Reconstruction 7.1 (2007)

Return to Contents, The state, Race, Sexuality, Gender, Terrorism»

Terrorizing Bodies / Chris Gutierrez


Abstract: Beginning with one single body painted by Gustave Courbet in 1866 and one temple destroyed on September 11 th, this paper moves to consider the far reaching impact that the War on Terror has on the entire social body. By paying attention to the unknowable status of both the events and the perpetrators of terrorism, it will be argued that the overwhelming ambiguity of terrorism and counter-terrorist activity has allowed the War on Terror to return to prior discourses of racism and homophobia to mark the corporeal otherness it hopes to confront. Here, images from Abu Ghraib prison, joke pictures forwarded through emails, and other graphic images produced from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts will be read to consider the discourse that is deployed when constructing the ‘terrorist’ body. More than knowledge about the terrorist though, these images offer insight into the dominant notions of the white heterosexual male that are that are embedded into the West’s nationalist discourses, and offer insight into what bodies, and what desires, are left out of these discourses. Through all of these readings, the unique biopolitical configuration of the War on Terror is made apparent, a configuration which allows simultaneously for the protection and destruction of challenging bodies.



I saw a big damp spot and realized immediately it was water from the flowers that were flowing. Nevertheless, I could not help thinking of the blood Jean had lost. It was a lot of blood. Hadn’t it dried since his death?

- Jean Genet, Funeral Rites


<1> The most basic, crudest and rudimentary commodity of power has been, for centuries, located in the exchange of blood. Monarchs were granted privilege and position, status and standing, through their inherited blood; aristocrats passed title and land to their descendents through blood. These were not simple familial relations, as Anne Norton explains, "Traditional authority is based not on kinship alone but on bloodlines, bloodties" (Norton 44). To be included in another of society’s crudest and most basic denominators, the family, could not in itself guarantee the extension of privilege. Rather, it was blood, and blood alone, that granted succession and in this sense power flowed simultaneously through both one’s own blood and the spilled blood of another.

<2> In writing on the sovereign’s right to decide life and death, Foucault notes that this power manifested itself almost entirely through death, explaining that, "The sovereign exercised his right to life only by exercising his right to kill, or by refraining from killing; he evidenced his power over life only through the death he was capable of requiring" (Foucault 136). This right to death was the locus of power for the sovereign. The power to spill blood was legitimized through his own blood, and a claim to authority arose simultaneously through his blood and the blood of others.

<3> For centuries, then, blood was the primary medium through which power spoke. But, it is important to remember that Foucault spoke of the right to decide life and death which was granted to the sovereign. Through revolutions, resistances, and repeated engagements, the power of the sovereign to kill dwindled, and conversely, the power to administer life was born. Power was reframed by stepping away from the right to suppress and limit and focusing instead on the right to create and construct. This, for Foucault, marks the shift from a society of blood to a society with a sexuality. This new society with a sexuality is one where power is, "...addressed to the body, to life, to what causes it to proliferate..." (147). Rather than running through blood, power is reconstituted through sexuality and becomes focused on productive maneuvers. That is, power is enabled through its ability to construct life, rather than its ability to take it.

<4> One of the most moving representations of this power is found in Gustave Courbet’s 1866 painting, ‘L’Origine du Monde’. Coming less than a hundred years after the French Revolution and the beheading of Louis the XVI, Courbet’s work is a chilling foreshadow of the newly developing mechanisms of power. Through this piece, we are given all power to create through the body, or more specifically, through the genitals. The headless and fragmented naked body in the in the painting is the origin of the world, through it, all life and all movement is created, but the headless body is still just that, a beheaded one. Without her head, this body, like that of the disposed king, is devoid of power. The power that is evident in Courbet’s painting is not in the body, but rather is written on the body. The openness of this body is the focus of the viewers gaze; it is the observer, not the woman, who gains power in this operation of excess. Her openness compels the gaze, and compels an ordering of her body. The power made explicit in ‘L’Origine du Monde’ is the power of a society with a sexuality, it is, "...a power bent on generating forces, making them grow, and ordering them..." (147).

