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The making of terrorists

Anthropology and the alternative truth of America's 'War on Terror' in the Sahara

Jeremy Keenan

This article, based on almost eight years of continuous anthropological research amongst the Tuareg people of the Sahara and Sahel, suggests that the launch by the US and its main regional ally, Algeria, in 2002–2003 of a ‘new’, ‘second’, or ‘Saharan’ Front in the ‘War on Terror’ was largely a fabrication on the part of the US and Algerian military intelligence services. The ‘official truth’, embodied in an estimated 3,000 articles and reports of one sort or another, is largely disinformation. The article summarizes how and why this deception was effected and examines briefly its implications for both the region and its people as well as the future of US international relations and especially its global pursuance of an increasingly suspect ‘War on Terror’.

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Zaindi Choltaev and Michaela Pohl

This article discusses the hostage tragedy in Beslan (North Ossetia) and its connection to Russia's war in Chechnya and to Vladimir Putin's domestic policies. The authors argue that Russia is embracing the war on terror, but Russia's leaders are not really interested in putting an end to the terror. They have not made an effort to find out or tell the truth about its causes, to fight the all-pervasive corruption that is an important factor in all of the latest major attacks, nor to find convincing social and political solutions in Chechnya. The current initiatives leave society with lies and terromania and strengthen those who profit from a continuation of the war on terror and the war in Chechnya.

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'Delinquents, Troublemakers, Pirates and Gangsters'

New Wars in the Postpolitical Borderland

Mikkel Thorup

This article tries to actualize Carl Schmitt's critique of liberal internationalism in what the author calls the 'liberal globalist paradigm', which substitutes a post-sovereign humanitarian-moralist discourse for political arguments. This discourse helps shape a new inequality in the interstate system based on the ability to invoke humanist language; an ability that is systematically skewed in favour of Western states. The post-sovereign discourse hides an aggressive liberal antipluralism which only acknowledges liberal-capitalist societies as legitimate and reserving the right to intervene and criticize globally. The new re-configuration of power manifests itself in the war on terror and in humanitarian interventions.

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Terminating Terror

The Legality, Ethics and Effectiveness of Targeting Terrorists

Avery Plaw

In the ongoing war on terror both the American and Israeli governments have resorted to a policy of ‘targeting terrorists’. In essence, both governments authorize their military or intelligence services to kill specific ‘terrorists’ who they believe mortally threaten citizens and cannot otherwise be neutralized. President Bush calls this ‘sudden justice’ and the Israeli government ‘targeted killing’ but their critics speak of ‘assassination’, ‘liquidation’ or ‘extra-judicial killing’. Since 11 September 2001, America is reported to have killed at least 44 people without warning or trial under the guidance of this policy, at least 18 of whom were civilians; the Israelis have killed at least 348, including 120 unintended targets (B’tselem 2006; Byman 2006b; Meyer 2006).

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War, Politics and Race

Reflections on Violence in the 'War on Terror'

Saul Newman and Michael P. Levine

The authors argue that the 'war on terror' marks the ultimate convergence of war with politics, and the virtual collapse of any meaningful distinction between them. Not only does it signify the breakdown of international relations norms but also the militarization of internal life and political discourse. They explore the 'genealogy' of this situation firstly through the notion of the 'state of exception'—in which sovereign violence becomes indistinct from the law that is supposed to curtail it—and secondly through Foucault's idea that politics is essentially a form of warfare. They suggest that these two ways of approaching the question of violence can only be understood through a racist dimension, which forms the hidden underside of the 'war on terrorism'. In other words, our contemporary situation is characterized by the mobilization not only of fundamentalist and conservative ideologies, but, increasingly, racial antagonisms and prejudices directed towards the Muslim other.

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This issue is the third in an ongoing series examining the political, social and economic implications of war in the contemporary world. Previous issues on this theme (Theoria 109, April 2006, and 110, August 2006) touched on debates about ‘old’ and ‘new’wars, militant American neoconservatism and the war on terror, the ramifications of humanitarian intervention and conscientious objection, and prospects for global justice and peace. The implications of current U.S. foreign policy continue to loom large in this issue, but the focus falls in addition on the personal and moral effects of war and its consequences for the individual: the moral claims behind the Bush Doctrine, and its effects on domestic issues and personal life, the question of targeted killings of individual terrorists, the continued relevance and utility of Clausewitz’s theory of war, and the use of foreign health aid as a deterrent to bioterrorism.

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Ecuador's “black site”

On prison securitization and its zones of legal silence

Chris Garces

When a state of emergency in Ecuador's prison system was declared in 2007, municipal leaders in Guayaquil built the country's first “supermax” prison, La Roca, for the administrative segregation of inmates considered a security threat. I suggest that administrative curtailment of access to these so-called “worst of the worst” prisoners merits legal comparisons with the juridical status of detainees in US “black site” facilities, the inter-American drug wars now paralleling the global war on terror insofar as prisoners' rights are concerned. Contrasting my brief visit to La Roca with political-economic and media analysis, my article draws two conclusions: (1) that limited physical access to prisoners, stimulated by administrative “zones of legal silence”, demands an ethnographic focus on daily conditions of prison life using inconsistencies in administrative rhetoric; and (2) that measures to securitize the prison system have augmented prison directors' powers to coerce inmates and to confound understandings of their living conditions.

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Ian Birchall

It is one of Sartre's greatest strengths that his declared aim was 'to write for his own time'. From the 1940s onward, he became ever less interested in 'timeless' questions, and ever more concerned to explore the concrete realities of his own age. This engagement with the contemporary makes it particularly tempting to consider what Sartre's responses to the events of our own age would be. Ever since his death in 1980, those of us who have drawn insight and inspiration from Sartre's works have tended to ask how Sartre might have judged particular political developments. And because of the central place given to violence in his thought, as well as his detailed reflections on the Second World War and the wars in Algeria and Vietnam, it is only natural to ask how Sartre would have responded to the appalling events of 11 September 2001 and the subsequent 'war on terror'.

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A Beginning, Two Ends, and a Thickened Middle

Journeys in Afghanistan from Byron to Hosseini

Graham Huggan

This article looks at three disparate travel texts—Robert Byron's classic 1937 travelogue The Road to Oxiana, Khaled Hosseini's massively popular 2003 novel The Kite Runner, and Michael Winterbottom's emotionally wrenching 2002 fauxdocumentary In This World—which deal, either directly or indirectly, with Afghanistan. It argues that the geographical coordinates of Afghanistan have recently been confused with the “War on Terror,” and that one of the most notable results of this has been the ideological assimilation of a Central Asian nation to the post–9/11-inspired imaginative geography of a “Greater Middle East.” The article seeks to account for this latter-day history of geographical misprision, but also for the triangulated relationship between travel, empire, and colonial modernity that underlies it—a relationship in which the US-dominated “colonial present” (Gregory 2004) maps onto the British imperial past.

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Tom Rockmore

9/11 represents less a tear in the fabric of history, or a break with the past, than an inflection in ongoing historical processes, such as the continued expansion of capitalism that at some recent time has supposedly attained a level of globalization. This paper considers the relation of war and politics with respect to three instances arising in the wake of 9/11, including the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, and finally the global war on terror (GWT). I argue that these wars are superficially dissimilar, but that on a deeper level they all relate to a single ideological position that is an important motivation in current US foreign policy, and that this position is further related to capitalism.