What is Terrorism ? Derrida’s Answer

terrorism definition

Here is atranscription of a french interview given by Jacques Derrida, a major contemporary philosopher, about the September 11 attacks and about terrorism. In this interview, Derrida is trying to give a philosophical definition of terrorism.

Giovanna Borradori. – Face to September 11 attacks, what role do you assign to philosophy? Is that philosophy can help us understand what happened?

Jacques Derrida – No doubt such an “event” requires a philosophical answer. Best answer that questions, in their most radical, the best conceptual presuppositions rooted in philosophical discourse. Concepts in which they are most often described, named, categorized this “event” are a “dogmatic slumber” that can wake us up a new philosophical reflection, a reflection on philosophy, including political philosophy and on his legacy. The current discourse, the media and official rhetoric, relies too easily to concepts like “war” or “terrorism” (national or international).

A critical reading of Carl Schmitt, for example, would be very useful. On the one hand, to reflect, as far as possible, the difference between the conventional war (declared and direct confrontation between two enemy states, in the great tradition of European law), the “civil war” and “war supporters” (in its modern forms, yet it appears, Schmitt acknowledges, from the early nineteenth century).

On the other hand, we must also recognize, against Schmitt, that the violence that is unleashed now is not the war (the term “war against terrorism” is very confused, and confusion must be analyzed and interest that this abuse rhetorical claims to serve). Bush speaks of “war”, but it is unable to determine the enemy whom he says he has declared war. Afghanistan, its civilian population and military are not the enemies of the Americans, and we never even stopped to repeat it.

Assuming that “bin Laden” by the decision maker is sovereign, everyone knows that this man is not Afghanistan, it is rejected by his country (by all the “country” by all states and almost without exception elsewhere), that his training is both in the United States and especially he is not alone. States which indirectly help do not as states. No state as such does not support publicly. As for the states that host (harbor) networks “terrorists”, it is difficult to identify them as such.

The United States and Europe, London and Berlin are also sanctuaries, places of training and information for all “terrorists” in the world. No geography, no assignment “territorial” is no longer relevant for a long time to locate the seat of the new transmission technologies or aggression. (Let it be said too quickly and by the way, to extend and clarify what I said above absolute threat of anonymous origin and non-state aggression such as “terrorist” would have no need of aircraft, bombs, suicide bombers: just enter a computer system to strategic value, to install a virus or any serious disturbance to paralyze the economic, political and military of a country or continent. This can be attempted from anywhere on earth, at a cost and with limited means.)

The relationship between land, territory and terror has changed, and be aware that this is due to knowledge, that is to say, techno-science. This is the techno-science that blurs the distinction between war and terrorism. In this respect, compared to the possibilities for destruction and chaotic disorder that are in reserve for the future, computer networks in the world, “September 11” is still archaic theater of violence designed to strike the imagination. We can do a lot worse tomorrow, invisibly, in silence, much faster, but not bloody, by attacking the computer networks on which all life (social, economic, military, etc.). A “great country,” the greatest power the world.

One day they will say “September 11” was the (“good”) old days of the last war. It was still the order of the gigantic: visible and enormous! How big, how high! There have been worse, all kinds of nanotechnology are so much more powerful and invisible, impregnable, they insinuate themselves everywhere. They compete in the micrological with germs and bacteria. But our unconscious is already aware of it already knows and that’s scary.

If this violence is not a “war” between states, it does not fall within the “civil war” or “partisan war”, as defined by Schmitt, to the extent that it is not as most of the “war supporters” in a national uprising, or even for a liberation movement to take power on the ground of a nation state (even if one of the subject, lateral or central network ” Bin Laden “is to destabilize Saudi Arabia, ambiguous ally of the United States, and install a new state power). Even if we persisted in talking about terrorism, this term covers a new concept and new honors.


G. B. – Do you think we can mark these distinctions?

J. D. – It’s harder than ever. If we want not to place undue reliance on ordinary language, which usually remains docile to the rhetorical posturing of the media or word of the dominant political power, it must be very careful when we use the words “terrorism” and especially “international terrorism “. What is the terror in the first place? What distinguishes it from fear, anxiety, panic? Earlier, suggesting that the events of September 11 was that staff in that the trauma he inflicted on the unconscious minds and did not what happened but the threat indefinite future, more dangerous than the Cold War, is what I was talking about terror, fear, panic or anxiety?

