The Canadian and the US state is trying to manage domestically the threats they themselves have created because of their foreign policies, explains Jeremy Kowalski, author of “Domestic Extremism and the Case of the Tornoto 18”
Sharmini Peries: Welcome back to Part Three. I’m speaking with Jeremy Kowalski about his book Domestic Extremism and the Case of the Toronto 18. Welcome back Jeremy. Jeremy Kowalski: Thank you very much. Sharmini Peries: Jeremy, in Segment Two, we discussed how the media coverage of the Toronto 18 allows us to behave in a way that would have been unacceptable 25 years ago in terms of its foreign policy. Give us some specific details in terms of how foreign policy has changed when it comes to Canada. Jeremy Kowalski: Sure. I mean, just through, again, the events of 9/11 and the Case of the Toronto 18 and certainly the corporate media coverage, which reinforced this notion that there’s this atmosphere of fear of not only enemies from without but there are these Islamic individuals that seek to attack us from without because they despise democracy, despise freedom, despise our way of life. In as well as then internally, you have this enemy from within that purportedly carries the same values and seeks to then do harm to the Canadian state thereby justifying different foreign policies, which is the War in Afghanistan and the continued fighting that has gone on there as well then domestic policies, which direct forms of state violence towards communities considered suspect from within. We see this more broadly within the context of the United States and we see it within Britain, France, and others where you have the justification for the need to engage in military forms of adventurism to eradicate this purported threat. Okay? Then it’s relationality is how then that same type of need to eradicate the threat from without, we need to eradicate that threat from within thereby dramatically increasing certain domestic counter-terrorism policies and practices, increase surveillance, the undermining of different charter rights and freedoms- Sharmini Peries: Bill C-51, for example. Jeremy Kowalski: Bill C-51. I mean, for many of your viewership, that was recently passed in Canada. It was probably the most pernicious piece of legislation, [interconian 00:02:23] piece of legislation that was passed within Canada that not only granted increased information sharing powers within the state apparatuses of Canada but also then changed the Canadian security intelligence service from a rather passive intelligence gathering entity into a kinetic entity. They were able to now actively disrupt in its most vague and ambiguous terminology various groups or terrorist conspiracies as it were. Then the other being is this glorification clause that was introduced is that people can now be found criminally liable for supporting or accessing material that purports to support domestic extremism. What we’ve seen within this overall war on terror, both externally and internally because one always has to understand these relationally, is that we’ve seen not only the expenditure of tremendous amounts of taxpayer’s dollars on engaging in activities, counter-terrorismic activities that seek to ultimately eradicate the threat of terror, which is a gross distortion from what actually exists. As well as then, you have the justification for the resurrection of these massive national security edifices within Canada, within the United States, and others that seek to justify the need to surveil not only the individual communities but society more broadly because of this threat that is largely spectral. It exists everywhere and nowhere, therefore we need to be eternally vigilant. Otherwise, if we’re not, that you’re going to see this eruption of violence from these various communities. At the end of the day, what the taxpayer has received is a society that is less secure, less safe, less democratic, and ultimately much poorer. I mean, just in the United States itself, for instance, you have, in the war of terror, you have roughly five trillion dollars that has been spent purportedly to not only eradicate the threat of terror externally but then manage that threat internally. The greatest irony that I see, and this is not only true of the United States but it’s true within Canada, and Britain, and other jurisdictions that are engaged actively in this war of terror, is that the state is attempting to manage domestically the very threat that it itself is creating by engaging in these types of state policies and practices, which is ultimately state violence visited not only on individuals in foreign jurisdictions but as well as then on individuals internally through mass surveillance, racist policies and practices. What’s important, I think, for people to understand is that the state itself through its own violence is actually producing the very insecurities and threats that is purportedly seeking to neutralize. What happens instead, is through the corporate media and through others, is that rather than actually having to focus on the role of the state and its complicity in the production of these types of threats is that there’s an attempt to obfuscate where actually this threat comes from. It’s not a result of state sanctioned violence that we support ourselves because of this atmosphere of fear that’s been created. We have to deflect it and we have to project it onto others. We have to project it onto Islam and onto Muslim. Therefore, then the threat comes from Islam, from Muslims, these people that are inherently anti-Western, anti-democratic. The reason for their agency and their reason to want to act and to therefore carry out acts of violence is somehow because they’re sealed off in their own specificity that is, again, inherently violent, that is irrational, that is inherently anti-modern, that is inherently anti-democratic. Again, what it does is it actually seeks to displace citizen from actually looking at what is the cause of what’s going on, which is state violence in and of itself. We deflect this, and we displace it onto others. Then we create it that it is Islam which is a threat. What … Sorry, go ahead. Sharmini Peries: Essentially, to use Noam Chomsky’s terms, manufacturing consent for the state to behave the way it does within the country, domestically, and when it comes to foreign policy. Let’s switch gears here. One very important thing you just said was that it prevents the citizens from resisting, because there’s this ultimate fear that, “If we resist then we’ll be doomed by these attacks because the state won’t be able to get at it and protect us.” You’re saying we are not safer. Then after spending billions of dollars, having all these policies, we are still not any safer. Give us the turning point here. How do we become more conscious of what’s going on? How do we respond to this? What are the solutions? Jeremy Kowalski: I think the first thing is trying to provide more conceptual clarity as to exactly what is going on. I think the first step to that is extricating from religion, from the case of domestic extremism or particular incarnations of domestic extremism. If we want to call it this Islamist variant, or Islamic, or as I state in the book, Islamitic, number one, is that this reduction or essentialization