Terrorism, Mass Hysteria, and Hegemony in India

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All recent incidents in India put under the blanket name of terrorist attacks have been viewed as self-explanatory.  A terrorist and his acts don’t need any explanation.  A terrorist is like any other professional who is supposed to do what he is trained for.  Why does he do that?  That is not a question to be asked.  It is just his own free will clashing with others’ free will.  Haven’t we been time and again accused of talking about the human rights of terrorists while ignoring those of soldiers and policemen who are victims of terrorist attacks? 

Nevertheless, I will risk an attempt at explanation.

The post-modern capitalist celebration of relativism indicates an important aspect of the reconstruction of power, civil society, and expression in the age of finance capital.  The footlooseness of faceless finance capital characteristic of this age has intensified the process of all that is solid melting into air to an ever-increasing degree — every click on the keyboard makes, changes, and destroys billions of lives every moment.  This has led to every segment in the society trying to hold on to something solid — an identity, for instance.  In the process, every melting identity poses its own language which cannot be understood beyond the space-time of its posing.  This is what we can call a continuous process of subalternization, of manufacturing subalterns who cannot act but simply react in the hegemonic paradigm.

When useful things become commodities, their self-expression through their own use-value is incomprehensible in the market; they must express their worth through the hegemonic expression of exchange-value.  Thus, the resolution of “civilizational” conflicts — or rather conflicts between various levels of subalternities — is possible within the framework of capitalism only through generalized cutthroat competition or simply mutual annihilation: well-armed robots — e.g., the terrorists and the security forces — clashing with each other.  The only language that is mutually comprehensible is that of interchangeable guns and bombs. . . .  So the citizenry can’t empathize with the terrorists — they are always aliens.  And so are the (counter)terrorists and their protégées.  They are reduced to reactive agencies within the hegemonic game plans.  They can only react to each other’s moves.

Today’s terrorism is a desperate cry to make others listen to what the terrorists are unable to express and what others either refuse to hear or are unable to understand.  It is the failure, crisis, of self-representation transmuted into the hegemonic language of coercion and terror.  This may seem absurd and in fact is . . . as absurd as the absurdity of the conjuncture that produces it.

As a matter of fact, the discourse of the media and security mafia in India may be even more absurd than the terrorist attacks.  Take the discourse of geopolitical competition for victimhood marketed in India, according to which the US, the UK, and Israel are the greatest victims of global terrorism and each terrorist attack in India is a sign that our great nation has joined their company.  So now we have “our own 9/11” — victimhood as a geopolitical commodity.  This is the level of discourse in the Indian media in the context of the Mumbai incidents.

The elite’s allegedly “anti-political” stress on security infrastructure and technology to resolve every conflict is nothing but a familiar insistence on the substitution of a technical solution for a political one.  The panicky bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie in India are in a state of mass hysteria, clamoring for more and more security and intelligence machinery, which can easily become a permanent coercive bureaucracy that — to their convenience — efficiently regulates social life, foreclosing the possibility of democratic control of it.

Terrorism in the present shape is not a threat to the system but like its counterpart creates an opportunity for the hegemonic bloc to (re)create consensus to (counter)terrorize and further subalternize the alienated voices and stop them from ever becoming a meaningful and organized threat to the system by transcending their own subalternity.  A prominent post-modernist, post-colonialist scholar categorically said, “Who the hell wants to protect subalternity?  Only extremely reactionary, dubious anthropologistic museumizers”1  — like terrorists and (counter)terrorists.  How do we break this vicious circle?  The scholar added: “No activist wants to keep the subaltern in the space of difference. . . .  You don’t give the subaltern voice.  You work for the bloody subaltern, you work against subalternity.”2


1  “Interview with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak,” Ariel: A Review of International English Literature 23.3 (July 1992):29-47.

2  Ibid.

Pratyush Chandra is an activist, freelance journalist, and researcher.  His writings have appeared in CounterCurrents, Counterpunch, INSN, Labour & Development, Liberation, MRZine, Review of Radical Political Economics, Socialist Register, ZNet among others.  He co-edited The Politics of Imperialism and Counterstrategies (New Delhi: Aakar Books, 2004).  He co-founded Radical Notes with Saswat Pattanayak.  Contact: pratyush(at)radicalnotes.com.