When We Can Forget and What We Are Meant To

Security, liability, and culpability in the West.

When I was a child, I remember going to school and being assumed innocent. When I grew up a bit, I remember being scared of, but eventually becoming numb to the metal detectors at school, the bag scanning to get in.

I remember thinking those things were there just to keep us safe. That they were non-political.

When I was a child, I remember believing nothing about 9/11 — Nothing in particular. I was a kid, and thus “apolitical” about it. Even today, if you ask an adult, they would probably say its an apolitical stance to claim that it was an attack and a tragedy and some bad men did some bad things, which was my stance, more or less. When I grew up a bit, the only way I could make sense of it was in one of two ways — either it was an inside job by the government itself (a rhetoric that tends to flirt with the danger of the “elites” now, and thus antisemitism in its invocations.) Or, as I matured further, that the American government let it happen. You’d be hard pressed to find a party platform in America that believes that, but I suppose it is a political stance to have had.

All of this, to come to a non-partisan question, from which I will move into a question on relevance, non-partisanship, and what a partisan ideology even is.

Wasn’t this supposed to end? Weren’t the security checks and the massive changes to transportation and climates of fear supposed to end? It’s been nearly my whole life, and people have stopped asking when it ends. Killing Bin Laden didn’t end it. ISIL is, as far as the West seems concerned, dead (or dead enough). But it didn’t end, did it? The often maligned mission accomplished banner could be trotted out again and again, and I don’t think we would loosen airport security. What level of accomplishment would change airports back to how they were?

In the early days, people would write articles and get mad about how, sure, this seemed important for stopping the terrorists, but it was an attack on American Freedom, all the same. And they are. There is no other place that White Americans are routinely subjected to where the unwillingness to be searched is a ticket to an interrogation room and unpublicized holding.

Our schools were being kept safe too. Safe from what? We sometimes joked that it was about catching potential shooters or deterring any sort of gang violence. The first bit was, at least to me, a joke because there was never really any tangible policing done to the grounds of the school. Someone could just throw a gun into a bush near the back gates, or pass it through the incredibly wide bars. It would take zero effort to be “inside the school” with a weapon or drugs. Further, It seemed an odd deterrent. Like there was a cluster of teens who wanted to be able to sell drugs and just couldn’t wait somewhere for like 30 minutes after school.
The intent, it follows, was one of control, liability, and culpability.

What do I mean here? Well, lets address it by tackling a point I listed earlier: what is partisan? What is a notably political stance? Is it political to say you are pro- “war on terror”? Is it partisan? Arguably the whole of Western Democracy is against terror. American liberal and conservative platforms are agreed on this point. Terror is bad and should be stopped. They even agree that it has no real definitive source, for to agree on a source or be direct with it would require acknowledging culpability. Culpable for what? Well, whatever the source of all this danger must be. Liable for what? Well, whatever the ensuing damages from this danger must be. And control of what? Here it splits. Direct and obvious control of tangible risks — risks of death, damage, profit loss. So what are the indirect controls over? Well, the risks of being loathed, the image of being responsible itself. The intent is to avoid the responsibilities of colonialism posited by traditional Western approaches to a “better world.”

In his work “Our Wound is Not so Recent,” French Philosopher Alain Badiou discusses the 2015 terror attacks in France. He mentions the concept of ungovernable zones: Spaces made anarchic, violent, and ultimately free of immutable law, and thus regulation. The paradox begins here: The zoning comes from Western acts of creating insecurity and instability in a region at the behest of, Badiou claims, global capital. But that would be partisan, and we aren’t in the partisan question yet, so I propose a different foundation of the paradox: that these zones, while giving corporations free reign in some areas, are more intended for the sake of creating “Barbarism.”

These spaces are opposed to the West’s desire for global security, on the surface, in the same way Liberal governments (in the sense of Locke Liberalism) are opposed to racism on the grounds that all men are created equal. It is true, absolutely true to say that Liberalism opposes racism, in that it needs racism as an imagined ideological opponent in order to exist. Security works the same way. It needs there to be insecure spaces in order to be justified — and ultimately they reach a synthesis here. Liberalism and Security, freedom and repression in the Western model, they blend here into a nihilistic soup. The thing that is secured by “Security” is the West, and Liberalism is the West.

