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regimes of terror Arrow vol 5 no 1 contents
About borderlands volume 5 number 1, 2006


Regimes of Terror: Contesting the War on Terror

Goldie Osuri

Macquarie University


1. The essays in this issue emerge from a colloquium, Regimes of Terror, that I organized at Macquarie University in Sydney on December 13, 2005. The colloquium brought together activists, artists, academics, and lawyers working on the links between racism, colonialism and terrorism. The idea for this colloquium was inspired by the fight Mamdouh Habib and his wife Maha Habib were and still are waging against the Australian government after his release from detention in Egypt and Guantanamo Bay where he was tortured. Other Australians like David Hicks still remain detained at Guantanamo Bay. Internationally, there is an ongoing struggle to shut down Guantanamo Bay and prisons like it around the world.

2. In Habib's case, I was struck by the manner in which his release from Guantanamo Bay (without any conviction) did not spell the end of his troubles. Rather, since Habib's return to Australia, governmental attempts to silence him as well as the treatment of him as if he were a terrorist provided an embodied instance to me of at least one family terrorized by a number of regimes that were being formulated and in the process of being institutionalized. In this case, the Australian government, the Australian Security Intelligence Office, and the Australian media appeared to demonstrate some remarkable discursive consistencies along with their consequent material effects in their treatment of the Habib family. In this context, I wanted to bring together community activists, lawyers and academics in order to understand the ways in which regimes of terror were being formulated and formalized across a range of institutional spaces. While the Habib family is one instance of where the effects of such regimes were being felt, the colloquium was designed to address how the formation of terror has become an overarching narrative in the areas of law, politics, economy, and the media. Also, it was a space where activists, artists, academics, and lawyers could produce critical responses and points of intervention in these regimes of terror.

3. In this sense, the 'Regimes of Terror' issue is a collection of papers which addresses the terror formation and the manner in which it links the geopolitical with the biopolitical in its production of racialised laws, sovereignties, securities, market economies, visualities, bodies, and territories. This regime of terror, especially in the Australian context, has not been simply reproduced as a rhetoric of 'post 9/11 - the world has changed forever'. Rather, many of the authors in this issue have carefully traced the historical continuities within racial and colonial relations of power with the post 9/11 discourses of security and terror that enable the contemporary formation of regimes of terror.

4. It is important to remember that these regimes of terror are produced through continuing asymmetrical conflicts of land and territory, which require the racialised and ethnicised enlisting of bodies and investments in nationalisms, as well as racialised, ethnicised, and religionised ways of seeing. In other words, they require what Suvendrini Perera (2006) calls 'ethnic arithmetic' in her powerful and textured historicisation of the Cronulla race riots in December 2005 when white supremacist groups in Australia organized a race war to defend 'their' beach. 'Ethnic arithmetic' or 'essentialised constructions' of groups identified by race, communities, and ethnicity through the colonial technology of the census, as Perera (2006) argues, has become pervasive in 'the language of politics', and 'supplies the grammar and vocabulary in which identities were - and are - primarily conceptualized, interpreted and experienced'.

5. This logic of 'ethnic arithmetic' appears to underpin the racial profiling which has accompanied the war on terror. The raids on Muslim communities in the U.K., and in Australia, which Joseph Pugliese and Agnes Chong discuss, follow this logic. In fact, the war on terror appears to have become a war of numbers. Three days after the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes in the tube at Stockwell Station in London, Prime Minister John Howard in Australia implied that this murder was a minor consideration. Suggesting that, 'there were thousands of innocent people murdered by terrorists', Howard stated, 'surely that is the dominant consideration' (AAP 2006). Joseph Pugliese (2006) suggests otherwise in his paper by rereading the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes in ethical and political terms; in terms of justice rather than the calculative framework of the war on terror. To play the numbers game in this war is to lose precisely because of ways in which deaths are mourned and counted either as significant or non-significant. Pugliese (2006) discusses uneven forms of mourning and counting especially in the case of Iraqi deaths. In this sense, many of the papers in this issue intervene in the politics of ethnic arithmetic by rereading the war on terror in terms of justice and ethics.

6. I was privileged to be in London on the first anniversary of the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, July 22, 2006, and to witness the beautiful tribute paid to this man just outside Stockwell Station. The mosaic surrounding his photograph, the numerous poems, flowers as well as facts that contested the initial police reports of Menezes as 'suspicious', framed Menezes's killing in terms of an unjust act. This injustice continues as the Crown Prosecution Service found that there was 'insufficient evidence to charge any of the officers' (Tendler 2006: 4). Legally, the Crown Prosecution Service has shifted the terms of the case to a 'health and safety issue' for which the Metropolitan Police, if found guilty, will simply be fined for negligence in terms of duty of care toward Jean Charles de Menezes. Patricia da Silva Armani (de Menezes's cousin) has stated: 'By using these laws to cover up their own mistakes, they are treating my cousin like a dead animal' (Bannerman 2006: 4). This legal sleight of hand to protect those who shot de Menezes appears to be characteristic of those conducting the war on terror to make themselves unaccountable and the law non-justiceable (see, for example, Giannacopoulos 2006). However, the tribute to de Menezes in front of Stockwell Station remains a witness and a testament to this shocking killing. And in the act of witnessing injustice, it asserts the call for justice in the war on terror.

