Janus, Terrorism and Peacemaking
For it was a witty and a truthful rejoinder which was given by a pirate to Alexander the Great. The King asked the fellow, ‘What is your idea, in infesting the sea?’ And the pirate answered with uninhibited insolence, ‘The same as yours, as in infesting the earth! But because I do it with a tiny craft, I’m called a pirate: Because you have a mighty navy, you’re called an emperor’.
St. Augustine City of God (Book IV, Chapter IV)
Emperors and Pirates
Janus was, in Roman myth, the god who had two faces, one at the front and the other at the back of his head. Janus looked in both directions, and, being able to do so, could not be taken in by a single perspective. The language of terrorism is very much with us these days, and the political use of the term has certainly intensified since 9-11. Janus can very much be a guide for us in this paper, as we ponder how the language of terrorism is employed, who uses it and to what end. In short, it is essential to gaze in all directions as we dissect the functional use of the language of terrorism.
The apt and insightful passage from St. Augustine in City of God mentioned above can, if heeded, clarify some often ignored realities. Terrorists are usually defined as those that threaten and disrupt the national security of the state. This does beg an important and significant question, though. What have been the decisions made by a state, at domestic and foreign policy levels, that threaten national security? The terrorists, like the pirates, are usually seen as the problem, but the state, like Alexander, is exempt from such questioning and scrutiny. And yet, it is often the state, like Alexander, that has much greater capacity to silence opposition and use greater violence against the pirates-terrorists. Many states often, in domestic and foreign policy, oppress and terrorize others through the use of death squads and the military, but when those who have been terrorized dare to fight back (with fewer arms and less sophisticated technology), they are branded with the terrorist term. Alexander can inflict massive hardships and brutality on people, but because he is emperor, he cannot be defined as a terrorist. The small scale pirates that oppose the emperor are called the terrorists. This simple yet often ignored point must be held front and centre in our understanding of how ‘terrorism’ is used. The large and vicious sharks are not seen as such, but the smaller fish, when they, in their limited sort of way, attack the sharks, are seen as the enemies of state security. Let me offer a few illustrations of this point.
I was on a Sabbatical when 9-11 occurred. Our university hosted an event to discuss the terrorist threat. I was invited to be on a panel to ponder how 9-11 should be interpreted. Most on the panel deplored the terrorist event, and suggested more security was needed. My question was rather simple yet direct: why did such an event take place? What was the nature of historic USA foreign policy in the Middle East that created such a response? I listed the many post WW II CIA covert (and not so covert) operations in the Middle East that destabilized states. I suggested one and all read William Blum’s Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions since WW II (1995). I then asked how those of us in North America might respond if we had had all sorts of Middle Eastern states attempting to threaten and destabilize our regime order and drain our natural resources. I’m sure those in North America would fight back if a foreign invasion and occupation occurred. But, we are often blind to the fact that what we do to others we would never allow to be done to ourselves. If the Middle East had become the dominant empire after WW II, and Middle Eastern states needed our resources (and we refused to offer them up), Americans would be called the terrorists for seeking to protect their own. There is no doubt that the USA after WW II had become the dominant empire on the stage of world politics. The USA was the Alexander the Great, and those who dared to oppose them (with lesser might and power) were defined as the pirates and terrorists.
It was virtually impossible after 9-11 to raise questions about historic American complicity in that tragic day. I am Canadian, and in Canada, the major media were all pro-American after 9-11. There was rarely a serious question asked about the deeper reasons for 9-11. Sunera Thobani (a significant west coast academic and activist) had the public courage to say that American foreign policy was ‘soaked in blood’, and the USA was ‘the most dangerous and powerful global force unleashing horrific levels of violence’.
The national media in Canada turned on Thobani as public enemy number one. Surely, such comments were not true, and even if true, should not be publically spoken. Was this not a case, though, of a friend of the pirates/terrorists blowing the whistle on Alexander the Great?
