In the last few days on our newspapers we have read a series of news which seems to have attracted not so much attention within academia, but which are an important social political indicator. Although I am not going to discuss them in detail, I am referring to the cases of Irfan Raja, Awaab Iqbal, Aitzaz Zafar, Usman Malik and Akbar, whose conviction of Internet terrorist activity has been quashed by the Court of Appeal on Wednesday, 13 February 2008; the government apologies over the rendition flights on 21 February 2008; the full apologies of the US government for lying to the British one over the rendition flights; the quashed control order against the convert to Islam Cerie Bullivant because of a total lack of the secret evidence provided by MI5 (merely that the accused knew some people involved or engaging in ‘terrorist activities’); and the increasingly substantiate allegation that British troops executed and tortured Iraqi prisoners.
Each of these cases would deserve a comment in a single post. Yet here I am not interested in discussing the cases, but what they tell us about the unhealthy condition of our democratic values and the ‘circle of panic’ that this is dangerously creating.
The so-called War on Terror, launched since 9/11 has two main concocted tragedies. On the one hand a high cost of human lives, on the other hand, a high cost for our democratic values and understanding of social and political lives. They are connected issues, because the erosion of the latter is the inherent cause of the former. If the War on Terror has been successful in something, it has been in creating what I call ‘Western dystopia’. To have a dystopia you need firstly to posses a utopia. After the World War II and the defeat of Nazism, the Cold War provided a fertile ground for geopolitical essentialism. West and East became conceptual projections of civilization and values, in a frenetic competition characterised by the constant demonization of the opposite other.
Of course, this process has had an impact on the self-representation and understanding of the idea of the West. Part of this idea was a utopia which described, and still describes, the ‘West’ as a powerful civilizational force engaged in spreading its superior values, such as democracy, to the rest of the world. Economically, politically, and culturally ‘the West’, during the Cold War and the defeat of the USSR ‘evil empire’ fascinated the Muslim world, some part of which had received support from the US to fight their communist oppressors, such as in Afghanistan. As we know, the post Cold War honeymoon between this monolithically perceived, and represented, entity and Muslims was very short.
The reactions to the 9/11 events and its aftermath which led to the draconian anti-terrorist laws as well as unjustified and unjustifiable preventative wars conducted more on the wave of populist emotions than calibrated political judgement, have facilitated among the great majority of Muslims, and a considerable number of non-Muslims a deepening, pernicious, form of dystopia.
Our governments and politicians have been very slow to understand that the utopia was turning into dystopia. On the contrary, they presented themselves as a kind of Swiss Guards of western universal values, the only civilised ones. Somebody else, living in caves around the Hindu Kush, appeared to have developed better analytical skills able to penetrate the secret folders of those dystopic symptoms which were actually affecting the very same European and American political class. He wrote,
This Western civilization, which is backed by America, has lost its values and appeal. The immense materialistic towers, which preach Freedom, Human rights, and Equality, were destroyed. These values were revealed as a total mockery…[western politicians] declared what they declared and they order what they ordered, and they forgot everything they mentioned about free speech, and unbiased opinion and all those matters. So I say that freedom and human rights in America have been sent to the guillotine with no prospect of return, unless these values are quickly reinstated. The government will take the American people and the West in general into choking life, into an unsupportable hell…’
If you have not recognised the author of these words, you can just click here.
The pessimistic analysis, provided after 9/11 and the beginning of the War on Terror, seems to describe very well the panic and consequent dismantling of important parts of our democratic values which our western governments have engaged in since 9/11. In the attempt to guarantee a utopic security to ‘the civilised good people’ these politicians have actually derived their anti-terrorist laws from their own dystopic beliefs that the real fatal vulnus of our civilised way of life are ‘freedom’, ‘human rights’ and our juridical tradition. Our western governments justify these anti-liberal measures as necessary for our protection. In reality, since Islamic terrorism has not the power to destabilise or overturn our democracies, the continuous and unprecedented attack against liberal civil-liberties can be explained with a ‘fatigue’ of our democratic systems as well as the exploitation of the ‘circle of panic’ to compensate for the loss of the powerful twentieth-century ideologies. Politics without ideology can be less conflictual, but also proportionally less engaging and more difficult to manage.
Politicians need votes to eat; voters without ideology care less about parties and politicians. Politicians and government have lost the power to offer the dream of ideology, and so now they turn to offer the nightmare of hell instead.
If for the dream of ideology western politicians could confidently trust political rhetoric (i.e. propaganda), for the nightmare of Hell, they can only trust fabrication and hyperbole (i.e. lies). Yet this produces what I call stochastic dystopia, in which different parts of a society develop different, often contradictory, forms of dystopias. Furthermore, though a form of polarizations, the different parts of society would end in accusing each other for what they perceived, under each dystopia, as the catastrophic, hellish reality of their communities. These processes end in what Bryan Turner has defined as the ‘enclave society’.
To provide an ethnographic example of consequences of stochastic dystopia let me used Bishop Dr Nazir-Ali’s comments on ‘Islamic areas’ and my respondent Rajal. Dr Nazir-Ali has argued that Islamic extremism has turned some communities into no-go areas for people of a different faith or race, and has also added that the Islamic presence is a threat to the ‘Christian values’ and identity of Britain.
On the other hand, my respondent Rajal, born and raised in the UK and with what he defined a ‘strong Scottish identity enhanced by Islamic moral values, which according to him are very compatible with conservative English Victorian values, has highlighted how the British society is fully corrupt by a a-moral life style which is in total contradiction with the great historical and moral tradition of England and Scotland and creates no-go areas for law abiding citizens.
To have any idea of what Rajal is complaining about you can just watch this video about an ordinary Saturday evening in Aberdeen, the city in which both Rajal and I live. It is clear that as my Muslim respondent, Rajal, as Dr Nazir-Ali, are fully dystopic in their view of contemporary UK. Politicians are called to act on both the pessimistic views, if they wish to be elected and voted in power, so that the result is an increase in stochastic dystopia because of the introduction of further anti-liberal legislation. Yet this legislation often ends in having opposite effects.
Our democracies still have a powerful system to maintain, as part of the democratic framework, the division of powers between the political and juridical sphere. The draconian and anti-liberal legislation and decisions are increasingly challenged, when in other cases completely overturned and squashed, by courts. I have provided some examples of this tension between the political and juridical power at the beginning of this post.
The reason for the discrepancy between political power and the juridical one derives from the fact that while the political power has lost the power of dreaming of ideology, and turned toward the power of nightmares, hence moving from utopia to dystopia. The juridical system within a democratic liberal country by nature cannot be affected by neither utopia nor dystopia without negating its own function.
Nonetheless, we may wonder, if the effects of stochastic dystopia do not regress within the ‘western’ countries, whether the Hindu Kush based political analyst needs only, as the old oriental saying reminds us, to wait by the river long enough to see the body of his enemy floating past.