1 - Process of Recognition
2 - A History of Violence
3 - The Artifical Hatred of Being Marginalised
4 - Franchising
5 - Rejection of Freedom
6 - Only Viable System
7 - The Difficulty of Being Evil
Isn’t the request for someone to draw a terrorist a provocation with an implicit message? A message that implies terrorism is a daily occurrence that happens everywhere and can be presented without any great thought – almost without scruples? Isn’t it okay to draw someone out of a crowd of violent people, someone who you simply call to mind and put down on paper? Violence is a part of our world. And because terrorism is violent, many forms aggression can cross the mind and while in the process of putting pencil to paper.
Terrorism creates controversy about who is guilty in this globalised world of ours in which the western powers have gathered enough of their own experience due to their use of power, their political influence and their own use of force, for example in the colonial wars. In heated debates in local bars, the victims of September 11th 2001 are readily counted off against those killed in action by the western powers – especially the USA. The symbolic value of September 11th is all too easily clad in intellectual debate. But death is not symbolic. And the dead and wounded are certainly not good symbols. Such forms of depiction show how we have lost touch with one of our most basic instincts – sadness. Not only in how we convey a highly sober event but also in how we identify with it. Discussions in bars lead to resentment, a typical expression of our failure to mourn and an expression of revenge.
The Draw me a Terrorist project allows us to concentrate on power and violence. If we look closer we recognise a human story that is primarily a story of violence. The question surrounding violence is one of the most complex questions humankind can ask itself. It touches on one of the fundamentals of humankind itself and of society. The question of violence and terrorism express the very complexity and intrigue of world politics. Violence, power and political influence have a long history and have grown in importance as we humans have tended to settle down and mark off our territories. It is war that divides territories.
According to Thomas Hobbes human instinct is driven by survival and power in its most natural form. This is why the founding of the state and the institution of an officially recognised power put an end to the “all-against-all“ mentality. The Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz on the other hand saw war „as the continuation of politics with other means“. The French philosopher Michel Foucault turned Clausewitz’s statement on its head. He gave Hobbes’ idea a modern ring to it: War is the basis of national statehood. The founding of the state expelled violence, as a means regulating internal strife as to status, religion, sex or even as a means of robbery to the fringes. Instead, society inherited another form of violence from within – whether in the form of democracy, dictatorship, monarchy or a republic.
The foundation of this violence in is most expansive form is the military. The state secured itself a monopoly on violence while at the same time laying down the rules for the use of such violence – whether internally or externally.
Since the end of the middle ages mankind has not only established states, but also an international law that determines their rights and duties. It embodies basic human rights, guidelines for disarmament, the rules of war and peace and a blueprint for securing peace. Equality and sovereignty for all states form the basic pillars of the international law. According to Foucault these laws are the consequence of wars. The states introduced the international law to prevent people from becoming unnecessarily base and cruel in times of war. Civilians, the wounded and medical staff should be treated with dignity, and prisoners and spies should be treated fairly. The deployment of particularly evil weapons of destruction is to be avoided and cultural relics be protected. The rules of war were designed to prevent an uncontrolled escalation of violence. War should not lead to massacres, torture, degradation, rape or genocide. History shows that such laws have little effect as they represent a direct clash of interests with the methods of war. It is these rules of war that Islamic terrorists disrespect, as this is precisely how they aim to cause fear and terror. Terrorist attacks are unexplained and unregulated war.
Like violence, terror is a part of our world. Terrorism is defined by the dark side of life – by death. The Dutch director Theo van Gogh was murdered by an Islamist, who left a message at the scene of the crime several pages long in Dutch and Arabic. It read: “there is no forgiveness for those who do wrong. The sword is the only just reward. No discussions, no demonstrations, no protest marches, no petitions. Only death can separate lies from the truth. Terrorism spreads fear through random insecurity and killing. So that death is accompanied almost by a mantle of indifference.
Islamic terrorism has been a centre of public debate ever since 11th September 2001. It became a global phenomenon in the 90’s and accentuated itself in the public consciousness with the destruction of the World Trade Centre. It has become a philosophical debate – all well-known thinkers have expressed their thoughts on the subject.
With its entry – especially the terror organisation al-Qaeda – in the public discourse, other terror groups like the RAF, ETA or the IRA have dropped out. Their time has been and gone. Underground movements, financed by bank heists are no longer in vogue. Not is the unwritten law that, for example, the paramilitary RAF stuck to in its attacks, namely that civilians should not be harmed. Its members operated under a code of war, to the same degree that they really did believe they were in war. To this day, for many that lends them an aura of resistance fighters.
Terrorists are fundamentalists. They see themselves driven by the only valid (pure) political ideology, the only (pure) followers of the Holy Book and the only real representatives of (pure) knowledge. In the purity of their absolute belief lies their fundamentalism. They reject mixed ethnicity and religions, dialogue with others and contact to outsiders. They strike fear in them and reject their views. Klaus Theweleit writes, everywhere in the world „wherever different peoples and cultures mix, we see public violence and a readiness to make war on the wane. The synthetic hatred of the ostracised is receding. That is the nature of urban diversity. Dialogue, diversity and communication make people more peaceful.
No one is safe from modern day terrorism. Its randomness is absolute and its deadly nature scythes through the very foundations of our lives - a life based on trust and order, and reliability and protection. Terror makes the answer to the questions “why now?”, “why here?“, “why like this?“ and “why these people?“ redundant – it can hit anyone, anywhere, anytime.