<5> The transition from a society of blood to a society with a sexuality is marked on this body. Without her head, she echoes back to the fallen sovereign and the disposition of power in blood; with her genitals she opens her body as the site of contention for a power in sexuality. And with our gaze, the operations of power of a society with a sexuality are mapped on her. Her openness invites ordering. Her excess compels discourse, and this discourse reconstitutes her body. Her body becomes a site of construction whereby meaning is imbued on her. Besides this though, she is at once a site of construction and a site of meaning; discourse is built on her and deployed through her. To this end, the body in Courbet’s painting resembles a structure akin to a monument, a government building or a temple. Both her body and these structures are built out of symbolic value, and both recast this value through their presence. We can read Courbet’s body as a temple built for the power operations of a society with a sexuality, it (literally) embodies these power operations and (figuratively) confirms their right over a subjects flesh.

<6> A body, a temple, and a body as temple; each of these is a contested site of political construction and meaning. In quoting Richard Easton, Gayatri Spivak notes that, "...from about the sixth century on, images and temples associated with dynastic authority were considered politically vulnerable" (Spivak 90). If temples are politically vulnerable, it follows that an attack on them can alter their ability to construct and deploy meaning. To this end, Spivak reads the events of September 11 th, 2001 as an attack on a temple, and she works to, "...represent the confrontation in September as the destruction of a temple - world trade and military power - with which a state is associated" (90). This destruction of a temple sent much of the world recoiling and preceded to launch the still on-going "War on Terror". Finally, we have reached the driving event behind this paper. An event, the destruction of a temple, and an aftermath, three years of engaged warfare, that each interrupt and convolute this long history of the Western world as a society with a sexuality. Either as a reactivation of the power in blood or as a new articulation of the power in blood and sex, these moments mark a shifting locus of power across much of the globe.

<7> This new war, then, began atop the rubble of a destroyed temple in New York City when President Bush assured a group of rescue workers: "I hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon" ( Neither the words, nor the setting are accidental. The words ring as a simple response to an unimaginable event: the easiest reconciliation between event and future is through retaliation. Spivak explains this as an operation of a restricted moral will, a basic logic that argues: "I can destroy the thing that scares me by force of response" and therefore war becomes "a caricature of what in us can respond" (Spivak 96). Besides the simple assurance offered by this call for revenge, a blood cry issued at Ground Zero, the site of a destroyed temple and a graphic bloodshed, also demarcates both a history written in blood and a future guaranteed to be filled with blood. Donald Pease argues that Ground Zero is a site where "the fantasy of radical innocence on which the nation was founded encountered the violence it had formerly concealed" (Pease 5). That is, Ground Zero forces a society with a sexuality to recognize it’s foundation as a society of blood. The society with a sexuality works to mask the crudest and least efficient power operations, those located in blood, that exist within it. The myth of the radical innocence of the United States is enabled because power is, supposedly, bloodless, and its focus is instead on assuring life and controlling that which enables life. Along with the destruction of temples evidenced on September 11 th, the myth of a society free from blood was also destroyed.

<8> Here then, we find ourselves at the crossroads mentioned earlier. The oft described "wound" of September 11 th forced an acknowledgment of a bloody history and launched a global war. War, in its most basic premise, exposes power operations through blood by calling for the destruction of others. Again, the choice is a simple one: consider the War on Terror as a reactivation of a society of blood where power ruins through the veins or read it as a rupture in a society with a sexuality, whereby the undercurrent of blood that has always existed is revitalized and rearticulated through the sexualized body.

<9> It is this second option that seems most compelling. By understanding the War on Terror as a rupture, rather than an apocalyptic rapture, it is possible to recognize the ways in which discourses of blood and sex are realized concurrently in the body. That is, it is possible to recognize the ways in which the power of blood and the power of sex speak to one another, reinforce one another, and are constituted through one another. These movements represent the newly emerging biopolitics of the War on Terror; a biopolitics that mixes blood and sex, and a biopolitics bent on at once disciplining and destroying enemy bodies.

<10> Purely relegated to a future of destruction, the individuals involved with, associated with, or active as terrorists are afforded neither recognition nor reconciliation [1]. The primary enemy of the War on Terror represents nothing more than the collective members of a shadowy evil, a monstrous hodgepodge of individuals of unique racial, national and class backgrounds. The very diversity of this group is their greatest strength, but at the same time this diversity is a node of power for the discourse of the War on Terror. Less like a hierarchal and organized army, and more like a discontinuous swarm, the enemy here is a clandestine and unidentifiable one. This ambiguity allows these shadowy members to move silently through society and to infiltrate their desired targets of destruction, simultaneously though, this ambiguity allows the discourse of the War on Terror to constitute the enemy through whatever means seem fit.

