The paradox of polarisation
And a new type ideological conflict
Two kinds of polarisation: Us vs them – and who are we?
To fight an enemy, it is important to understand an enemy. To fight in a unified way is to understand the effects of the enemies attacks. How do terrorist attacks effect our sense of collective identity? And our ability to react.
First it is important to understand the key differences between the attackers and ourselves.
Throughout history there has been an ever prevalent idea of an indistinguishable, and ever bearing, sense of irreconcilable difference between the civilisations of east and west.
This idea gained enormous traction in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the twin towers in New York.
The conflict posed by these terrorist attacks is, in a generalised sense, between western nations and religious fanaticism (namely Islamic); culminating in what we call terrorism.
Firstly, we must look at what links these attacks together. The media has created a dearth of labels with which to apply: radical Islam, terrorist fundamentalism, radical Islamism being the most recent. These labels fit into the organisational nomenclatures of Al Qaeda to Daesh. The latter referring to the more popularly known: ISIS or ISIL.
All of these terms are confusing, and all of them detract from the truth of the actions
themselves. The terrorist attacks are unacceptable acts of mass murder. In exactly the same sense as the 2011 Norway attacks. Sticking to this simplification can go a long way to combating the immediate hysteria and divisiveness that follows (and, is intended to follow).
During this panic it is easy for us to think of the idea of East vs West. The attackers are from an alien place and they attack us because they hate us. We must attack back. This is easy on the brain, and it allows us to focus on the generalising factors that help us to identify the enemy.
Donald Trump offers the perfect example of this rationalisation, in his simplified idea of the enemy there is no room for complexities. The Muslims (and the Mexicans) are the problem and they must be dealt with. With this mind-set, the problem is polarised.
These kind of basic arguments have been used for centuries, if you can create a fraction within the fabric of society then you can more easily control it. Donald Trump would give the attackers what they crave – acknowledgement, legitimacy, infamy. And the promise of a continuation and escalation of their warped jihad.
The polarisation of the argument allows those of us within society that may be unhappy (for whatever reason) to have something to point at and blame. Rather than challenge the conditions of the situation.
The new enemy we were told was: religious extremism, Radical interpretation of Islam, Jihadi warriors ready to blow themselves up in order to cause as much harm, terror and suffering as possible upon the hated west. Within the context of the recent terrorist attacks – These labels serve only to reveal the false legitimacy of a cause. Clung to by hate-filled individuals.
As a result, these terrorist attacks further force us into the false or simplified dichotomy of East vs West. And within this, it forces us to question who we are and how we fight. Creating a second, arguably more dangerous; polarisation.
if we return for a moment to the clash of civilisation axiom then it is easy to see how the basis for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars came about. While the terrorists may have had little to do with the mechanics of the nation states themselves, they were declared implicit, involved, by the U.S and what unfolded was the classic response of nation states to acts of warfare. Military mobilisation and invasion. If there is anything to be learnt from the conflicts; it is that our responses must evolve.
To look upon the Middle East now and count the manifestations of Islamic fundamentalism it would be very hard to say that the military interventions by coalition states has (at best) had any stabilising effect at all.
Indeed the recent bomb blast in Baghdad highlights how any hope of a better life after these irresponsible, ill-thought military interventions – for Iraqis – is literally left in rubble. Tjis is of course the intention of the terrorists – yet, the origins of the environmental factors that have facilitated their rise must not be ignored.
So then, it is important to adapt to this new kind of conflict, for it is undeniable that we are under attack. The attacks of Islamic fundamentalists force us to question our own Identity by placing us, through their own labeling, into the camp of ‘westerners’. And forcing choices to be made on what that may mean. This new kind of conflict is even harder to comprehend in the aftermath of an attack.
The November attacks upon the Bataclan theatre on November 13th 2015 in Paris, France for instance. Such an attack makes calls for war seem inevitable. Indeed such a theft of young life highlights the importance of the military holds in crushing the caliphate with which ISIS propagates its right to be.
Yet, this is a conflict outside of the paradigm and traditional borders of nation states. As such, one need not look further than the victims. The victims of these attacks are multinational, and targeted for no other reason then living their lives. Their affiliations to their place of birth unknown, questionable at best. Even so, it is the victims’ deaths – exacerbated by the media – that are used to directly question an elected governments ability to protect its citizens.
In light of this Hobbesian dilemma, scared citizens turn to those (and modes of thought) that propagate a sense of protection. This is a fallacy. For those of us that inhabit a realistic view of the threat posed; it is obvious that there is no way in which to guarantee protection from it. Yet, there are ways to negate its effects, and therefore ways to combat it.
The recent high frequency of attacks must be held in contrast to the military victories against ISIS. They are losing their caliphate. They are losing their perceived legitimacy, their authority, their right.
