Neo-Liberalism and the ‘War on Terror’ Industry

May 18, 2012 by Dr. Farish A. Noor

Neo-Liberalism and the ‘War on Terror’ Industry:
How the Free Market and Security Industry
Work Together To Terrorise the World

By Farish A. Noor


I. Neo-Liberal economics and the domestication of the Citizen as Subject-Consumer

The logic of neo-liberal economics operates on one unstated premise: That citizens are universal subjects who are both suppliers of alienable/alienated labour as well as consumers of the very same goods and services they produce. Free-market economics therefore requires the creation and reproduction of such subject-consumers whose own identities are left vacuous and without any particularities – be they historical, cultural, class, gender or religious identities. It is upon this universal notion that the market operates, and at the same time the market also seeks ways and means to render citizens subject to the law of the market where labour can remain an alienable commodity to be marketed as well, ‘sold’ by ‘free’ individual agents without Society/Culture mediating this process of commercial exchange.

When we look at the impact of the free market in Southeast Asia – and in particular consider the devastating impact of free movement of capital in and out of the region since the 1970s – we can see how the consolidation of the neo-liberal consensus has managed to radically alter the economic and socio-cultural landscape of the region as well. Owing to the Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs) that were introduced via the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) to countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines many of the local producers there have been negatively affected by the sudden entry (and subsequent withdrawal) of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) since the 1970s. The IMF and World Bank’s intervention in the Philippines during the time of Ferdinand Marcos comes to mind as one of the best-documented instances of social upheaval and change occasioned by direct economic intervention by external forces at the behest of global market interests, that not only devastated local producers but also led to massive social unrest and unemployment that naturally benefited the forces of global capital that in turn turned the country into a source of cheap labour while effectively crippling any chances the Philippines ever had of becoming an independent producer and economic player in the ASEAN region.[1]

The economic restructuring of ASEAN, however, can be dated back to the formation of ASEAN itself 42 years ago when the countries of the region came together in 1967 to create a bloc that purportedly was ‘neutral’ in the Cold War but decidedly ‘neutral on the side of the West’. Economic restructuring and the introduction of free-market reforms came hand in hand with the war against Communism and the overthrow of populist governments including the government of President Sukarno (that was then regarded as being one of the most left-leaning governments of the region, thanks to the prominence that Sukarno had given to the Indonesian Communist Party, PKI). During the Suharto years that followed, Indonesia was one of the countries in the ASEAN region that led the way in the march toward free-market liberalisation and its economy was privatised according to the advice of the so-called ‘Berkeley mafia’ led by Western-educated technocrats such as B. J. Habibie.

Resistance to such free-market liberalisation came in many forms, some of which were couched in terms of a discourse of religiously-inspired ethics and others in the form of ethno-nationalist and/or religio-communalist resistance. Even the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) of the Philippines can be considered as one example of such an anti-liberalisation movement, as it was founded by Moro activists who were on the one hand Islamists and on the other Marxists in orientation and background.[2] Another example is the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (Free Aceh Movement, GAM) that was likewise founded on the goals of national liberation and regional autonomy, rather than Islamisation and religious communitarian politics.[3]

The local populations of the ASEAN region have therefore demonstrated time and again a conscious and sustained resistance to all forms of economic liberalisation disguised in the form of economic reform or developmentalist ideology; and the citizens of ASEAN themselves have demonstrated conscious rational agency in the ways and means through which they have resisted these liberalisation tendencies – at times even through active political resistance to both the powers of foreign capital as well as entrenched compradore elites who have served as the agents of foreign capital intervention in their respective countries.