The object of terrorism is terrorism. George Orwell
Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life. Bill Cunningham
Explosions, blood on the walls, shattered glass, bodies lying on the ground, rounds of gunfire, injured people screaming for help…
Is it really possible to talk about terrorism and fashion at the same time?
What have gorgeous models on the runway to do with fucking assholes blowing themselves up with explosive belts in concert halls, or steering trucks with high speed into crowds of pedestrians? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! Victoria’s Secret Angels can’t be linked to terrorist attacks.
But that’s only one side of the coin.
The uncomfortable truth is that contemporary terrorism is not thinkable without fashion. I know that’s difficult to digest. And I agree upon that this statement sounds crazy; like real bullshit. It’s apparently completely opposed to common sense, last not least from an ethical point of view. We are used to characterize terrorist attacks as manifestations of ultimate evil. And we tend to see fashion as a wonderful enrichment of our lives; as something good. But our classical moral distinctions are not helpful here. We have to move some steps “Beyond Good and Evil” in order to grasp the magnitude of contemporary aesthetics. Traditionally, aesthetics is defined as the theory of beauty, or more broadly as that together with theories of art and culture. But the good old days are gone when aesthetic creation was discussed as an artistic contribution to society, or as a “mirror” of reality. The world has changed, and we have changed as well.
We are living today in a globalized society of the “spectacle”, in a society where human communication is mediated by an endless bombardment of images. The word “spectacle” refers within the context of postmodernism to a societal situation where reality has changed into a reality of simple images, and where our consciousness is permanently interrelated with images. There’s a song from the 70s by the Talking Heads reflecting this situation.
I’m looking and I’m dreaming for the first time
I’m inside and I’m outside at the same time
And everything is real
Do I like the way I feel?
Television made me what I am
Today, combined with the internet and personal computing devices, digital media makes us what we are. Digital media is creating the spectacle and simultaneously the collective structure of our feelings. Media content has become our internal and external consciousness. Our feelings are inside and outside at the same time.
The Cartesian cogito argument: “I think, therefore I am” is nowadays replaced with a postmodern definition of the self: “I consume feelings, therefore I am.”Nothing in the entire universe of images is addressed to the mind anymore, but everything to our senses. It might not be to everyone’s liking, but all this implies that terrorism and fashion are inseparably interrelated aesthetic phenomena. When it comes to terrorism one has to abandon the idea that it has something to do with politics or religion. Today’s terrorism is not the product of a traditional history of liberation, anarchism, nihilism, or fanaticism. Today’s terrorism is in a globalized world of the emotional spectacle, simplified said, the ugly brother of a beautiful sister; fashion.
Building up a reasoning chain supporting this claim will take me some time. I kindly ask for your patience. Besides, only the most stupid idiots seriously believe that the complexity of the world we live in can be explained in tweets with 140 characters. The ancient philosopher Socrates never got tired to point out that the “unexamined life is not worth living.” Only nihilists don’t agree with it. Also, one should not forget to add that the unexamined life leads to a life in darkness. Like the one the prisoners have in Plato’s allegory of the Cave. Therefore, a slow and thoughtful approach is necessary in order to achieve at least a little bit of clarity in a more and more chaotic world.
Perhaps I should say a few words about my approach before I start.
I call it the “Mount Everest under Water” method.
Truth told I always have been in love with “The Depth of Superficiality.”
The stuff supposedly highly educated people have in mind when talking about “depth” is opposed to my taste and interests. It turns me off. Dealing with superficial things is much more rewarding for me. It’s a kind of delicacy for my mind, more fantastic than the most fantastic fantasy. For me superficiality is as deep as depth. I know that my enthusiastic praise of superficiality might sound familiar to those acquainted with the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. He wrote famously in the beginning of our modern times: “What is required is to stop courageously at the surface, the fold, the skin, to adore appearance…the whole Olympus of appearance” Okay, let’s do it with regard to terrorism and fashion.
What is fashion?
When most people hear the word “fashion”, something specific comes to their minds: runways, good looking models, expensive clothes, luxurious lifestyles, superficial attitudes, glamour etc. That’s why supposedly highly educated people have a fear of touch when it comes to fashion. They don’t know and don’t want to know that fashion is an important aspect in most people’s everyday life.