Terrorism: Retail, Nefarious, Benign, Constructive
Edward Herman has made a valuable distinction in The Real Terror Network: Terrorism in Fact and Propaganda (1982) between three ways of understanding how the language of terrorism is employed: Constructive terror, Benign terror and Nefarious terror. Constructive terror is that which fulfills the aims and ambitions of the USA. The actions of the USA in Indonesia in bringing Suharto to power and overthrowing Sukarno in 1965-66 (and the countless lives lost), the political murders in Chile in 1973-74 when Pinochet was in power, the carnage of Vietnam, the support of the Shah of Iran from 1953-1979, the American support of the state of Israel (and the impact on the Palestinians), and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq are just a few instances of terror unleashed by the USA for national security reasons. But, because the use of violence was done for the USA, it is not deemed a terrorist activity. It is seen as a constructive activity because done by Alexander. Benign terror is something not directly done by an imperial power, but by a client state of the USA to consolidate power in an area. The Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975 is a case in point. The USA supported Indonesia, hence little was said when Suharto invaded the Island. American support of Israel means that the terror unleashed by political Zionism on the Palestinians (although not explicitly sanctioned by the USA) is rather benign in terms of direct American involvement. Nefarious terror is what enemies of the 1st world do to other states that play into the larger propaganda system. The Pol Pot regime in Cambodia proved how vile communism could be and why vigilance must ever be attentive. The same notion of nefarious terror could be applied to the USSR and its client states in the Cold War. We could also argue in the postcold war and ‘clash of civilizations’-- 9-11 era we are in, Islamism has become the new focus of nefarious terror, Iran leading the way. Nefarious terror is, in fact, what the enemies of the west do to the west or others. The fact that constructive terror has killed millions of people since WWII is often ignored. Alexander does it, he is emperor, so the actions taken cannot be deemed terrorist. But, when enemies of the west (pirates) threaten the west, they are nefarious and called terrorists. The fact that the USA has far greater power and can either directly or indirectly prop up or destabilize states that do not please them, and do so in a violent way, does justify the use of the term terrorist being applied to them. Only opposition states or small activist cells that use violence are terrorists.
We need, perhaps, to further unpack how and why the language of terrorism is used the way it is. Hannah Arendt was one of the finest political philosophers of the twentieth century. The publication of Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) became a sort of Cold War text book on what the USA and the 1st world opposed. The 1st world had fought totalitarian states in WWII (Japan, Germany, Italy) under the banner of liberty and democracy, and post WW II totalitarian states such as the USSR and China were questionable political regimes. The Origins of Totalitarian States is a complex and dense tome, and needs many a reread, but the language of ‘totalitarianism’ was often linked to the terror done by those Nefarious states that threatened the 1st world. Many horror stories could be drawn forth to amply illustrate how these totalitarian states in foreign or domestic policy terrorized their people. The merging of totalitarian states and nefarious terror was a hand in glove fit for planners in the 1st world. The fact that the world is not neatly divided (and never has been) into free and democratic states and totalitarian regimes meant that the USA after WWII had to make some hard decisions. There is no doubt totalitarian states were the enemy and problem, but choices had to be made. A distinction was made between those states which were totalitarian and those which were authoritarian. Authoritarian states could be worked with even though such states were quite willing to terrorize opposition groups and deem such opposition terrorists. But, this was constructive terror, that is terror done in the name of Alexander. So, just as totalitarian states were viewed as agents of nefarious terror (real terrorists), authoritarian states were agents of constructive terror (that is, violence done that serves the aims and ambitions of the 1st world).
The litany of authoritarian states supported by the USA in the 20th century is a long list: Guatemala (Montt), Indonesia (Suharto), Chile (Pinochet), Nicaragua (Somoza), Philippines (Marcos), Iran (Shah), Saudi Arabia (Saud family), Iraq (Hussein in the 1980s), Greece (Tsaldares), South Korea (Rhee), Haiti (Duvalier), Cuba (Batista), Portugal (Salazar), Franco (Spain), Thailand (Phibun), Pakistan (Zia) and many other authoritarian states. The amount of terror unleashed in these states is not seen as such for the simple reason it is constructive. The American state has subverted other states such as Guatemala (Arbenz), British Guyana (Jagan), Iran (Mossadegh), Dominican Republic (Bosch), Indonesia (Sukarno), Brazil (Goulart) and Chile (Allende). The level of terror and violence perpetrated by the authoritarian regimes backed by the USA when they toppled Alexander’s ambitions cannot denied or ignored. The shortest reading of Amnesty International annual reports or special publications brings the ominous facts to gruesome and graphic light.