<11> This shadowy unrecognizable network also presents itself a something frightening, or even monstrous. Tied to historical discourses that initially connect the monstrous with a particular innate criminality, the terrorist also emerges as monstrous in Derridean terms, that is: shows itself - that is what the word monster means - it shows itself in something that is not yet shown and that therefore looks like a hallucination, it strikes the eye, it frightens precisely because no anticipation has prepared one to identify this figure... (552).

The monstrous here, and particularly the terrorist-monster, is most frightening simply as novelty. For much of the Western world, and for the United States in particular, the unimaginable event of September 11 th marked a new enemy that was unknown and unrecognizable, and needed to be bordered in before it could be understood and attacked. For Derrida though, this novelty is ultimately short lived. A monster is not a monster for very long, but rather is almost immediately quarantined and wrung through a process of normalization, as he explains further in the same excerpt:

...But as soon as one perceives a monster in a monster, one begins to domesticate it, one begins, because of the ‘as such’ - it is a monster as monster - to compare it to the norms, to analyse it, consequently to master whatever could be terrifying in the figure of the monster (Derrida 553) .

Here, the novelty of the monstrous figure is wiped clean through a process of normalization and what is most frightening in this figure is laid to rest by rearticulating it as something more familiar.

<12> Thus, the terrorist-monster, like the literary monster that Derrida refers to, requires an abnormal process of familiarization within the public imagination in order to steady a nation’s shaken psyche. Of course, there were figureheads to identify with - Osama Bin Laden being the most obvious - but these (and this) particular figurehead was not solely responsible for the atrocities of September 11 th, and the very individuals who were most directly involved remained suspiciously absent from the public’s eye. Of the nineteen hijackers, only Mohammed Atta’s face and name was ever able to truly stick within the public’s understanding of the event. Even Zacharias Moussaoui, the only person in the United States facing criminal charges in connection to the attacks, remains at the very least sketched, if not entirely absent, from the public. So while those involved directly in the attack remained strangely absent, those other enemy figures captured or defeated in the War on Terror, the inmates at Guantanamo Bay for example, are even paraded as faceless entities for the public’s viewing. The long, hooded masks that shroud the faces of these individuals restates the very ambiguity that is such a part of the terrorist modus-operandi. Strangely here, the discourse of ambiguity that is a meant to be hallmark of terrorism is recapitulated by those who are meant to be fighting a war against it.

<13> What can be said of this mutual pact of ambiguity? Why would both sides of this conflict be equally committed to assuring the anonymity of one side? Why keep an enemy faceless? And why would one, figuratively, mask your victories in, literal, masks? The answers to these questions are, of course, limitless. Faceless enemies can’t be prey to the forces of sympathy or canonization that could undermine a war effort (one can hardly be sympathetic to a mound of clothing). Furthermore, faceless detainees can’t be recognized and identified by their comrades. Less pragmatically though, the faceless enemy ensures the constant rearticulation of the enemy, and furthermore, ensures that the enemy remains always as a monstrous figure, as an unknown entity.

<14> This mutually assured ambiguity, in one sense, works to combat Derrida’s claim that the monstrous immediately undergoes a process of normalization; simultaneously though, it opens up the terrorist to other process of normalization. That is, while Derrida’s monstrous novelty implies an equally novel process of normalization - the new monster is understood through new discourse - the discourse of ambiguity here cuts short the possibility of novel understanding and instead relegates the terrorist-monster to older, more tested discursive alignments.

<15> So, how then to constitute this new enemy, the terrorist-monster? Through what tropes can we imagine the unimaginable, and through what well-rehearsed discourses of monstrosity can we construct our targets of destruction? The enemies of the "War on Terror" are ambiguous and unidentifiable, and to this end, they must be represented as enemies that are already visible and understood. Here then, the cleavage between blood and sex is made visible. Here, we see discourses of blood being imbued meaning through discourses of sex, and perhaps most importantly, here we see the docile and controlled figure of the fag being superimposed atop the frightening and monstrous qualities of the terrorist. Jasbir Puar argues that these prevalent images work because "queerness as sexual deviancy is tied to the monstrous figure of the terrorist as a way to otherize and quarantine subjects classified as ‘terrorists’" (Puar 126). Discursive alignments that tie the homosexual body to the monstrous one do double duty here: they present an identifiable enemy and they reconstitute this enemy through the terrorist body. This monstrous body that is superimposed atop the terrorist traces its roots back hundreds of years, as Foucault explains that in the nineteenth century:"...monstrosity is systemically suspected of being behind all criminality." (Foucault 82). It is important to acknowledge that the monstrosity behind all criminal activity is always located within the body, and particularly the aberrant and hybridized body. The monster is considered "both half an animal and a hybrid gender" (Puar 119) and as such is the central figure of, simultaneously, juridical power and apparatuses of sexual disciplining [2].

