Now I’ve read the abstracts this looks even more exciting than it did when all I had was a list of names… There are so many contributions that intersect with my own work and interests I’m looking forward to some lively exchanges – and to learning a lot.
In July I’m thrilled to be speaking at Reconfiguring Global Space: the geography, politics and ethics of drone war, to be held at Indiana University – Bloomington, 14-17 July.
The other speakers – which explains why I’m thrilled to be going – include Medea Benjamin, Mark Neocleous, Priya Satia and Madiha Tahir: people I know only through print, video or e-mail (sometimes all three!) and it will be good to meet them in non-digital form. Which, given the subject of the conference, is an all too appropriate wish….
There are lots of other interesting participants too: the outline program is here, and the organizers hope to have full details available at the end of this month.
At the end of February Tatiana Bazzichelli, director and curator of the Disruption Network Lab, invited me to be a keynote speaker at Eyes from a Distance: on drone systems and their strategies in Berlin in April.
Disruption Network Lab is an ongoing platform of events and research focused on art, hacktivism and disruption. The Laboratory takes shape through a series of conference events at Studio 1, Kunstquartier Bethanien in Berlin.
The goal of the Disruption Network Lab is to present and generate new possible routes of social and political action within the framework of hacktivism, digital culture and network economy, focusing on the disruptive potential of artistic practices. The Disruption Network Lab is a conceptual and practical zone where artists, hackers, networkers, critical thinkers and entrepreneurs enter into a dialogue. The programme is developed through artistic presentations, theoretical debates and keynote events. This series of events establishes local and translocal partnerships with other spaces and institutions.
The specific aim of Eyes from a Distance was unerring:
What is the politics and the regime of power beyond drone-systems? Which are the consequences both on militant networks and civil society of an increasing automatism of conflicts? Can we track down the hidden strategies that move target-killings? Can we understand better drone technology? This event combines reflections on the political and technological infrastructure of drone-systems, the use of them in massive and weaponised military programmes, and the artistic and activist response to this.
I was already committed to presentations at the Balsillie School/CIGI and to the AAG Conference in Chicago so, with immense reluctance, I had to decline. Now I know what I missed – not only the wonderful city of Berlin but also a brilliant programme that would have kept me inside on both evenings.
You can find two video clips (one by Brandon Bryant, which I’ve embedded above) published as part of the documentation of the meeting here, and over at We Make Money Not Art, Regine has provided three detailed reports from the meeting (with useful links): The Grey Zone: the (il)legitimacy of targeted killing by drones, Eyes from a Distance: personal encounters with military drones, and Tracking Drones, reporting lives.
Intersecting with the themes raised by Eyes from a Distance, I highly recommend a new essay/work-in-progress by Sara Matthews on ‘Visual Itineraries of the Sovereign: The Drone Gaze‘. It was originally developed for a panel on “The Ethics and Itineraries of Visual Data” at the meeting of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies in Montreal in March.
Breaking the Silence has just published a major report into the Israeli military’s tactics during its most recent offensive against Gaza and its people, so-called ‘Operation Protective Edge’ (see my posts here, here, here and here).
Writing in today’s Guardian, Peter Beaumont reports:
Describing the rules that meant life and death in Gaza during the 50-day war – a conflict in which 2,200 Palestinians were killed – the interviews shed light for the first time not only on what individual soldiers were told but on the doctrine informing the operation.
Despite the insistence of Israeli leaders that it took all necessary precautions to protect civilians, the interviews provide a very different picture. They suggest that an overarching priority was the minimisation of Israeli military casualties even at the risk of Palestinian civilians being harmed….
Post-conflict briefings to soldiers suggest that the high death toll and destruction were treated as “achievements” by officers who judged the attrition would keep Gaza “quiet for five years”.
The tone, according to one sergeant, was set before the ground offensive into Gaza that began on 17 July last year in pre-combat briefings that preceded the entry of six reinforced brigades into Gaza.