The language and use of terrorism has often been reduced to the actions of violent opposition groups such as the IRA, Shining Path, PLO---this can be called retail terrorism. When this approach to terrorism is used, state terrorism tends to be left out of the discussion. But, it is states that have the greatest power to inflict the greatest amount of damage on citizens. The fact of small scale retail terrorism cannot be denied, but there is much more to the terrorist story than this. The way large scale terrorism works is through a more subtler form of propaganda. States that are totalitarian (communist in the cold way, Muslim in the 9-11 world) are viewed as nefarious terrorists for the simple reason their agenda and use of violence (which cannot be denied) threatens the Alexander of the West. The use of equally brutal
violence by authoritarian states is accepted approved by the west for the simple reason it aids in the constructive vision and agenda the west.
The publication in 1995 by Jonathan Pickle and Franklin Jones of a 20-volume dossier of U.S. violence from 1791-1995 tells a graphic and gruesome tale in a factual and not to be denied manner. The globe is scanned and the painful history told in rigorous detail:
- Vols. 1-3: North American Indians
- Vols. 4-6: Blacks
- Vol. 7: Philippines
- Vol. 8: Indonesia
- Vol. 9: China
- Vol. 10: Japan
- Vol. 11: Indochina
- Vol. 12: Central America
- Vol. 13: Caribbean
- Vol. 14: Cuba
- Vol. 15: South America
- Vol. 16: South Africa
- Vol. 17: Zaire
- Vol. 18: Greece
- Vol. 19: Iran
- Vol. 20: Middle East
Those who have taken the time to read through these well researched volumes by former State Department researchers cannot help but get the overwhelming feeling that Alexander, indeed, has terrorized many, but most are either unaware of the facts or simply ignore them because of who Alexander is in the global village. Captain America and the Crusade against Evil: The Dilemma of Zealous Nationalism (2003), by Jewett/Shelton, amply illustrates in an equally detailed but more philosophical manner the underpinnings in American religious and political thought that have created the Captain America syndrome. Alexander and Captain America are now one and the same. A read of Sardar Ziauddin/Merryl Wyn Davies’ two books, Why Do People Hate America (2002) and American Dream, Global Nightmare (2004) clarifies much for the curious and confirms the work of Pickle/Jones and why many see through the language of constructive terror, particularly those that are the victims and recipients of it.
The Clash of Civilizations and Orientalism
Samuel Huntington published a controversial article in Foreign Affairs in 1993 called ‘The Clash of Civilizations?’ The article was developed into a book that was called The Clash of Civilizations and the Reality of World Order (1996). The burden of the article/book was rather simple, and the implications of the article/book ominous. Huntingdon argued that the ‘clash of ideologies’ that dominated the post-WWII era had come to an end in 1989. Capitalism had defeated communism, and those in the West had much to be grateful for. But, a new war was in the making. Huntington argued that world politics was about to enter a new phase, and the West had better be preferred for this tougher challenge. The West was about to face the incoming fact that civilizations were arising again to challenge the dominance of the West, and of the many civilizations Huntington mentioned that will threat the Alexander of the West, Islam is the dominant one.
The rise of Islamism and the violence and terrorism that could and would emerge from such a civilization must be noted and guarded against. Huntington had dipped his bucket in the well of a better known Western Islamic scholar, Bernard Lewis, for his Western read of Islam. Lewis had published many books on Islam, and central too many of his arguments is the notion of `Muslim Rage`. Islam was on the march again, and the West had best prepared for a new war. This time the enemy was not communism but Islam. This negative view of Islam by Lewis-Huntington certainly played into the Alexander-pirate, authoritarian-totalitarian model and dualism that so shaped much of American thought. The `clash of civilizations` argument also reinforced, from another perspective, Edward Said`s `Òrientalìsm` thesis.
