TERRORISM, IDENTITY, AND HUMAN SECURITY
In contemporary discourses of terrorism, it appears that little can be done in response to the curtail the effects of being deemed a terrorist. The process of naming someone or some group “terrorist” in the post-9/11 world illustrates a social power relation between the namer and the named that is best described by Michele Foucault’s war model which was elucidated in his 1975-1976 lecture “Society Must be Defended.” I posit, in the mode of Foucault’s war model, that the primary instantiation of the power relation between terrorists and those who deem them as such was established when President George W. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress and the American people in late September of 2001 (later referred to as the declaration of war on terror), saying, “Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”
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This binarization of “us” versus “the terrorist” leaves little option for recourse for those in the latter group. In an attempt to address this issue, this paper focuses on the merging of another closely related literature with the terrorism literature, that of security studies. This is important because within security studies, a focus on human security allows us to discuss problems arising with self-identity and problems that arise when social power relations deny the ability to self-identify. This further presents the opportunity to address the victims in the politics of naming without diving into the quagmire of defining terrorism.
Thus, in this essay, I make use of Foucault’s war model as the basis for understanding the “War on Terror” and incorporate the literature of security studies to frame the effect that this war has had on the identities of those deemed as “terrorists.” From this, a look at political identity struggles in states that the U.S. deemed “hostile” can be seen as the continuation of the original war on terror. Finally, in clear view of these concrete struggles for identity, a path opens for normative discussions of shifting the social power relations between “us” and “the terrorist.”
This paper will proceed as follows, first will be an explanation of Foucault’s war model and its relation to the politics of naming. This will be followed by a discussion of the original war that established the relations of power between the two parties mentioned above. Third will be a brief segue into how these topics can be examined using security studies, followed by a brief introduction of the relevant security studies literature on identity and its relevance. Fourth I will discuss concrete instantiations of identity struggles in the aftermath and continuation of the war on terror. Last, I will present a normative (legalistic) approach to struggles for identity as a potential recourse against the unbalanced power relations between those named as terrorists and those who deem them as such.
The War Model and the Politics of Naming
Foucault’s war model is explained through his inversion of Clausewitz’s aphorism “war is the continuation of politics by other means,” to suggest instead that “politics is the continuation of war by other means.” From this there are three aspects to the war model that are given; first, power relations, Foucault says, “are essentially anchored in a certain relationship of force that was established in and through war at a given historical moment that can be historically specified.” Thus, the from this we can posit that the relationship between “us” and “the terrorist” is a “historical moment” and is can be “historically specified,” however, we will come back to this in the following section.
The second aspect of the war model suggests that politics “sanctions and reproduces” these unequal relations that began at the previously stated historically specific period. Political struggles (“clashes over or with power”) are then just the continuation of war; such that Foucault is able to say “We are always writing the history of the same war, even when we are writing the history of peace and its institutions.” This is to say that even though the reaction to being named a terrorist is silent, there is still a war being fought. This continuation of war is seen in the identity struggles of those named terrorists, as will be explored later.
The third aspect is that the final “decision” that can end “politics” only comes in a final battle, or a “trial by strength.” This “model” is used for understanding social relations, and next I will show its relevance to the politics of naming.
The politics of naming refers to a series of questions with regard to the words “terrorist” and “terrorism.” Namely, why are some people called terrorists and not others? Who does the naming? Who gets named? And, does it matter? Precisely, according to Matthias Thaler, “the way we capture what violence is matters for how we identify and respond to it.” Further, this is important because “all definitions of violence are susceptible to strategic appropriation.” Particularly in our case at hand, the politics of naming refers to the reasons behind why some people are called terrorists and others are not. For instance, why might an individual who chooses to remain within their home in Bagdad during a U.S. led military campaign against the city, while not being associated with military action, be called a terrorist? When according to international law they would be considered a “civilian non-combatant.” Further, in this case, who does that naming?
This question of the namer and the named is precisely what makes the politics of naming in the case of the war on terror to be considered a primary mechanism in sanctioning and reproducing the unequal relations between the parties involved. Those called terrorists are called as such by a group with the vast majority of power in their relationship. The act of the more powerful group naming the less powerful group terrorists is the primary mode of repression, through the denial of self-identification, which will be discussed later in this essay.
