled, resolved. 


At this point I’m sort of…immersed back in Hegel, which was a home in my head a long time ago and I go back to it and there’s some­thing just utter­ly com­pelling about dialec­ti­cal think­ing in the sense in which you know, it gives that— Without want­i­ng to repeat myself, just the basis for a rich, his­tor­i­cal under­stand­ing of a process which is con­flict­ual, right. A con­flict­ual his­tor­i­cal process. What is required is that that word, that deed, that thing which is going to halt that cycle. 

Now, where is that going to be found? Well, that’s a stu­pid ques­tion, right. You know, because it’s a ques­tion about the future, and all ques­tions about the future are stu­pid in my opin­ion, in the sense that the dis­ci­pline that we have to exert intel­lec­tu­al­ly is to learn from his­to­ry, right. And to look at con­texts where there was some­thing that rec­on­ciled things. 

Or where there was­n’t. So, when I was a kid, until I was in my twen­ties and thir­ties, it would have been sim­ply unimag­in­able for Northern Ireland to have reached the sit­u­a­tion that it is now. As com­pro­mised and as fucked up as it is in Northern Ireland. It would have been unimag­in­able. Yet it hap­pened. How did that hap­pen? It’s a com­pli­cat­ed sto­ry. And it’s not a clean sto­ry. And it’s a com­pro­mised sto­ry. And then we could put togeth­er a ten, twelve, fif­teen oth­er sto­ries like that. And then we could think about well, what would it take to bring such a sit­u­a­tion about. 

The fact is that there’s no will on either side to achieve any rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. Now will, at all. I mean, peace is not— I mean like, if vio­lence is not one, vio­lence is two, it’s a process, peace is a process. Peace is not a state. It’s not the end of his­to­ry or some sort of ces­sa­tion. Peace is a con­flict­ual process which is dif­fi­cult. And one has to be absolute­ly com­mit­ted to bring­ing it about. And at the moment— This is, you know, some­time before the ten-year anniver­sary of 9‍/‍11, I see noth­ing. I see no will to bring that about. I see the same ret­ribu­tive, stu­pid lan­guage of jus­ti­fi­ca­tion and vio­lence and counter-violence as we— So the most depress­ing thing about Barack Obama, of the many depress­ing things about his pres­i­den­cy, is the con­tin­u­a­tion of the for­eign pol­i­cy objec­tives of the Bush admin­is­tra­tion. There’s been no sig­nif­i­cant shift of focus. Or no sig­nif­i­cant shift of lan­guage. And there was the will in the pop­u­la­tion for anoth­er dis­course, and the moment when it could have been artic­u­lat­ed. I think a cou­ple of years ago, if Obama had changed the dis­course, he might have been able to take a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of peo­ple with him. Or at least it would’ve been a fight worth hav­ing. And that moment is gone

Then you into a deep­er ques­tion, which is I guess the ques­tion that stu­dents of Leo Strauss and Carl Schmitt will pose which is well, per­haps it serves the inter­ests of the United States and the West to have an ene­my like Al Qaeda. There’s this won­der­ful— I’m a stu­dent of ancient tragedy, which I’m work­ing on at the moment. And there’s this line that Athena— I mean, here’s an exam­ple. This is good. 

In the Oresteia, we get two repet­i­tive loop cycles of vio­lence. The Oresteia begins with Clytemnestra mur­der­ing her hus­band Agamemnon because Agamemnon sac­ri­ficed their daugh­ter Iphigenia in order to have good winds so the fleet could sail over Troy and they could have a lit­tle war. So she’s pissed off with him about that, obviously. 

So when he comes back from the war, she kills him. And then Orestes, the son, kills the moth­er for killing the father. So we have a clas­sic famil­ial vio­lence counter-violence sce­nario in ancient tragedy. And then the third play, The Eumenides, in the Oresteia tril­o­gy, Athena rec­on­ciles the two oppos­ing forces. Orestes, Apollo, and the Furies, and turns the Furies into the Kindly Ones that become the pro­tec­tors of the city. But she says you know, Athena, the god­dess… You know the Greeks had a…the Greeks had a way with words. And for them it required a god­dess to do this work. So maybe we need a god­dess or god to rec­on­cile these differences. 

