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Home > Politics

R.I.P. War on Terror

31 July 2005

When Marathon became Snickers, it didn’t get any more peanutty. When Prince became Hilariously Pretentious Squiggle, he didn’t ascend to new heights of filthy falsetto-pop glory. When the Post Office decided that ‘Post Office’ was way too self-explanatory and morphed into Consignia, Britain roared with laughter in all its four quarters. And then it stopped laughing and said ‘Oi, twat with the sack, why are all my bank statements still going to number 12?’

Rebranding often changes nothing, but it can be the kiss of life for an ailing company, product or pop star - just that nudge of realignment with a demographic, a little aesthetic boost suggestive of a fresh approach, can turn fortunes around. People are sensitive to the connotations of names and images in ways they are barely even aware of, and millions are splurged trying to press their elusive consumer-buttons. Every day you’re prodded, tugged and inappropriately fondled by fledgling brands jostling for primacy in your fickle head. Such is the nature of modern business; and, such is the Bush administration’s closeness to corporate America, that they’ve taken a leaf from its book and opted to give the War on Terror a little lick of ideological paint.

Yes, after [how many thou?] Iraqi civilian casualties, a couple of thousand American ones, a hundred or so Brits, and all that Bali and Madrid and London unpleasantness and poor young Jean Charles de Menezes, the latest casualty of The War On Terror is The War On Terror itself. Long derided for its dangerous vacuity, TWOT has finally keeled over under the weight of its own massive malapropositude. OK, so they needed a slogan – ‘the thing we’re doing where we exploit the fears of our own nation in order to gain their support in shafting other nations but not really doing anything to improve the safety of our own citizens because, let’s face it, what’s in it for us to do that’ may have been more accurate, but just didn’t have that high-street-profit zing. It is still appalling, though, to realise that the GOP themselves are thinking in terms of business and advertising while people live and die in fear – it’s colder, even, than that bluntly military phrase we all reflexively spit at the mention of.

So now the world is to be coaxed into supporting not a War on Terror, but a ‘global struggle against violent extremism’. This is, actually, a bit more fucking like it. You cannot invade terror, it seems to finally admit. You can’t put on fatigues and accidentally shoot your own comrades while aiming at it with all the measured expertise of a 19-year-old doofus who signed up because he thought it would be ‘awesome to bag a few A-rabs, dude’. What you do with terror, that noxious elemental wafting cloud of uncertain threat, is struggle with it – struggle to understand it, struggle to assimilate the reasons behind it, struggle to undo it from the roots up. Grapple with the daily reality of extreme anxiety, with the pressing moral dilemmas. Wrestle with the way it tries to impose itself. That sort of thing. Nothing magnificent to have holidays for or build statues commemorating or print t-shirts in support of. But something grounded in reality.

The question is how much of this kind of understanding, this sober stepping-back and cool-headed contemplation is actually behind the rebrand. Experts will tell you there are two types of rebranding - the kind that indicates change has occurred, and the kind that fools people into thinking change has occurred. It’s a little too much to hope that the Bush administration will suddenly grow a brain and a heart, stop hacking away at civil liberties and human rights, and start pondering what can realistically be achieved, although this little rethink does suggest that perhaps Britain’s non-hysterical response to being attacked has had some subtle influence.

However, US citizens may not much care for the linguistic downgrade. Certainly deranged ego-on-stilts Conservative blogger La Shawn Barber won’t be too chuffed. Following the London attacks, she bleated: ‘Islamofascists have declared war on the *world*, and they’ve decided to bomb London at will, which is proving stunningly easy to do since the government won’t racially profile. No commuter will ever feel safe again, and that’s the idea. Britain’s response? They’ve adopted a localized cops-and-robbers approach.’ She backed this up with a quote from another commentator, who sniffed over the ‘unwillingness of the majority of the British people to recognize that they are indeed in a war. The flak-jacketed, heavily armed men and women lining my road to Heathrow last week were cops, not troops. America is at war, Britain is playing cops and criminals.’

Funny that – it seems from here that, by *branding* the attacks as crimes and not acts of war, to be dealt with by police rather than by soldiers (whose anachronistic, pointless presence on the streets would frighten more than it would reassure), people are that bit less in thrall to the idea of terror. This mental achievement, if this really were a war and not a series of criminal acts, would be called a small victory.

Hence, we can tentatively – oh so tentatively - applaud the Consigniafication of The Struggle Formerly Known As The War On Terror. And as we progress towards enlightenment, breathe deeply and ask yourself – what is the sound of one hand slapping La Shawn Barber?

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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