Most of us spend quite some time every morning in order to choose what to wear. And most of us stand some moments in front of the mirror before leaving our homes.
What we wear is how we present ourselves to the world.
It’s important for us to know what others will see when they see us. There are, of course, many people not interested at all in how they look like. Particularly those overly concerned with matters of what they consider as “depth” tend to ignore their external appearance. Moreover, their intentionally shitty looking external appearance is meant to be an expression for the deepness of their mind.
But such cases don’t contradict a general principle: what we wear is always a talking mirror of our mind. What we wear can be an understated whisper, a high energy scream, or an all knowing wink and a smile. Fashion wants us to be comfortable with ourselves. And we are comfortable with ourselves when we can say what we want to say by wearing what we wear. Fashion has become an instant language in a world where human contacts are reduced to a quick interpretation of non-verbal signs.
We don’t necessarily need to talk anymore since the only thing we have to do is to look at each other in order to understand what the others have in mind. Clothes create a wordless means of communication that we all understand. Therefore, it’s beyond any doubts that fashion is nowadays one of the most dominant forms of free speech. Freedom of speech is the right to hold opinions without fear of government retaliation, societal, or religious censorship. This freedom, however, does not exist everywhere.
Just a brief glance at dressing codes in the Islamic world shows us immediately that fashion, in the way as we know it, does not exist there. Dressing codes in the Islamic world are rigorously designed from above. There is definitely no multiplicity but uniformity in terms of strict clothing regulations. And exactly this kind of uniformity is the common denominator for authoritarian collective movements like communism and fascism.
This does not mean that Islam is another form of communism or fascism. But if strict clothing regulations – like those in communism and fascism – function as a basic component for social formation, then one must see Islam within the context of uniformity not as a religion but as a style movement. Consequently, the “spirit” of contemporary terrorism belongs to a particular style. I’ll come back to this aspect.
What is terrorism?
What terrorism is depends on whom you ask. For you and me it is shit, for others a supposedly holy duty. The term comes from the Latin word terrere: “to make tremble”. Terrorists are successful with it. But what exactly is terrorism? The United Nations define terrorism as an “anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi-) clandestine individual, group or state…whereby – in contrast to assassination – the direct targets of violence are not the main targets.” Terrorists are definitely not stupid. They plan their attacks to obtain the greatest publicity choosing targets that symbolize what they oppose.
It is coincidental but significant that the September 11, 2001 attacks happened on the fourth day of the New York Fashion Week canceling some 73 remaining fashion shows. Fashion is big business. And so is terrorism, with large implications for arms trade, security contracts, and defense procurement worldwide. Terrorism would be nothing without the media. The attack on the Twin Towers was a televised event. Those billion people watching were to be introduced to fear – which is terrorisms ultimate goal.
And the most lethal weapon terrorists have is their own death.
Suicide bombing is in their eyes an act of symbolic “resistance”. Terrorist’s love of death is the triumph of nothingness in the globalized spectacle of meaninglessness.
Terrorism is designed to produce an overreaction, and succeeds at that.
The once upon a time liberal globalization is changing due to terrorism into its opposite – a police state – globalization. What we are witnessing is the rise of total control. We are watching the birth of a digital Darwinism; the survival of the technological fittest.
The strongest expression for this overreaction is “War on Terrorism”. Clausewitz’ statement that “war is a continuation of policy by other means” might happily be taken as a truism by terrorists. But terrorist attacks in the Western World are absolutely non-political. To believe that terrorists act in accordance to a political or religious orientation is a misunderstanding. The simple truth is that terrorists don’t give a fuck in politics or religion. The aim is just to kill before getting killed. And this makes retaliation meaningless.
The insurmountable problem with terrorism is that it is not an actual enemy. Terrorism is something abstract. That’s why the so called “War on Terrorism” is as pointless as the “War on Drugs” is. The so called “War on Terrorism” is definitely not an activity but an emotional slogan, a form of mindless advertisement; like “Make America Great Again”.
That the fashion industry has raised its middle finger against terrorism is marvelous. But messages like this one are ridiculous expressions of helplessness. It’s not possible to stop terrorism. In the same way as it is not possible to stop people from falling in love or to commit suicide. Terrorism is a highly complex and extreme human behavior. One has to understand the forces that shape it.
To be continued…