“[It] took place during training at Tze’elim, before entering Gaza, with the commander of the armoured battalion to which we were assigned,” recalled a sergeant, one of dozens of Israeli soldiers who have described how the war was fought last summer in the coastal strip.
“[The commander] said: ‘We don’t take risks. We do not spare ammo. We unload, we use as much as possible.’”
“The rules of engagement [were] pretty identical,” added another sergeant who served in a mechanised infantry unit in Deir al-Balah. “Anything inside [the Gaza Strip] is a threat. The area has to be ‘sterilised,’ empty of people – and if we don’t see someone waving a white flag, screaming: “I give up” or something – then he’s a threat and there’s authorisation to open fire … The saying was: ‘There’s no such thing there as a person who is uninvolved.’ In that situation, anyone there is involved.”
“The rules of engagement for soldiers advancing on the ground were: open fire, open fire everywhere, first thing when you go in,” recalled another soldier who served during the ground operation in Gaza City. The assumption being that the moment we went in [to the Gaza Strip], anyone who dared poke his head out was a terrorist.”
You can find an impassioned, detailed commentary on the report by Neve Gordon – who provides vital context, not least about the asymmetric ethics pursued by supposedly ‘the most ethical army in the world’ – over at the London Review of Books here, and a shorter commentary by Kevin Jon Heller at Opinio Juris here. Kevin notes:
The soldiers’ descriptions are disturbingly reminiscent of the notorious “free fire” zones in Vietnam and the US government’s well-documented (and erroneous) belief that signature strikes directed against “military-age men in an area of known terrorist activity” comply with IHL’s principle of distinction. The testimonials are, in a word, stunning — and put the lie to oft-repeated shibboleths about the IDF being “the most moral army in the world.” As ever, the stories told by the IDF and the Israeli government are contradicted by the soldiers who actually have to do the killing and dying.
The legal and ethical framework pursued by the Israeli military – and ‘pursued’ is the mot (in)juste, since its approach to international law and ethics is one of aggressive intervention – is in full view at a conference to be held in Jerusalem this week: ‘Towards a New Law of War‘.
‘The goal of the law of war conference,’ say the organisers, ‘is to influence the direction of legal discourse concerning issues critical to Israel and her ability to defend herself. The law of war is mainly unwritten and develops on the basis of state practice.’
You can find the full program here, dominated by speakers from Israel and the US, but notice in particular the session on ‘Proportionality: Crossing the line on civilian casualties‘:
After ‘Operation Cast Lead’, Daniel Reisner, former head of the international law division (ILD) in the Military Advocate General’s Office, was frank about how he hoped things would progress.
If you do something for long enough, the world will accept it. The whole of international law is now based on the notion that an act that is forbidden today becomes permissible if executed by enough countries….International law progresses through violations.
Similarly, in a “moral evaluation” of the 2008/’09 Gaza massacre, Asa Kasher, author of the IDF’s ‘Code of Ethics’, expressed his hope that “our doctrine” will ultimately “be incorporated into customary international law.” How?
The more often Western states apply principles that originated in Israel to their own non-traditional conflicts in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, then the greater the chance these principles have of becoming a valuable part of international law.
Now Israel’s strategy becomes clearer… Israel’s assault on the laws of war takes aim at the core, guiding principles in IHL – precaution, distinction, and proportionality – in order to strip them of their intended purpose: the protection of civilians during armed conflict. If successful, the victims of this assault will be in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, Lebanon – and in occupations and war zones around the world.
I’ve agreed to join a panel organised by Noam Leshem on Remnants of No Man’s Land: history, theory and excess at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers in Chicago next April (I imagine this is a follow-up to the session at the RGS/IBG in September).
The no-man’s lands of the First World War were never limited to the killing fields between the trenches. Their impact was never fully confined by the time and space of the battles: it lingered on the bodies of soldiers, in contaminated ecologies and in the radically altered post-war intellectual landscape. The violence that is unleashed in the no-man’s land and the destruction it wrought does not result in emptiness, in a terra nullius, but in excess that can never be fully contained.
