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Introduction: Rethinking Imperialism Today
As I shall be using the term, ‘‘imperialism’’ means the practice, the
theory and the attitudes of a dominating metropolitan center ruling
a distant territory; ‘‘colonialism,’’ which is almost always a conse-
quence of imperialism, is the implanting of settlements on distant
territory. . . . In our time, direct colonialism has largely ended; im-
perialism, as we shall see, lingers where it has always been, in a
kind of general cultural sphere as well as in specific political, ideo-
logical, economic, and social practices.—Edward
Said, Culture
and Imperialism
Any doubts that imperialism was central to the United States’s understand-
ing of itself were put to rest in the aftermath of September 11, when the
operative question was not whether the United States was an imperial power,
but rather what kind. Repeated invocations of differences between ‘‘our’’ civi-
lization and ‘‘their’’ barbarity, entreaties for a ‘‘new imperialism,’’ and calls for
reinstating a nineteenth-century-type colonialism, now with the United States
replacing Britain and France, as well as cheers for colonialism, circulated
almost immediately after 9/11.∞ The passage of the usa patriot Act, the
creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the prolonged detention of
prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and, most important, the unilateral invasion of
Iraq in 2003 suggest that a new kind of imperialism—though of a particularly
insidious kind, requiring disciplining at home and abroad through the inculca-
tion of an imperial culture—might be at hand.
And yet, treating September 11 as a watershed moment problematically
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