Organized terror, provoked, exploited, how does it differ from the fear that an entire tradition, from Hobbes to Schmitt and even Benjamin, is the condition for the rule of law and the exercise of sovereign power for the same condition of politics and the state? In Leviathan, Hobbes does not just mean “fear” but “terrour.” Benjamin told the state it seeks to appropriate, by the threat, specifically, the monopoly of violence. We say, of course, that any experience of terror, even if it has specificity, is not necessarily the effect of terrorism. No doubt, but the political history of the word “terrorism” is largely derived from the reference to the French revolutionary Terror, which was exercised in the name of the state and which involved precisely the legal monopoly of violence.

If we refer to common definitions of terrorism or explicitly legal, what do we find? The reference to a crime against human life in violation of laws (national or international) it involves both the distinction between civilian and military (the victims of terrorism are supposed to be civil) and a political purpose (influence or change the policy a country by terrorizing the civilian population). These definitions do not exclude the “state terrorism”. All the terrorists claim to replicate the world, to defend themselves, to a previous state terrorism that, not telling his name, is covered with all sorts of justifications more or less credible.

You know the accusations, for example, and especially against the United States suspected of carrying out or encouraging state terrorism. On the other hand, even during declared wars between states in the manner of the old European law, the terrorists were frequent outbursts. Long before the bombing more or less solid the last two wars, intimidation of civilians was a classic appeal. For centuries.

We also need a word of “international terrorism” that feeds the official political discourse around the world. It is also implemented in many official condemnations from the United Nations. After Sept. 11, an overwhelming majority of states represented at the UN (perhaps even unanimous, I do not remember, it remains to be seen) condemned, as it had done more than once recent decades, what it calls “international terrorism”.

However, during a session broadcast on television, Mr. Kofi Annan had to remind the passage of many previous debates. Just when they were about to condemn him, said some states had reservations about the clarity of the concept of international terrorism and criteria for identification. Like many legal concepts which are very serious issues, what remains obscure, dogmatic or pre-critical in these concepts does not prevent the powers that be called legitimate and use them whenever they seem appropriate.

On the contrary, more a concept is confused, the more docile to its opportunistic appropriation. This is also a result of hasty decisions without philosophical debate about the “international terrorism” and his conviction that the UN has authorized the U.S. to use all means deemed expedient and appropriate by the U.S. administration to protect themselves before that “international terrorism”.

Without going too far back, not even recall, as is often done, and rightly so, these days, that terrorists can be rented as freedom fighters in a context (for example in the fight against Soviet occupation in Afghanistan) and denounced as terrorists in another (often the same combatants, with the same weapons, today), do not forget the difficulties we would have to decide between “national” and ” International “in the case of terrorism that have marked the history of Algeria, Northern Ireland, Corsica, Israel or Palestine.

No one can deny that there was state terrorism in the French repression in Algeria between 1954 and 1962. Then the terrorism practiced by the Algerian rebellion was long considered a domestic phenomenon as Algeria was supposed to be part of French territory, as terrorism then French (exercised by the state) was as an operation Police and internal security. Only decades later, in the 1990s, the French Parliament retrospectively conferred the status of “war” (so confrontational international) to this conflict, in order to provide pensions to “veterans” who claims.

Then revealed that this law? Well, it was necessary and could change all the names used to describe this far before we had modestly called, in Algeria, the “events” precisely (due again to the public, popular able to name the “thing” properly). Armed repression, as police raid home and state terrorism, suddenly became again a “war”.

On the other side, the terrorists were and are now seen in much of the world as freedom fighters and heroes of national independence. As for the terrorism of armed groups who have imposed the establishment and recognition of the State of Israel, was it national or international? And the various Palestinian terrorist groups today? And the Irish? And the Afghans who fought against the Soviet Union? And the Chechens?

From a terrorism stops when he be denounced as such to be hailed as the only resource of a legitimate struggle? Or vice versa? Where to put the boundary between national and international police and the army, the intervention of “peacekeeping” and the war, terrorism and war, the civil and the military in an area and structures that provide the potential defensive or offensive to a “society”? I say vaguely “company” because there are cases where such a political entity, more or less organic and organized, is neither a state nor fully an-state, but virtually state: see what we now call Palestine or the Palestinian Authority.

Cite this article as: Tim, "What is Terrorism ? Derrida’s Answer, April 28, 2012, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, April 28, 2012, https://www.the-philosophy.com/what-is-terrorism-derrida.

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