In Naomi Klein's bestselling book The Shock Doctrine , that has been made into a viscerally compelling documentary by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross, the central thesis is the idea of “disaster capitalism”, the exploitation of moments of shock in vulnerable countries by governments and big business to further their own agenda.
Thus in the US, the shock of 9/11 helped the Bush administration to not just invade Iraq but push disaster capitalism to new levels in that hapless country. The Shock Doctrine shows brilliantly how traumatic upheavals such as Hurricane Katrina result in “loss of narrative,” a disorientation that makes people vulnerable to whatever the administration does.
But shocks of another kind can generate another form of catharsis, a collective release of relief that can provide legitimacy to official actions hitherto deemed wasteful, irrelevant or harmful to a collective self-image.
Narrative of terror
The killing of Osama Bin Laden is one of them, an act that enables the US administration to legitimise its extravagant and destructive actions in Afghanistan as an act of deliverance. Mr Obama can now say to his people what his predecessor ought not to have claimed prematurely: Mission Accomplished.
The cathartic moment, apotheosised in the Hollywood-style code-words ‘Operation Geronimo', has been persistent in American media, captured vividly in photographs of Americans waving their flag in jubilation outside the White House, in the collective applause for its inhabitant who just gunned down “Geronimo.” What they inadvertently celebrate and endorse is the systematic destruction of Afghan society.
What the snuffing out of Osama Bin Laden does to Americans bewildered by an economic tsunami and an enfeebled administration is their business.
Indians need to worry about the extent to which the narrative of his authorship of terror and the counter-narrative of the “war on terror” have wormed their way into the discourse of Indian policymakers and the media.
Some sections of the latter could not keep hysteria out of their jubilant headlines.
In part, a local flavour infected the sense of satisfaction; for both the media and the Ministry of External Affairs the taking out of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan evoked a dual joy for it also proved our point about our neighbour being terror's crucible.
Script with no end
When the MEA described the event as a “victorious milestone in the global war against the forces of terrorism” it was reading off the US State Department's script.
But, more profoundly, the MEA was echoing an American obsession for personalising complex and turbid social phenomena or cataclysms. History, for most Americans, is the narrative of comic-book figures; this reductionism is reinforced by television that further obfuscates the underlying causes and effects.
Osama's death does not end terrorism or prove Pakistan's hand in it. India does not need his spectre to know that acts of terror by jihadist groups in the sub-continent spring from the by-lanes of its geography and history and the unwillingness of its leaders to seek meaningful solutions.
The taking out of Osama Bin Laden has the traits of a Hollywood western but, unlike that honourable film genre, the script in this case has no end for it is being written by people stung by poverty, maimed by “surround” violence and poisoned by prejudice posing as religion, all of which together drain them of their humanity.