Geoffrey Galt Harpham in his article “Symbolic Terror” analyzes the effects of terrorist acts especially that of September 11 (9/11) incident from an ironic and symbolic perspective. In this paper, I am going to explain what Harpham basically talks about in this article and why his writing is symbolic.
Harpham begins his article by differentiating terrorism from trauma. “Terror, I think we must begin by saying, is not a trauma” (Harpham, p. 573). In his idea, terror is different from trauma considering its feature of symbolic order and its difficulty of being understood in a rational manner. So, Harpham explains how and why a tidal wave killing 5000 people is not terror but trauma. He 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 that 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 uses a symbolic method and explains terrorism -similar to the nature of its anthrax method- something that can go anywhere like a letter that does not have a destination. “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, p. 574).
Harpham continues to carry on his ironic, symbolic discourse and shows how terrorism is fed and feeds terrorism again. “And, yet, it seems that we must bomb” he says before explaining how Cold War and imperialism prepared necessary grounds for terrorism (Harpham, p. 574). He shows how people create a new reality by talking about and giving new meanings to terrorism. He asks, “Has terror produced a new reality or disclosed an old one?” (Harpham, p. 575). Harpham also shows how terrorism is used as a pretext by American government to intervene in Iraq by quoting Kenneth Adelman: “I have no evidence that Iraq was involved in nine-eleven, but I feel it” (Harpham, p. 575). In his idea, the reaction of the right wing politics to terrorism is more and more bombs. He continues to write ironically and asserts that conservatives believe that American society is too tolerant and that is why responsible for terrorist acts. The left also sees American policies as the reason of terrorism. Noam Chomsky for instance reveals that 9/11 represents nothing but the “the logical outcome of American policies and actions” (Harpham, p. 577). Harpham explains Chomsky’s views about the mistakes of the Cold War that give birth to terrorism such as USA’s support to Al-Qaeda against USSR in Afghanistan.
I think Harpham’s writing is symbolic and his message lies behind these words. 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, p. 578). By using a quotation from Joseph Conrad’s “Nostromo” he points out how we try to materialize and rationalize events and people derived from immaterial interests. 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 strengthen the specter of terrorism…
BIBLIOGRAPHY- Harpham, Geoffrey Galt, “Symbolic Terrorism”, http://www.jstor.org/pss/1344283