The Real Terrorists

Reporting on the “death toll for a grisly hostage situation” that began on Tuesday (March 29) in Iraq, the Associated Press counts 57 dead and 98 wounded. “Gunmen wearing explosives belts,” says the AP, seized a government building in the Iraqi province of Salahuddin, holding off police for five hours in a plot apparently aimed at the province’s governing council.

Officials of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s puppet government, fingering al-Qaeda while invoking the cult of “security,” parroted all the Empire’s standard bilge about terrorists’ attempts to undermine “the very foundations of democracy.” For the United States and its colonial government in Iraq, “democracy” — the structure that Iraqis have apparently “strived so valiantly to build” — would seem to mean little more than superficial participation in the occasional, ceremonial celebration of the state.

In contrast, the people of Iraq, as opposed to their masters, probably have a very different notion of democracy in mind when they’re striving to build the future of their country, one that presumably doesn’t involve the lordly oversight of American plutocrats. And if we’re going to be considering what the U.S. Embassy calls “horrific acts,” we should probably take some time out to evaluate those of the United States in Iraq.

We often hear that people like those who took the Iraqi hostages “hate us because we’re free,” a narrative that — leaving aside its irony (how “free” are we?) — willfully ignores the United States’ military imperialism not just in Iraq, but around the world. Lest anyone should mistake revulsion toward the Empire as an apology for the murder of innocents, Glenn Greenwald has helpfully explained the distinction:

“[T]he issue is not justification — it is inherently unjust to deliberately target civilians with violence — but causation. … Imagine the fury and craving for vengeance and violence that would be unleashed in the U.S. if we were being invaded, occupied, bombed, tortured, disappeared, and indefinitely, lawlessly detained by a foreign Muslim power on U.S. soil for a full decade or more.”

Terrorist attacks, if indeed they are disproportionately directed at the U.S. and its surrogates, are, while monstrous and morally detestable, the desperate convulsions of a people trapped and oppressed by the weight of empire. As Greenwald notes, violence like the hostage situation in Iraq is inevitable, the natural response of human beings comparable to thrashing, caged animals.

It’s easy for the staid voices of “respectable” people on all sides, themselves comfortable closeted within the political elite, to condemn “senseless and brutal attacks” even while their own are underway. The terrorists who commit acts of violence have observed the bankruptcy of the political process firsthand; although they are wise to reject that process, their means can’t win “hearts and minds” because they mimic the barbarities of the state.

Every popular movement in the Middle East is and will continue to be characterized by the anti-Americanism that results from the Empire, but arrant, arbitrary violence only alienates people from the radical message. Taking visceral moral outrage at the state as a starting point, free market anarchists hope to destabilize it not through further injustice but through what is essentially widespread civil disobedience.

While they regard themselves as refusing to play by the Empire’s rules, terrorists define those rules too narrowly and thereby end up annealing the structure of statism; they give it a nameless, faceless enemy capable of warranting all manner of totalitarianism. If the state is the world’s leading terrorist organization, anarchists ask (and it is), then why should those concerned with true justice wish to attack it with miniaturized versions of its policy of mass murder?

Free market anarchism is simply an outgrowth of the idea of self-ownership, the consequence of which is a principle against aggression. States and their wars are the enemies of that principle, but they themselves represent ideas, and ideas can’t be attacked with physical violence.

Americans should identify not with the American government, but with those similarly oppressed by it, wherever they reside. Anarchists realize that downtrodden Americans and Iraqis, for all our cultural and language differences, have far more in common with each other than with our respective political classes.

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