In Frames of War, Judith Butler makes an effort to get behind what it is about the use of the word “terrorism” that makes it so problematic. She cites extensively, in the essay entitled Non-Thinking and the Normative, from Talal Asad’s work on the abhorrence of the suicide bomber. She states:
“We judge a world we refuse to know, and our judgment becomes one means of refusing to know that world. The point is not to insist upon a neutral description of the phenomenon, but rather to consider how a phenomenon like “terrorism” becomes defined in ways that are vague and overly inclusive. Most importantly, though, if we were to try to take stock of the different forms of violence that emerge within contemporary life, how might our normative distinctions be altered, and how would we compare and contrast these forms of violence? … And if they were not so distinct, what would follow? Would we have to devise new criteria and new forms of judgment?” (p.156)
States commit violence in the name of all sorts of ideas and this violence takes many forms, not just those related to the direct application of torture on an individual body. If we distinguish this from the violence committed by, say ISIS, we have, says Butler, already “built a certain political demographics into the definition of what might qualify as justified violence.” Again, the point is not to come up with some better definition of something called violence but to understand the conditions within which both forms, state-sponsored and that of other agents, persist and what kinds of subjects (i.e. vulnerable human bodies) are recognisable as such.
I started out today with some questions about social death: how some forms of life are recognised as fully human and how others are made to be less than fully human. I’m not sure I am any closer by the end of today. In my next paper, alongside a more mundane paper on the formation of digital Catholic parish boundaries, I hope to better understand a politics of the post-secular. The one that Secor and Gokariksel left us with in their most recent paper seems to me to be shorn of a certain political urgency.