Fooled by fear: ISIS, global risks, and the legitimacy of war


dreamstime_l_33695347“How can you have a war on terrorism when war itself is terrorism?” ― Howard Zinn

When the German sociologist Ulrich Beck came up with his concept of World Risk Society in the 70s, he probably didn’t forego how useful this term would be to policy-makers to analyse the world forty years later. Beck argued that modernity, after a period of industrialisation and progress, had reached a second phase where men were now dealing with the negative side effects of this industrialisation, such as terrorism and climate change. These risks, he argued, are global. They can reach everyone anywhere, are unlimited in time, and are therefore increasingly difficult to predict. These aspects, however, does not prevent society to try and put a lot of efforts in managing them, by taking all kind of preemptive actions. In short, the less you know, the more you act.

This notion of global risk quickly became seductive to policy-makers, as pictured by Donald Rumsfeld expressing himself in 2002 at the Department of Defense. Then Secretary of States of the United States, Rumsfeld talked about the potential link between the Iraqi government and terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda by using the term ‘unknown-unknown’ risk. Picturing it as unbounded, unlimited, and unpredictable, Rumsfeld argued that this global risk offered all the reasons to go and engage time, money and human energy in the Middle East, apparently. That way, he legitimated the American interventions that would follow in Afghanistan.

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