The acts of radicalized “Jihadists” often hits our front pages and tablet news apps. It is clearly brutal. It is clearly intolerant. It clearly appalling.
Yet alongside all of this clear terroristic activity are other forms of violence and inhospitable behavior. These are the varieties of abusive experience for which we have developed a kind of avoidance. It is quite similar to how individuals who are maltreated will often interpret abusive psychophysical actions by a “loved one” or “partner” as not being violent. It is amazing how we can find excuses for the actions of so many bullies around us.
But in the end, terrorism is simply reducing a person or a group to a state of fearful retreat and/or scared surrender.
The terrorism that we see highlighted in our media on a regular basis I call “Hard Terror.” It is blatant. Anybody who sees it can say, “That is despicable.” We have this same reaction to when we see our best friend being abused by her husband. We have this reaction when we see somebody gunned down by police officer or hit by a drunk driver.
But all around this highlighted brutality is the background structural violence I consider “Soft Terror.” Laws that make it illegal to be homeless. Decisions by the Department of Justice that allow bankers to continue speculating in financial markets after losing the life savings of the middle class. Lower taxes viewed as more important than sick folks having access to good healthcare. Corporate money confounded with the sacrosanctity of a citizen’s right to free speech.
We look at such things and we meet it sometimes with a bit of anger, often with some frustration. But we rarely see how the combination of these neoliberal decisions adds up to authoritarianism at large in our society and a terrifying existence for the working poor.
If you hit people softly, they may not notice. If you do it all the time, over and over, throughout the day everyday, the spot will at first bruise and finally the muscle and bone will be pulverized to mush. This is the state of our soul’s after decades of soft terror.