Assemblages of terror: confronting new forms of terrorism
Source: Daily Mirror
Dr. Harinda Vidanage
This article attempts to avoid towing with the plethora of views, analysis and arguments on foreign interference on Sri Lankan domestic political matters. It specifically focuses on the Tamil diaspora politics as a serious category of analysis in the post war conflict situation in Sri Lanka. The Tamil diaspora has over the years transformed into a transnational power house which has interlinked and networked with multiple agents, organizations and has developed the ability to influence powerful states that can implement and affect policy decisions in Sri Lanka.
In this article I locate the problem of terrorism in the global scale, what I try to argue is that the new morphologies of terrorism and the problem of terrorism linking with modern agents of democracies, justice movements where modern transnational terror movements are able to implement devastating blows on sovereign nation states flourishing in the guise of democracy and rights.
The use of the term ‘terror organization’ maybe hugely controversial and a contested term, especially since I am linking the term with democracy but this is no fallacy of conflation but an exposure of the ability of certain anti state movements to be driven by the vehicles of democracy in transnational spaces where terror, violence and democracy share a complex but strong relationship.
My focus is based on the events that were taking place in the final few days before the fall of the LTTE and current developments, simply the military defeat of the LTTE and the death of its leader Prabhakaran on 18th May 2009. The article emphasises on the impact of the transnational developments parallel to these events and global political processes that seem to be affecting Sri Lanka. These include massive anti Sri Lankan propaganda campaigns, debates conferred at main international bodies around Sri Lanka, UN and European officials visiting Sri Lanka as fact finding missions, global media campaigns and even the rise of number of visas rejected of Sri Lankans to western destinations. The article is based on the investigation of the above mentioned phenomena to seek if such trends form a continuum or are they just isolated incidents.
The writer strongly believes the former, these are incidents which are identified as ‘assemblages’. The term assemblage has diverse meanings both in political theory and philosophy. The term was heavily used by the French post structuralist philosopher Giles Deleuze and later influenced modern day theorists such as Michael Hardt. The notion of assemblage is important in recent developments of the school of ‘complexity theory’. The notion of assemblage pertaining to this article can be defined as a set of objective relations based on a material structural formation that configures relationships among diverse sites and things.
This text does not try to bring in a theoretical insight into complexity theory instead it attempts to locate the problem of why an assemblage of terror cannot be dealt with network analysis and policy decisions based on such network analysis, isolated responses to assemblage politics maybe counter productive. Indeed the LTTE formed networks both globally and locally and these networks especially the local networks were identified and eliminated in the recently concluded fourth Eelam war. There are many terrorism experts local and global who have clearly researched on LTTE networks and networked agents from Rohan Gunaratne to Chris Smith. There is a substantial literature around it and most of these experts gave interviews to national and international newspapers sharing their analysis of the expansive LTTE networks and its contribution to the conflict.
To a certain extent the writer endorses the tracking of these networks, but argues that the LTTE’s local demise was thanks to such networking and the networked nature of the organization which created pathways for it to be defeated as networks and their connecting nodes were infiltrated and tracked. The reasons for weakening of such networks because they were increasingly predictive, standardized, routined and these enduring connections was transformed into its inherent weakness and point of vulnerability. From the arrests of LTTE members in the USA for weapons procurement, Indonesian generals for aiding them to the apprehension of KP, LTTE’s most illusive international leader was a result of the network which kept them transforming into its own nemesis.
The current operations of the LTTE, mainly the diaspora membership has started to evolve into an assemblage and not a network. This has been the key reason why the Sri Lankan state and its policy makers on counter terrorism and counter terror propaganda seem to be struggling to handle the effects of the terror assemblage. Some classic examples for the writer’s argument can be identified in the LTTE’s online operations. Tamilnet.com on 7th June came out with an editorial which first suggested what the new LTTE or post Prabhakaran LTTE operations were going to be like. The editorial was titled ‘historic task awaits all freedom fighters’. In this editorial rather than carrying out a post mortem of events leading to the defeat of the LTTE militarily the first hint of a new global structure of the LTTE was outlined. Again on 15th of June Tamilnet.com announced in its editorial the need for setting up a ‘transnational government’ for the LTTE. The local media and some defence and international experts scoffed at this idea and identified it as a mere Tamilnet virtual stunt.
In the modern political context the strength of the virtual was totally overlooked, the Tamilnet.com along with its support web operations, international agents, global media and Tamil diaspora activists were able to push through the notion of transnational governance and establish it in the Western States as a next level of struggle of the Sri Lankan Tamils against the Sri Lankan state. Their transnational operation has become alarmingly hostile to Sri Lanka with an inherent ability to activate different forms of international, diplomatic and aid based assaults on the country. The highly controversial ‘Chanel Four’ video which appeared very close to the deliberations on the GSP plus concessions for Sri Lanka, is not merely coincidental it is a current and classic example of the new terror assemblage at work.
This new phenomenon of non linear organization of people, events, institutions and ideologies and positioning them strategically as a threat to a nation state is identified by Karin Knorr Cetina as a new form of terrorism which she claims cannot be identified through network analysis, but only by looking at them as ‘micro structures’. She claims these terror organizations are, ‘forms of connectivity and coordination that combine global reach with microstructural mechanisms that instantiate self-organizing principles and patterns.’ Urry calls such organizations ‘Global fluids’, mainly because of the nature of dispersion as fluids do not have intended paths of central points of origin or convergence. This is why suddenly Sri Lanka finds itself today at a critical conjecture after winning the internal war on terror, the country has to fight the new shadowy assemblage that has begun its convergence and we are witnessing the primary salvos fired against Sri Lanka. For the Lankanist mind which applauded the suppression barrages of MBRL rockets fired upon the LTTE in the final phases of the Eelam war, we are now at the receiving end. This is a time that we need to act cautiously and also respond in a manner that can neutralise these points or origins of threats. It is imperative that we unpack the workings of new forms of fluid and micro structural terror before the country finds its borders and sovereignty meaningless amidst new forms of terror.
About the writer,: Harinda Vidanage is currently ‘Director academic affairs and research’ at the Bandaranaike centre for International studies (BCIS).