7. Critical intervention in the calculus of dominant and minor ethnicities/races/religious identities and communities, a calculus which produces discursive and material regimes of terror, requires a historicised tracing of how these calculations are enabled through interlinked discourses of whiteness, visuality, security, political sovereignty, economic practices, law and the justiceability of law. The essays in this issue attempt to historicise, intervene in, and address the ways in which regimes of terror are produced; importantly, they also engage in tracing the manner in which race, ethnicity and religion are produced and reconfigured through regimes of terror.

8. These calculations operate transnationally, often produced through transhistorical connectivities, which are significant especially since nationalist cartographies emerging out of colonial/anti-colonial struggles in Australia and elsewhere attempt to disconnect and fragment events and their effects through narratives and representations of terror. Connecting events and their effects, mapping the linkages between events across geographical and geopolitical spaces and their historical connections becomes therefore an important intellectual and politicized activity. And the essays in this issue attempt to undertake precisely this kind of intellectual and political labour in order to make visible how transnational and transhistorical connectivities can shed light on contemporary regimes of terror.

9. Nicole Watson and Megan Davis trace one such transhistorical connectivity between The Anti-Terrorism Bill (no. 2) 2005, and the terrorism of Australian law, which has subjected Indigenous peoples legally and in embodied ways to terror. Watson and Davis outline a number of legislations which had genocidal and dispossessive effects on Aboriginal peoples in Australia. Specifically, they highlight the manner in which the Aboriginal civil rights movement especially in Queensland suffered the kinds of raids and policing that we are currently witnessing in Australia and internationally. In this sense, Watson and Davis argue, that the current Anti-Terrorism Act in Australia is not 'necessarily novel to the Australian political and legal system nor to Indigenous Australia' (Watson and Davis 2006). However, the sedition laws under the current Anti-Terrorism Act also affect contemporary Indigenous activism, and as Watson and Davis point out, these laws are of great concern to those who continue the fight for Indigenous rights and self-determination in Australia.

10. In his art work which comments on terrorism/terraism, Queensland artist Gordon Hookey, addresses just such a history of the manner in which the struggle for Indigenous rights and land in Australia has constantly been terrorised by the Australian politics, law, economy, and culture. Hookey names these regimes of terror visually, countering contemporary media images which render state terrorisms virtually unnameable and unseeable. His art links seemingly disparate geopolitical events, for instance juxtaposing the September 11 event with the terrorisms of political economy wreaked by Wall Street. Most importantly, Hookey addresses the most significant political, legal, economical, social and cultural issue for Australia - Indigenous sovereignty. The struggle for sovereignty appears visually in the name of 'Terraism' - or the struggle for land.

11. Commenting further on the issue of sovereignty, Maria Giannacopoulos names the racialised ways in which legal sovereignty operates in Australia. Giannacopoulos traces how this sovereignty has been exercised as white sovereignty. Furthermore, she argues, it is the exercise of this white sovereignty that provides a context for reading the current Anti-Terrorism Bill (No2) 2005; a bill whose logic of 'preventative detention' also operates as justification for the establishment of Australia's prisons for refugees. It is this reading of sovereignty as white, Giannacopoulos suggests, which appears to be missing from critiques of the Anti-Terrorism Bill (No 2) 2005 from the standpoint of a violation of civil liberties. And it is this invisibility of white sovereignty that produces the curious condition of an unnameable (in dominant discourses) racialised violence with terrorising effects. Hence the title of Giannacopoulos's paper, 'Terror Australis', rereads and rewrites the doctrine of 'Terra Nullius' which has formed the basis of white Australian sovereignty.

12. In a similar vein yet in a different context, Dinesh Wadiwel argues for rethinking civil liberty arguments through a critical reading of political sovereignty. Discussing the link between sovereignty, citizenship, blood, territory, and torture via Foucault and Agamben, Wadiwel makes the claim that torture is a form of sovereign biopower. And it is this terrifying use of biopower through the logic of sovereignty that needs to be rethought if we are to challenge the logic and arguments for torture.

13. Reading sovereignty through capitalist practices, Subhabrata Bobby Banerjee theorises the concept of necrocapitalism especially as it manifests itself in the accumulation of profits through the creation of death worlds in colonial contexts. The use of privatised militias in Iraq and elsewhere, Banerjee suggests is one instance of a necrocapitalist practice. These militias starkly embody a number of disturbing questions regarding the collusion between state and multinational companies and the ways in which colonial sovereignty is exercised in this collusion.

14. If the first four papers and artwork listed in this issue address regimes of terror that are produced in the exercise of sovereignties in relation to law, land, politics, and political economy, the next four papers examine the manner in which the exercise of colonial and/or white sovereignty produces terrorised bodies through the links between regimes of race/religion and visuality.