Yet, still security must evolve – The Brussels, Ankara and Nice attacks highlight the vulnerability of so-called ‘soft targets‘ – areas of dense populous- crowds and areas of congregation for public transport.
Acts such as the snoopers charter in Britain, erode our civil liberties, and act only to further demonise, rather than integrate, those citizens facing their own identity crisis. To polarise. To promulgate and further reinforce the idea of us & them.
If we accept that the reactions of traditional nation states are largely defunct in their ability to actively address the threat posed. If we understand that these terrorists are not seeking terms with which to negotiate, then we must accept that we are involved in a conflict of ideologies. The defining of which, is the battleground we as citizens stand upon.
The idea of us must stay unified. Make no mistake – our shared values, ethics and collective sense of identity is directly under attack – by way of these terrorist atrocities.
We must make slogans inclusive – and fight against a second sense of polarisation amongst ourselves and those from further afar.
A good example of this can be seen within the reaction to the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag. The responses often led any sense of a united reaction to become immediately fractured. You were either with the terrorists or the racist cartoonists. Even if one was able to recognise this dichotomy as false – it still held the effect that it negated, and in many cases stopped all together – the ability to respond to the attacks in an inclusive way. So as to allow for the progression of the collective ideals that were under attack. This second sense of polarisation acts only to riddle a progessive movement of enormous potential – borne from the ashes of an attack – with anemia and paralysis.
Prominent thinkers such as Slavoj Zizek were able to see past this, and by extrapolating and analysing two of the prominent ideologies in dispute; namely that of liberal permissiveness and religious fundamentalism, he is able to state that –
Fundamentalism is a reaction – a false, mystifying, reaction, of course – against a real flaw of liberalism, and this is why it is again and again generated by liberalism.
He goes on to conclude that –
‘the conflict between liberal permissiveness and fundamentalism is ultimately a false conflict – a vicious cycle of two poles generating and presupposing each other.’
Finally revealing that it is the evolution of liberalist practice and modes of thought (equality, freedom, etc.) that can truly tackle fundamentalist terrorists. And (to borrow his phrase) to sweep the ground from underneath their feet.
Borne from terrorist attacks there is a paradox of polarization, perpetuated by media, that forces people to move out of an ideological sense of pacifism or appeasement. In this battle of ideas – many may see the questioning of their own values as an imperative opportunity to reinforce their identity. It is this (false) choice that is weakening the ability of a democratic, practical resistance.
Some have expressed the notion that the attacks should not be seen as political. Within the framework of traditional institutions this may be correct; Indeed, when analysing the response and responsibilities of governments this is important.
However, in the ideological sphere of thought, these attacks are inherently political. that is to say that the ideals and the identities of regular European citizens are being directly challenged. Therefore, their strategies are having to adapt, be this within the traditional political realm, or not.
In addition, it is this direct challenge (in the form of terrorist fundamentalist attacks) which is fracturing perceptions of a collective sense of self. What do we represent? who are we? Two examples of ideological answers to this can be seen within the ideologies of – Fascism, and neo-liberalism.
Fascism here being the idea that the worth of people is: belonging, the name, the flag they have.
And neo-liberalism (a modern manifestation of mercantile nihilism) the idea that your worth is dependent upon your value or ability to perform as a productive device. The amount of money you generate, Or have others generate. (The debasing of any sense of self-worth within wider society to that of your monetary value to society)
Arguably, both of these ideologies fuel the fires and conditions that give the terrorists their confidence. Their reason for being.
These are two ideologies that represent a schism, and the threat of a sundering within western liberal democracy. This reaffirms the idea of a paradox of polarisation within the new ideological conflict posed by the terrorist threats.
It is possibly only with the insertion of a third ideology ; a Humanism finding its genesis within a truly inclusive and reformed sense of western liberal democratic values. With which we can begin to actively fight this paradox of polarisation. And the Terrorists themselves.
George Orwell once stated that ‘pacifism is objectively pro-fascist’. With this in mind, imagine the generalised world view of a member of a death gang such as ISIS, that sees the ‘west’ as an example of all that is wrong with the world. Polarising historical atrocities such as the crusades aside. What is the greatest failing of western democracy? Arguably, the rise of fascist dictatorships responsible for untold atrocities toward humankind, the holocaust and the genocide of Eastern Europe for instance. For those against it, this is a glaring example of how western liberalism is simply a visage. Hiding undercurrents of racism, xenophobia, and hatred.
Terrorist attacks such as 9/11, 7/7, Hebdo, and the seemingly connected attacks in Paris and Brussels (and those further afar), push us to a place of thought in which it is fertile ground for fascist sentimentalities to flower. Far-right movements such as the English defence league, The front national, Pegida, and to a lesser extent Ukip. Are fuelled by the blanket media coverage that propagates a paradox of polarisation. And liberal democratic values recede a little further each time.
