Although we live in the age of liberal democracy and extensive human rights, terrorism still poses a great threat to world peace and stability. This threat had shown itself tragically on 11 September 2001, when two planes, hijacked by Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist organization al-Qaeda’s militants, crushed into the Twin Towers of New York City and caused the death of 5000 innocent civilians. Although USA and many other members of NATO had started a war against terrorism after 9/11 disaster and eventually USA invaded Afghanistan and Iraq states, today, terrorism still disturbs many democracies of the world including Turkey, Spain, USA and Iraq. This situation shows that the replacement of Enlightenment’s rationality with the post-modern relativism which causes the rise of emotional politics, create huge problems for the stability of democratic regimes in our world. This assignment aims to argue that terrorism is caused by the replacement of rational politics with the emotional ones and it aims and achieves to perpetuate the overweight of emotions in politics. In order to arrive at that point, first I am going to explain what is “emotion” and different theories about the relationship between emotions and reason in the light of George E. Marcus’ “The Psychology of Emotion and Politics” text. Later, I am going to analyze the meaning of terrorism and the specificity of 9/11 incident in the light of important scientific articles. After explaining different theories about the relationship between reason and emotions in politics and different approaches to terrorism and 9/11 incident, I am going to concretize my own interpretation of emotional politics and its dangers. The assignment will end up with a conclusion part which will summarize the main findings of the paper.
Emotion as a dictionary definition means “complex reaction pattern, involving experiential, behavioral, and physiological elements, by which the individual attempts to deal with a personally significant matter of event”. Although there is not a direct opposition between emotions and reason when it comes to political philosophy generally these two concepts are considered as opposing sides. The relationship between emotion and rationality has always been a controversial topic in political philosophy. The oldest and classical assumption about the relationship between emotion and mind claims that “emotion and cognition reside in separate locations; passions arise from the heart and reason from the mind” (Marcus, pp 183). This traditional view considers emotion and reason as two different kinds and exalts reason against emotions. Plato’s famous “Simile of the Cave” is a typical example of this approach that undermines emotions. From this point of view emotion in a sense “ties people to their ancient desires and blinds them so that they do not engage in accurate and rational assessment of their condition” (Marcus, pp 183). This approach leads to the formation of Guardians, a class of philosophers who would have an ascetic life of contemplation and who would rule the society since they have the highest capacity to think (Marcus, pp 184). Plato and Stoic school philosophers drew the conclusion that emotions are detrimental to rationality and thus, they must be suppressed. Descartes and Kant can also be accepted as followers of this tradition, since they always give privilege to reason. This tradition is a bit problematic because it rejects the average mind and in a sense the virtue of democracy and opens the door for elitism and authoritarianism.
Second major approach to reason-emotion dilemma -which can be seen best in the Federalist papers- argues that “a wisely drawn constitution can mitigate the most severe impacts of passion and make positive use of the energizing force of emotion to drive politics through the refining institutions that will yield justice and the public good” (Marcus, pp 185). Although this second approach is similar to the first one, it admits the role of emotions in human’s life and instead of suppressing them completely it advocates a careful balance between reason and emotions in the field of politics. This tradition was developed later by Sigmund Freud who thought that “civilization cannot aspire to replace the passions with reason” (Marcus, pp 185). The greatness of civilization is that it creates a society living in harmony and a system that works perfectly although people have dangerous emotions that could create a war of “all against all” like in the “state of warre” of Thomas Hobbes. This tradition offers in a sense a rational democracy since it does not try to suppress emotions but rather tries to create a harmonious environment where emotions and reasons would co-exist together. However, the privilege of reason over emotions at least on the theoric level could still leave the door open for an authoritarian system that would perceive freedoms as potential dangers to the state and common benefit of the society.
