Keep Calm And Carry On

So that quivering blancmange in Versaille has gone and done what he’s been threatening to do for quite a while and extended the state of emergency laws until the end of July. While it remains secret to what degree the new powers actually aided the subsequent manhunt for those hate-spewing, murderous scum, they have certainly found extra-curricular deployment against climate change activists and demonstators against the labour law reforms.
This latest renewal is ostensibly to provide sufficient security for the Tour de France and the UEFA 2016 (the threats to which have been the subject of near-daily fear mongering) and is rumoured to be the last. I have my doubts — the dangers of state of exception legislation are perhaps the only debate in which ‘Hitler’ is in fact a legitimate point — but in this particular instance the issue has been oddly well covered by the New York Times. As such, Hollande’s amassing of executive power is not the main topic of today’s rant. Instead, a rhetorical trend that caught my ire in January and has since refused to go away: ‘The New Normal.’

Google is almost certainly doing evil, but it is unfortunately still a fantastic research tool. After becoming more and more suspicious I paged back through a Google News search (always historicise!) for ‘the new normal terrorism’ and gave up around 2014 after dozens of articles. Unsurprisingly, this platitude has appeared in many contexts, but in the last 6 months there has been a veritable deluge of articles proclaiming the “‘new normal’ of Terror”.
However, it was only when I came across, how else could it have been, the following statement from Theresa May, on the apparent resurgence of IRA activity that my suspicions about an insidious convergence with that other particularly loathed governmental actionism, ‘If You See Something, Say Something,’ were instantiated:

“The public in Great Britain should also remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to the police. But we should not be alarmed, and this should not affect how we go about our daily lives.”

Upon reading this rather mind-blowing example of cognitive dissonance and security doublethink I recalled the following statement from Pauline Neville-Jones, the former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, that “people should avoid using mobile phones and headphones in public to remain alert to the danger of a potential attack.”

Hyper-vigilance is the watchword! Terrorists around every corner, behind every train seat, just waiting for a second’s inattention to strike and wipe out everything you hold dear. Loose lips may have sunk ships, but plugged ears could lead to the destruction of Western Civilisation.
Such a crude deputisation of public suspicion combined with an explicit securitization of the ‘abnormal’ is, in the first instance, little more than an open invitation to all curtain-twitching bigots und crypto-nazis to report on anything Other to their parochial sensibilities. It’s practically the text book definition of handing out burning torches to the pitchfork mob and yelling “kill the witch.”

However, the simultaneous command that such vigilance should not affect ‘our daily lives’ makes this apparent endorsement of a chauvinist militia far worse. This second instruction contains a universe of hidden assumptions and proclamations on just how, exactly, we are to understand this ‘New Normal.’ This subtle yet dangerous combination reached some kind of dystopian apotheosis in the following quote by Rik Coolsaet, Prof for IR at Ghent University:

“In the months ahead we are going to be facing a new normal,” Coolsaet said. “One day the hype surrounding Isis will have vanished, but until that happens I fear there will be more threats, more disruption, more houses raided and more arrests as countries come to terms with the scale of this group and its intentions … It is something we will have to get used to.”

With nary a pause both the terrorist threat and the security response thereto have been subsumed under the moniker of ‘The New Normal.” Not only have the recent spate of attacks been deemed now part of the status quo, but so has the security response, as if the latter was an utterly natural and automatic reaction to the former. In one fell swoop this professor not only depoliticised the production of security, but simultaneously normalised a state of profound insecurity for each and every citizen. Incredible.

This act of normalisation, i.e. the double decree that a situation is both unexceptional and normatively acceptable, is an underlying narrative in the current security discourse. The vicious irony is what is here being normalised are security measures made acceptable by the very notion that Islamic terrorism poses an exceptional threat warranting exceptional measures, in the case of France pushed through with actual State of Emergency laws! This kind of contortionist flip-flop logic attempts to disguise the original exception with commands to be worried, Report Anything Suspicious, but at the same time to Keep Calm And Carry On.
I will not be fucking calm, and I’m certainly not going to carry on in the kind of shuffling, mute acceptance preached for here. The insidious danger of declaring the current situation to be normal is horribly apparent: why ever wind down search & seizure rules, detention rules, surveillance laws or the militarisation of the police if everything is normal? Ingrain that sense of constant anxiety and fearfulness as accepted normalcy, and justifying further expansions of ‘security’ powers doesn’t even require recourse to the language of emergency anymore.

There’s a second, more tragic irony, too: The terror of terrorism upon which those barbaric thugs thrive has as a necessary condition that we treat it as exceptional. Actually, seriously, deem them ‘normal’ (it’s not like this latest bunch is, empirically, exceptional at all) and those vicious acts lose a lot of their power. However, so would the vested interests in media, politics and intelligence agencies who exploit the fear for their own gain. Ho hum. But more on that would require a long and involved tangent on the political economy of terror, for which I have neither the time nor the patience right now.

If declaring something unideological is the most ideological statement possible, then declaring something normal comes in a close second. Especially if it implies the normalisation of enhanced, invasive security procedures only passed on the strength of a supposedly exceptional situation. Be afraid! But continue as before! It’s all normal, nothing to see here, keep moving.

Keep Calm And Carry On citizens. Besides, they’re only internet connection records.


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