<16> It should be noted that this particular monstrous body owes its unique emergence to more than just its innate hybridization and criminality and it is a viable argument here to seriously consider the importance of Orientalist discourse as a reason for why these images are deemed acceptable. The Orient, within Orientalist discourse, has always been marked as a particular male dominated sexual paradise where bodies are open to consumption. Said explains: the Orient is an "exclusively male province...women are usually the creatures of a male power fantasy. They express unlimited sensuality, they are more or less stupid, and above all are available" (Said.3). Furthermore, this understanding is transferable to male subjects in a culture where "male homoeroticism is deep within their cultural roots!" (Powers, qtd. in Massad, #)..

<17> Outside these racial and historical constructions, the terrorist-monster presented through these images is very much a figure of the present, one that is opened up and simultaneously situated on two planes of existence. At its base, it confronts the monstrous and frightening qualities ascribed to the terrorist other sapping this figure of its unknown qualities by rendering it docile and controllable. Furthermore, these images also exist as mechanisms of sexual disciplining in that they address localized groups of gays and lesbians. Since these images are most often circulated as "joke" emails and on various "anti-terrorist" webpages, it is important to acknowledge their intended audience. This audience is obviously not members of the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, but rather the vast network of the western world that routinely sees their email inboxes filled with this type of humor. These were not leaflets dropped over invaded countries, nor were they attempts to debase popular support for "terrorists" across these countries, rather these images circulated primarily in an attempt to control the terrorist figure by those who were most frightened by it. But, and this point is at once obvious and important, by tying sexual practices with the marked evil of terrorism (an evil that has oft been framed as a attack on the very basis of western civilization) these images framed queer sex as being part of, or at least sympathetic too, an evil that threatens to destroy us all [3]. In this sense then, these images work not just on the terrorist figure, but also (and perhaps more importantly) on the population at large; dividing people through sexual practices as either friend or enemy to our very civilization.

<18> Through these movements, the terrorist-monster makes a shift from Derridean terms to Foucauldian ones. The novelty and unknown quality of the Derridean monster is what made it most terrifying, but here the same figure is shifted from the unknown monster to a known and far less frightening monster. Instead of opening up a space for new dialogue, the unknowable sign of September 11 th and the impossible figure of the terrorist-monster was normalized by older discourses of monstrosity and a rearticulation of blood within a society with a sexuality, or to borrow from Foucault, the terrorist-monster becomes the terrorist-abnormal. This movement also shifts the locus of power in the "War on Terror" from the political, religious and ideological grievances behind the event to the individualized and pathologized body. Biopower emerges in a moment of double articulation here, honing its power on an individual body and using this singular body to discipline the larger public body. That is, it uses the terrorist figure to discipline the entirety of the population.

<19> To begin, we can consider how these images confront the frightening qualities of the terrorist figure by marking the criminality of its movements. That is, we can say that the sheer incomprehensibility of the events on September 11 th immediately marked the perpetrators as abnormal, as an evil for which we had no name. This is the moment where the terrorist-abnormal is recognizable to juridical power, as a radically criminal body responsible for a radically criminal act. This radical criminality remains outside the identifiable and categorized means available to us. Reasonable political grievances aside, vague notions of blinding hate aside, and recognizable signs of criminal madness aside, the staggering spectacle of September 11 th and the abnormal bodies behind it remained, despite juridical condemnation as terrorists, incomprehensible and terrifying.

<20> The superimposing of the homosexual body atop the terrorist one accomplishes two feats: first, it makes the terrorist-monster an identifiable one, and second, it saps this monster of its most frightening characteristics by marking it as docile and already suppressed, as simply abnormal. This new hybridization - moving along from the terrorist-monster to the terrorist-abnormal and finally ending at, to borrow Puar’s words, the terrorist-fag - is at once recognizable and controlled. From this docile and controlled existence, the meaning of the terrorist-fag shifts from a singular marked body to a body that addresses the entire population.