The third approach to the issue of reason-emotion dichotomy also consider reason and emotions as two different sides but instead of favoring reason against emotions, it defends and interprets their relationship as “harmonious and productive” rather than “antagonistic and destructive” (Marcus, pp 186). This tradition is often associated with Aristotle and Martha Nussbaum and it basically claims that “only erroneous beliefs are likely to generate problematic passions” (Marcus, pp 186). Except being very careful against this kind of dangerous beliefs and ideas, this tradition advocates freedoms and trust in the goodness and benevolence of humans.
The fourth approach is best explained within the Scottish Enlightenment tradition. “Unlike the British and French versions of the Enlightenment, the major figures of the Scotch enlightenment saw the reason could not be sundered from its emotional roots” (Marcus, pp 186) and tried to explain reason in relation with emotions. Reason was accepted as a faculty of mind that is called into service by emotions, thus emotions gained the commanding role in this tradition. Recent works in neuroscience and the works of Bernard Williams also supported this tradition and many people accepted that reason could not be explained without emotions. This tradition in a sense gives priority to emotions unlike three other approaches.
Having explained different views about the relation between reason and emotions, we can analyze terrorism in general and especially the 9/11 incident which surely is an example of new and different type of terrorism. Although the definition of terrorism is a controversial issue, according to Jack P. Gibbs terrorism basically is “illegal violence or threatened violence directed against human or nonhuman objects” (Gibbs, pp 330). Terrorism can occur both in the context of violent resistance to a state or in the service of a state. According to Martha Crenshaw terrorism directed against governments has some political aims and it uses “symbolic, low-level violence by conspiratorial organizations” in order to give its political message (Crenshaw, pp 379). If we leave state terrorism aside since it is a totally different concept, “non-state terrorism” can be explained as illegal and violent armed struggle for obtaining some political purposes in my own words. This type of definitions show clearly that terrorism has some “preconditions – factors that set the stage for terrorism over the long run” and “precipitants – specific events that immediately precede the occurrence of terrorism” (Crenshaw, pp 381). From this perspective, although terrorist organizations should be naturally destroyed and their members should be punished severely, what they do is explicable in terms of political aims, their strategy and their emotional reactions. For instance, ETA is a terrorist organization that aims to create an independent Basque state or PKK is a terrorist organization that aims to divide Turkey and establish a Kurdish state in the south-eastern part of that country. When we analyze ETA, PKK, IRA or other types of terrorist organizations, we see that generally their main motivation was the non-recognition or suppression of their own ethnic identity and regional autonomy. This political aim is often mixed with the emotional nationalistic density and become much stronger. Generally these types of ethnic terrorist organizations use even ideologies for their own profit (Marxism mostly), and in fact their main motive is nationalism not a strict ideology or religion. It is also visible that economic problems and the spread of violence culture play a significant role in the rise of terrorism in some regions (in the south-eastern part of Turkey or in Bask region in Spain). That is why, we can claim that these organizations and terrorism in general is caused by the strong and negative emotional reactions (anger, hatred) to one’s socioeconomic problems and to the non-recognition of his/her own ethnic identity but still have rational political aims and often use terrorism as a mean to achieve these aims. So, following Sigmund Freud’s definition and the second major approach to reason-emotions dilemma, we see that in some cases the loss of the careful balance between reason and emotions due to certain traumatic events (non-recognition of identity) and socioeconomic problems, could create the rise of emotional politics and the emergence of emotional reactions based on hatred and anger. All terrorism organizations and events can be understood from this perspective and ways to solve this problem could be developed. What makes 9/11 disaster so different and important from other terrorist events is the lack of these political aims and emotional motivations, a topic on which Geoffrey Galt Harpham and Seyla Benhabib have a lot to say.
