The Invisible Armada

"Terrorism" Is a Word of the Police

Alain Brossat


We can, from the point of view of a general analysis of violence, distinguish two forms of terror in the contemporary world: industrial terror and artisanal terror. The means par excellence of the first is aerial bombardment, which today is carried out with highly developed technological means, supersonic fighters, bombers that can fly at very high altitudes, very efficient missile guidance systems, etc. An armed force equipped with this equipment has the ability to carry out raids on both military and civilian objectives, aimed at either selective destruction or mass destruction. You can raze a city, as you can destroy a house, a particular objective, without necessarily damaging what is in its immediate environment, you can hit the human mass like isolated groups, day or night, in any weather [1]. What defines industrial terror and, in particular, aerial bombardment, is that its performers and victims are never put in direct presence. It sometimes happens that whoever makes the decision to destroy a given objective by air stands, behind a computer, thousands of kilometers from his target [2]. Industrial terror and aerial bombing sometimes deliberately aim to hit civilians, the inhabitants of a city, or even a small group of individuals, or even at the limit of a single person, but it is the rule, given the very conditions of the exercise of this terror, that civilians, in varying proportions, be the collateral victims of actions aimed at particular objectives, military, targets of so-called anti-terrorist actions, etc. The characteristic of industrial terror is, in general, not to do in detail and to practice in defiance of the distinction between civilians and military, to include in its calculations the extermination of people in no way concerned by the current operation - those, those that newspapers will commonly call the victims of "sms" or "the innocent". And, of course, this industrial terror is, by the extent of the means it requires, the fact of the States. 

The conditions of the exercise of industrial terror make it difficult to identify and name the criminal dimension. Its actors are numerous and arranged throughout a very stretched chain, its implementation is based on a very complex division of labor - on the model of modern industrial procedures. It becomes difficult, as a result, to designate the person who, on his own, was guilty of the crime. It is always a team crime that would be exhausted from going up the chain to the first link. It is therefore, par excellence, in our societies, the nameless crime. It is exceptional that those who are guilty of it are judged, and unthinkable that they are so as long as the power that ordered them has not collapsed, has not been defeated by other powers to the point of being held accountable to a court of peoples, an international jurisdiction. On the other hand, the distance between the different protagonists of the military, but also political and industrial apparatus, from this form of terror exerted on populations and those who are victims of it has the effect of blurring the perception of crime. According to a traditional, immemorial economy of crime, crime involves the presence of the criminal and his victim, however variable this condition may be. Here, crime fades in front of abstractions: "operations", "response", "neutralization", etc. The "narrative" imposed by the master of the air, who is also the master of the stories does the rest: mass crime is trivialized by a euphemized, sanitized narrative, that of surgical operations and cleanings made essential by the aggressive and barbaric obstinacy of the enemy. And the more the actions of industrial terror are repeated, the more they become, for the global and, in particular Western public, the elements of a routine circulating on the bandwidth of the news and that do not deserve to be stopped.

From the point of view of its perception by the opinions of the global North, the richest countries, the White West, the perpetrators of industrial terror are, above all and with exceptions (the Russians) similar, civilized, culturally close, in the same way that industrial terror is totally in solidarity with what, for these opinions, defines modernity: instrumental rationality, scientific and technical progress, permanent innovation in technological equipment, the search for maximum efficiency... 

It is therefore all the more difficult to imagine them in the shoes of the superlative criminal, the one who is guilty of crimes against humanity, genocide. The industrial terror that buries its victims under tons of concrete, blows entire buildings, the one whose urbicide is, so to speak, the favorite sport, exceeds in its forms and effects the imagination of the public of the global North which, in its vast majority, has neither the experience nor the intuition of what can be, for the human subject exposed, an aerial bombardment. This is why states that practice industrial terror are rarely perceived by this opinion as terrorist states. But what is at stake here is, above all, two orders: on the one hand, the narrative hegemony exercised by those who are partly linked to industrial terror, or even who are its inspirers; and, on the other, the difficulty experienced by the general public and Western opinion in particular in making an objective intellectual seizure of this administration of mass death to populations, civilians in the vast majority of cases. It is here our envelopment in the most developed forms of modern life and our addiction to administered life that prevent us from naming crime and taking it to the full extent.

Artisanal terror, on the other hand, is exercised, so to speak, on a human scale. It remains inscribed in the tradition of traditional forms of violence. If it spontaneously inspires horror to highly pacified or "deviolent" subjects such as the people of the global North (which concerns, in the first place, social relations, the civilization of morals), it is because it breaks the implicit pact according to which, in our societies, conflicts are not settled with knives or guns, where the exercise of justice repels revenge, where violence, pushed back to the edges of common existence, is resolutely affected by a negative sign. What stuns Western, white, democratic opinions in the uses of artisanal terror is the hyperviolence exerted by one body on another body, directly, the shedding of blood, the rage of the fighter or exterminator, which is immediately perceived as his savagery - he kills "like a beast". His emotional commitment to murder tetanizes those who are its close or distant spectators, but the mediation of contemporary means of communication means means that the distant instantly becomes the close. 

The provider of artisanal terror is immediately perceived by white democratic opinions as a barbarian insofar as he operates what appears to them as a monstrous regression in this state from which we have extracted ourselves to become the civilized that we are. Allergy to bloodshed is, in particular, the best shared thing according to the immune sensitivities constituting the most intimate of our identities. All this has the effect that the founding illusion (but which is also a carefully maintained lie) of our perception of contemporary forms of terror is based on the most fallacious of evidence: artisanal terrors would be worse, notoriously worse, than industrial terrors. They are worse, in truth, only in the sense that they affect our sensitivity in a more intense, more... terrifying way, precisely - for cultural reasons whose genealogy is easy to establish. But if we leave the point of view of the receiver for a moment to move towards that of the "perpetrator", the question is obviously how the exterminator with a knife or light weapon, who kills only as much as his physical forces and the absence of opposition allow him, would be worse than the one who, at the controls of his supersonic fighter, dumps a missile destined to pulverize an entire building. The answer is on the side of the figures: industrial terror exterminates, sows devastation and chaos in proportions infinitely greater than artisanal terror. It is therefore urgent that we proceed, on these issues, to a radical reform of our understanding. This one is, we will have understood, ordered by the most burning of actualities.

I confine myself here voluntarily to these generalities because it turns out that to this day, in France, it has become risky, perilous, to hold a discourse of truth about these questions and in connection with this burning news. The thought police is booming, the witch hunt is launched. A word too much or aside and here you are with an incrimination for "apology of terrorism" to the buttocks, at the instigation of nothing less than the Minister of the Interior... We will at least have understood this, in the course of this horrible sequence: terrorism, in all respects, is today a word of the police, the police of thought, the police in short. The only word that is worth, as a word of politics, to really reflect on these questions, is terror. What is terror, under what conditions and in what forms is it exercised in today's world, what regime of history does it relate to, in our present? The more challenging the present conditions are, the more the cloud of propaganda and skull stuffing extends into ever thicker layers, and the more this effort of thought is required that allows us, alone, to keep grip on reality. But for this, we must banish the corrupt words of the general police of language and thought - terrorism in the first place, at the moment. But to say this, perhaps it is already a crime, according to the Fouché (duc d'Otrante) of the moment?


[1]. It will be remembered here that Nagasaki was the second city on which a nuclear bomb was dropped due to weather hazards - the sky was overcast over the city, which was the first choice of the American military (Kokura).

[2]. On this point, Eleonore Weber's film: There will be no more night (2020) is an irreplaceable document.