Many have tried to understand the menace of terrorism. Some theories have gained much popularity. Arguably the most famous of such theories is the one presented by Sameul Huntington in an essay (subsequently a book) the ‘Clash of Civilisations’. Huntington famously, and indeed mistakingly, has prophesised that the war exists and will continue to exist given the inescapable tension between the muslim population and the world at large. While it makes for good headlines and juicy talk shows, the theory has been discarded by most serious thinkers. Jean Baudrillard too rejects Huntington’s claim.

Baudrillard, in his book titled ‘The Spirit of Terrorism’ presents an alternate understanding of why terrorist do what they do. Famous for his writings on post-structuralism, his critique on terrorism is not much different either. Carrying shades of Nietzsche’s ‘Death of god’ in his writeup, Baudrillard contests that the whole practice of terrorism has more to do with its symbolic impact than its more tangible ‘real’ impact.

Baudrillard explains that terrorism exists everywhere and in all forms where there is a domination. Hence every system with any form of domination has enemies in the form of those being dominated. The dominating system can be exploitative and hence naturally those being exploited would want to change or, radically so, cease its working. However, the potential ‘terrorist’ enemies do not stop there. The dominant system also faces danger by those forms of the system that, even though do enjoy some form of advantage from the dominant system, are not themselves dominant. Hence, there exists a perpetual tension to climb the ladder and win the title of the sole dominator. This tension, although uncomfortable on paper, brings about an equilibrium to the world systems. When either one falls short, the degree of exploitation increases and imbalances the systems.

Baudrillard moves forward to critiquing globalisation when trying to explain terrorism. He contests that the world is constantly being roped into believing a single mantra of how things work. The rules and regulations, the modus operendi and morals and ethics are all being enforced onto a perceived ‘global population’. This narrowing down to a singular entity, with a concentration on one single point makes the system even more vulnerable. This results in automatic reversion from the very versatile elements of the world. Baudrillard terms this reversion as ‘terrorist situational transfer’. He explains it as the radical, drastic and unperceivable measures taken by these elements when they find themselves victim to a dominant system that has cunningly taken all the cards to itself. Hence, the other elements are left with no other option than to look for other measures. To think outside the box; to be more drastic.

He takes forward his thesis from this explanation. He sees the current globalisation trends towards neo-liberalism as the dominant system that is forcing itself onto the global population. This has happened, he explains, due to the fall of USSR, which had been keeping the monopolising at bay. However, now that we live in a bipolar world, the influence is inescapable. With such trends, come their reactionary forces. Baudrillard insists that Islam is not a reason or trait of this reaction. It is simply a face. There would have been other reactions, had Islam not taken upon itself to challenge the system. When and if it comes to power, it too will face its own reversion systems which will try equally hard to bring it down. Hence the struggle that the terrorist fights has little to do with the ideology he propagates. He is simply following a natural trend of how things work. Islam, in the world of today, is just an excuse.

Baudrillard while explaining why the terrorists are so strong at taking over the modern system post 9/11 points out a few traits that strengthen their ability: the terrorists, Baudrillard argues, have chosen death as their ultimate weapon. This in the time and age of humanism, makes them even more powerful. The system, Baudrillard relates, has forgotten how to deal with death for it has already eliminated it from its intricacies. Hence, the terrorist takes advance of this short fall at the hands of the system and exploits it. Secondly, the terrorist uses media to forward its agenda and by doing so, penetrates its influence deep into the modern systems of the current system. The fear and paranoia hence does more damage to the dominant system than the actual damage. Lastly, Baudrillard insists that all this leads to and is indeed lead by, the need to be symbolic in its actions. The terrorist actions thrives on the symbolism it can depict, be it in the form of imagery or fear. At the end of the day, it continues to dominate the discourse due to the symbolic dominance it mange to exhibit, one that the system has failed to curb. This leads to a different game, one dictated by the terrorists themselves. There are new rules and the system fails to play the game in this new environment.

Clearly, US has failed to play the game. The rules of the game have changed.

The author is a freelance writer based in Islamabad.