The unfortunate truth of the phenomena of individual terrorism is that it cannot indefinitely be meaningfully fought by the state on an individual level.
In time this may not be the case, and I dearly wish it were not so. Am I defending terrorism? On the contrary, I am attacking terrorism. I am merely condemning a society whose irrational response to terrorism is to cause exponentially more terror. I am condemning a society whose response to acts of individual terrorism is to deprive the people of their civil liberties.
In time, with the near total mass surveillance in the digital world that the Tories seem to love so dearly, and with sufficiently advanced, no doubt Chinese engineered AI algorithms and technologies, acts of terrorism may indeed become far less frequent. With technology that is intrusive enough, perhaps even to the level of thought, terrorism as we conceptualize it today may become a thing of the past. The UK could continue to fund its wars abroad to aid the United States, acts of terror against civilian populations in other countries, without fearing an equally irrational act of retaliation on its own soil thanks to a ruthlessly maintained total ban on immigration. Freedom of course would no longer have a place in British society, but people would be “safe”, at least from any outside threat. In place of the occasional terrorist attack that kills a couple of people and injures a few more, friends and neighbors would occasionally disappear never to be seen again. And no one would dare talk about it, or maybe even think about it, and that’s a form of terrorism far more terrifying than what we face today.
This is the future for Britain, one possible future at least. It is not science fiction but in my view, if things continue the way they have been developing, a likely historical inevitably. As the prerequisites to individual liberty continue to be eroded, British society will become, politically and economically, virtually indistinguishable from China (PRC). Indeed if anything I think it will manage to become even more authoritarian. Though naturally its ruling party will not profess itself to be communist in any meaningful sense of the word, its differences will be trivial.
Am I being a social alarmist here? Of course, but it is always better to be safe than sorry. After all things are moving very fast, we live in dangerous times.
Britain is already one of the worlds most pervasive surveillance societies. CCTV’s are virtually everywhere, especially in urban areas. London has for years been under the near total physical surveillance of all public areas. The Snowden revelations revealed that even in 2014 GCHQ had far exceeded the capabilities and policies of the America NSA in its domestic mass surveillance programs. Citizens of the UK are subjected not only to the collection and indefinite storage of their metadata but of their bulk data, their actual communications. Politicians are campaigning to ban encryption, itself an impossible demand, but nonetheless one symptomatic of a profound problem in British political consciousness which has proven itself incapable of rational action in a technological society. When they cannot attack encryption itself they go after applications that use it, such as Telegram. The BBC, as much as I respect it, is state owned and has censored the news on more than one occasion. The UK has no formal bill of rights to stop a much greater future erosion of human rights. We already see these manifestations of a sprouting totalitarianism all around us. I am convinced that Britain will be one of the first in the west to fall to totalitarianism in the 21st century, and it will have only itself to blame. But for now, Britain though backsliding fast, is more or less free and we should be thankful for that.
Every news outlet is talking about the terrorist attacks in London. Nobody is talking about how an act of individual violence that killed a mere 2 people out of a population of millions has crippled an entire nation with fear and dominated global media. Politicians such as Boris Johnson say they will not surrender their “values” as a result of this attack. In reality the only way they know to address the issue is to do precisely that, to erode more of the civil liberties of the British people. If that is the goal of these terrorists, we must admit that individual terrorism is actually shockingly effective. Britain is only a few sufficiently large terrorist attacks away from a total clampdown on all civil liberties, from turnkey tyranny. The irrationality of British society in relation to the question of terror is self-evident. But the problem is a cultural one as much as a political one, and that makes it all the more terrifying.
