Friday, July 08, 2005

The view of London from here

So I glimpse the headlines on my paper as I walk out the door this morning, "Terror Attacks Rock London" (or something to that effect - it was literally a glance after hearing reports on the radio and watching what news coverage can be expected at 8:30am on a weekday). And the term strikes me once again: "terror". This is the universalisation and generalisation of danger and threat from outside, from unseen forces. The emphasis and the thrill of news reports on terror are always that 'this could have happened, and it will happen, in your city too'. So no doubt we will soon have experts appearing on current affairs shows, answering and fueling low-level, churning panic about the question: "is Melbourne's public transport system safe? Will this happen here as well?" The understanding of 'terror' is that it is a global force, with localised manifestations, but invisible arms threatening all public places.

It occurs to me that for a good deal of the time between the late 1970s and the 1990s, London and Northern Ireland were often at threat from and the scenes of IRA terrorism, in the older form of the word. These acts were never thought to endanger Melbourne or Australia, precisely because this older definition of terrorism was understood to designate particular, geographically specific acts of violence. Now however, events in London, Madrid or New York are but demonstrations of what could happen anywhere - they are single cases of a plague that threatens all individuals in metropolitan centres. The new discourse of terror makes the danger amorphous and borderless - able to spawn anywhere, at any time. How else could this newspaper report on my doorstep, or this bodycount on the radio, seem so immediate?

(My early thoughts after hearing of the bombings on the radio this morning were of the Dissensus-associated blogosphere - firstly for its contributors' well-being, but also because I wanted to find a 'real' perspective on the matter, apart from all the news coverage searching for memorable images and morbid details. Accordingly, I point you - for starters - to Lenin's Tomb's coverage, k-punk's comment and Dissensus' discussion(s) from just after the event. It's good to read the perspectives of Londoners on this.)

Don't blame it on sunshine, don't blame it on moonlight...

This is the current state, anyway, of that extremely effective process, in which all local particularities of conflict and political power are airbrushed away by attributing every act of violence to an indistinct, generalised group that is then posited as having a unified consciousness ('the enemies of democracy'). Blame it on terror.

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