Are we at war with fundamentalist, militant Islam? If we are, they declared it – and, dear, gentle Crikey soft left sceptic, you don’t even have to take my word for it. You can have it from Tariq Ali, writing in The Guardian:

Forty years ago, in a scathing and prescient manifesto against consumer capitalism and celebrity culture entitled The Society of the Spectacle, the French situationist philosopher Guy Debord described everyday life as “a permanent opium war”. Modern capitalism was an “immense accumulation of spectacles” and what was once “truly lived has become mere representation”.

This is helpful. We can better understand the impact of the sensational counter-spectacle of 9/11, described by its principal inspirer as an “America struck by Almighty Allah in its vital organs”. Vital, of course, only because of their symbolic importance. Might Allah have been reading Debord? The events transformed Osama bin Laden into a global celebrity, a sinister Darth Vader figure who is an object of fascination for friend and enemy alike…

If you don’t believe the Calvin with nukes thesis, have a look at The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. “A nuclear terrorist attack on the United States is more likely than not in the decade ahead,” it warns.

I must disagree with our in-house philosoph, Charles Richardson, and his comments from yesterday. Charles’ definition of war seems fixed in a pre-World War II paradigm of Great Power theory. We have had two shifts since then. Firstly, we have seen the bipolar international order and mutually assured destruction of the Cold War. And since its end we have entered the present phase of US hegemony, globalisation and the emergence of transnational non-state threats.

We are in a war. It’s a new type of disproportionate war where a small but well organised force – Al-Qaeda, JI, whoever – uses tactics similar to guerrilla warfare: targeting the opponent at the weak point (usually civilians) and going to ground. It is similar to secessionist terrorism – the IRA, ETA and so one – and the political terrorism of the Red Brigades – but its goals are much broader (or vaguer, depending on your point of view). They are not confined to the “liberation” of a territory or capture of a particular state apparatus. That is what makes this war different.

But it is still war. To pretend this is not is just plain wrong. It’s war Charles, but not as we know it.

Oddly enough, the main targets of this war are most likely to deny its existence. The revelation came to me a few weeks ago at a drag-show-come-cabaret-performance in an inner city bar I’d helped script doctor John Howard gags for.

I don’t hate inner city latte culture. I live in Collingwood, for crissakes. But Islamic fundamentalists do. They’re happy to kill anybody, of course, but Alan Jones listening populist authoritarians don’t really count for all that much. Their real enemies are educated cosmopolitan liberals.

We’re at war. Who are you going to line up with? The drags or the mullahs?

Peter Fray

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