But she says Worship the mean in all things,” right, wor­ship the mean in all things. Avoid extremes, in any mat­ter. Worship the mean, and then you will be just. And nev­er done ban­ish ter­ror from the gates. Never ban­ished ter­ror from the gates. The cit­i­zen that knows no fear will have no rev­er­ence for the just. And what Athena was artic­u­lat­ing, two and a half mil­len­nia ago, is the pol­i­tics of fear. Which stu­dents of this like Thomas Hobbes under­stood per­fect­ly. There has to be an equa­tion or a bal­ance between jus­tice and ter­ror, right. So to that extent, not only do I see no pos­si­ble rec­on­cil­i­a­tion between…I don’t know, what do we want to call it, the Muslim world…the West—I don’t know, what­ev­er. I see the deep­en­ing of that prob­lem ten years— So ten years on, or nine and a half years on, I see the deep­en­ing of that problem. 

And I see the deep­en­ing of that prob­lem in par­tic­u­lar in Western Europe. In the growth of a real­ly nasty racism that is find­ing its ide­o­log­i­cal fric­tion around anti-Muslim sen­ti­ment in the Netherlands, in Germany, in Denmark, even in Sweden. And in France, obvi­ous­ly. And the whole scan­dal of the ninth anniver­sary of 9‍/‍11, which was taint­ed by this stu­pid debate about the Islamic Cultural Center and the prox­im­i­ty of that cen­ter to Ground Zero. All that non­sense. I see noth­ing that’s gonna allow for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, and fur­ther­more on both sides I think the fact of ter­ror shores up the claims to jus­tice that they want to make. So, it serves the inter­ests of both par­ties for there to be vio­lence on both sides. Because it’s fear that keeps us safe. 

And then we’re into a deep­er set of reflec­tions, a more sober and somber set of reflec­tions, which is to say that the state, the mod­ern nation-state like Britain, its essen­tial func­tion is secu­ri­ti­za­tion. It’s a secu­ri­ty appa­ra­tus—that’s what it is. So when you go on a plane and you say well you know, thank you for fly­ing British Airways or Delta Airlines, and our first con­cern is for pas­sen­ger safe­ty, right. This is the artic­u­la­tion of secu­ri­ti­za­tion. Doesn’t mat— You gonna get bad food; you’re not going to be able to sleep; we’re not gonna give you free drinks; going to be treat­ed like shit. But you know, your safe­ty mat­ters to us. It’s as if that dis­course has become the over­whelm­ing dis­course of the state: securitization. 

And secu­ri­ti­za­tion only works as a dis­course when there is an ene­my. And when there is the threat of ter­ror. So you could say ten years after 9‍/‍11 what has hap­pened has been the mas­sive ramp­ing up of the secu­ri­ty frame­work of the nation-state, or the meta-state in the case of the EU. And with­in those struc­tures an increas­ing iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the ene­my as the ene­my without—whether it’s Saudi, Yemeni, Afghani or whatever—and the ene­my within—the immigrant. 


Let’s call it by its prop­er name, and its prop­er name is impe­ri­al­ism, right. 9‍/‍11 is a chap­ter in an impe­ri­al­ist sto­ry and an impe­ri­al­ist strug­gle. And it’s about the… So, 9‍/‍11, the hijack­ing of US planes to use them as weapons against US civil­ians in order to make a point about the impe­r­i­al pres­ence of the United States and what the United States rep­re­sents in the Muslim world. That’s what we’re deal­ing with. We’re deal­ing with a moment in that his­to­ry. And now it’s ten years lat­er and it’s now a dif­fer­ent moment.

So, the first thing to say is that 9‍/‍11 was­n’t the day when every­thing changed, right. I mean again, that’s a posi­tion which is sim­ply ide­o­log­i­cal, in my view. 9‍/‍11 is not one thing, it’s part of a sequence. And we have to under­stand it his­tor­i­cal­ly as part of a sequence. Otherwise we under­stand noth­ing. And you know, the ide­o­log­i­cal response to 9‍/‍11 is com­plete­ly para­dox­i­cal. On the one hand, it’s the day when every­thing changed. On the oth­er hand, we can’t mourn it, we have to go out and kick some ass. Whereas if it was the day when every­thing changed, then sure­ly we should spend a few years think­ing about it. But no. We had a few days to think about it and then it was you know, we have to send our boys out to do their hero­ic duty. 

