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War of terror: Legal colonialism reincarnated

22 27 0

In the canon of 9/11 anniversary essays, “newness” is a perennial theme: the “unprecedented” changes spawned by an “unprecedented” threat.

Commentators mourn America’s “loss of innocence” – erasing the blood of centuries of settler colonisation, imperial expansionism, and enslavement from the United States’ historical slate.

Pundits decry the extension of mass surveillance and erosion of civil liberties as “[Osama] bin Laden’s victory” over American freedoms – scrubbing the long genealogy of policing, surveillance, and counterinsurgency measures wielded to repress Indigenous, Black, and Latinx dissent in the US.

Writers lament the transformation of planes from symbols of “freedom and adventure” into weapons of “fear and suspicion” – forgetting that the use of planes as instruments of terror was not invented by al-Qaeda in 2001 but by Italian, French, and British colonisers in Libya, Morocco, Iraq, and other laboratories of colonial violence in the early 1900s. The use of “air policing” and bombardment to exert mastery over the colonised presaged the physical and psychological ravages of drone warfare today.

The 9/11 narrative of radical historical rupture is sustained by radical historical erasure – obscuring the continuities between the excised colonial past and the sanitised colonial present.

In fact, the supposedly new paradigm of post-9/11 war resembles what military historian John Grenier identified as America’s “first way of war”: the totalising assault on Indigenous nations, lying at the genocidal foundations of the American state. From the “Indian Wars” to the “War on Terror”, the assertion that the targets are too “uncivilised” to obey the (Eurocentric) laws of war has been used to unleash extraordinary violence by the “civilisers”.

In its infamous series of War on Terror legal memos, the US government’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) invoked an impressive array of colonial precedents from around the world: from the Indian Wars and US military occupations of the Philippines and Cuba to authorise the deployment of the military to fight “terrorist activities” within the US; from British colonialism in Kenya, French colonialism in Algeria, and apartheid South Africa to strip captured fighters of Geneva Convention rights; from the Indian Wars again, to........

© Al Jazeera

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