In my reading for class this week I stumbled across this Žižek essay
from May 2002. As a very early examination of the War of Terror, I have to say it's held up pretty freaking well.
This is another aspect of the new global order: we no longer have wars in the old sense of a conflict between sovereign states in which certain rules apply (to do with the treatment of prisoners, the prohibition of certain weapons etc). Two types of conflict remain: struggles between groups of homo sacer - 'ethnic-religious conflicts' which violate the rules of universal human rights, do not count as wars proper, and call for a 'humanitarian pacifist' intervention on the part of the Western powers - and direct attacks on the US or other representatives of the new global order, in which case, again, we do not have wars proper, but merely 'unlawful combatants' resisting the forces of universal order. In this second case, one cannot even imagine a neutral humanitarian organisation like the Red Cross mediating between the warring parties, organising an exchange of prisoners and so on, because one side in the conflict - the US-dominated global force - has already assumed the role of the Red Cross, in that it does not perceive itself as one of the warring sides, but as a mediating agent of peace and global order, crushing rebellion and, simultaneously, providing humanitarian aid to the 'local population'.
This weird 'coincidence of opposites' reached its peak when, a few months ago, Harald Nesvik, a right-wing member of the Norwegian Parliament, proposed George W. Bush and Tony Blair as candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize, citing their decisive role in the 'war on terror'. Thus the Orwellian motto 'War is Peace' finally becomes reality, and military action against the Taliban can be presented as a way to guarantee the safe delivery of humanitarian aid. We no longer have an opposition between war and humanitarian aid: the same intervention can function at both levels simultaneously. The toppling of the Taliban regime is presented as part of the strategy to help the Afghan people oppressed by the Taliban; as Tony Blair said, we may have to bomb the Taliban in order to secure food transportation and distribution. Perhaps the ultimate image of the 'local population' as homo sacer is that of the American war plane flying above Afghanistan: one can never be sure whether it will be dropping bombs or food parcels.