POL 420 Terror 2009 Lecturer: Dr. Leonhard Praeg “Terrorist” and “terrorism” emerged as political categories during the French Revolution. Prior to that event you could not call somebody a terrorist simply because the word did not exist. If we take political categories seriously, that is, if we distinguish between everyday and technical language, two things follow: one, it is at worst technically incorrect and at best confusing to refer to extreme acts of political violence prior to the French Revolution as acts of terrorism perpetrated by terrorists (as historians of violence very often do); two, the meanings of these political categories are inextricably linked to the concept of sovereignty, that is, the logic through which authority – political, cultural and otherwise - is founded, challenged and then either sustained or destroyed and re-founded. In this course we pursue the question about terror within the parameters of it being constitutive of our understanding of sovereignty. Why this roundabout way of addressing terror? Because all other approaches seem to get stuck in the quagmire of the moral relativism succinctly captured by the cliché “one man‟s freedom fighter is another man‟s terrorist.” There is no way through this relativism; we can only go around it and by focussing on the relation between terror and sovereignty we shall try to do exactly that. So, instead of asking how do we overcome this relativism, we shall ask: what is the condition for the possibility of this relativism? A short answer is: the generalisation of the state of exception. A longer answer goes something like this: When George W. Bush declared that his War on/of Terror will not be restrained by the provisions of the Geneva Conventions he basically placed the US qua sovereign power above the law and justified doing so by appealing to the logic of a state of exception (what you will know as „state of emergency‟). The state of exception is as old as politics itself but it is a perilous provision because it places the law-maker above and outside the law through a process that obliterates the difference between violence and law. Violence becomes the law and erodes the difference between legitimate and illegitimate violence, between violence and terror. To the extent that doing this has become the hallmark of the conduct of modern constitutional democracies we can say that the exception has become the rule (Benjamin, Arendt, Agamben) and that the difference between violence and terror has become relative. When, half-way through this course, we turn to the history of “terrorism” we do it in the sense of tracing the genealogy of the generalisation of the state of exception.
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