Personal and academic blog. Explores the borderlands between rhetoric, politics and intelligence.


Mytho-terrorism and rhetorical image analysis

James Der Derian is one of the most interesting IR writers I know of. He strangely enough covers the same areas that I am interested in: IR, intelligence and rhetoric.

I just fell over a somewhat interesting new article he wrote on the imagery-nature of terrorism: Imaging terror: logos, pathos and ethos

With free-flowing prose like "When holy war comes to Hollywood, the truth is hard to come by" and unorthodox views it is an interesting take on how to interpret international terrorism and the war upon it.

On Mytho-terrorism:
Mytho-terrorism has similar characteristics to other forms of violence like wars or revolutions that bind together the deprived, the weak, the resentful, the repressed or just the temporarily disadvantaged. The difference, however, that gives mytho-terrorism its spectacular power as well as anticipating its eventual failure, is the targeting of innocent victims in the name of a higher good. Conducted for an imagined collectivity, looking backwards to a supposed Golden Age, or predicting a future paradise, mytho-terrorism undermines a political order through asymmetrical violence but is unable to generate public legitimacy for any earthly alternatives. It relies on a perpetual struggle, a jihad or holy war.

Mimetic relationships:
The obvious must be restated: this is not to claim any moral equivalence between Bush and Bin Laden but rather to identify a mutual pathology in operation, the kind of mimetic relationship that often develops in war and terror. People go to war not only out of rational calculation but also because of how they see, perceive, picture, imagine and speak of each other: that is, because of how the construction of difference of other groups, as well as the sameness of their own, takes on irreconcilable conditions of hostility. Neither Bush nor Bin Laden is the first to think that mimesis might be mined for political advantage, only to find themselves caught in its own dynamic. From Greek tragedy and Roman gladiatorial spectacles to futurist art and fascist rallies, mimetic violence has regularly overpowered virtuous intentions as well as democratic practices. The question, then, is how to break this mimetic encounter of mythoterrorism?

On semiotics as 'counter-terrorism':
So what is it about? Here?s an historical clue: ?semiotics?, or the study of signs, emerged in the 16th century in the arts of war and medicine. It referred to new methods of military manoeuvre based on visual signals, as well as new medical techniques for identifying pathological symptoms in humans. From day one signs had the power to kill as well as to cure. In the 21st century we need to develop a new semiotics for the images of the war against terror. Otherwise we will continue treating its most morbid symptoms with morality plays rather than finding a cure for the all-too-real disease of imperial politics.

Der Derian, James, 'Imaging terror: logos, pathos and ethos', in Third World Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 1, pp 23 ? 37, 2005


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