School of Sociology and Social Policy

The Bauman Institute

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Memorial Explosions: 12/08, 9/11 and the Global Politics of Iconicity

I launched an investigation into convergences between the logic of terrorist destruction and contemporary Islamophobic policies through my research on art and tourism. This incongruous statement begins to make sense if one considers how, security concerns aside, counter-terrorist measures allow nation-states to demonstrate a civilised image on the global scene. The badge of civility has been claimed by many political units and has permeated narratives of Western modernity. The idea of fostering a globally plausible self-image, however, is constitutive of what can be (and has been) termed ‘cosmetic cosmopolitanism’. This cosmopolitanism, which prioritises self-presentation and plausible facades, has more ambiguous origins than that which elevates the possibility of fostering human togetherness on a global scale to the status of a political project. We must bear in mind that the original story of acquiring and losing ‘image’ or ‘face’ stems from biblical narratives of the Original Sin. The Fall of Adam and Eve from Paradise, which was achieved through the collaboration of Woman with an Evil Snake, both gendered and coloured the archetypical tale of knowledge. The selfsame story haunted continental philosophy, especially the founders and followers of post-Hegelian ethics and Levinassian alterity. How ironic, then, to re-encounter this story into late modern configurations of counter-terrorist civility. In this paper I argue that contemporary anti-terrorist image-making policies mirror the ways Western theosophical discourse imagined humans as gendered and racialised beings. Significantly, terrorism’s target continues to be the prestige of political units, institutions or organisations, but victimised nation-states appear to operate on the selfsame principles as their enemies.

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