"As soon as it was decided that the September atrocity was an act of war and that a 'war on terrorism' was to be undertaken, clarity disappeared," writes Rowan Williams, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, in a special issue of the South Atlantic Quarterly "Dissent from the Homeland: Essays after September 11." The journal is the work of Duke University professors Frank Lentricchia and Stanley Hauerwas, and last week a panel of seven contributors tried to restore some clarity for about 150 people in Duke's Griffith Theater. While no overarching theological or philosophical perspective emerged, there were a number of intriguing ideas worth thinking about.
The attempt itself is honorable. With politicians, generals and TV anchors promoting an open-ended "war on terrorism," a reaction from secular and religious intellectuals was overdue. In an interview with the Boston Globe, Hauerwas, professor of theological ethics and, according to Time magazine, "contemporary theology's foremost intellectual provocateur" put it like this: "I find the lack of dissenting voices to the current outrage of Americans about September the 11th, and the resulting attack on Afghanistan, to be absolutely horrendous."
So what are those ideas outside mainstream media coverage? John Milbank, professor of philosophical theology at the University of Virginia, argued that the reactions to the attack shed light on a new kind of state sovereignty. He assumes that the modern secular state both is influenced by and enforces the powers of globalization, lacks full legitimacy, and exists mainly to uphold the market system. State and economic interests become increasingly the same, he said, resulting in a neverending "war on terrorism" that's used as a license to promote business interests abroad. "State sovereignty and capitalism become more and more identical," concludes Milbank.
Milbank's notion of a "U.S.A. Inc." is reflected in a number of current events, other panelists noted. Take, for instance, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card's explanation for the timing of President Bush's push for a war with Iraq: "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August."
Catherine Lutz, professor of anthropology at UNC, spotted a hidden danger in a continuing state of war. Drawing from research she did in Fayetteville, home of Fort Bragg, she pointed toward a less-known internal problem: the undocumented costs of increasing militarization. With a budget of $396 billion, more than 26 times as large as the combined spending of the seven countries traditionally identified by the Pentagon as our most likely adversaries (Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria), the U.S. military has become one of the most important institutions in the country and, with a continuing "war on terrorism," is likely to expand its influence. Around its bases, the Army creates mainly minimum wage retail jobs. The "victims," she says, are the people working in those jobs, depending on soldiers who go into town for burgers and fries. Other people can't find a job because of the many military spouses added to the local labor pool, she says. And a higher percentage of abused women usually are found around male-dominated military bases, she says. In her essay, Lutz describes these victims as "the friendly fire casualties of war." "Something I tried to do is to decenter the whole war on terrorism," explains Lutz.
And is clarity even possible in the United States, given the information available? Looking at the American media landscape, including papers like the Washington Post and The New York Times, British theologian John Milbank thinks it's not. "There's now something virtually like press censorship going on here," Milbank says. "I just don't read any of the American papers." Whereas American newspapers only reflect Bush's position, European papers tend to express a wider range of views. Resulting from this are, according to Milbank, different perceptions: While Americans think a war in Iraq is about national security, Europeans think it's largely driven by more profane strategic and oil interests.