"Hit happens. A rip, a quick cut by a razor. From the outside, something breaks through and in: an intervention into the stabilized form of psychic life. As if by fate or chance: disturbance, disruption – what will be felt as pain, a crisis or breakdown. A punch in the guts, a violation, a horrible, helpless, caught in the grips of. A terror, an after-awe, an anguish of ruination. Defensively: deflection, mis-recognition. Look, the birds are on fire. We are forced, overwhelmed, blown away. We hit a wall, crash, are shredded. And we come out on the other side, spilling down, ash and glass. And not even then, but only later, the question: what the … ?"
— Gene Ray, Terror and the Sublime in Critical Theory (2005)
Introduction (1.0, 1.1)
Interrogating the limitless threat (2.0, 2.1, 2.2)
A deferral of violence
(3.0, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3)
Necropolitics and the fetishistic elevation of life
(4.0, 4.1, 4.2, 4.3)
‘An event of surpassing disproportion’
(5.0, 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4)
Fall from grace (6.0, 6.1, 6.2, 6.3, 6.4)
‘Stuffing the djinn back in the bottle’ (7.0, 7.1)
Infinite Justice and Enduring Freedom
(8.0, 8.1, 8.2, 8.3, 8.4, 8.5)
The Uncanny Homeland
(9.0, 9.1, 9.2, 9.3)
The post-modern kat’echon (10.0, 10.1)
The End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
(11.0, 11.1, 11.2, 11.3, 11.4, 11.5)
‘Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!’
(12.0, 12.1, 12.2, 12.3)
Horizon of the body
(13.0, 13.1, 13.2, 13.3, 13.4)
Conclusion: Welcome to Disneyland (14.0, 14.1, 14.2)
How can one hope to contain the uncontainable? In the context of the ‘global war on terror’, the detention centre and camps of Guantánamo Bay functioned as a vessel in which the coalition of the willing were able to detain the suspected terrorist.
However, while the rhetoric and practices of the Bush administration cast the supposed ‘war on terror’ as a force of containment, even an indefinite detention of the suspected terrorist would have been insufficient to restrain or limit the threat of global terrorism.
Drawing on the aesthetic theories of Kant and Burke, Foucault’s interpretation of power, Derridean deconstruction, and Schmitt’s application of the biblical kat’echon, this essay aims to explain why – when detention is an entirely ineffectual bulwark against the limitless threat of global terrorism – Guantánamo Bay came to occupy such a privileged position in the political frameworks of the ‘war on terror’.
The structure of my argument divides into four main sections.
The first section attempts to situate the supposedly ‘limitless’ threat of global terrorism in a broader conceptual and historical context.
Next, I turn to the events of September 11; a potent and traumatising demonstration of the limitlessness of the terrorist threat.
From here, I turn my attentions to the geopolitical reactions to September 11, in which the United States violated the territorial integrity of Afghanistan and Iraq while reasserting the borders of the new ‘American homeland’.
Finally, I fix my sights on the original target: Guantánamo Bay. Situated in relation to the sites and events of the preceding sections, Guantanamo is seen to have been presented by the Bush administration as tantamount to the ‘kat’echon’, the restraining force.
Emerging from the confluence of Guantánamo’s colonial geography and the return of a distinctly pre-modern politics of death, a closer examination of the kat’echonics of Guantanamo Bay and, by extension, the ‘war on terror’ reveals the Bush administration’s rhetoric of containment as just that - rhetoric.
INTERROGATING THE LIMITLESS THREAT
Posing as an (entirely fictitious) think-thank tasked with providing advice to Al-Qaeda’s strategic planning cell, Paul Rogers identifies the three primary goals of Al-Qaeda;
- ‘removal of foreign forces from the Islamic World’
- ‘termination of the House of Saud as … Keeper of the Two Holy Places’
- ‘establishment of an independent Palestine’ (link)
But while Al-Qaeda may have explicit aims, each feeding the longer-term intent of establishing ‘legitimate Islamic governance, initially in the Arab world … as a prelude to a wider global conversion’ (ibid), it has been constructed as the limitless threat, alien and utterly devoid of any governing logic. Indeed, any attempt to
engage with the limitless threat on an analytic basis risks being interpreted as ‘a fateful step towards perhaps making an effort to understand their motives, something that might lead to somehow ‘justifying’ what is unjustifiable.’ (link, p. 33)
In the meantime, why did they do it? ‘Because they are evil.’ (link, p. 137)
Only by shielding himself behind the fictional apparatus of the so-called ‘South Waziristan Institute of Strategic Hermeneutics’ has Rogers been able to engage with the threat on anything other than a purely structural basis. Of course, for the purposes of my argument, an initial interrogation of the limitlessness of global terrorism is required. Here, the notion of ‘limitlessness’ is understood to possess a double meaning; standing both for the mathematical limitlessness of that which cannot be quantified, and the geopolitical limitlessness of that which is capable of disregarding sovereign borders and boundaries.
In mathematical terms, it would be impossible for any threat to be infinite in size. In this example, limitlessness should not be taken as a question of absolute scale. Instead, the threat’s limitlessness is implied by its unquantifiable character.
From an essentialist standpoint, the terrorist subject can only be defined by virtue of their participation in the act of terror. With the weapon concealed by the terrorist body, there is – prior to the moment of violence - no way of differentiating between the innocent subject and the terrorist-in-waiting.
As long as demarcation remains impossible, there is no way of measuring the potential threat; a threat which remains limitless and unknowable.
With President Bush describing the perpetrators of September 11 as ‘people who know no borders’ (link), it should come as no surprise that the terrorist threat was portrayed as global in reach; geopolitically limitless.
This capacity to transgress borders allowed the terrorist subject to ‘activate a sense of the unknown and project an uncontrollable and overwhelming power which threatens not only the loss of sanity, honour, property or social standing but the very order which supports and is regulated by the coherence of those terms’ (link).
A deferral of violence
Here, the ordering structure threatened by the possibility of transgression is that of the modern state system. At the level of the spectacle, the act of terror presents a highly visible threat to the precepts of international society, challenging the norms of state sovereignty, territorial inviolability, and bracketed warfare.
On the theoretical level, these norms and principles are read as having had their origin in the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which drew a line under ‘the “religious cleansing” and material and psychological devastation of the Thirty Years’ War. (link, p. 31)
Condemned by Blaney and Inayatullah as less a substantive resolution than ‘an acknowledgement that the attempt to eradicate the religious “other” had reached an impasse’ (ibid), the Peace of Westphalia has come to signal the ‘eclipse of the Medieval world by modernity; a movement from the religious to the secular … and from a web of overlapping and competing authorities to a modern state system based on the demarcation of exclusive territorial jurisdictions.’ (ibid)