Judith Butler's incisive discussion of the public aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks —overwhelming anti-intellectualism, self-censorship in a "you're with us or you're a terrorist" regime, refusal to seek understanding of the attacks, etc— also applies more broadly to other social issues under public deliberation/renegotiation. (To be more fully explicated in another post.) Mostly this chapter is about posing questions and questioning the "inevitability" of our interpretations and framing of events, rather than providing answers to those questions.
Themes and ideas:
- US flag as ambiguous symbol of (a) solidarity with those lost in the attacks, vs (b) support for the US military campaign; thereby insinuating that these are one and the same, and that the former leads in a single stroke to the latter.
- Disallowing the story we tell to begin earlier than the 9/11 attacks themselves, thereby predetermining the sorts of stories that can be told, and preventing any real answer to the question "why do they hate us so much?"
- Shoring up the first-person perspective and, hence, the presumption of US supremacy and centrality. Any attempt to decenter the US being perceived as a component of the psychological wound of the attacks themselves. The "we're reaping what we've sown" response is just another way of asserting the centrality of the US. The refusal to acknowledge the UN and other supra-governmental bodies rooted in the fact that such acknowledgement would decenter the US.
- The distinction between conditions and causes. And, hence, the distinction between explanation and exoneration. The need for moving beyond a framework of "justification" and "culpability".
- "the failure to conceive of Muslim and Arab lives as lives." (Butler 2004: 12, emphasis hers) More generally, the unwillingness to show or see the faces of those we've killed. Facelessness of the "enemy".
- "Our fear of understanding a point of view belies a deeper fear that we shall be taken up by it, find it is contagious, become infected in a morally perilous way by the thinking of the presumed enemy." (Butler 2004: 8)
- "Dissent is quelled, in part, through threatening the speaking subject with an uninhabitable identification. Because it would be heinous to identify as treasonous, as a collaborator, one fails to speak, or one speaks in throttled ways, in order to sidestep the terrorizing identification that threatens to take hold. This strategy for quelling dissent and limiting the reach of critical debate happens not only through a series of shaming tactics which have a certain psychological terrorization as their effect, but they work as well by producing what will and will not count as a viable speaking subject and a reasonable opinion within the public domain." (Butler 2004: xix, emphasis mine)