The truth is a sad one. A sufficiently motivated attacker could kill far more than a mere two people. Anyone, anywhere, for any reason, could decide to meticulously plan and execute the single largest terrorist attack the world has ever seen and no one could stop them until it was too late. Let’s not fool ourselves here. People are mostly good, rational beings. If they were not, 9/11 would be but a minor footnote in the history of terrorism in the 21st century and not a dominating event. We should be thankful that terrorism is as rare as it is today, that we are living in the most peaceful period in all human history. There is no way to stop someone sufficiently motivated from committing an act of terror. There just isn’t. For a single person sure, but for every individual in a society? It is utterly and completely impossible, especially for a free society. And such problems in a free society can and must only be addressed using methods acceptable and effective for a free society. Understand that we are talking about the problem here from the standpoint that the current British state tries to address it, at the purely individual level. And that way is politically self-destructive in the extreme. The current approach to the problem of terrorism does not go nearly far enough. I do not mean we need more clampdowns on civil liberties, immigration bans, or forced homogenization of at-risk communities, far from it. What is needed is not merely a policy shift, but a paradigm shift in how we as a global community attempt to deal with this problem.
The only way to fight terror while preserving individual liberty is to go after the material conditions that lead to acts of terror. In fact this is arguably far more effective than the current method which comes at the expense of individual liberty. Terrorists even tell us this directly. Their ideologies are of course morally and politically bankrupt: ultra-conservative religious fundamentalism, at least as the public conceptualizes “a terrorist” (typically a far-right Islamic extremist ascribing to some form of). The act of targeting civilians in acts of mass violence is one of the most morally reprehensible things a person or organization can do period. But what do they say is needed to stop future attacks? They tell us this directly. Even as far back as 9/11 Osama Bin Laden told us precisely what was needed to stop people such as himself from committing any more atrocities. But we are so blinded by the irrationality of their religious fundamentalism that it seems to escape us. The attitude we should have towards this is precisely the attitude Marx had towards religious politicization:
“Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
Taking into account the fact that the irrationality of such fundamentalism is a result not merely of material and cultural backwardness but of very real human suffering with real material causes, we can begin to understand that which is fundamentally impervious to reason. The source of terrorism in this instance is not to be found within Islam as conservatives would have one believe, but in the material conditions of the Middle East itself. Islam, the prevailing religion of the Middle East, is merely the natural opium of a people looking for answers in war-torn regions. If the Middle East were predominately Christian, we would be speaking of Christian terrorism. The ideology embodied by terrorists and their respective organizations of course should be totally rejected and fought against, but the root source of the ideology itself should be investigated and tackled if we really want to stop global terrorism. Ideologies such as these do not develop within vacuums.
Thus when they say to “stop bombing Muslim countries” we have to understand that it does not matter if the countries we attack are Muslim or not. This is irrelevant, when we hear a terrorist say this we should realize that there is something fundamentally wrong with our foreign policy. If American bombs dropping from the sky is causing people to join and form terrorist organizations then we should stop dropping bombs from the sky. This call at its purest is not so irrational. But their actions are despicable, the epitome of irrationality and brutality. It is an irrationality and brutality borne of irrationality and brutality. We find in their plea to us a kernel of rationality surrounded by a mystical shell of profound irrationality. We see this rational kernel only through its shell which distorts itself into a caricature of itself. And ears are closed, no one listens, only acts, the cycle of violence continues. The solution to Islamic terrorism lies not in closely watching Muslim communities, infiltrating them, deporting them, stopping immigration, or demonizing them. Such a response only fuels radicalization. The only way to adequately address the problem is to do precisely what nearly every terrorist seems to be asking albeit in a profoundly irrational, religious, and reactionary form: stop bombing civilians in other countries.
Of course the military industrial complex does not in and of itself agree that this, the method that will likely most reduce terrorism, ought to be done. Far from it, it wants only to fight fire with more fire, to fight injustice with more injustice, human suffering with more human suffering. This creates more terrorism which further justifies the need for such a military industrial complex. The way the military industrial complex addresses terrorism is remarkably similar to the way drug prohibition functions: drugs become illegal and unregulated so when people die due to the fact that they are unregulated, prohibitionists can point to these deaths and further justify drug prohibition. It’s a negative feedback loop that is fundamentally anti-social to its core. But it’s good for whoever is making money at its expense, and war is very profitable. Eventually someone, some politician is going to have to bear the cross of ending the war on drugs, and the war on terror, precisely in the name of protecting “western values”, individual freedom and democracy. And even after the material conditions that lead to Islamic terrorism are addressed, echoes of it will remain in Muslim society that will need to be fought by the Muslim community itself.
But that is a topic for another day.