Torture and Terror: Bush's and Bin Laden's victories, everybody else's defeat.

''It is worse for a man to inflict wrong then to suffer it''

'' All the discourses and commentaries (about 9/11) denote the exaggerated abreaction to the event and the fascination it exerts. The moral condemnation and the sacred union against terrorism are matched by a prodigious jubilation to see the destruction of a superpower or, much better, to see this superpower self destruct at its height. Because it is this unbearable power, which fomented all the widespread violence in the world, that fomented (without willingly knowing it) the terrorist imagination in us .''
Jean Baudrillard in L'esprit du terrorisme (my translation)

In his article, L'esprit du terrorisme (The Essence of Terrorism), published in French less than two months after September eleventh, and two years later in English, Jean Baudrillard, drawing from the first reactions to the events of the World Trade Center, which he depicts as 'a counter phobic delirium to exorcise Evil', argues that by making 9/11 a planetary Event we are creating a symbolism which is uniting the terrorists and ourseleves in an implicit complicity. Baudrillard writes that this complicity is what the terrorists might have expected and taken into account.

How did this complicity come into being ? Baudrillard defends the idea that there is no absolute Good as there is no absolute Evil, that they are in a state of equilibrium inherited from traditional societies and always fluctuating in the same direction. It is naive to think that the increase in Good can completely suppress Evil. Baudrillard explains how September eleventh and our reaction to it are both one and only event that encompasses a great contradiction threatening the traditional equilibrium between Good and Evil; the capacity of the terrorists to transform their deaths into an absolute weapon against a society which abhorres death and whose objective is Zero death. This is not as much a quantitative comparison as it is a symbolic one. Its symbolism is entranched in the fact that the terrorist's death is a different kind of reality, a reality that reaches us through the medium of the virtual and the sensational, the image. With the animated image, we come to feel terror before grapsing the the reality behind it. The reality of the event beocmes then secondary, and the event in itself becomes an overwhelming fiction, more forcefully striking our imagination.

Baudrillard contends that the representation of death through an image medium striking the imagination, and the fascination exerted on us by this image, breaks the previous equilibrium between Good and Evil because the only response to this symbolism is an escalation; more death. Terrorism by the image creates a symbolism which ties death to some sort of 'immoral fascination'. And this death will come to us via self destruction.

I did not see the images of the World trade Center attacks because we don't watch TV, we don't own a TV. Recently I saw 'United 93' on video. I felt a great unease, a moral shock in face of the terrorism we see as reconstructed in this movie. It was a new sort of moral shock for me, something I never felt before, something that I could only relate to what I felt when I saw images of naked AbuGhraib's prisoners and read accounts about Guantanamo's 'porn' method interrogations. Suddenly, it occured to me that the kind of moral shock I was feeling could be related to the moral shock someone feels when watching porn. This new kind of terror meant to strike the imagination through images which are taboos exploit the same human basic emotions, fascination shrouded in disgust and reprobation.

I have come to understand that terror on the screen is the porn of death. Sadly, for some, seeing porn does not evoke reprobation but only fascination and so this is actually the case with the overreaction to Terror, with the new legislation on Torture. Torture is the answer to the fascination of death infused into our imagination by the terrorists and their images.

With this new legislation, the Bush administration's reaction to 9/11 has gone beyond Bin Laden's best expectations. Not only this death porn director and his followers actors have been given the stature of world statesmen but they have been given also our liberties and our moral principles on a sacrificial altar, the altar of security. Because it is we, in the first place, who will have to deal with this new legislation on Torture which is changing irreversibly our moral standards.

How many declared and potential terrorists suicide bombers are there on the Planet that we feel obliged to bow to such radical changes in our rules and laws in their names ? Rules and laws that have been carefully constructed with a certain idea of Humanity, itself carefully crafted over the years by cultural progress and so many humanist struggles. Just as the Patriot Act was more about legalising a posteriori Bush's domestic spying program on American citizens, the new legislation on Torture is about legalising a posteriori the dangerous breaches to Human Rights which have been going on in outsourced and extraterritorial American prisons worldwide.

The effects of the new legislation on Torture are not going to be confined to AbuGhraib, Guantanamo and some obscure CIA prisons in some obscure eastern european countries. They are going to shake the foundations of Human Rights, freeedom of expression and honest dissent inside the United States and worldwide. Because the moment a discussion is started on what is acceptable and not acceptable in Torture, this moment marks the acceptation and the admission of Torture as a practice. Judgments about Torture should never go into these sinister details: how much inflicted suffering amounts to Torture ? Is suffering without organ failure considered a Torture ? Can our best intentions accompany our worst practices ? The debate on Torture should not go into details of the practice, it should be at the level of the general principles. Human dignity is not a vague concept, it is only vague in the minds of illiterate in humanist matters like Gonzalez and Bush. Pain and suffering are degrading and should not be accepted in any form as a way to treat human beings.