Said had argued, in his classic tome, Orientalism (1978), that the West had a historic habit of depicting the Orient in a way that was thick with clichés, caricatures and, for the most part, negative. The many images the West constructed about the Orient served, in an imperialist manner, to see them as a lesser people that needed to be civilized by the more advanced west. The Orient was a threat to the West, and the way the West fabricated images of the Orient further reinforced this cultural read of the Orient. The thinking of Lewis-Huntington merely perpetuated Said`s main thesis. The West and Islam could not be reconciled, and the clash between these civilizations was inevitable. The clash model of Lewis-Huntington and the co-existence and humanistic model of Said do have serious implications when fleshed out in the real world of activism and politics.
Is Islam, by its very nature, aggressive and violent, and must the Christian West be vigilant and on guard against Islam? It does not take a great deal of thought to realize that Islam is a complex religious tradition, and the form Islam takes in Turkey and Indonesia is quite different than the form Islam has taken in Southern Russia and the Balkans. Islam in Iran and Sudan is quite different than Islam in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Islam in Pakistan and India takes on different forms than Islam in the USA and Europe. In short, Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism, Confucianism and Sikhism are not homogenous groupings. There is no doubt that there are tendencies towards violence within each of these traditions, but these religions also have strong and committed peacemaking heritages that are more committed to co-existence than a perpetual clash with one another. It is simply false and wrong to merely to see Islam and Islamism in a negative and violent way. The Christian West, as I have mentioned above has certainly exerted a great deal of constructive terror on those that have dared to oppose Captain America. Those whose minds are locked within a Christian West-Islam Orient dualism (the former often idealized, the latter demonized) rarely use their critical thinking on their own tradition in the way they use it ruthlessly on the tradition of the Other. There can be no doubt that the Christian West in the 20th century has used a great deal of violence on the Orient. Why is it, then, that the Islamic Orient is seen as the terrorists? Is this not a classic case of the mote-beam syndrome?
Constructive terror wielded against those that oppose American interests is rarely viewed as terrorism.
Modern Islamism is now targeted as an agent of nefarious terror: Taliban, Hamas, Al-Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah are all seen as terrorist groups and their various sleeper cells are seen as spreading far and wide.
The West has often caricatured and demonized the Orient and idealized and romanticised its own heritage. But, just as in the souls of one and all, the good, mediocre and evil wage warfare, the same is the case in civilizations. The BBC production, The Power of Nightmares, makes this obvious fact poignantly clear and obvious. The Power of Nightmares demonstrates how a form of Islamism is violent, and how an ideal can lead to the worst form of ideology. The same is true, though, for the USA and Britain. The line and lineage of Reagan-Bush-Blair were as ideological in their views of communism and
Islamism as were the Islamists towards the West. Both groups viewed political reality through a simplistic black-white lens, both thought the other was dark and menacing, both groups thought their own vision the truest and best, and both groups were prepared to use violence on the other. The point to be noted here is this, though: the West, like Alexander, had the overwhelming power. Muslims, like the pirates, had minimal ability to serious match or oppose the West. But, when the Muslim pirates dared to use violence against Alexander, terrorism was the charge levelled against them. The Power of Nightmares makes it more than obvious that variations of the Muslim Brotherhood (and their line and lineage) and the political philosophy of Leo Strauss (and his academic and activist children) are merely mirror images of one another. The film does not press the point, though, that in this clash of civilizations, one tribe has much more power than the other, and this is an important point to realize. Alexander has the political will and power to define the terms in a way the pirates do not. Sarkar/Wyn Davies American Dream, Global Nightmare (2004) take the argument beyond Power of Nightmares and illustrate my point quite well.
Augustine, Just War and Peacemaking
There is a predictable habit by many in the West to see Augustine as the Christian Father of the ‘Just War Tradition’, hence the merging of faith and war under certain conditions. Thomas Merton had this to say about Augustine in Peace in the Post-Christian Era: ‘St. Augustine is, for better or for worse, the father of all modern Christian thought on war’ (p.41). Or, again: ‘Thus Augustine becomes also the remote forefather of the Crusades and the Inquisition’ (p.42). The ‘Just War Tradition’ can be interpreted in a variety of ways when principles are applied to a particular historic context, and this is where the nub of the issue remains a perennial problem. Jean Bethke Elshtain, for example, in Augustine and the Limits of Politics (1995), and of much more importance Just War Against Terror (2003), has been more than willing and eager to use Augustine notion of ‘Just War’ to legitimate American invasion and occupation of independent and sovereign states. Elshtain and many other American political theorists on the soft republican right in the USA use Augustine in a way that can be seriously questioned. Just War Against Terror remains the landmark book in the last decade on the use of the ‘Just War Tradition’ for American imperial purposes in their constructive use of violence against the neo-pirates and nefarious terrorists that threaten America in the clash of civilizations.
