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Rethinking War and Terror After Operation Desert Storm

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As the first fully ‘mediatized’ war, Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm (1990-1991) are regarded as a watershed event. This applies not only to Middle East observers or ‘conventional’ conflict and security studies experts.

It also caught the imagination of contemporary philosophers, with Jean Baudrillard’s The Gulf War Did Not Take Place (1991) causing considerable controversy, whereas Desert Screen: War at the Speed of Light (2002) by Paul Virilio received serious attention in the defense sector. Drawing also on other postmodern thinkers, such as Gilles Deleuze, it stimulated the unconventional rethinking of military operations by, for example, Israeli General Shimon Naveh.

In the wake of 9/11 and new military interventions in the Muslim world (Afghanistan 2001, Iraq 2003), these ideas received a further lease of life in the political theology of Reza Negarestani, a philosopher from the school of Speculative Realism.

The 30th anniversary of the 1990-1991 Gulf War is used as an occasion to tie together these developments and assess the impact on the imaginative rethinking of conflict and terror of such notions as ‘war machine’, ‘smooth vs striated space’, ‘concealment’ (taqiyya) and ‘takfiri-jihadism’.


Carool Kersten is Reader in the Study of Islam and the Muslim World at King’s College London. He is the author and editor of 11 books, including Contemporary Thought in the Muslim World (2019) and The Caliphate and Islamic Statehood (2015). He has a Ph.D. in the Study of Religions from SOAS (University of London) and an MA (cum laude) in Arabic and Middle East Studies from Radboud University Nijmegen (The Netherlands). During the Gulf War, he was stationed at King Abdulaziz Airbase in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.