In light of the Orwellian view of pacifism. Those afraid to denounce such attacks, particularly in the example of Hebdo, because of possible offence caused by drawings, objectively foster this seismic shift to the right. Toward Fascism.
It is the culmination of over a decade of irresponsible and ignorant reporting, governmental foreign policy, and the false idea of liberal permissiveness vs religious fundamentalism. And it now manifests itself in populist political leaders pretending to offer dangerous and simplified solutions to scared and confused individuals.
Such scary possibilities now exist as Donald fucking Trump.
How to fight?
So, in view of this new kind of ideological conflict. We can begin to ask questions as to that of the enemies’ methods.
To begin, who is the enemy? What are their goals? And what are the conditions they feed of?
As Zizek puts it –
“What is much more needed than the demonisation of the terrorists into heroic suicidal fanatics is a debunking of this demonic myth”
First and foremost, it must be reiterated that these attackers are not Islamic, in exactly the same way that Anders Breivik is not ‘culturally Christian’ they attach their own manifestation of proto fascist thought onto an extreme doctrine of religious fundamentalism.
It is one of the quickest ways to propagate an East vs West axiom, and the most basic.
It has been left to other Muslims to constantly dispel this myth and it has been an ignorance that has been on repeat for far too long within western media.
We cannot keep leaving it to other Muslims to make this distinction. Apologising by proxy for those that have in practice nothing in common is a fallacy of labels. And it is a failure of western liberal democracy that we keep accepting this. By doing so we only further the paradox of polarisation.
A good example of this ignorance can be seen within the term ‘Jihad’. And the use of ‘Allah Ahkbar‘ or indeed the most basic teachings of Islam.
So who are these attackers specifically? It is of great importance to the understanding of the enemy that we address the phenomenon that the attackers are on the whole not from the Middle East. Their doctrines and practices may mirror that of middle eastern terrorist organisations such as ISIS, but this is not their place of origin, or their originating identity. Their defining features, away from the hysterical media attachments, is that of classic criminal cults.
The idea that these terrorists are the responsibility of a Muslim community has also been shown to be a myth. Indeed, the idea itself slides dangerously towards a hierarchical and xenophobic demonstration of democracy. Oliver Roy writes –
“And yet we keep talking about that famous Muslim community, right and left, either to denounce his refusal to really integrate, or to make a victim of Islamaphobia, the two opposing (forces) discourses are based in fact on the same fantasy of an imaginary Muslim community. There is no Muslim community, but a Muslim population – admit this simple observation – would be a good antidote against hysteria present, and future”
It is also important to add that these are not inherently Islamic or radicalised old men with nothing to live for. On the contrary these are young European (disenfranchised) men, with no sense of collective identity, desperate to find a unifying doctrine that gives both a shared sense of self and (in these cases) something to die for, rather than live for.
What are their goals? Difficult to comprehend. What do they hate? It is not hard to see that their anathema is the values of western liberal democracy. Tolerance, acceptance and equality. A shared sense of solidarity rooted in the acceptance of difference. This hatred is originated from a mode of thought, a world view, in which there is only room for one opinion. The most basic mode of thought. And thus, they seek to promote only the conditions that will give credence to this opinion, to this world view. They seek to polarise any and all who may or may not hold it. Fundamentally, their goal is to promote their own sense of fear, anxiety and hatred.
The revolutionary Che Guevara once said that those that fight for an idea, will fight with little regard for safety. Within the context of death cults such as ISIS this helps to explain the phenomenon of suicide bombings.
So the conditions that they feed off of are narrow-minded and simplified expressions of us vs them. It is then, vitally important to be unafraid and to stand united against all acts of terrorism. But most vitally, to fight it head on. To fight the polarisation of our society, the leaning towards simplified modes of thought to which they themselves subscribe. To not sit idly by while innocent lives are taken, and to find the courage to adapt who we are and what we stand for.
So how do we fight? The classic and rapidly ageing reactions of western elected governments and political demagogues have been rendered defunct. Within this new kind of ideological conflict, the paradox of polarisation must be shown to be defeated; and only you can do it. By questioning it where you see it. And by understanding the abilities you, and societies as a whole, have to do so.
Now, we must attempt to evolve past the labels of nationalism, and begin to evolve western liberal democracy itself, what ideology do we wish to represent our identity? Proto-Facism? Aggressive neo- liberalism? Or the restoration of an inclusive form of humanism into our democracies? To offer wider representation and leadership? Or slide toward simplified ideas of identity? The alienation of home-grown young men and women is a problem of western society, be they Muslim, second generation immigrants, or atheist ‘working class’ unemployed. As we begin to adapt and understand these attacks, and the pitfalls they produce. It becomes increasingly clear that an evolution of thought – an evolution of democracy, is what is needed.
Dedicated to the Iraqi football fans that were murdered – Joy cannot be beaten.