<21> In this movement the terrorist-fag first acts as a rearticulation of a well rehearsed discourse of homophobia that equates violence with the homosexual body. In writing on the notion of tolerance within American society, and particularly on the case of the integration of black students to a white high school in Arkansas, Janet Jakobsen and Ann Pellegrini note that minorities are "...assumed to be potentially violent because...they [are] opposed by violent forces" (Jakobsen and Pellegrini 59). This equation works along many lines, including sexual minorities, whereby gays and lesbians are cast as militants against a collection of violent enemies and to this end, "it becomes impossible to distinguish between the perpetrators of racism or homophobia or misogyny...and the objects of various forms of discrimination..." (59). Violence is then ascribed to the homosexual body because it is read as being at the pole of a violent conflict between gays and lesbians and the perpetrators of hate crimes. Here another level of abstraction becomes visible within the image of the terrorist-fag, which is the threat of, and legitimization of, violent retaliation directed towards localized groups of perceived militant gays and lesbians. This, again, is a convergence of blood and sex, but whereas before the discourse of sex was imposed atop the power of blood and sex is used as a marker to neutralize blood, here the discourse of blood reigning atop the sexualized body where blood acts as a disciplining force atop of sex.

<22> What is evidenced here then is the two floating poles of biopower and sovereign power; the body and the population. The rearticulation of the terrorist through the homosexual body at once calls for the destruction of queer-terrorists and the disciplining of mere queers, and through this call, discourses of blood and sex are concurrently realized. In this sense, the terrorist-fag operates on two fronts simultaneously: it reconfigures the terrorist-monster as a docile and controllable sexualized abnormal and it works to discipline localized gay and lesbian communities, or as Puar explains, these images, "...not only suggest that if you’re not for the war, you’re a fag, [they] also incite violence against queers and specifically queers of color" (Puar 126). This coalition between powers of blood and powers of sexuality speak to the undercurrents of blood that has always existed within a society with a sexuality [4]. The interruption created by the War on Terror pushed these representations into a more visible light and the on-going warfare fought under this guise made these equations more acceptable. That is, the discourse of the War on Terror pushes deeply homophobic and racist representations into a space where they are considered acceptable because they are associated with the shadowy evil of terrorism. This is the new biopolitics of the War on Terror, a biopolitics that is grounded in longstanding discourses of sexual deviancy, but activated through the call for blood and retaliation that exists within warfare.

<23> Through all of this, it is important to acknowledge that this operation that creates a space whereby traditional discourses of homophobia are legitimized is only possible through a discursive movement that places the body, and biopolitics, at the center of the War on Terror. That is, while this figure begins at its base through a history of disciplining aberrant sexualized bodies, it is reinforced through the political operations that shift the focus on the War on Terror from individuals to bodies, and from subjects to flesh.

<24> Donald Pease argues that the movement to remove national rights from "enemy combatants" worked on a biopolitical level because "in stripping the detainees’ political status of any predication other than mere flesh, the Homeland State made them coincide with the state’s monopoly over the decision concerning the exception. The detainee’s body named the threshold over which the state’s exemption from its own rules passes over into fact." (Pease 13). By reducing the enemies of the War on Terror to stateless, nameless entities, the state ensured itself total control over its prisoners, and in turn, reduced individual subjects to mere flesh. These pieces of flesh, free from the rights granted to citizens across the globe became the property of a state of exception that operated above any regulations.

<25> This shift in meaning, from the lived-political grievances that exist in the world to the presence of unruly bodies, makes a clean break (both in representation and reality) and solidifies a division of bodies and populations. This distinction creates a space whereby two mechanism of power are able to exist simultaneously, at one end we see a population in need of total protection and at the other we see bodies in need of destruction.

<26> The torture images produced at Abu Ghraib testify to the actualization of these operations. Sitting at one pole of these powers and reduced to mere flesh, the inhabitants of this prison existed within a vacuum, a veritable judicial non-space, a state of exception that was void of regulation. That torture should arise in a war prison is, in itself, nothing surprising given the absolute biopolitical power present in such a site, as Agamben explains:

Inasmuch as its inhabitants have been stripped of every political status and reduced completely to naked life, the camp is also the most absolute biopolitical space that has ever been realized - a space in which power confronts nothing other than pure biological life without mediation (Agamben 41).

These movements coalesce at this site, where, inevitably, accusations and images of torture are created. Why would flesh be treated any other way?