Geoffrey Galt Harpham tries to interpret the symbolic meaning of 9/11 since the event has no political aim other than spreading fear by killing innocent civilian people. Harpham thinks that terror itself may not symbolic but its effects are registered in the symbolic domain. He states that terror affects the symbolic realm in two different ways. First, terrorism changes the current political-military order and leads to something different at least makes people believe they live in a radically different period because of fear, paranoia and anxiety. Secondly, terrorism by disseminating numerous messages creates a world of symbolic order. Even the recent “anthrax” method of terrorists is a clear example of this symbolic order. (Harpham, pp 573) “Its delivery system is the very symbol of the symbolic order, the postal service, which faltered through this system, terror can go anywhere at all and can affect or infect anyone along the way before it reaches its addressee, if it ever does” (Harpham, pp 574). He points out that both leftist and rightist politics try to find an appropriate meaning for terrorism and sees itself responsible for the emergence of these acts. “Right” blames its country for being too tolerant, whereas “left” blames its country for making political mistakes and supporting terrorism in the past. However, Harpham’s point is different. He thinks that terrorism is accepted as a radical phenomenon because people give these meanings as well as ideologies. People try to understand and rationalize terrorism but in his view terrorism is not rational. He thinks that the basic symptom of terrorism is to “paralyze the inability to determine whether we have entered onto a new reality or are merely confronting for the first time the reality we have been living all along” (Harpham, pp 578). At the end of his article, Geoffrey Galt Harpham explains how terrorism is evolved from our horrors and hidden intentions. Behind his symbolic writing, there appears a message: we create the fantasy of terrorism.
Seyla Benhabib on the other hand in her article “Unholy Politics” points out a new development in the international politics which she calls as “unholy politics” by analyzing the tragic September 11 incident. First of all, according to Benhabib what makes 9/11 and al-Qaeda unholy is that they attack on civilian population by all means in order to destroy the normalcy of life in the enemy state. Benhabib admits that democracies had also failed in the past to prevent attacks on civilian targets during the Second World War when European states initiated “total war” to each other. However, she thinks that even during the Second World War the aim was to occupy the enemy country or to weaken it. Unlike the aerial bombings of totalitarian states which were directed towards civilians in the Second World War, this time the goal of terrorists is just to spoil the “normal life”, disturb and intimidate the enemy state’s citizens and their reactions are not against certain political decisions of the enemy state but rather they aim the extinction of a way of life. “The new unit of totalitarianism is the terrorist cell, not the party or the movement; the goal of this new form of war is not just the destruction of the enemy, but the extinction of a way of life” (Benhabib, pg 3). Secondly, Benhabib finds very difficult to find a political name for these attacks. September 11 was certainly not the war declaration of Afghanistan towards USA and the attacker group was not a legitimate government. Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist network does not represent a legal political body; they do not request something from the enemy state. Although terrorism is now considered as a new “asymmetric” war, the attacks of al-Qaeda have been different from traditional terrorist methods that PKK and ETA has used so far considering its direction towards civilian population. Benhabib asserts that this ambiguity prevents us to do moral/political distinctions. This difficulty in making moral/political distinctions also caused the emergence of “suspect groups” in the eyes of American government and people. Benhabib also finds this new type of politics unholy because she asserts that by using religious symbols and “eroticizing the death” they abuse religion and distort it. She claims that this new distorted jihad “is not only apocalyptic; but also nihilistic” (Benhabib, pg 4). To sum up, Benhabib sees this new type of politics as unholy for several reasons. Firstly, these terrorist groups do no hesitate to attack on civilian population and do no conduct a normal warfare. Secondly, these countries do not represent people and lack legitimacy. They have gained their legitimacy through violence and should be destroyed both for Western and Eastern people’s sake. Thirdly, these extremist groups abuse and distort religious doctrines to take the support of people. In order to prevent unholy politics to evolve in the democratic world, she advises a radical revision in US and NATO policies.