There is an argument that the Christian Tradition was a peacemaking and pacifist tradition until the coming of Augustine. This argument is problematic, but it tends to hold the attention and committment of some in the Christian Peace Tradition. Is this argument true and faithful to the more complex Christian peacemaking heritage? And, can peacemaking be equated with pacifism? This is what Augustine was trying to make sense of as Roman civilization was under siege and wanton violence was spreading at work at the time. How should communities respond to those that are committed to the burning of villages, towns and cities and, worse yet, the rape, pillage and slaughter of men, women and children? Can, under certain conditions, defensive violence be used? This is what Augustine was pondering in his Christianized version of the Roman ‘Just War Tradition’. Augustine did not idealize the Roman Empire. He knew in his bones the aggressive violence that Rome perpetuated on others that were not Roman. He, like Janus, knew how to look both ways. Augustine was also keenly aware that the various tribes and clans that were in the process of destroying the Roman Empire in the 5th century could be just as vindictive and violent as Rome. Rome was the Alexander that defined the terms. The pirates that assaulted Rome in this classical clash of civilizations were the terrorists. Augustine held high the ‘City of God’, but he was also aware that humanity lives in the ‘City of Man’, and the difficult task was to know how, in trying times, to live in both. The issue of war and peace was one of the issues that had to be thought through and lived forth in this fragile dilemma. The issue of war and peace was more poignant in Augustine’s era for the simple reason the ‘Pax Romana’ was deteriorating and many were vulnerable to the war like tendencies of the barbarians (pirates).
There is no doubt that Augustine’s attempt to articulate a theory of ‘Just War’ must be set within the context of the rapacious nature of his time. Augustine was no supporter of a holy war ideology or the imperial nature of ‘Pax Romana’. He would, if living, be opposed to ‘Pax Americana’. The passage from Augustine that I began this paper with makes it clear that Augustine saw quite clearly how terms could be used by the powerful to define who the terrorist-pirate was and why. Alexander-Rome-USA could not be the terrorist because it is they who have the power to define the terms. Yet, ironically, it is they who have the power and use it to commit more violence than those they accuse of being the pirates, terrorists or barbarians. Augustine had this to say about Kingdoms and empires that are not grounded and rooted in justice. ‘Remove justice, and what are Kingdoms but gangs of criminals on a large scale?’ (City of God: Book IV, Chapter IV). Such a statement and incisive comment very much reinforces the Kingdom-pirate motif that St. Augustine was only too well aware of in his time. But, there still remains the legitimate discussion of peacemaking, pacifism and just war.
There have been, as I mentioned above, those that, rightly so, see Augustine as the father of the Christian Just War tradition. The next step tends to be more worrisome, though, and Augustine is often seen as a key component of this secondary step. The Just War Tradition often gets equated with the ambitions of nationalist or imperial politics when states or empires are threatened by pirates-terrorists. Constructive terror and Just War are often linked within such a scenario, and Augustine is seen as the father of such a questionable approach to peacemaking. I’m not sure Augustine can be used to service such a position, but he often is, sadly so.
It is significant to note that the English Humanists of the 16th century (John Colet, Thomas More, Erasmus, Juan Vives) were at the forefront of peacemaking at the time, and most the English Humanist peacemakers were quite fond of Augustine’s City of God. More gave lectures on the massive tome as a young man, and Ronald Musto has this to say about Vives:
Vives’s edition and commentary on Augustine’s City of God, commissioned by Erasmus for Froben’s Basel press in 1520, is one of the great Humanist texts. Vives saw Augustine’s work as a basic commentary on Christian peacemaking amid the fall of empires and warring kingdoms.
The Catholic Peace Tradition p.119.