<27> The challenge here is to avoid abstracting Agamben’s ‘war camp’ onto all camps, and instead to consider the limits of Abu Ghraib against the foil of the holocaust camps that he is addressing. A line of flight from the repealing of rights, to the dehumanization of the enemy, to violence and murder, is a reasonably straight forward journey (and one that, sadly, has been traveled many times before). Here though, it is important to consider how this pathway is shattered when sex is included in the equation. To be more specific, the important issue here is how Abu Ghraib, a site of unmitigated biopower, became a site of sexual torture. If one is granted the de facto power to kill, why stop at the power to rape? And furthermore, if this stripping of rights did truly construct subjects as dehumanized pieces of flesh, then how do offending soldiers "justify sexual intercourse with a ‘non-human’?" (Littlewood 13).

<28> Before we can address these issues, it is important to make a conceptual distinction between the action (the physical torture at Abu Ghraib) and its aftermath (the discursive responses to this torture). This distinction is necessary here because, just as the figure of the terrorist-fag exists on two simultaneous planes and just as these two planes worked to address different subjects, so too does the actual torture at Abu Ghraib and the subsequent media discourse call for a separate understanding of these two entities.

<29> To begin with, we can look at the discursive response to this torture, a response that displayed a total failure to address the difficult nature of what had transpired in this prison and instead offered a stunning display of notably simple abstractions. These abstractions are exemplified by one commentator who wrote, "Methods of torture, of course, also reflect the fears of the torturers. Tacit in these images - as well as in S&M porn - is the Western belief that sexuality is a central core to human identity." ( Kingston A18). While this equation of nonconsensual sexual torture and rape to sadomasochistic pornography is obviously problematic, there is a small grain of truth to this axiomatic explanation. What is true here is the implicit acknowledgment that a battle over sexuality has become inextricably linked to the discursive formation of the War on Terror. Just as the doctored images of the terrorist-fag presented earlier equated the homosexual body with the terrorist body in an attempt to master the terrorist figure and to discipline more localized communities, here the media framing of the sexually explicit Abu Ghraib images facilitates the entrance of this equation into the mainstream lexicon.

<30> Thus the media responses laid out a delicate balance of either blaming the torture on the inherent homophobia and misogyny of its victims, telling us how "this form of abuse is calculated to humiliate Muslims..." ("Sex, Sexism Drive Prison Coverage" D10) or else laying the blame at more localized gays and lesbians by explaining that "the depravity exhibited at Abu Ghraib was modeled after gay porn which gave military personnel, ‘the idea to engage in sadomasochistic activity and to videotape it in a voyeuristic fashion’" (Giroux 7). What is evidenced in both of these equations (besides a seething homophobia) is an attempt to protect the sexual desires of the torturers, and problematize the sexuality of victims. Furthermore, these responses demonstrate the fine line between discipline and destruction, and the fine line that separates the totality of Agamben’s War Camp from the simple prison of a society with a sexuality. That is, what may have spared these prisoners from total destruction (and instead sentenced them only to sexual abuse and torture) is the infusing of sexuality with the War on Terror.

<31> This movement to infuse the War on Terror with a particular sexuality likely began at the very site where this conflict began: at the site of the September 11 th attacks. Here it is fruitful to consider how, of all the responses to the ‘wound’ of September 11 th, one of the most prevalent analysis honed in on the symbolic castration of the event. An attack on a virgin land, on soil that had not been penetrated by an enemy in decades, was often described as an emasculating event; an event that attacked the collective phallus of the United States [5]. While these readings often attributed shallow and near baseless psychoanalytic meaning to events more firmly grounded in actual lived political grievances, they were, at the least, incredibly useful in extrapolating the highly gendered ideologies at play in both the attack and the response. The roots of this particular sexuality within the War on Terror were built right alongside these highly gendered readings of the event, and these reading continue to play a role in our understanding of both terrorism and counter-terrorism discourse.

<32> In her book, The Demon Lover: On the Sexuality of Terrorism, Robin Morgan argues that, "The terrorist is the logical incarnation of patriarchal politics in a technological world" (Morgan 32). Morgan understands political violence to be a logical extension of patriarchy in that the terrorist appropriates men’s means (violence) into men’s games (politics). This understanding infuses terrorism with a particular masculinist logic and value, an image of the brave and swaggering terrorist man is offered up against feminine values in much of the literature produced by violent revolutionaries. Morgan offers up Necheav’s Catechism of the Revolutionary as testimony to this fact:

The revolutionary is a doomed man. He has no interests of his own, no affairs, no feelings, no attachments, no belongings, not even a name...All the tender and effeminate emotions of kinship, friendship, love, gratitude, and even honor must by stilled in him by a cold and single-minded passion...(Necheav, qtd. in Morgan, 73).

