Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 08, 2003 2:46 pm 
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Bush's with-us-or-against-us challenge is only rhetoric to encourage strong support at home and abroad. It's not necessary to respond to this challenge every time one discusses US policy. Obviously I am not a traitor and obviously I am opposed both to US policy in Afghanistan and to Bush's individual policy decisions and enunciations of them vis-à-vis Afghanistan.

The reason why it's pointless to say this is that I am not actively in opposition to US policy, because I accept it as a fait accompli, and in my Terrorism Update I'm saying that the policy has worked—and that I still don't feel any safer. That is my first point, not opposition to Bush's or US policy. This, by the way, is much like what George Monbiot is saying in his Guardian piece of November 15: that the war initiative against the Taliban in Afghanistan has been surprisingly successful surprisingly quickly, but that these successes don't make the overall situation of which September 11's events made us aware very much better, if, indeed, they make it any better at all. My second point, which other readers have gotten better than you did but which I probably should state more forcefully, is that the best thing to have done would be to have done nothing: that the best response to terrorism is not to appear to react to it: it seeks a reaction: to show none is to defeat its purpose. This point however is also not a proposal of action because we have already done a lot and reacted a lot and there is no turning back from that now. Not reacting to the events of September 11 is not an option now. It's not possible, now, to do nothing in the sense that I suggest. It is only possible to reduce our reactive responses in the future. Thus, what I propose is an understanding of jihad in peaceful terms—a concept very much in keeping with Islam—as a struggle to master oneself. I propose that it is precisely through such mastery that we can best oppose terrorism, while at the same time doing the necessary footwork, i.e. tracking down terrorists buried here and there in the world and doing what's necessary to prevent their initiating further terrorist acts.

Crushing or attempting to crush the Taliban was not a necessary action to crush al-Qa'ida or its cells in Afghanistan or throughout the world, and destroying Afghanistan's ragged, despicable rulers certainly doesn't do anything for Islam, for stability in Afghaistan or the region, or for the image of the US abroad. As Monbiot points out, we might have gotten the Taliban to turn over bin Laden, but didn't try.

You devote yourself to practicing the craft of writing, and so naturally you want to have me understand what you have written, and I appreciate your further effort to help me do so. Though you show a keen ability to summarize my arguments and to point out their weaknesses, or the weaknesses in my expressions of them, however, I put it to you that argumentation may not be the kind of verbal art in which you most excel. Where you originally placed the question, "I wonder how many people would agree with this?" I put it to you that not many people would be sure what you were referring to by "this." You are apparently referring to a chain of events; which of them belong to Baudrillard and which to me or simply to the events themselves would be hard to say.

But does this matter? To me what matters is to get on with the discussion and to clarify our views. Baudrillard is describing how terrorism operates. He says that terrorism depends on the complicity of its victims. Granted that this is so, I argue that if the victims simply gather up their wounded and dead and go on with their lives without taking further action, they are defeating the first purpose of terrorism, which is to transform the lives and surroundings of the victims. I said that the best thing would have been to do nothing—meaning, not attack Afghanistan; also not take away a lot of civil rights and adopt an ultra-patriotic, paranoid stance at home and abroad; to go on as much as possible with business as usual. Obviously it's not possible to do nothing, because things have been done. But we can start practicing the self mastery of jihad in its peaceful sense, and try to move away from living our lives so much in reaction to the terrorists' acts, to live our lives more independently, which will in the end defeat the terrorists' aims. They are a small minority. They will not prevail.

I'm sorry I had trouble understanding what you were saying, but hope you have less trouble with what I've said here, and that what I've added today makes my Terrorism Update have more meaning for you. My artist friend Jessica said she thinks we "think in unison, politics-wise; that "doing nothing would have been just perfect; it would have been just perfect;" that she hated for us to be so predictable and that one of the worst things about it was that "we did exactly what everybody expected us to be doing." Before you jump in to say this is not a worthwhile aim, consider that surprise is the main element in the success of terrorist acts.

I repeat, I am not advocating that we do nothing at all, nor can I call for a reversal of the actions that have already been taken. I am calling for us not to echo the terrorists' violence, to work to oppose them stealthily and calmly, to realize that, as Sir Michael Howard said in his address to the Royal United Services Institute October 30, this is not a hot "war" but a "war" only "in the sense of war against crime or against drug-trafficking," and therefore a war against Afghanistan or other countries in the region is a wrong move, an action that should not be taken. Note what he says later in his speech, "as we discovered in both Palestine and Ireland, the terrorists have already won an important battle if they can provoke the authorities into using overt armed force against them." Sir Michael and I are in agreement. I urge you to go back and read what Sir Michael said: it was you who called his speech to my attention.

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