on the Round-Table: Conflict of Civilizations: Myth or Reality?
By David Cornberg,
I feel that the round-table of
presentations and discussions was very useful.
The suggestions about ways to decrease conflict in our lives were useful
reminders of non-violent options available to us personally and nationally.
The title of the round-table suggested a wider scope including but not
limited to terrorism or the 9/11 event. However,
since most of the time was spent on that event, I will direct my reflections to
conflict as terrorism.
round-table helped me to clarify and synthesize my thoughts about
terrorism. Thrrorism is an exercise of power as violence. By power
I mean forcefully effective action. Power involves-capacity, which
is the ability to do something, either in the present or in the
future-force, which is a willful exertion of some physical
instrumentality, whether a human limb or an extraneous
weapon-action, which is the specific trajectory of exertion-and
effect, which is the consequence or result of the action. By
violence I mean power breaking power, whether it is one wrestler
breaking the hold of another one, humans breaking the cohesive
power of the earth for planting or mining, or bombs, missiles and
bullets breaking open and destroying bodies. With these concepts,
it is possible to start understanding the specific characteristics
First, terrorism is violence directed by members of one group toward
members of another group. The fact
that the Taliban have killed, oppressed and harassed other Afghanis makes the
Taliban tyrants but it does not make them terrorists. Second, terrorism is not a simple result of socioeconomic
conditions or religious affiliation. The
historical facts about terrorists presented by the round-table participants
showed clearly that there is no strong correlation between socioeconomic
standing and involvement in terrorism. It is also clear that there are extremist minorities in all
religions, that some of those minorities have been involved in violence,
including terrorism, but that there is, at most, only a modest correlation
between that kind of religious affiliation and terrorism.
Third, reframing poverty from material to spiritual poverty seems
inadequate. If the terrorists are
Islamic in any traditional sense, then they have a rich, articulate, effective
spiritual tradition that is 1500 years old.
That is not spiritual poverty.
is a major, monotheistic world-view struggling for power to preserve, perpetuate
and expand itself.
Fourth, we all now live in an attenuated condition of modernity that has
achieved extraordinary control of nature and people.
Such control requires many kinds of violence toward the earth and the
body. All of nature and all human
groups have been repeatedly violated on the path of modern, urban industrial
progress. Violence in modernity is a solution to the problem of limitation.
As a solution to the problem of limited power, terrorism appears as an
appropriation of unlimitedness to the power of destruction.
Terrorism mirrors, fuses and lethalizes the enlightenment ideal of
achieving unlimited power through deliberate, technologized human action.
Fifth, terrorism exceeds homicide and acts of war by targeting both
civilian and military personnel. As
an action, it creates a liminal, amoral space in which existing laws and
moralities are so thoroughly violated that the only possible response is amoral,
retaliatory violence. Sixth,
terrorism redefines the moral axis. Terrorist
acts imply that the one attacked is evil, the attacker is good, the target
somehow deserves destruction and the evil of the target justifies the use of any
kind of violence. Bush’s framing
of the post-WTC world as we, the good, against them, the evil, recognized this
redefinition and attempted to counter it. Seventh,
terrorism negates all systems of law and morality.
Terrorism recognizes no innocents, no boundaries between civilian and
military and no limits on usable violence.
Most of the WTC victims were non-military but they were all part of the
military-industrial-government complex. For
the terrorists, as for Tim McVeigh, they were all guilty and they all deserved
It seems impossible to construe terrorism as simply another form of
conflict between civilizations. Terrorism
is a relationship between groups that may or not be coextensive with
civilizations. Terrorism denies all
civilized norms of conflict. With
no concern for construction or re-construction, it is totally consumed in
destruction. It is violence
purified of all civilized preoccupations.