In the light of Harpham and Benhabib’s views, in my opinion it would not be wrong to assert that what makes 9/11 so different from classical terrorist activities is that it does not have a specific political target other than spreading fear and killing innocent people and it is based solely on strong emotional and religious motives rather than political aims. Although Osama Bin Laden seems to defend Sharia and resist against American imperialism, it is obvious that the collapse of Twin Towers and the death of thousands of innocent people would not serve for Bin Laden’s political aims. Because of 9/11 attacks, Islam and Sharia rather than being strengthened, became a target of criticism in the world. Moreover, this attack created a convenient environment for George W. Bush’s neo-conservative government to spread American imperialism in Afghanistan and Iraq. In this sense, it is no difficult to see that instead of a careful strategy and the use of reason, this attack is derived from a strong emotional accumulation towards USA fed with religious dogmas and falsified beliefs. This point brings us to the earlier subject; the balance between reason and emotions in the age of post-modernism.
As far as I am concerned, in the last two decades with the replacement of Enlightenment’s substantive ideals of freedom and equality with the post-modernist unconditional relativism opens the door for the rise of emotional politics and the loss of reason in the outward from a freer world. Post-modernists like Michel Foucault often defend that all norms stated by the Enlightenment are not objective truths and they possess power relations hidden in themselves. They try to deconstruct different ideas, ideologies, norms and regulations from this perspective in order to create a world where people would enjoy more freedoms. However, although the intention is good this ultra-tolerance and freedom atmosphere also creates opportunity for unhealthy and inhumane ideas and ideologies. This type of meaningless and aimless terrorism from my point of view is caused by the replacement of rational politics with emotional ones and it aims and achieves to perpetuate the overweight of emotions in politics. In a sense, reactions and negative feelings against American imperialism accumulated in the whole world finds an idiotic ideology because of people’s hatred and anger towards USA. Radical Islamist militants act according to religious dogmas and their emotions rather than their reason. The complete loss of reason and the overweight of emotions in politics create a situation that is not different from Thomas Hobbes’ conception of state of nature (or state of warre) where all will fight against all and an anarchic world would be constituted. In this sense, terrorism especially after 9/11 can be accepted as a consequence of emotional politics and the loss of reason in the post-modern world. Emotions may not be unimportant or less important than reason but the supremacy of emotions over reason and thus, the loss of balance between these two lead to these consequences. What makes al-Qaeda different from PKK, ETA and other terrorist organizations is that it presents itself in a divine way by using religion and it only aims to destroy human life and civilization in a barbaric way without having rational political aims. That is why, this new type of terrorism is based solely on emotions and do not have a single part of reasoning in itself. That is why it is more dangerous…
Finally, in my opinion, humanity has been struggling against a very stealthy enemy in the last decades. This enemy is in the mask of an angel and uses a rhetoric of freedom but in fact it aims to extinct and eliminate all other forms of life. It does not have a rational since it is based on the provocation of negative feelings that are caused by the injustices in the world. In the past, in social sciences and politics emotions could have neglected but now it seems to me that reason has become to be neglected and this trend would lead to disastrous consequences since the area of politics would be ruled solely by emotions and negative feelings would encourage and strengthen each other. I hope soon, we will start to give reason the emphasis it deserves and try to act and think for a better world instead of acting according to our fears and hatred.
- Marcus, George E., “The Psychology of Emotion and Politics” in Sears, David & Huddy, Leonie & Jervis, Robert (ed.) Handbook of Political Psychology 
- Harpham, Geoffrey Galt, “Symbolic Terror”, Critical Inquiry 28 (Winter 2002): 573-579 
- Benhabib, Seyla, “Unholy Politics”, International Journal of Critical and Democratic Theory, March 2002 
- Crenshaw, Martha, “The Causes of Terrorism”, Comparative Politics, Vol. 13, No: 4 (Jul. 1981) 
- Gibbs, Jack P., “Conceptualization of Terrorism”, American Sociological Review, Vol. 54, No: 3 (Jun. 1989) 
- Wikipedia, http://www.wikipedia.org/
 Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotion
 Gibbs, pp 333
 “Civilization cannot aspire to replace the passions with reason” (Marcus, pp 185).