Establishment of Unequal Relations of Power
For Foucault, “repression is the political outcome of war.” If our goal is to address the unequal relations that lead to repression, and what that repression is, we must also begin by establishing what exactly the “war” is. This war is a historically situated event that can be pointed to, as stated above. I suggest that the war that gave rise to the unequal relations of power between non-terrorists and terrorists, is the “War on Terror.” Terrorism prior to 9/11 was not considered be a binary question of “us versus them.” It was not until President George W. Bush’s infamous “you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists” speech that this relation became binary. President Bush’s speech achieved the creation of this binary power relation in two steps.
First, President Bush established the violent actions of the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks as religiously motivated. This denies that their actions could be politically motivated and justified as such. This also establishes their actions within the morally black and white realm of good versus evil. This is demonstrated in calling their actions “fringe” and “Islamic extremism” and that they are at home in Muslim countries where they “plot evil.” All of this points toward the goal of President Bush trying to establish their position as beyond reasonable. That is, terrorism and non-terrorism can be split into categories of reasonable and non-reasonable, and any attempt to disentangle this puts one in the position of supporting unreason.
Second, President Bush attempts to separate the “evil” of the acts from Islam as a religion, saying, “those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah.” This is interesting because the use of the Arabic name of G-d, rather than another; this, I argue, the use of this language directs the focus on all Muslims and in this sentence, strips them of the potential for violence in any form, lest it be immediately denounced as evil. Any resistance, then, to American occupation in the Middle East is evil. Further, this language of restricting all violence to evil and as blasphemous against their g-d is the primary mechanism in the manifestation of identity crises in religious Muslims who do not agree with an occupation of their country. From this, arises the identity struggles that will be discussed in the next section.
Security and Identity
Now that we have seen why the declaration of the war on terror is the creation of the binary power relation between the namers of terrorism and those named terrorists, how exactly do security studies play into this? Of primary concern in this paper is not a defense of all those named terrorists, nor is it apologetic in form. I take the stance that violence is necessarily difficult to justify, and certainly beyond the scope of this paper. Rather, I look to create the potential for remediation of those individuals who have been deemed terrorists by no fault of their own, other than being in the vicinity of, or phenotypically similar, to those seen as perpetrating “evil” or “unreasoned” violence. This is because security studies offer an approach to legal and psychological remediation for the damage caused by the politics of naming. I will approach security studies and our focus on “human security” definitionally, though, like terrorism, human security has a problem of defying definition.
First, when I refer to “security” we are referring to “human security”. The definition of human security which I invoke is taken from the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report from 1994. In the report they describe human security as directed at the individual, and encompasses “Economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community, and political security.” This expansive approach to defining security is ideal, as it includes under the rubric of health, mental health, or the freedom from psychological harm. This point of definition, however, has not been without critics.
Roland Paris problematizes this all-inclusive definition of human security. For Paris, human security defined in this manner simply does not offer a “useful framework of analysis” for those attempting to do scholarly work. However, it is our opinion that, in agreement with Robert Bedeski’s definition, human security includes “the totality of knowledge, technology, institutions, and activities that protect, defend, and preserve, the biological existence of human life; and the processes which protect and perfect collective peace and prosperity to enhance human freedom,” with the added caveat that this includes preserving the integrity of individual identities.
Discussions of individual identity and security exploded with the constructivist turn in security studies during the 1980s. This focus on the individual as referent object is in contrast to the state centric focus prior to the end of the cold war. Indeed, thinking security without identity would be a “world of chaos, a world of pervasive and irremediable uncertainty, a world much more dangerous than anarchy.” However, ubiquity in usage does not translate into ubiquity of coherence.
Indeed, there has been very little agreeance in the usage of “identity” that can lend a uniform definition with which our argument can be made. Notorious critics of identity, Brubaker and Cooper conclude “it tends to mean too much (when used in a strong sense), too little (when understood in a weak sense), or nothing at all (because of its sheer ambiguity).”
Foucault, in some of his later works, addresses this topic, while referring to the subject, rather than the identity, and in doing so gave two definitions for the subject; It is first “subject to someone else by control and dependence” and second, “tied to his own identity by a conscience or self-knowledge,” and further that these meanings suggest a “form of power which subjugates and makes subject to.”
Last, the idea that most security scholars hold the view of George Herbert Mead and Erik Erikson that identities are developed in a relationship which establishes an internal (personal) and external (collective) component. That is, these are “mutually constructed and evolving images.” This is the view that I will advance. Given our previous suggestion that self-identity is affected by the politics of naming, with the stated usage of identity as a mixture between internal and external components the manner in which being named a terrorist affects identity can be broken down into a personal and collect component.
