Today’s little dive into the voodoo of security reason comes curtesy of three particularly arresting quotes made by British officials in the last weeks. The first, in which David Cameron brings existential depression to PPE lecturers, really deserves to be flayed on the rack of mean-spirited and hermeneutically vicious public excoriation in all its heinous dimensions:
“And in a world where people look at the threat of Islamist extremism and blame poverty or the foreign policy of the west, we need to say: no, it’s about an ideology that is hijacking Islam for its own barbaric purposes and poisoning the minds of young people.
And just as Europe has faced down dangerous and murderous ideologies in the past.”
Where he went from there is not hard to guess for those attuned to the singular art form of British spin. However, both causal and analogical travesties commited here will have to be taken up another time. What had me, to the horror of my unsuspecting co-commuters, spewing bile over my iPhone was the utterly blatant and aggressively dishonest double act of fetishisation and securitization of thought.
Declaiming ideology, here apparently defined as any vaguely systematic socio-political idea, to be independent of material causes is to render it an agent, free from the people who think it, an entity of its own, seeping from mind to mind, infecting and perverting. People don’t think: ideas think.
Clearly, whoever wrote The Rt. Hon.’s speech was being Clever. This way he isn’t saying that The Muslims are producing Terrorism; no, no: it’s a specific Ideology that has been visited upon us (them) and is causing us (them) to do these awful things.
But whence, then, this terrible scourge? On this the PM is conspicuously quiet.
Many experts are grappling with this difficult question (unsurprisingly, most think it has a lot to do with the causes Dave explicitly denies). What I find more interesting is what this means from the production of security perspective. How is the PM going to protect against an Idea that has been so authoritatively stripped of cause or context? Work on counter-speech aside — something that has yet to reach the enlightened shores of UK CVE — an assumption of veracity leaves only a few options with which to protect us (them) from this external agent, this uncaused affliction, all of which run along the lines of observation, containment and treatment.
The thing is, these terms still apply to people, to subjects. An idea, even a fetishised one, is not a person. And since ideas have been clearly identified as The Cause of Terrorism, the mere possession thereof makes the carrier a potential terrorist. Any such anti-ideological security mechanisms are thus forced back to targeting the people carrying the idea, hence the inevitable translation: surveillance, disruption, censorship.
Only now can we even begin to understand the second quote in all its tortured brilliance: The BBC, without a twitch of irony, recently reported that a man was charged with:
“engaging in conduct in preparation for giving effect to intention to commit acts of terrorism.”
Anyone involved in that many degrees of pre-planning is clearly possessed by something.
This is a question of critical epistemology: what kind of knowledge has to be in play in order for this semantic mindfuck to be accepted as a valid statement? Aristoteles has a, now righteously scorned and debunked, term for what the authorities have so crudely discovered in this young man: Entelechy. In some initial action of his they claim to have identified a meaning — The Ideology — that would have necessarily lead to this preparation of the effectuation of the actualisation of the Idea. Without the belief that in the initial idea lies the inevitable action – entelechy — such a twisted and forced version of an intent charge makes little sense.
In other words, what we are witnessing here is an epistemological shift from the criminalisation of actions to that of ideas that supposedly represent the inevitability of said action. The more common term for this would be thought crime.
But here too WhamBamThankYouCam has been Clever. Because it isn’t exactly Orwellian Thought Crime: it’s not the idea itself that is pronounced wrong and should be verboten, but what it might cause people to do. Its potential once in a mind is what wakes Davy up a night in dread sweat for the welfare of his flock. We aren’t saying that thought is terrorism, that would be in breech of free speech and we are an enlightened liberal democracy with a special relationship to the Leader of the Free World and don’t criminalise thought. No, we are merely trying to help those at risk of being co-opted, stripped of their agency and turned into mindless Terrorists by this marauding Ideology.
Once the inevitable potential of a thought has been securitized, i.e. once an epistemology is accepted in which terrorist action must be necessarily deduced from certain ideas, all sorts of crazy gibberish becomes logically acceptable — even if only to those of a particularly fascist bureaucratic mindset. How else to account for UK National Day Nurseries Association official Purnima Tanuku telling The Guardian how important it was to watch toddlers for the signs of radicalisation, “to prevent more children losing their free will to terrorists.” Ye gods, let that one sink in. These Ideas must be powerful indeed. Just one, tiny taste and you and your children are doomed forever to carry out the evil wishes of The Ideology.
Having endowed themselves with the requisite epistemology to predict an individual’s behaviour based on his apparent thought or even proximity to such thought, security becomes legitimately preeemptive. The semantic sophistry of the evil, causeless ideology thus legitimises the surveillance and control of people who have not, in fact, broken any laws, but certainly might attempt to. Hence the need for a surveillance that includes those not yet suspected of a crime, but definitely suspected of at some point becoming the suspect for a crime. This is mass surveillance. The government is insisting — for reasons I shouldn’t, for brevity’s sake, speculate upon here — on the term ‘bulk’. Let this stand as the positive strand of the argument for ‘mass:’ this is mass surveillance because by its object, thought contagion, is analogous to other ‘mass’ social phenomena: panic, unrest, dissent, protest, rebellion. The shiny foreheads of Whitehall power never sweated into their brogues at ‘bulk’ demonstrations.
This Ideology is so pervasive, so dangerous to the minds of British citizens that it has rendered them all potential terrorists. But, Cameron, May and Hannigan are on your side: they have gazed deep into the tea leaves of your soul’s data and are doing all their power to keep you and British Values safe. Hence, too, their new term, disruption. In accordance to mores of British civilization, no ideas are being banned, no people(s) singled out. No, we are merely disrupting the Terrorist futures of the poor individuals afflicted by these merciless Ideas. Contagion must be prevented, segregation and quarantine enforced, and all minutely observed to prevent Contact and recognise Symptoms.
At this point we are not going to engage in that kind of speculative left-wing hermeneutics that would allow us to produce explanations beyond the text’s ability to provide justification. Nowhere does this material allow the interpretation that the UK gov is criminalising certain individuals or social groups under the guise of Providing Security from a supposedly wholly independent, ex nihilo ideology. No. It is the wholly independent, ex nihilo ideology that is the subject of this unprecedent regime of surveillance, disruption and censorship. After all, everyone is equally susceptible and thus equally subject to mass surveillance. Right?
Besides, it’s only metadata.
Ho ho ho