15. In the context of these links, Joseph Pugliese examines what he calls 'Asymmetries of Terror' in the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes within the 'racialised regimes of visuality' in the U.K. (2006). Pugliese powerfully traces the manner in which it is the 'deployment of racial profiling' integral to the war on terror which resulted in this shooting. And as in much of his work, Pugliese returns to questions of ethics in the 'asymmetries of terror'. Ethically and assertively he argues for the linking of the violence in Iraq to the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, thereby enabling us to examine the 'divisive imperialism' famously articulated in the 'with us or against us' branding of the war on terror (Pugliese 2006).

16. Agnes Chong's chronicles the manner in which Muslim communities in Australia are being targeted in racialised/religionised regimes of security. As an advocate working for Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network, Chong points out the chasm between governmental rhetoric, which insists that the anti-terrorism legislation does not target Islamic groups, and the embodied ways in which Muslim communities are targeted. Chong describes how Muslim communities are terrorised as a result of the anti-terror campaigns in Australia. Chong's chronicling of the effects of the anti-terror laws on Muslim communities, therefore, necessitate an accounting of the manner in which words like terror and insecurity apply unevenly and differentially in racial and religious terms.

17. Examining the enactment of terror at Cronulla Beach on December 11, 2005, a couple of weeks before the Australian parliament passed the Anti-Terrorism Bil (no.2) 2005, Suvendrini Perera maps the historical and contemporary ways in which racialised regimes in Australia led to what she names as 'Race, Terror, Sydney, December 2005' (2006). Perera reads the Cronulla event not in isolation with itself, as many in the media and academia appear to have done. In doing this, Perera importantly traces a shift in Australia's racial wars from the Hansonite era in the late 1990s. She argues that this white race/culture war is supported by 'an influential network' of 'think tanks', 'publishing houses', 'broadsheet media'; in other words, by the weight of powerful institutions (Perera 2006). This 'racist resurgence' requires, as Perera suggests, 'courageous expressions of dissent' (2006).

18. Mamdouh Habib's attempt to speak to the Australian media of his experiences of torture and his quest for justice against the U.S. and Australian governments is an instance of a courageous expression of dissent in the face of governmental terrorism. My paper, 'Media Necropower', examines the manner in which the Australian media positioned Habib's attempt to narrate his experience of torture within a regime of media necropower; i.e., the power of the media to judge thereby exposing to death or torture those deemed to be 'risky bodies'. Habib however, alongside others who were rendered for torture, continues to speak and seek justice, and in doing so, rewrites 'the racialised technologies of cultural intelligibility that underwrite' media necropower (Osuri 2006).

19. While I have tried to provide some connections between these papers and artwork, it will be apparent to those who read this issue that many of the writers have common references in terms of theoretical and political trajectories. What is exciting about this issue is the manner in which the authors take up theoretical trajectories, extend them in interdisciplinary terms, and map these trajectories in the various contexts where the war on terror operates. This mapping enables reconnections and rereadings of the histories and geographies of terror on racialised sovereignties and bodies. In this sense, 'Regimes of Terror' provides an important critical intervention and a politicized and political contribution in the current terrain of contestations of the war on terror.


Goldie Osuri lectures at the Department of Critical and Cultural Studies, Macquarie University, Australia. Her current research projects include media, terrorism and new world orders, whiteness and multiculturalism in the U.S. and Australia, and christianity and conversion in India.


I would like to thank Suvendrini Perera, Joseph Pugliese, Anthony Burke, Bobby Banerjee, Fiona Nicoll and Jane Haggis for their help and support in putting this issue together. Thanks to all the contributors for their critical insights and their participation in the colloquium. Thanks to Gordon Hookey for allowing us to publish his artwork as part of this issue. Thanks to Elaine Kelly, Ravi-Glasser Vora, Julia Wee, Joseph Pugliese, and Anne Cranny-Francis for helping me organize the Regimes of Terror Colloquium. Thanks to the Borderlands Editorial Collective (especially Catriona Elder and Jane Mummery) for making the publication of this issue possible.


AAP Bulletin, 'Howard defends U.K. Police Shooting' (online) global factiva database accessed 16 Jul, 2006,

Bannerman, L. 2006, 'They are using this law to cover their mistakes', The Times, 18 Jul., p. 4.

Giannacopoulos, M. 2006, 'Terror Australis: White Sovereignty and the Violence of Law' borderlands e-journal, vol. 5, no. 1,

Osuri, G. 2006, 'Media Necropower: Australian Media Reception and the Somatechnics of Mamdouh Habib', borderlands e-journal, vol. 5, no. 1,

Perera, S. 2006, 'Race, Terror, Sydney, December 2005' , borderlands e-journal, vol. 5, no. 1,

Pugliese, J. 2006, 'Asymmetries of terror: Visual regimes of racial profiling and the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in the context of the war in Iraq', borderlands e-journal, vol. 5, no.1,

Tendler, S. 2006, 'Met to face health and safety trial for killing de Menezes', The Times, 18 Jul. p. 4.

Watson, N. & Davis, M. 2006, 'It's the Same Old Song': Draconian Counter-Terrorism Laws and the Déjà vu of Indigenous Australians' borderlands e-journal, vol. 5, no. 1,

© borderlands ejournal 2006



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