Friday, November 13, 2009

Art, Terrorism, and Academic Nonsense

Our Flemish correspondent VH has translated a recent article from Het Vrije Volk about a Dutch “scientist” whose work serves to validate the current politically approach to dealing with terrorism. It also legitimizes the demonization of Geert Wilders, which is the single greatest preoccupation among the academic and political elite in the Netherlands at this moment in history.

Prof. Dr. Bob de Graaff: Terrorism as art and science as twaddle

By Ger Struijk

Prof. Dr. Bob de Graaff, co-author of the report on the “extremism” of Wilders, appears to be a scholar of exceptional talent.

Professor De Graaff (1955) was originally a historian, which career included working for the Institute for War Documentation. Since February 1, 2007 he has been the first Dutch professor of terrorism and counterterrorism, and he holds that post at the University of Leiden. The Chair of terrorism and counterterrorism was installed at the request of the then National Coordinator for Combating Terrorism, Tjibbe Joustra, and the chair is also funded by the National Coördinator. And to underline even more the scientific independence of Professor De Graaff, he pursues his scientific activities not in Leiden itself, but at the Lange Houtstraat in The Hague, a location within a stone’s throw of the Houses of Parliament.

Who would have expected that the brand new Professor would map out his brand new specialty with some sturdy boxes publications, I must sadly disappoint. Apart from his oration, we are left with a 27-page speech, entitled “Flying in the air: Terrorism as art” [pdf]. It is rather poor, just 27 pages in three years’ time, but the scientific violence our scholar ignites in those few pages quite makes up for it.

Terrorism as art, that link has of course been made before. The non-scientifically educated among us also realize that there are some uneasy parallels possible between, for instance, disaster films and the images of 9/11. However, the scientific profundity our highly educated lend to the relationship between art and terrorism, is unprecedented. After barely two paragraphs there is already a hit:

“I am arguing here that some terrorists seek to find a place in history, in the central narrative.” (p..2)

Nothing no equivocation, here is a scientist who immediately dares to put his feet firmly down. And that is only the overture. A page later, Professor De Graaff impresses on us that terrorists:

“[…] are looking for an audience and representation, with help of the media, because the essence of terrorism is that it has an effect that had a much wider public effect than just the direct victims of an attack. Without any media, no terrorism. […] Some terrorists are looking for their “fifteen minutes of fame” and, as it may be, even a little bit more.” (p.3)

I sometimes think on my own about the phenomenon of terrorism, and also have sometimes even read a book on that subject, but the razor-sharp insights that our scholar here sprinkles around like gingerbread are still entirely new to me. Terrorists who play the media, that is something that is still really surprising to me. The merciless exposure of these sorts of links is something only for such intellectual powerhouses as Professor De Graaff. And now the real theme of his oration: the relationship between terrorism and art:

“Creation is not possible without destruction. Every desire for perfection destroys. […] Just as good writing is characterized by deletion. The sculptor maims the material from which he creates.” (p.5)

Professor De Graaff firmly sets out in new scientific directions. The Pieta of Michelangelo and the dismembered bodies after a suicide attack are offshoots of the same strain. No artwork without destroying the material. And he immediately catches on:
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“Also, the discrepancy which one encounters between literature as focused on words and terrorism as focused on deeds is an idealization. Terrorist violence is a way of communicating and cannot exist without words. Terrorists write communiqués with which they justify their actions or announce them.” (p.6)

Mohammed Bouyeri [the murderer of Theo van Gogh] as a litterateur — yes, real science is not for frightened people! Fortunately, Professor De Graaff tries to keep his scientific head cool.

“Yet there is hope for art, because in the end artists perhaps [sic] will appear to be more imaginative than deadly with the dullness of repeated bombings. […] Habituation is mortal for terrorists. […] Unlike “terrorism as usual” it seems to me that “art as usual” still is a contradiction in terms. Good art will always stand for plurality and ambiguity.. In that sense [sic] terrorism indeed can not be equated with art.” (p 23)

To make a more definite statement, this otherwise courageous scientist does not let himself be tempted, but there is still a glimmer of hope. Perhaps terrorism and art are not in all respects equal.

At the end of his oration, professor De Graaff still has a wise lesson in store for us:

“That raises the question of whether the relatively protected Western consumer society, so to speak, does provoke terrorism. A society in which the greatest challenge in life seems to a boring extent immer mehr konsumieren [sic: in German], runs the risk of political violence by the marginalized, in the form of terrorism.” […] Government and citizens must take into account that a certain form of society and experience entails risk. (p.26)

And that is exactly the way it is. New York, Madrid, London and the Linnaeusstraat [where Van Gogh was murdered] in Amsterdam: you have yourselves to blame. And if you don’t want that type of situation, then there is always the wise advice of Professor Hans Jansen: “capitulation is also an option”.[1]

It may be clear that Professor Bob de Graaff is not only a jewel for our academic world, but also managed in just a few short years to provide a certain scientific basis for counterterrorism in this country. Terrorists actually are artists, and furthermore combating terrorism is also the combating of symptoms. For the source of evil lies elsewhere, and to be precise: with Wilders. As Professor De Graaff also suggests that Wilders is a right-wing extremist and a threat to democracy, then you can rely on it: that opinion, scientifically speaking, stands as a rock. There really is no room left for doubt.

And the upcoming trial of Wilders? That is, thanks to the scientific work of Professor De Graaff in the meantime, almost a fait accompli. Value-free science and judicial independence all in all take a lot of dirty work out of the hands of politics, and that is the way it should be in a self-respecting democratic constitutional state.

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Note by the author:

[1] Hans Jansen made this oft-cited statement on NOVA [Dutch TV news show], at the time of all the emotion about the film Fitna. Of course, it was meant to be ironic.