With our analysis tools in hand, we can attempt to consider the identity issues that arose from the war on terror. Prior to the 9/11 attacks (and certainly before the gulf war), terror was nor corporealized in one form. After 9/11, terror itself gained an identity, and that identity was racially targeted. This is clear by the way that individuals that are phenotypically Arab, or even those that wear a similar garb such as Sikhs, have been systematically mishandled in airports, train stations, coffee shops, or anywhere that security might be a concern. Because the “face of terror” has been brown, and the “religion of terror” has been Islam, the individuals in those groups began to have issues with identity. This is presented nicely when considering the rise of the Islamic State.
It is clear from hundreds of newspaper articles from the United States and throughout Europe, that the primary joiners of the Islamic State are young men and women. Considering the conditions in which these decisions to join were made (where being brown and Muslim means you are seen as a terrorist), it appears that a struggle over identity has taken place. This struggle erupted as the continuation of the war of power between those who determine who and what terrorists are and those who receive those definitions. The struggle and subsequent pushback seems to have happened in two ways.
First, because young people are less likely to have a consistent identity, the lack of possibility to build an internal, personal identity due to the decree by the powerful party that what they see in the mirror is in some way wrong lead to a searching for a new personal identity. This is where the second problem comes in, namely, that they were also disconnected from their religious communities, though still lumped together with them by those on the other side.
There is a third factor which was first stated above, it is that when an identity is unproducible, or otherwise alien from the individual, security becomes a concern. In this vein, then, there was less resistance to recruiters for the Islamic state. Whether connected to their religion or not, joining the Islamic State offered assurance of identity, and an outlet of frustration against the same power that denied their ability to have an identity and instead labeled them, for all intents and purposes, as terrorists.
This is of course not an apologetic for the Islamic State, but violence is a fact within the unequal power balance between the two groups, however, one form of violence is considered just, and the other is not, and each side is likely to see it oppositely. Despite this apparent struggle for identity, which results in the continuation of war, human security offers a potential outlet for those struggling identity problems due to a losing war of naming against a stronger power. This is primarily due the intermingling of human rights groups into the conversation.
We see that, while the war on terror has all but ended, the politics of naming is still in effect; made apparent by the rise in mass shootings by white men (i.e. Dylan Roof) and the subsequent disavowal of any attempts to call their acts of violence terrorism. This trend has been challenged by grass roots movements to remove the racialized nature of terror and stick with a consistent definition of terrorism, rather than using the “you know it when you see it” method. Tied up with the human security is another concept from international relations—just like the politics of naming—and that is responding to human rights abuses with “naming and shaming.”
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Naming and shaming is the act of a human rights watchdog (Amnesty International), an individual activist, or international advocacy networks names individual actors or states who have been particularly heinous in their human rights abuses. What is needed, is for human rights advocacy groups to take up the cause of naming and shaming those leaders who prejudice Arab or Muslim countries (such as with Donald Trump’s immigration ban). This can be done based on the UN’s International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).
The ICERD establishes as international law, the immediate future combatting of all forms of discrimination based on race. As we established earlier that President Bush defined the war on terror in a way that the implied recipients of the name terrorist, were Arab. Due to the discrimination, and therefore human rights abuses, stemming from this designation, human rights watchdogs ought to be goaded into naming and shaming those who maintain the practice of all Arabs being terrorists; further the ICERD is in a unique position to help because of its mandate to “adopt immediate and effective measures, particularly in the fields of teaching, education, culture and information, with a view to combating prejudices which lead to racial discrimination.” This is to say that with contributions of the ICERD and Watchdog groups, the power balance becomes just that, more balanced. This does not lead to the final decisive battle, however and it is questionable whether Foucault considered this “so called” final battle, truly final.
In this paper I aimed to show that the politics of naming around the denotation of “terrorist” has led to identity problems, primarily in young Muslim individuals who experience the largest power imbalance. I showed this by using Michel Foucault’s war model from “Society Must Be Defended” where the three aspects of the model, were each substantiated in historical events. First, the historically specified moment when the war (between terrorists and non-terrorists) began, was during President George W. Bush’s declaration of war on terror in late September, 2001. Second, I showed that the second aspect in which politics “sanctions and reproduces” the war is done through the continuing denial of the identity, and that this is evidenced by the struggle of young Muslims for a meaningful identity, leading them to join the Islamic State, regardless of their prior stance on the organization, as a partial means of retribution and attempt to balance the power relations in the war of terrorism. Last, I gave a brief strategy for the balancing of power (and thus, an increased ability to build an identity) by bringing the issue of racial discrimination to human rights watchdogs based on customs established in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
- Bedeski, Robert, “Human Security, Knowledge, and the Evolution of the Northeast Asian State,” Victoria: Center for Global Studies, University of Victoria (2000).
