What does Guy Debord have to teach us about terror? Debord’s lesson is exemplified by a play entitled The Invisible Hand, a play by Pakistani-American writer, Ayad Akhtar, in which a cunning US investment banker is kidnapped by a Pakistani political group led by an imam. The imam, who has been progressively radicalized by deepening corruption in Pakistani society, puts the banker to work to manipulate the markets to raise funds for the organization’s social welfare wing. Ultimately, he “shorts” or bets against the Pakistani dollar, and then proceeds to have an influential and powerful Pakistani politician, who controls numerous valuable assets, liquidated. His murder triggers a collapse in the currency that the organization profits from. The work suggests that global terror must be seen as inextricable from what Christian Marazzi (2009) calls the “violence of financial capitalism” – that their effects are parallel.
Today, of course, terroristic violence is dependent upon de-territorialized flows of money-capital; for example, from Western client state Saudi Arabia to ISIS in Syria and Iraq, from Tehran to Hezbollah in Lebanon, from Washington through its intermediaries in the Pakistani Intelligence Services to the Mujahideen.
At the same time, the material effect of finance is clearly exemplified in recent years in Greece, as increasing numbers of old age pensioners are pushed out onto the streets and as infant mortality rises in exact proportion to the extent to which basic medical supplies dwindle. These results of the actions of the EU Troika are not unlike a terror attack.
Both terror and finance are invisible, each in its own way. Kant argued in the Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics that “empty intuitions without concepts are blind.” “Terror” is an empty concept while “finance” is a blind intuition. In its utter concreteness, its historical and social embeddedness, its politically over-determined nature, it is not possible to provide a conceptual, which is to say universal and impartial, definition of “terrorism.” Hence the platitude “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”
Conversely, while we know what we are speaking about when we use the word “finance,” namely: “money-capital,” yet because of its very algorithmic abstractness, it is impossible to intuit, apprehend or represent finance directly. When both Western authoritarian populists and Isis propagandists alike maintain that ‘while the West is a culture of life, radical Islam is a culture of death’, this is, of course, not an opposition that can be maintained.
Terrorism takes on the appearance of the theological negation of the worldly, while in fact it is the manifestation of the cold rationality of means and ends; finance takes on the appearance of the cold rationality of means and ends, while in fact embodying what Marx called the “theological subtleties and metaphysical niceties” of the commodity form which, as Walter Benjamin suggests, culminates not in the “reform of existence but its complete destruction.”
This piece was originally published in a Splinters series, as part two in the September issue.
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