Terrorism shapes the nation


I really liked this article of Beck’s; to my mind, it offers theory for analysis of  representations of violence, threat, and villainy, as well as spy fiction, oh and several others. Beck explains:

‘Risk’ inherently contains the concept of control. Pre-modern dangers were attributed to nature, gods and demons. Risk is a modern concept. It presumes decision-making. As soon as we speak in terms of ‘risk’, we are talking about calculating the incalculable, colonizing the future. [-p.41] In this sense, calculating risks is part of the master narrative of first modernity. In Europe, this victorious march culminates in the development and organization of the welfare state, which bases its legitimacy on its capacity to protect its citizens against dangers of all sorts. But what happens in world risk society is that we enter a world of uncontrollable risk and we don’t even have a language to describe what we are facing. ‘Uncontrollable risk’ is a contradiction in terms. And yet it is the only apt description for the second-order, unnatural, human-made, manufactured uncertainties and hazards beyond boundaries we are confronted with.” (pp.40-41)

He continues:

“There is a dialectical relation between the unequal experience of being victimized by global risks and the transborder nature of the problems. But it is the transnational aspect, which makes cooperation indispensable to their solution, that truly gives them their global nature. The collapse of global financial markets or climatic change affect regions quite differently. But that doesn’t change the principle that everyone is affected, and everyone can potentially be affected in a much worse manner. Thus, in a way, these problems endow each country with a common global interest, which means that, to a certain extent, we can already talk about the basis of a global community of fate. Furthermore, it is also intellectually obvious that global problems only have global solutions, and demand global cooperation. So in that sense, we can say the principle of ‘globality’ (Albrow, 1996; Robertson, 1992), which is a growing consciousness of global interconnections, is gaining ground. But between the potential of global cooperation and its realization lie a host of risk conflicts. [/] Some of these conflicts arise precisely because of the uneven way in which global risks are experienced.” (p.42)

The quest for global solutions will in all probability lead to further global institutions and regulations. And it will no doubt achieve its aims through a host of conflicts. The long-term anticipations of unknown, transnational risks call transnational risk communities into existence. But in the [-p.43] whirlpool of their formation, as in the whirlpool of modernity, they will also transform local cultures into new forms, destroying many central institutions that currently exist. But transformation and destruction are two inescapable sides of the necessary political process of experimentation with new solutions.

Ecological threats are only one axis of global risk conflict. Another lies in the risks of globalized financial markets.” (pp.42-43)

Both ecological and financial risks incorporate several of the characteristics we have enumerated that make risks politically explosive. They go beyond rational calculation into the realm of unpredictable turbulence. Moreover, they embody the struggle over the distribution of ‘goods’ and ‘bads’, of positive and negative consequences of risky decisions. But above all, what they have in common is that their effects are deterritorialized. That is what makes them global risks. And that is what sets in motion the formation of global risk communities – and world risk society. But while they show similarities, there are also important differences between the various kinds of global risk that significantly influence the resultant conflict. One is that environmental and technological risks come from the ‘outside’. They have physical manifestations that then become socially relevant. Financial risks, on the other hand, originate in the heart of the social structure, in its central medium. This then leads to several other differences. Financial risks are more immediately apparent than ecological risks. A consciousness leap is not required to recognize them. By the same token, they are more individualized than ecological risks.” (p.43)

A further distinction can be made, however, between ecological and financial threats on the one hand, and the threat of global terrorist networks on the other. Ecological and financial conflicts fit the model of modernity’s [-p.44] self-endangerment. They both clearly result from the accumulation and distribution of ‘bads’ that are tied up with the production of goods. They result from society’s central decisions, but as unintentional side-effects of those decisions. Terrorist activity, on the other hand, is intentionally bad. It aims to produce the effects that the other crises produce unintentionally. Thus the principle of intention replaces the principle of accident, especially in the field of economics. Much of the literature on risk in economics treats risk as a positive element within investment decisions, and risk-taking as a dynamic aspect linked to the essence of markets. But investing in the face of risk presupposes trust. Trust, in turn, is about the binding of time and space, because trust implies committing to a person, group or institution over time.

“This prerequisite of active trust, in the field of economics as well as in everyday life and democracy, is dissolving. The perception of terrorist threats replaces active trust with active mistrust. It therefore undermines the trust in fellow citizens, foreigners and governments all over the world. Since the dissolution of trust multiplies risks, the terrorist threat triggers a self-multiplication of risks by the de-bounding of risk perceptions and fantasies.” (pp.43-44)

One of the consequences thereof is that the principle of private insurance is partly being replaced by the principle of state insurance. In other words, in the terrorist risk society the world of individual risk is being challenged by a world of systemic risk, which contradicts the logic of economic risk calculation. Simultaneously, this opens up new questions and potential conflicts, namely how to negotiate and distribute the costs of terrorist threats and catastrophes between businesses, insurance companies and states.
Therefore, it becomes crucial to distinguish clearly between, on the one hand, the conventional enemy image between conflicting states and, on the other, the ‘transnational terrorist enemy’, which consists of individuals or groups but not states. It is the very transnational and hybrid character of the latter representation that ultimately reinforces the hegemony of already powerful states.
The main question is: who defines the identity of a ‘transnational terrorist’? Neither judges, nor international courts, but powerful governments and states. They empower themselves by defining who is their terrorist enemy, their bin Laden. The fundamental distinctions between war and peace, attack and self-defence collapse. Terrorist enemy images are deterritorialized, de-nationalized and flexible state constructions that legitimize the global intervention of military powers as ‘self-defence’.” (p.44)

Bush’s alarmism has a paradoxical effect: it gives Islamic terrorists what they want most – a [-p.45] recognition of their power. Bush has encouraged the terrorists to believe that the United States really can be badly hurt by terrorist actions like these. So there is a hidden mutual enforcement between Bush’s empowerment and the empowerment of the terrorists.” (pp.44-45)

“The second big lesson of the terrorist attack is: national security is no longer national security. Alliances are nothing new, but the decisive difference about this global alliance is that its purpose is to preserve internal and not external security.” (p.46)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold mine) Ulrich Beck (2002) The Terrorist Threat : World Risk Society Revisited Theory, Culture & Society 19: 39-55


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