The War on Terror, also known as the Global War on Terrorism and U.S. War on Terror, is an ongoing international military campaign launched by the United States government following the September 11 attacks. Next month marks the twentieth anniversary of a war against a form of political violence that by its very definition is amorphous and therefore the conflict could be infinite.
Terrorism and fear of terrorism has become a central touchstone in the American psyche over these years. A 2017 Gallup poll reported that 60 percent of Americans feel that it is very or somewhat likely that a terrorist attack will occur in the United States in the near future; this percentage is up from 38 percent in 2011. The same poll found that 38 percent of Americans are less willing to attend large events and 46 percent are less willing to travel overseas because of concerns related to terrorism, whereas 42 percent are very or somewhat worried that they or a family member will be a victim of a terrorist attack.
Yet despite a generation ‘fighting’ against terrorism the response to the attacks on the US Capitol in January of this year, now commonly referred to as 1/6, displays a stark inconsistency in how large sections of the US political elite and the population understand what terrorism actually is.
Upon joining the US Senate, US Senators must swear an oath that starts “I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic”. However, what 1/6 has shown is that for many terrorism is viewed as solely a ‘foreign’ threat and are unable to countenance violence for political means when it is pursued by their fellow Americans.
Let us not forget that 1/6 was political violence in its most classic sense. A mob storming a political assembly looking to overthrow the legitimate results of a democratic election. Although the violence that followed wasn’t a full-fledged firefight, people did die in events that will forever stain this period of America’s history.
However, such are the divisions between America’s political parties that concepts such as a single ‘truth’ and ‘facts’ have become warped beyond any common sense of understanding. Republican Congressman Paul Gosar called the individuals who violently broke into the Capitol “peaceful patriots” and claimed that the Department of Justice is “harassing“ them. Republican Congressman Andrew Clyde said: “Let me be clear, there was no insurrection and to call it an insurrection, in my opinion, is a bold-faced lie…You know, if you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from January 6, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit”.
When one side sees a tourist and the other sees a terrorist you can start to understand how out of control the gravity of US politics currently is. The hypocrisy is that fear of the ‘other’ and the war on terrorism was used to justify invasions of countries and the deaths of hundreds of thousands, yet on reflection the fact that the concept isn’t actually understood when it comes knocking at your own door shows that it was always a means to an end rather than a legitimate objective.
The current Congressional inquiry into events is unlikely to shine the light of factual consensus on what occurred as the very process has been formally boycotted by the Republican Party. Despite two Republicans defying the leadership of their own party to join it, not supporting an attempt at genuine bipartisanship means that the politics around what happened is likely to heat up rather than cool down.
One interesting device that has been mooted for the US to try and tackle the dysfunctional partisanship has been used in countries that have experienced horrendous civil wars, like Rwanda, or deeply divided political processes, like South Africa. That is a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Rather than expecting a divided body politic to be the glue that restitches America’s national identity back together again, perhaps it is time to think more creatively about how civil society and Americans from all backgrounds and parts of the country can be given the mandate themselves to chart a peaceful and accepted path back to some form of normalcy. levant
by: James Denselow levant