- Berenskoetter, Felix, “Identity in International Relations.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of International Studies (2010).
- Brubaker, Rogers & Cooper, Frederick, “Beyond “Identity”.” Theory and Society 29, no. 1 (2000).
- Foucault, Michel, “Il faut défendre la société,” Edited by Mauro Bertani and Alessandro Fontana, (Paris: Gallimard / Seuil, 1997, Translated by David Macey as “Society Must Be Defended” (New York: Picador, 2003).
- Foucault, Michel, “The Subject and Power.” Critical Inquiry 8, no. 4 (1982).
- Jarvis, L., & Holland, J., Security: A Critical Introduction. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan (2015).
- Jepperson, R.L, Wendt, A., and Katzenstein, P.J. “Norms, Identity and Culture in National Security”, In P.J. Katzenstein (ed.) The Culture of National Security, New York: Columbia University Press (1996).
- Mamdani, Mahmood. “The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency.” London Review of Books 29 no. 5 (2007), pp. 5-8. https://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n05/mahmood-mamdani/the-politics-of-naming-genocide-civil-war-insurgency.
- Paris, Roland, “Human Security: Paradigm Shift or Hot Air?” International Security (2001), 26(2).
- Ted Hopf, The Promise of Constructivism in International Relations Theory. International Security 23, (1998) 175.
- Thaler, Mathias, “Political Theory between Moralism and Realism,” In Naming Violence: A Critical Theory of Genocide, Torture, and Terrorism, New York: Columbia University Press, 2018.
- United Nations Development Programme, UNDP (1994) Human Development Report 1994: New Dimensions of Human Security Technical Report. UNDP, New York.
- United Nations, “International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination”, (1965).
 Michel Foucault, “Il faut défendre la société.” Edited by Mauro Bertani and Alessandro Fontana. (Paris: Gallimard / Seuil, 1997. Translated by David Macey as “Society Must Be Defended” (New York: Picador, 2003).
 Text of speech found at “https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010920-8.html’
 Michel Foucault, “Il faut défendre la société,” Edited by Mauro Bertani and Alessandro Fontana, (Paris: Gallimard / Seuil, 1997, Translated by David Macey as “Society Must Be Defended” (New York: Picador, 2003), pp. 15.
 Ibid., pp. 15.
 Ibid., pp. 15.
 Ibid., pp. 16
 Ibid., pp. 16
 Mamdani, Mahmood. “The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency.” London Review of Books 29 no. 5 (2007), pp. 5-8. https://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n05/mahmood-mamdani/the-politics-of-naming-genocide-civil-war-insurgency.
 Mathias Thaler, “Political Theory between Moralism and Realism,” In Naming Violence: A Critical Theory of Genocide, Torture, and Terrorism, New York: Columbia University Press, 2018, pp. 3.
 Ibid., pp. 3
 Michel Foucault, “Il faut défendre la société,” Edited by Mauro Bertani and Alessandro Fontana, (Paris: Gallimard / Seuil, 1997, Translated by David Macey as “Society Must Be Defended” (New York: Picador, 2003), pp. 16.
 Text of speech found at “https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010920-8.html’
 United Nations Development Programme, UNDP (1994) Human Development Report 1994: New Dimensions of Human Security Technical Report. UNDP, New York.
 Roland Paris, “Human Security: Paradigm Shift or Hot Air?” International Security (2001), 26(2): pp. 93.
 Robert Bedeski, “Human Security, Knowledge, and the Evolution of the Northeast Asian State,” Victoria: Center for Global Studies, University of Victoria (2000)
 L. Jarvis, & J. Holland, Security: A Critical Introduction. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan (2015), pp. 51
 Ibid., pp. 9
 Ted Hopf, The Promise of Constructivism in International Relations Theory. International Security 23, (1998) 175.
 Rogers Brubaker & Frederick Cooper, “Beyond “Identity”.” Theory and Society 29, no. 1 (2000): pp. 47.
 Michel Foucault, “The Subject and Power.” Critical Inquiry 8, no. 4 (1982): pp. 781.
 Felix Berenskoetter, “Identity in International Relations.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of International Studies (2010).
 R.L Jepperson, Wendt, A., and Katzenstein, P.J. “Norms, Identity and Culture in National Security”, In P.J. Katzenstein (ed.) The Culture of National Security, New York: Columbia University Press (1996), pp. 59.
 United Nations, “International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination”, (1965), Article 7.
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