Appendix(n): A Note on “Terrorism”

I realise that in 2013 in North America, I write about terrorism in a vastly different political climate than the one in which Bey wrote in 1985. I am also acutely aware that my use of the term is not without political motivation or desire for controversy. Following the attacks of September 11th, 2001, the United States especially — but also, to some extent, the better part of the Western world — adopted and adapted the use of the term “terrorism” to demonize the racial Other and to justify multifarious abuses of civil liberties. Importantly, this adaptation has abstracted terrorism to the point where it no longer requires a specific act, or a specific enemy, thus producing a vague, non-localizable threat that effectively produces fear and complicity in political subjects. The American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) publishes an Annual Report on Terrorism, which, in its annuality, both restates and persistently alters its definition of terrorism; importantly, its definitions are always taken from the official mandates of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). The publication and republication of this “Annual Report” implies that this so-called terrorism is omnipresent in contemporary society, and that, moreover, there will necessarily be a need for subsequent reports, thus implicitly legitimizing the FBI’s reports, and the NCTC’s very presence, in a distinctly Foucauldian turn. Truthfully, the subtle changes in this definition year-to-year could be the subject of this entire introduction. Instead, I hazard only this brief note on the term to account for, and justify, my use of “terrorism” as a term for experimental resistance. In the FBI Annual Report on Terrorism of 2005, they define terrorism specifically as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” But, in 2011, the FBI reports the NCTC’s definition as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.”  This latter definition, in its maintenance of the stress on political motivation alongside its shift of focus onto the identity of the perpetrator — a delegitimised cause that is subnational or clandestine, as opposed to the recognised authority of the State — allows the NCTC and the FBI to classify and condemn activist organisations (even those operating within the US) as terrorists. In this way, the term “terrorism” is persistently used to pre-emptively delegitimize and/or criminalize dissenting voices in the US, and, in turn, the rest of the Western world.

While this project neither condemns nor condones the actions of any organisation classified as “terrorist” under US law, I maintain that the term itself is important to, and helps to explain, the activist nature of reading and writing experimental texts. While the only “violence” committed in the texts studied here is that of radical poetic practice against the normative, organising structures of language, the anti-Statist position at the core of any anarchist practice would be classified, under these definitions, as terrorist. And this violence against language itself is one I can, without hesitation, endorse, and that I can, somewhat reservedly, classify as a Poetic Terrorism against the State(s) of Language, Literature, and the Lyric. As Lyotard writes, breaking from the comfort of preconceptions is a kind of violence, a suffering; “The unthought hurts because we’re comfortable in what’s already thought. And thinking, which is accepting this discomfort, is also, to put it bluntly, an attempt to have done with it” (Inhuman 20). And so, trite as it may read, the experimental writer is a kind of guerrilla poet, and her/his terrorism is instigating the suffering of thinking the unthought.

6 thoughts on “Appendix(n): A Note on “Terrorism”

  1. I am confused with how an anarchist would be considered a terrorist if they have not committed a “violent” act for the purpose of furthering their cause. Are you saying that even their words could be considered a violent act under that definition of terrorism? Even if they are not causing any physical harm to themselves or others?

    1. Good question. What this means, first of all, is that we adequately define what we mean by “violence.” It’s a tough concept to define. What we can say is that the NCTC and the FBI consider violence done to bodies AS WELL AS to property enough to level terrorism charges. This violence can also be mental/emotional as well as physical. This is where Lyotard’s work factors in. If causing suffering is violent (is it?), then forcing someone to think the unthought, or to adopt a new critical mindset, is a violent act. And here we can say that the anarchist academic commits a terrorism of sorts, and so does the experimental poet.

      What do you think?

  2. Nice distinction here Dani. I think the difference is that one is material violence (or to invoke Deleuze, “actual” violence) and the other is virtual. The FBI and NCTC are expressly against actual or material violence / terrorism directed at objects and bodies. Your definition of “Poetic Terrorism” after Bey is more nuanced in that the violence becomes virtual; however, if the science fiction dystopias of William Gibson, Orwell, and Burroughs are sound then the more profound manifestations of terrorism may well be virtual. Why torture or maim someone when you can brainwash them? Why philosophize with a hammer when one can use a scalpel?

    1. YES! And your sci-fi references solidify for me why the cultural artefact needs to be included in any anarchism! If the hammer is giving way to the scalpel, then we need to be building up our own mental defenses. Critical, alternative, antihegemonic thinking is one way of doing just that!

    2. And I actually didn’t mean for that to sound so conspiracy-theorist… But, you see what I mean… right? I’m not suggesting anyone is trying to cut into my brain. I would never say that… because they might be reading this right now…

      Thanks for all these comments today, Sean! They made me very happy!


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