France’s President Hollande gave the game away in some sense. He called ISIL’s actions an act of war. The consequence, it follows, is to acknowledge that a war exists, and to do that in an attempt to downplay ISIL’s claim that it was “retaliation” reads like an dark Abbot and Costello routine.

ISIL has acted in an act of war, the French must be upset by this in a particular way. Okay. So ISIL has declared war with this action? No. Then there already was a war. Yes. And France is a participant in the war? No, they’re a victim. But they bombed Syria and the greater Levant. Yes. So they’re a participant. No. That is a different war. But they are linked? Yes.

And finally: Why?

Through sharing narratives and spaces of devastation these spaces, formed in similar narratives, are what Badiou calls “zoned spaces,” in the way in urban development certain spaces are set aside for particular uses. I will go further and emphasize the Terror of the Zones. My deviation from Badiou begins earlier, but it leads here. Perhaps out of a bias from my American lens, I do not see these enterprises, the creation of these zonings as an affect of capital. I see them as an intent of Liberalism’s necessity to Other the “rest of the world” whenever it can, and thus I emphasize the terror and the idea of these zones themselves. Terror from these zoned spaces can be direct or implicit, imagined or intended. What are the gangs of Latin America if not terrorists in their own states that become gangs to the West? What is ISIL and the Taliban if not syndicate style gangs in their own country that become terror to the West? The Taliban is not given the language that cartels are given — A cartel, by nature is an economic enterprise, and clearly the Taliban must be something else, yes? Why? ISIL and the Taliban are not crowdfunded by armchair jihadists on patreon and they are not isolated from the global market. It is an illusion that they pillage and destroy all for ideology and earn nothing. For every suicide bomber, there is some man higher up who does not need to die for a higher cause. This is one of our clues. Likewise, it is an illusion that the goal of Liberal market philosophy is to open new markets. One might say “why would capital side with creating anarchistic spaces of tragedy? It’s not like McDonalds can open a new location in Aleppo right now.” But for every location in the Global South that lacks access to markets, there exists a point of resource extraction. This is one of our clues. They do not want a new market, they want spaces to take or buy from.

This is the tragedy of the zones. Terror is not an ideology, it is a tool. Terror attacks have been perpetrated by Western nations against Western nations, even outside of times of formal war. There is nothing in the doctrine of Islam or the air of the Global South that creates a copyright on terror and instability. Liberalism is the inverse. It is an ideology that is so ubiquitous, it can claim to be non-partisan. It is not a tool. It is the ethos of the West. And it doesn’t want to go questioned.

To ask for an alternative to this model of the Liberal Democratic West is partisan. To ask for an alternative to Capitalism is unthinkable. Why would you want these things? Surely an alternative to “all men are created equal” must be the inverse! The Terror of the Zones is produced to answer the question of why there cannot be a deviation from the current model. Liberalism or Barbarism is the Anglo-American view. Zone or be Zoned is the Western model. It is colonialism without the paternalistic culpability, without the liability of a “civilizing mission,” and ultimately with control that starts at the doors, in or out of the West. Ours is a world of metal detectors and x-ray machines, and we are meant to be numb to that fact, just as we are numb to the fact that Westerners, all of us, must remember not to forget. “Never forgetting” is something to be reminded of, for us. We have the luxury, the privilege, to live beyond terror enough that we may forget it. The zoned spaces have no such luxury, for they live in conditions of perpetual terror.

And wasn’t it supposed to end? Our final clue is the Department of Homeland Security — the largest federal expansion ever presided over by a Conservative Neoliberal President in America. What are its three roles? Policing transit, policing disaster, and policing migration. Of course, borders existed before the DHS. Security existed before the DHS, but the TSA did not ICE did not. And now they do. And their roles are to be the metal detectors, the implicit walls to the Terror that might seep from Zones. If this was meant to end in five years from 9/11, ten, fifteen, a lifetime, the DHS wouldn’t have been established. No. This is the way Liberalism intends the world to be. This is by design. We have been made numb and forgotten to ask: Wasn’t this supposed to end?

Creative writer, essayist, poet, once and future novelist. I write what suits me, and poetry and muted, biting, commentary suit me fine.

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