While Morgan wrote this book at a time when terrorism was still primarily associated with revolutionary left-wing movements across the world, her foresight into the masculinist values of terrorism was still visible after September 11 th. But, given the reported emasculating attack on the United States, any attempt to attribute masculine values to the hijackers was met with stiff opposition. That is, in an attempt to refute the masculinity of the terrorist, counter-terrorist discourse developed its own manly virtues, as one reporter explained: "Apparently one of the ways the world changed forever after the September 11 th attack on western civilization is that popular culture rediscovered an appreciation for manly men." (Bunner 2). One of the most flagrant violations of the new appreciation for manly men was witnessed in the remarks of television host Bill Maher, who argued on his television show that, "We have been the cowards lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it's not cowardly" ( Maher was promptly fired from as host role of ABC’s Politically Incorrect. It wasn’t Maher’s suggestion that these men were not cowards that was the problem; rather, it was his argument that the United States army was more cowardly than the terrorists that struck a chord. Here cowardly is the antonymous to masculinity, and cowards are antonymous to men.

<33> It is fitting here to return momentarily to the photoshopped images presented earlier, and to consider the simple fact that in those images (and in almost all images like those) Osama Bin Laden is placed in a ‘receiving’ position of these imposed sexual acts. Even as these images mark the terrorist as queer, they always reinforce this image by placing the terrorist’s body in the stereotypical ‘feminine’ position. This opposition between the dominating American manly man and the faggy docile ‘bottom’ terrorist seems to illustrate a particular homophilia - a desire to control the enemies flesh not just through death, but through sexuality as well.

<34> This movement of disallowing the masculinity of the terrorists is, at once, tied to the homophobic representations that were addressed earlier, and also, a notion of masculinist protectionism that organizes the current War on Terror. Young explains this logic by arguing that it is analogous to the patriarchal household, or to be more specific, that, "State officials adopt the stance of the masculine protector. Their protector position puts us, the citizens and residents who depend on their strength and vigilance for our security, in the position of women and children under the charge of the male protector" (Young 226). Given the equation of the homosexual body to the monstrous terrorist, one that was visible through popular representations of terrorists, it seems fitting to add the homosexual to Young’s list of infantilized citizens. That is, while masculinist protectionism reduces citizens to women and children, it also reduces them to another second class citizen: the homosexual.

<35> Here then, we can see a correlation between the sexualized torture at Abu Ghraib, the movement to strip detainees of their national and human rights, and the particular gendered understanding of the War on Terror. The movement described in Agamben’s war camp to reduce the enemy to simple piles of flesh was stopped short here, and instead merely reduced these detainees to menial citizens: women, children and homosexuals. Besides being a chilling thought on the fragility of citizenship in the Western world, this shift from terrorist to homosexual works to answer how a soldier could "justify sex with a non-human" (Littlewood 11) in that it argues that the prisoners who were abused at Abu Ghraib were not non-human, but rather, less-than-human.

<36> The punishment that is relegated to these individuals becomes one of sexualized torture because these bodies were always-already sexualized. To ensure that the terrorist body remained in its relegated position of less-than-human, it was important that the punishment reaffirm the less-than-masculine, less-than-citizen discourse that had been put in place. To this end, "the terror inherent in the punishment had to take up the crime again; the crime had to be somehow presented, represented, actualized or reactualized in the punishment itself..." (Foucault, 82) and for this representation to be complete, the punishment at Abu Ghraib reinforced the equation of terrorism as less-than-masculine by equating it with the homosexual body.

<37> Just as the representations of the terrorist-fag worked double duty by reducing the threat of the terrorist and simultaneously controlling localized discourse, so to does the torture at Abu Ghraib work double duty. Bozovic has argued that since the presentation of Bentham’s panopticon, the most important function of punishment is to recognize that "punishment itself is less intended for the punished, that is, the guilty person, than it is for everyone else, the innocent..." (Bozovic 99) and in this sense, Abu Ghraib is at once an actualized and phantasmic site of the biopolitics of the War on Terror. Abu Ghraib is actualized as a war camp just as Agamben described, as a site where "power confronts nothing other than pure biological life..." (Agamben 41) and where the abstract operations of a war confront flesh in lived realities; but, it is also still a phantasmic site, because the confrontation that took place there is imbued with the invisible discursive arrangements of a society with a sexuality. The victims that were assaulted there were met with a power that spoke through their flesh, a power that addressed their bodies and used their bodies to address others, and a power that was stopped short from destroying them only because it was bent on disciplining them.