One should not be deceived by the character of modern terrorism. Its members are no modern day heroes. They are militarily organised, have access to major logistical networks, are structured like modern businesses and take any chance to spread their message – just as in the human slave trade or kidnapping business. They differ very little in respect of their modern methods from those they attack precisely because of their modern methods. Al-Qaeda is the first „multinational terror organisation“, a modern organisation, that just like other businesses is globalised – with it network structure and global operations. „With its capital“, says the London economist John Gray, „crime has gone global. “ He calls al-Qaeda a „global Multi“ and the publisher and security adviser Berndt Georg Thamm quotes the German intelligence agency, the BND, who refers to al-Qaeda as a franchising business. As a franchiser al-Qaeda has a host of global services to offer such as paramilitary training, weapons, networking, financial support and logistics. The activities of the franchisees then carry the al-Qaeda name.
Al-Qaeda’s fighters and similarly equipped groups use satellite phones, computers, send scrambled information via the Internet, are organised in small cells such as drug cartels and work in horizontal hierarchies like a virtual business. Their attacks are carried out in the form of “small wars” – as partisans or guerrilla fighters. The organisational structure of this new generation of terrorists is compatible with the structure of the Internet: they form virtual groups without needing a central command or specific location to operate from. These cells of suicide bombers can activate themselves anywhere of their own accord. Once again there is a parallel to Saskia Sassen’s description of the development of the global economy which is not bound by any central position but can operate anywhere.
As the destruction of the Bamyan Buddha statues shows, radical Islamic fundamentalism is against every- and anything – in this instance against another religion. It is also against Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and against tribal religions. Islam is also in conflict with the discrepancy between modern and patriarchal Muslim states – rejecting the freedom that western women enjoy and that in this era of globalisation and modern telecommunication is or could be a temptation for Muslim women. Islam feels threatened by this. That is also true for the differing religious beliefs of the Shiites and Sunnis. Radical Islam is most prevalent amongst Saudi Sunnis, who paradoxically are closest knit to the oil and western riches (Petrodollars) that go hand in hand with them. This tends to suggest that the main conflict for radical Islamists is the divide between believers and non-believers – for Islam the non-believers form the rest of the world. The main motive is neither revenge on the West nor a mere response to its power, and the dedication and robustness of al-Qaeda is not based on a conflict between Orient and Occident, between Muslim states and the USA, between Islam and the Christo-Judaic religion or between modernism and traditionalism, but comes from their own craving for power.
Al-Qaeda was born during the conflict between the two political superpowers, the Soviet Union and the USA. When the Soviets marched into Afghanistan, China, USA, England, Saudi-Arabia and Pakistan sided for Afghanistan and – unofficially – supported the resistance movement, the Taliban and the followers of bin Laden and Azzam, al-Qaeda’ chief ideologist. As this example shows, the West used terrorists for their own benefit. Before the fall of the Soviet Empire, the USA aided separatists in specific regions to combat and destabilise communist and non-democratic regimes, both for economic and ideological reasons.
Here and now is where the cycle of violence, power and war comes together. Similar to the Islamists, the USA has consciously broadcast its message and sees itself as the embodiment of basic, fundamental values and as the only viable system of rule. It is here that the representatives of the USA tend to their own brand of fundamentalism. And as the sole surviving superpower, they are free from checks and counter-balances. On the other side are the terror networks, structured like modern businesses, and on yet another side the support of the USA for terrorists to destabilize the former Soviet Union and other targeted regions. Another aspect is the stifling of the Mafia, organised crime, terrorism and modern business.
The irritation caused by this form or violence and the sheer volume of violence creates a simmering, highly motivating emotion for art to draw a terrorist. In the project Draw me a Terrorist, violence and evil are often expressed in the form of anger and even sadness or shock – using highly diverse techniques. The works are serious or satirical, tendentious or sarcastic, ironic or factual. They also show the problems of being evil and the inherent difficulty of being able to express it – as Berthold Brecht explained in his poem The Mask of Evil: “On my wall hangs a Japanese carving, the mask of an evil demon, decorated with gold lacquer. Sympathetically I observe the swollen veins of the forehead, indicating what a strain it is to be evil."
It has become the norm to depict the Terrorist as a phantom and grimace, as a remote controlled being that spreads fear. He appears as men of power such as Blair, Chatami, Li Peng, Bush and bin Laden. He is depicted as Hitler, Bush and Sharon. The Terrorist appears symbolically as the United States of America. He makes an appearance as Christ and the Pope, and also appears as God’s minister. He is depicted as the bearer of the symbols of Islam, and appears more generally as pain and burden. He is presented as simple phenomena such as fleas, non-house-trained cats, sexual delinquent or virus. The Terrorist is depicted as a non-defined but very specific being, terrifying but with an expression of anguish.
The irritation can be seen in the works as a broad spectrum of thematic possibilities for evil and the hope of peace that has not been eradicated. It is tangible in the flowing lines, the innuendos and revelations, the haze of helplessness, the shadow of politics, the sump of anger and the meaning of art. All that is brought together in the works on display in the Mail-Art Draw me a Terrorist.
Duisburger Straße 13
hajoeickhoff @ posteo.de
12. Dezember 2019