Horror : Kiarina Kordela

3. Global Biopolitics

To the aid of this bioracial employment of horror comes, as Cavarero remarks, the “stereotyped . . . or, better, orientalist” assumption that Islam, or the East more generally, is “supposedly predisposed to assign [life] little value,” thereby valorizing sacrifice—in short, the assumption that the Islamic world lives outside the biopolitical regime, having never budged away from the state of premodern religiosity, in spite of all evidence to the fact that, to the extent that it exists and functions as a political factor, Islamic religiosity was only recently rekindled.13 Here is another relevant passage from Rose’s piece that cites Islamic voices:

According to Eyad El-Sarraj, the founder and director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, today’s suicide attackers are, for the most part, children of the first intifada. Studies show that during the first uprising, 55 per cent of children saw their fathers being humiliated or beaten by Israeli soldiers. Martyrdom—sacrificing oneself for God—increases its appeal when the image of the earthly father bites the dust. ‘It’s despair’, El-Sarraj states baldly, ‘a despair where living becomes no different from dying’ . . . Or, in the words of the psychologist Shafiq Masalha . . . ‘to be tempted to go to Paradise means that life on earth is hell’.

The statements cited by Rose resonate with Marx’s famous commentary on religion:

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 . . . It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.14

Because of the notorious misunderstanding of this passage, Kojin Karatani’s paraphrase seems mandatory: “Marx attempts to say that it is impossible to dissolve any religion unless the ‘real suffering’ upon which every religion is based is dissolved.” It is time to leave aside the long debate as to whether suicide bombings are motivated religiously or politically, since Marx’s point renders this question moot. Even when an act justifies itself through religious rhetoric, religion itself is to be understood through the modern (and Marxian) biopolitical prism, according to which nobody would be willing to go to “Paradise” unless “earthly life” were not for him or her already hell (“hell” in the biopolitical sense, as in unbearable conditions of an unlivable life). Accordingly, the strategy of suicide bombing is itself biopolitical: aiming at the improvement of life.15

Insofar as the mainstream conception of religiosity significantly deviates from that of Marx, labeling suicide bombing as (religious) sacrifice both prevents understanding that, “as the reaction to an occupying army, the simple conclusion is that they will cease when the armies pull out,” and aids the defensive or prophylactic work of horror by dehumanizing its practitioners.16 According to the (official and mainstream) biopolitical veneration of life, biopolitics, which protects and is practiced by human life, and the sacrifice of life are irreconcilable. Therefore, sacrificial life—life that is willing to sacrifice itself for God or any other great cause—is not viewed as human life. This is why, as Cavarero puts it, although “it likes to celebrate the martyrdom of defenders of the fatherland, the rhetoric of war in Western culture . . . shuns the celebration of suicide,” as, incidentally, does the Quran. Horror and the reference to sacrifice render suicide bombing unreadable as the last resort in an already unlivable life, just as they obfuscate the biopolitical principle shared globally, namely: that life, and a better life, is the objective, and that, therefore, what needs to be eliminated is not life but the conditions that turn life into hell.

4. Horror, Terror, Terrorism, and the Universal Principle of Biopolitics

Nevertheless, once we view suicide bombing as part and parcel of biopolitics we cannot overlook a striking paradox at its core: the fact that it strives for a better life through an act that disregards not only the life of the victim but also that of the perpetrator—in short, all life. In suicide bombing the biopolitical goal of improving life passes through a moment at which life is treated as superfluous. Suicide bombing is the point at which it is revealed that the universality of biopolitics (life as its object and objective) may also be based on its own exception (the superfluity of life). This is the crux of the matter because of which suicide bombing is regarded as an exemplary case for the incitement to horror, just as it is the key to understanding, as we shall see, horror’s further function—beyond being a criterion of bioracism—that concerns its relation to not only terrorism but terror.

The superfluity of life is not limited to the attitude of the suicide bomber but is reflected in the ethical demand for ‘less-lethal’—for the Western soldier—warfare exemplified by the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). In the calculations of both military and political strategists, the superfluity of life becomes explicit in the acceptance of likely civilian death to protect the life of a single pilot. Importantly, collateral damage does not result in an official or mainstream Western demand for horror. Beyond trite expressions of regret for the loss of human life, the discourse surrounding the deaths of civilians in the “War on Terror” continues to indict the failure of intelligence or other operational procedures rather than the ethical frame that permits such killings in the first place. The extra-judicial killing of American citizens Anwar al-Aulaqi and his sixteen-year old son by a drone strike demonstrates the way in which the use of UAVs realizes the biopolitical dream of justifying the unjustifiable—violence—by rendering human life superfluous in the execution of violence. The fact that the killing of al-Aulaqi’s American son did not incite horror reveals the specifically bioracist dimension of drone warfare: even the juridical concept of citizenship becomes obsolete in demarcating what must live from what must die, since the discourse can mark a citizen for death if this citizen’s “accidental” death does not put in danger his executioner. In other words, even USA citizens can classify as subhumans for the sake of precluding any possible damage on the part of the executioners, since the latter are replaced by machines. In this way, warfare becomes an affair between technology and subhumans—the realization of the biopolitical dream. The politics of life is based—not, as it claims, on the purging of violence (the destruction of life)—but on the purging of (“human”) life from violence.

Bringing together the two extreme poles of biopolitical practices, suicide bombing and the UAV, we see that the universal basis of biopolitics (life as its object and objective) is indeed its own exception (the superfluity of life). In other words, biopolitics is a monistic universal, insofar as it includes within itself its exception, its opposite concept, as its own precondition—in contrast to the expectations of the dualist mode of thought that conceives of opposition as the incompatibility between two concepts. Or, to put it in the set-theoretical parlance, biopolitics is a not-all set, a set whose exception is a member of itself—insofar as the relation between norm (life as objective) and exception (superfluity of life) is that of condition and its transcendental precondition. Or, to invoke Lezra’s words, it is a relation of “mutual and simultaneous constitution: rule and exception are correlatively or reflexively related,” unlike the sovereign decision designating a specific case of exception; for the exception qua transcendental precondition does not involve “a decision . . . whose effectivity is subject to outcomes” in the future—since the relation of correlativity is, precisely, “simultaneous,” and the exception remains the transcendental precondition of the norm unconditionally and at any given moment.17 In fact, as we shall see below, by being a monistic universal, biopower renders itself immune to the issue of the legitimacy of the sovereign decision.

13. Adriana Cavarero, Horrorism, 92.

14. Jacqueline Rose, “Deadly Embrace”; Karl Marx, Early Writings, trans. Rodney Livingstone and Gregor Benton (New York: Vintage Books, 1975), 244.

15. Kojin Karatani, Architecture As Metaphor: Language, Number, Money, trans. Michael Speaks (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1995), 187-88.

16. Jacqueline Rose, “Deadly Embrace”; Adriana Cavarero, Horrorism, 92.

17. Jacques Lezra, Wild Materialism, 96-98.

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