<38> This fine line pulls us all the way back to the distinguishing between biopower and sovereign power. If we mark these powers as Foucault did whereby sovereign power is understood as the "power over life only through the death he [the sovereign] is capable of requiring" and biopower is that which is "addressed to the body, to life, to what causes it to proliferate", one can see the two poles on which the conflict of the War on Terror is built. This announcement may come off as relatively obvious if one follows the War on Terror’s trajectory since that clear September morning, a movement from a retaliatory invasion of one country to the preemptive protective invasion of another country, and from the creation and acceptance of a series of paradoxical maxims - We defend your sovereignty by destroying a sovereign nation. We maintain your human rights by ignoring the other’s rights. We protect your lives by bringing death to others ­- to a permanent state of exception where the rule of law supercedes law itself. Currently, we find ourselves in a position whereby all fundamental signs, previously taken for granted (law, democracy, human rights) are found to exist only in their inverse, as Zizek explains, "It is okay if human rights are ‘rethought’ to include torture and a permanent emergency state, if democracy is cleansed of its populist ‘excesses’" (Zizek 508). And it is this very populist excess that this paper aims to hone in on, the marking of the terrorist body as homosexual renders the terrorist docile, but more importantly, it disciplines and skims this excess off the population.

<39> Queer sex, sadomasochism, lesbian, gay and trans identities and desires all become targeted in these operations, and are all left outside of the population that is marked for security [6]. As the excess to this population, these markers all exist outside, and just as human rights fall by the wayside in the name of defending human rights, here a portion of the population is sacrificed to protect the whole. This is the biopolitical manifestation of the War on Terror, a reflexive autoimmunity that finds us sacrificing ourselves in order to save ourselves. This biopolitics though is more than just the very limits of biopolitical power whereby the power becomes so tenuous it begins to purge itself; rather, it is a collusion and collapsing of biopolitical and sovereign power into itself; death becomes the disciplining force of biopower, and discipline becomes the marker of death for sovereign power. Security and terror become indistinguishable, and any and all excesses become simultaneously the targets of the apparatuses of discipline and the mechanisms of death.

<40> All of these moments then, the superimposing of the homosexual body atop the terrorist and the torture and subsequent response to Abu Ghraib, straddle a line between phantasmic and actualized, and between the body and the population. Each of these moments addresses, at once, the very skin atop our flesh and the excesses atop our population. Through a movement of double articulation then, a coalition of biopower and sovereign power is made visible: a coalition that simultaneously calls for the death of individual bodies and the disciplining of the entire social body.


[1] Obviously a difficult term, it is important to make a note about my use of the word "terrorist" throughout this paper. It should be clear that the use of this word, and even its definition, are very much operational decisions. Calling someone a terrorist is more about mobilizing public support, demeaning someone, and discrediting a particular social or political movement. As this paper is dealing within a particular discursive framework that has its own working (and very much operational) definition of terrorist, I have deployed the term only as it would be used within that discourse. [^]

[2] The tight relationship between the monstrous body and accidents of procreation and misplaced sexual desire can be traced back across several centuries. This discourse spans from Aristotle’s understanding of women as ‘deformed males’ to Diderot’s work on hermaphrodites to the literary construction of gothic characters such as Dracula to more recent films such as Invasions of the Body Snatchers and Gods and Monsters. For a more complete reading of this discursive formation see Marie Helene Huet’s Monstrous Imagination. [^]

[3] The notion of the homosexual as being a particular threat to the nation and national security is far from new, as is demonstrated Mosse (1985). [^]

[4] It is important here, given Puar’s specification of ‘queers of color’ to momentarily reintroduce the connection between race, sexuality and gender that has so far been left out. Puar’s own words ‘queers of color’ obviously calls upon a reading that introduces racist and orientalist discourse at an intersection with sexuality, at the same time though it ignores the larger religious signifier ‘Muslim’ which spans across several racial markers and for this reason, I have placed a larger emphasis on more ‘hidden’, ambiguous, and malleable markers such as sexuality and sexual desire. [^]

[5] For a more complete critique of these positions, see for example Zizek, 2000. [^]

[6] In a recent article, "Queer Times, Queer Assemblages’ Jasbir Puar firmly establishes these queer figures outside position both in historical discourse and in contemporary politics, explaining that, "...homosexuals have been the traitors of the nation, figures of espionage and double agents, associated with Communists during the McCarthy era, and, as with suicide bombers, bring on and desire death..." (Puar 127). [^]

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