that this is a religious or cultural type of moment or is motivated by religion and culture is nothing but an orientalist construction vis-a-vis Edward Said and others who have talked about how Islam is represented within the Western imagination and historically how it’s come to be. You have to remember is that there is a long discourse and a long history of how Islam and Muslims are represented within the Western imagination and to- Sharmini Peries: This proceeds 9/11. Jeremy Kowalski: This far proceeds 9/11. Although, contrary to what many people may say or the general belief is that the recognition of Islam and Muslims somehow emerged post 9/11 and that we didn’t really pay attention to Islam or Muslims beforehand is to misconstrue history. There is a long history to how Islam and Muslims have been represented within the West, which Edward Said details quite carefully. Even this, to give you an example, we have the war of terror that was declared 9/11. What people have to recognize is is there was actually … that was the second declaration of the war on terror. The first declaration of the war on terror occurred in the early 1990s underneath Ronald Reagan. Following that, that was to fight international terrorism specifically related to the PLO and others. Islamist, about the same time, it was represented in the same way in a post 9/11 context as it was beforehand. We think of the bombing of the marine barracks in 1983 in Beirut. We have the first Gulf War. We have the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. We have also the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. Throughout the 1990s and 1980s, the same types of tropes are used to represent Islam, again, inherently violent, inherently anti-West, anti-democratic, fundamentally culturally incompatible with Western values and Western society. We’re constructed in this particular threat and it was represented vis-a-vis these extra discursive moments that I just described as well as, thought, discursively. Following the end of the Cold War, you have two different figures that emerge. You have Samuel Huntington who put forth his Clash of Civilizations Thesis and Francis Fukuyama who put forth The End of History. These people were trying to theorize what the global order would look like in a post Cold War scenario. According to Fukuyama, the End of History, is that liberal democracy had won and that conflicts may emerge but it would be really working out the details of liberal democracy being replicated and assimilated around the world. Then you have Samuel Huntington who put forth his Clash of Civilizations Thesis, which is that the wars of the future would not be between, if you want to call it, competing political ideologies but would be between competing civilizations. The one main threat that he saw was the competition between what he normally referred to as, in this abstract sense, the West and, in an abstract sense, Islam. His argument being is that the two were fundamentally incompatible and incommensurate. You mix in the extra discursive moments that I described, the violent events that occurred, with this discursive moment, which presents Islam as somehow inherently incompatible with Western society. Ultimately, Samuel Huntington became a very influential figure, especially amongst neoconservative circles. You combine those two things together in a post 9/11 context, Islam is already understood then as the enemy, is already represented as such. To present Islam in this way was not a derivation from the Western imagination prior to 9/11. What it represented was an intensification of representations and discourses that already long proceeded the events of 9/11 itself. To present Islam in this way, it was drawing upon a long history, both discursively and otherwise, where Islam was always constructed as the enemy. You just further intensified and reactivated these particular types of tropes. Sharmini Peries: In response to Clash of Civilizations, the former President of Iran, Khatami wrote a book called Dialogue of Civilizations. Given that this week, President Trump, is on his way to Saudi Arabia who many people will remember was the sight of generating a number that were involved in the 9/11 attacks. This is President Trump’s first international foreign visit as President, and he’s going to Saudi Arabia. He’s trying to frame it as if it’s something that is normal within the practice of diplomacy but to go and meet with people he criticized in his campaign as being responsible for 9/11 and the birth place of the kind of terrorism that we are facing in the world today. What is the significance of such trip, and that this trip is also going to be an effort to isolate Iran at a time when Iran can play a very important role in terms of the dialogue between the civilizations that you had just described? Give us a sense of your thoughts about this political moment that we are facing today just outside in the backyard of Washington D.C. here in Baltimore. Jeremy Kowalski: What’s important to understand as something you were saying is this importance of civilizational dialogue. I think, yes, there’s an importance to look at area of convergence rather than divergence in this broader geopolitical context. Sharmini Peries: Yeah. Talking about convergence, and I hear we are talking about a state of Iran, who’s actually helping both the U.S. and Russia, in this case, fight in Syria and fighting back ISIS in many ways? Jeremy Kowalski: Well, I think more broadly what’s happening right now is that you are seeking, my interpretation is on a geopolitical level, you’re seeking to isolate Iran and that hopefully this isn’t the case, and I hope my interpretation is wrong, is that you are setting the conditions for a geopolitical pivot towards Iran. We’re setting the stage, actually, for conflict with Iran. Somehow we see, for instance, the same types of rhetorical machinations occurring that we saw with the lead up to the invasion into Iraq, which was, just to remind your viewers, leading up to the invasion of Iraq, there was an attempt within the corporate media and certainly within government, or aided and abetted by the corporate media, to establish linkages between Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and the Iraqi state and as well as connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein and that somehow Saddam Hussein was integral to the events of 9/11. Fast forward, now, another 16 years and we’re seeing the same types of machinations being deployed, which is somehow that Iran is connected to ISIS, that it supports ISIS, that it represents an existential threat to global piece. I think you’re seeing the same types of preconditions being set to help justify internally, this is always meant for internal consumption, to potentially launch an attack against Iran or start to build support for such a foray into these things. Sharmini Peries: Jeremy, it’s a very, very interesting book that spells out a lot of the kind of policies that we are experiencing not only in Canada but really worldwide. I thank you for writing it and I thank you for joining us here at the- Jeremy Kowalski: It was my pleasure to join you for a conversation. Thank you very much. Sharmini Peries: Thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.