The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Holy Non-Sequitors, Batman!

July 25, 2005

Wretched responds to the notion that there is no global Islamicist conspiracy.

Or sort of. Really, it is just an excuse to attack that old nemesis: “the Left.”

Although the proposition that organized international terrorism does not exist may seem funny, many writers on the Left seriously believe that terrorism is a derivative phenomenon with no independent existence of its own. It is simply a reaction to Western, and particularly American oppression. It is the shadow, as it were, of the USA, which would cease to exist once the solid being that gave rise to it vanished. According to this point of view, it is entirely correct to refer to terrorists as ‘insurgents’, ‘resistants’, ‘militants’ or even ‘freedom fighters’, because they have no actual violent goals arising from their consciousness except as are suggested to them by their oppressor; entirely correct refer to them as ‘phantoms’ because they do not exist of themselves, except as emergent phenomenon in relation to the United States.

My head spins. The debate is about whether there is an “organized international terrorism” with a global reach. This is an entirely different issue from whether or not “terrorism is a derivative phenomenon….” The first issue concerns the structural characteristics of contemporary terrorism: how “connected” is it? What are the linkages between various events in the world involving militant Islamicism? These are crucially important issues, one that cut to the heart of American grand strategy against the terrorist threat.

They are not, however, related to questions of motive, which is what Wretched’s straw man involves. This isn’t difficult to grasp: terrorism could be an entirely “derivative” phenomenon, a strategy adopted by those reacting to “Western, and particularly American[,] oppression” and still be an organized international movement.

So, when Wretched argues:

Yet on one limited point the BBC’s producers may be right. There probably isn’t a single controlling terrorist network in the world today; but multiple ones each with their own specific goals who may maintain links with each other, just as the multiple totalitarian movements in the 1930s formed an axis whenever it suited them. But the multiplicity of diseases does not invalidate the notion of disease. Terrorism does not exist simply because the Google search engine lets us pull together disparate threads to conceive it.

I say… well, uh, yeah. What was the point again? Oh, yeah. “The Left” has its head in the sand.

I’ll leave it to others to discuss the ramifications of the 1930s analogy; I don’t think they’re what Wretched thinks they are.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.