Our society abhorres pain and suffering in all its forms for ourselves and yet, at the same time, we let our leaders inflict them on others. Or maybe we consider that these others don't have the same level of humanity. The discussion on Torture and the fact that a majority of senators and congressmen in the US voted for accomodations on Torture imply a more worrying fact, the fact that our society and our media can hold a discussion on Torture and its accomodations without raising eyebrows. It is worrying because it means that we have all already abandoned the fundamental principles of human dignity and its meaning. This is a dangerous path because it degrades not only the humanity of others but our own humanity.

The new legislation on Torture is already degrading our own moral standards as a society. This is the Terror inside, the terror we have watched on our TV screens, imagined fascinated, and feared. It is now inside our imagination. With the terror inside, not only Bin Laden have won, but also Bush. With the new legislation on Terror, every US citizen can fear for his dignity, his freedom and his life. New York Times journalist William Rivers Pitt has an imaginary and moving account on the implications of the new legislation on normal people, not terrorists. Editorialist and blogger Pierre Tristam writes about the negociations that preceded the 'deal' on Torture: ''Either way, the example the administration and its once-again pliant Congress are broadcasting to the world is that of a nation step by step debasing law and its own foundations of liberty.''

I am really depressed by the situation and I wish I can hear more voices from normal people around me reassuring me that this is just a nightmare and that we are all going either to wake up or to rise against our despots and Bin Laden's fellows in terror, those who have the guts to turn the morbid and disgusting fascination for terror into a powerful political tool against our Democracies, Human Rights and moral values, ultimately leading us into a self destructive and suicidal path.

We are already standing on the edge of a moral abyss but we are unable to see it because we are watching behind us, way behind, into September eleventh and the day we have lost our imagination to terror.

Mark From Ireland has a post on a 15 year old boy resident of Guantanamo, Rolling Stone has the source article.


L.M. said...

You have a way of writing that makes me want to read your posts twice. (high praise from a greedy barbarian like myself)

Perhaps its small comfort to hear this, but so many of my New York friends who did live the experience first hand didn't lose their imaginations to terrorism. (though your expression for this is dead on) They're resentful that their very real, tangible losses were mythologized into a justification for self-serving invasions.

I'm hoping that this condition on our imaginations is functioning because of the current governments we're dealing with. My happy little dream is that it all changes with a change in government. I suppose I take comfort from all the dissent directed towards these new (old) monstrous policies, and the many protests against how the argument is framed. Noisy persistent dissent always gives me hope. We're in agreement, its not about how much pain is torture, it's yes or no to the whole idea. The one thing that does depress me, though, is the implied racism contained in this sort of law, the unsaid but imagined ethnic, religious and national backgrounds of those who will be tortured. (or tortured a tiny bit as they want us to believe at this point)

L.M. said...

I read many of your posts twice because of the quality of your ideas, arguments and references. You're very distinct and clear in your communication.

I couldn't tell from your writing that English is a second language for you. (Colloquialisms are fun to pick up and discard. Too many popular English expressions are date-sensitive anyway.)

Sophia said...


To go back to your first comment, the racism question is obvious. How else can you torture people or make a legislation on torutre without first stripping them from their humanity ? This is where the difference made between American citizens and foreign 'ennemies combatants' is crucial. It is also hypocritical and meant only to protect the vernish of Human rights inside the US because the prsident being the last person to give the contours to such a law what is going to stop them from treating US citizens in the same way.
I read Primo Levi's accounts of his years at Auschwitz and the dehumanisation process, considering that the Other is not a human like you, is what opens the door to the Evil in us.

You are completely right, racism is at the center of the problem but I don't think it is directed only against Arabs and Muslisms, it is also directed at US citizens, those who will fight Bush's wars. I always thought, from the beginning, that Bush's wars were like Bin Laden's, exported and disguised wars against his own co-citizens, those who will are thrown in Iraq, Afghanistan and who will be sent to Iran may be to kill, assassinate and live the savage way while the rest of the USm those who vote for Bush, is living with the maximum security obsession in the comfort of their houses. These wars reflect, in my opinion, class wars inside America, no wonder why something like the destruction of New Orleans happens during this presidency...

L.M. said...

Perhaps I should say that a larger, equally depressing view to bring to this discussion is that people will support (or be indifferent to) horrendous laws because they believe it will never apply to them personally.

Since March 29th 2006