So, it was an impor­tant chap­ter in a sequence, not a cat­a­clysmic, world-historical event for me. And the oth­er thing that I want to say, which is a del­i­cate thing to say and I could­n’t say in New York because…you know, you’d get shout­ed at is the way in which the whole dis­course on 9‍/‍11 exhibits the tyran­ny of the vic­tim. The vic­tim and those peo­ple that…are vic­tims or who take on the role for them­selves being vic­tims, by asso­ci­a­tion, can sim­ply squash any thought about the mean­ing of this event through the asser­tion of who they are. Well this hap­pened, and it’s out­ra­geous, and we have to do something. 

And I think that there is a prob­lem with polit­i­cal dis­cours­es based on the idea of the vic­tim. We’ve seen the way in which that can unfold, say for exam­ple the tyran­ny of vic­tim­hood as the basis for legit­i­mat­ing ide­ol­o­gy say in Zionism. Which means that every­thing is jus­ti­fied because every­thing comes back to the fact that I’m a vic­tim of a pri­or his­tor­i­cal injury, right, the mem­o­ry of the Holocaust, the Shoah. Or again think about Serbian nation­al­ism, premised upon the defeat at the Battle of Kosovo, which means that what it means to be Serbian is to be a vic­tim of his­to­ry. And every his­tor­i­cal event sim­ply serves to legit­i­mate that. 

So, we have to get out of the log­ic of vic­tim­hood it seems to me, in order to just think about this, right. And so at this point we need sober, his­tor­i­cal, ratio­nal reflec­tion about the event 9‍/‍11, whether it was an event at all, and the sequence of which it’s a part. We need that. We don’t need sen­ti­men­tal­ized dis­tor­tions of his­to­ry that sim­ply serve to block any thought about the mean­ing of this thing. And…we’re not there yet. We’re a long way from that, it seems to me. 


So in a sense the…if the world shift­ed after 9‍/‍11, it’s allow that secu­ri­ti­za­tion dis­course, secu­ri­ti­za­tion ide­ol­o­gy to get a deep­er and deep­er grip on human life. So, to that extent I agree with Agamben, you know, the biopo­lit­i­cal aspects of this are evi­dent, right? You know, you walk in an air­port, in this no-man’s land between… You know, if you go to Terminal 5 at Heathrow, you walk through this legal no-man’s land from the plane to some­thing, and you see UK Border,” right. This is new. UK Border.”

And you got­ta get in over that bor­der and into the promised land. And at that point you real­ize, you know, you have no rights. You are com­plete­ly legal­ly state­less. So, ten years on I think there’s a real sense of a…that the…a num­ber of phe­nom­e­na. We have the func­tion of the state is secu­ri­ty. Security is func­tion­al­ized, oper­a­tional­ized, through the police and the mil­i­tary at the ser­vice of the polit­i­cal class. The polit­i­cal class are increas­ing­ly out of con­tact with the cit­i­zen­ry. So the only way in which they can— I mean, polit­i­cal par­ty mem­ber­ship in coun­tries like the UK has dropped dra­mat­i­cal­ly over the last gen­er­a­tion. So the only way the that there can be a grip of the polit­i­cal class onto the cit­i­zen­ry is through the lan­guage of fear. We’re keep­ing you safe,” right. And that safe­ty has to turn around, as it were, the log­ic of the ene­my in two dimen­sions: the exter­nal enemy—you know, the guy from Pakistan that’s going to come over and kill you and your chil­dren; and the inter­nal enemy—the second-generation Pakistani res­i­dent who might be a teacher in your local school who might be this but you know…he’s gonna become rad­i­cal­ized and he could be out to get you. So you know, here we have… I remem­ber it was Leslie Nielsen, of Police Squad, said I’m inter­est­ed in jus­tice, and that means bul­lets.” That’s the point. There’s no jus­tice with­out ter­ror. That’s been the les­son of the last ten years.


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