The fact that Augustine could be and was used by the English Humanists in the 16th century in their peacemaking quest speaks much about an alternate read of the City of God. Musto’s The Catholic Peace Tradition is, of course, a must read for those interested in the long and complex nature of peacemaking (past and present) within the Roman Catholic tradition. I think it can be legitimately argued that the ‘Just War Tradition’ cannot be equated, obviously, with various types of pacifism, but there are various ways to interpret the principles of ‘Just War’ in particular historic contexts. The English Humanists were certainly not absolute pacifists, but their stringent and dovish read of the ‘Just War Tradition’ made it virtually impossible for many of the wars of their time to be called just. The same read of the ‘Just War Tradition’ can be applied in our time. The ‘Just War Tradition’ need not be taken captive by right of centre politics to justify the going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There is, as I have mentioned above, various ways of understanding and defining terrorism and peacemaking. The dominant imperial strategy tends to be ‘peace through strength’, and the state that has the largest and most imposing military can make peace through the strength, might and power of the military. Those that threaten the peace of an empire or large state through violent actions are targeted as the terrorists. When ‘Pax Romana’ was threated, the Roman military and centurion guards were quick to counter the terrorist threat. When ‘Pax Americana’ is threatened, counter terrorist threats are monitored by the CIA-FBI, then acted upon to preserve the peace. Such an approach, of course, elevates the peace of one people, state, regional alliance over and against another rogue state or terrorist cells/movements. It is often non-state terrorist movements that are defined as terrorists. Walter Laqueur’s Terrorism did much to create this establishment position in the peace-terrorism tradition. Once Laqueur’s approach to terrorism is accepted, states can, will and do define those who oppose them in violent ways as the terrorists. The state which opposes such terrorists in a counter terrorist way is a maker and broker of peace for innocent citizens and civilians. The language of counter terrorism, therefore, feeds nicely into the constructive approach to the terrorist problem. This model is, obviously, played out in the Russian state peacemaker---Chechen Muslim terrorists or Post 9-11 American peacemaker—Al-Qaeda Muslim terrorist motif. The language of peace, like terrorism, is a malleable word that is often defined by the user to serve larger political and propaganda ends and purposes. There is no doubt that terrorist movements use violence to achieve their ends, but terrorists movements tend to be quite limited in their capacity to inflict violence in comparisons to militaristic states (whether of a totalitarian, authoritarian or democratic nature). It is essential, therefore, when we hear the language of counter terrorism that we ponder who is using the language and whose political ends it is serving.
Augustine’s distinction between Alexander and pirates must be kept in mind. The powerful kingdoms and emperors often see those that challenge them as the terrorists. There is no doubt that the clash of civilizations plays nicely into this view of the world. Constructive terror by the powerful is often seen as a categorical imperative against those pirates who use nefarious terror against the powerful. It is often needful for Alexander to align himself with authoritarian states to oppose terrorist and totalitarian states. The fact that Alexander has committed many crimes against humanity need not be noted by the followers of Alexander. The task is to locate the pirate-terrorist and use all manner of military might against the pirates to preserve order in the world. Constructive terror is not seen to be terror, and if it is, it must be used to protect the world against nefarious terrorists like Islamists. Sadly so, the ‘Just War Tradition’ is often used to legitimate the actions of Alexander and his military deeds of constructive terror. Augustine is frequently used by the mild and sophisticated hawks like Jean Bethke Elshtain to justify the aggressive actions of the empire she inhabits and feeds well off. But, can Augustine be used in this way? Is there a dovish read of the ‘Just War Tradition’ that cannot be co-opted for hawkish purposes? In sum, the English Humanists can be seen as guides, mentors and models in a way that blends and synthesizes the ’Just War Tradition’ with a firm and solid commitment to peacemaking. Books such as Ronald Musto’s The Catholic Peace Tradition and Jim Forest’s For the Peace from Above: An Orthodox Resource Book on War, Peace and Nationalism illustrate and illuminate how peacemaking in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Traditions has taken place, at the level of theory and praxis, in the past and present. Such books highlight, in the clearest possible manner, how peacemakers have confronted the duplicity of terrorism by being Janus like (having the wisdom and discernment to look both ways), hence refusing to be taken in by the ideological narrowness of any tribe, clan, state or empire.