Terrorism is terrible, sure. We should fight it tooth and nail. But it isn’t an existential threat

John Naughton:

One of the many things wrong with the “war on terror” is that it’s a rhetorical device which is used to legitimise all kinds of surveillance activities which, in normal times, would be absolutely verboten in democratic societies. A real state of war is one in which a society faces an existential threat — which is why between 1939 and 1946 the UK was, effectively, a dictatorship in which the government could do anything deemed necessary in order to prosecute the war and confront the threat. In those circumstances, the British people may not have liked many of the things that the government was able to do – which included not just censorship, but also the power to commandeer your house without notice because it was needed for the war effort — but they acquiesced because they understood the nature and the gravity of the threat.

In our time, the threats posed by global terrorism are being used to justify a “state of exception” which looks increasingly like becoming permanent. And the mantra which is incessantly used to justify this is of course the aforementioned rhetorical device. So it’s interesting – and welcome – to hear a major politician explicitly declare that terrorism does not pose an existential threat to our societies. This is what Barack Obama said recently in an interview:

What I do insist on is that we maintain a proper perspective and that we do not provide a victory to these terrorist networks by overinflating their importance and suggesting in some fashion that they are an existential threat to the United States or the world order. You know, the truth of the matter is that they can do harm. But we have the capacity to control how we respond in ways that do not undercut what’s the — you know, what’s essence of who we are.

Another good article on “existential” threats here:

Is there a state that faces a specific existential threat right now? Yes again. That state is South Korea.

South Korea has no nuclear weapons of its own, though the U.S. has extended its “nuclear umbrella.” Its immediate neighbor, North Korea, does have nukes, which it tested and developed while the U.S. was distracted in Iraq. North Korea’s leaders are peculiar, to put it mildly, and have repeatedly promised / threatened to destroy South Korea in a “sea of fire” in rhetoric as blood-curdling as any anti-Israel rant from Iran. South Korea’s population center is practically on the border with the North, rather than several time zones away as with Iran relative to Israel.

It would be better for everyone except North Korea if it had no nukes, but the South Korean president was not invited to address Congress during the GW Bush years to demand tougher action against North Korea.

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