Location Zero, Pt. 1

To follow up, does it even make sense to think of politically hyperreal spatial inversions – that’s my pomo longhand for extremist sanctuaries – in terms of zeros and index cases? This is going to take a bit of background research, but off the cuff, I’d only use it if the argument starts getting into issues of contagion – as in, how conflict spreads.

This is getting a bit stream-of-consciousness (SOC) again, so bear with me… but what I’m thinking of is a statement Rumsfeld once made at a joint press conference with the Norwegian Minister of Defence Kristin Krohn Devold in April 2002. She’s less the point of this SOC than is something Rumsfeld said in response to a query (CNN’s Barbara Star, I think) about Iran (remember, this is 2002). I’ve italicized the important bit.

Rumsfeld: Barbara?

Q: Well, my question could you review for us today your thinking about exactly how unhelpful you believe Iran is right now in the war on terrorism? In fact, do you now believe that al Qaeda has moved in and out of Iran, has operated in Iran? Do you believe that Iran in the current situation in Israel is continuing to back some of the unrest beyond this shipment of the arms you have spoken about? Just how unhelpful is Iran at the moment, in your mind?

Rumsfeld: There is no question but that Iran was involved with the Karine A shipment headed for the Palestinian Authority. There is no question but that al Qaeda have moved in and found sanctuary in Iran. And there is no question but that al Qaeda have moved into Iran and out of Iran to the south and dispersed to some other countries. To my knowledge, they are not operating out of Iran in the sense that they were out of Afghanistan, so there’s that distinction. But I can’t think of a thing I’ve said that anyone, by the wildest stretch of their imagination could characterize as “helpful”; they’re all harmful and contributing to the problems with respect to the global terrorists.

Q: Can I just follow up on two points? When you say they have found sanctuary in Iran, does that mean that you believe that al Qaeda is currently in Iran? And secondly, given what you have laid out, how do you begin to touch the problem inside Iran?

Rumsfeld: Maybe the word “sanctuary” was not a perfect word because I don’t think of it as a permanent sanctuary, I think of it as transit and — and — as opposed to operating out of the country. But it certainly would be helpful if they were more cooperative, and they have not been particularly. There are a couple of instances where they have characterized what they’re doing as being helpful, as I recall.

The Q & A went on a bit after that. I was struck by the thinking that linked sanctuary to notions of permanence and transience, with a slighter nod to associated functions. In Rumsfeld’s thinking, a sanctuary’s only really a sanctuary if it’s permanent and functions as a base for operations carried out elsewhere. The unspoken implication, though, is that permanence also implies a site of entrenchment, a foothold from which a group or organization or movement can grow and spread. It’s unspoken in this quote, but fairly implicit in everything else we know of neo-con thinking on Islam, the Middle East, and extremism linked to both.

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