This session invites additional reflections on the excessive quality of no-man’s land: its materialities, ecologies, cultural expressions and political-ideological articulations. It aims to deepen the theoretical import and conceptual power of ‘no-man’s land’, and move beyond its use as merely a convenient colloquialism. Similarly, we seek to engagements with other histories of no-man’s lands that are not solely confined to the Western Front during WWI.
Despite that last sentence, this is what I’ve come up with; these abstracts are always promissory notes, of course, written so far in advance that they can provide little real indication of what eventually transpires. Fortunately we are now no longer lumbered with the Yellow Pages-style book of abstracts so I doubt anybody will actually read this on the day. But here goes:
Journeys From No Man’s Land, 1914-1918
During the First World War on the Western Front a central logistical preoccupation of military planners was the deployment of troops to the front line and the evacuation of casualties from the battlefield. These priorities were closely connected – the aim was to provide medical treatment as close to the site of the wound as possible so that troops could be returned expeditiously to the line – but they also often confounded one another as hospital trains headed for the coast were shunted into sidings to allow troop trains to move up. In this presentation I address three questions. First, what it was possible to know about the ‘lie of the land’, particularly in the deadly spaces between the front-line trenches? Here I focus on the connections between aerial reconnaissance, night patrols and trench maps. A second question concerns the arrangements made in advance of major offensives – the disposition of stretcher bearers and aid posts, field ambulances and casualty clearing stations – and the ways in which these visible geometries of the medical-military machine affected the sensibilities of soldiers waiting to go ‘over the top’. Finally, how did the wounded apprehend and navigate No Man’s Land, and how did they make what Emily Mayhew calls their precarious journeys away from the fighting?
There’ll be more posts on this as I circle in towards the presentation. It’s part of my new research project which explores military-medical machines and the casualties of war 1914-2014, but which is now widening to include other aspects of medical care in contemporary conflict zones like Gaza and Iraq/Syria and the militarisation of medical intervention in West Africa.
Via the War & Media Network, news of an international, interdisciplinary conference on ‘Alternate spaces of war, 1914 to the present’, to be held at Plymouth University (I think) in the UK, 6-7 July 2015.
The aim is ‘to investigate alternate spaces of war and identify new ways of understanding the experience of conflict in the modern world':
‘This event will be organised as a part of the AHRC funded ‘Alternate Spaces’ Network set up in 2014. By expanding the timescale of the project to include the last century we are seeking to develop the ideas and outcomes of the initial network project to further investigate the legacy of the First World War in contemporary society.’
Keynote speakers: Stephen Badsey (University of Wolverhampton); Krista Cowman (University of Lincoln); Martin Hurcombe (University of Bristol); and Mary Brewer (University of Loughborough)
Possible topics include:
Alternate viewings of the Western Front
Alternate Theatres of World War
Global implications of local conflicts since 1914
Civilians’ experience of war
Domestic Spaces in Wartime
Children’s experience of war
War in 21st Century
Literary representations of war
War and life writings
Visual cultures of war
Abstracts (2-300 words) plus a short bio (100 words) should be sent by 5 January 2015 to Angela K. Smith (email@example.com), Sandra Barkhof (Sandra.firstname.lastname@example.org) and Cherry Walsh (email@example.com)
7th International Conference of Critical Geography, ‘Precarious Radicalism On Shifting Grounds: Towards a Politics of Possibility’ in Ramallah, Palestine, 26-30 July 2015.
The sense of revolutionary times triggered by recent events such as the Greek revolts, the Indignados and Occupy movements, as well as the Arab uprisings and the Idle No More protests in Canada, has been gradually overshadowed by a wave of virulent and violent responses by both state and global powers. Although these and other struggles have captured our imagination, an anxious feeling of being in a permanent state of crisis seems to have taken over as we observe an increase in and normalization of socio-economic and spatial inequalities and political repression against the population. This regression, which takes the form of a rise on authoritarianisms, revanchists’ responses, encroachment of fundamental rights, precarity of subsistence, social relations, employment, or the consolidation of populist right wing and fundamentalist movements, is to a large extent eclipsing and undermining the political space and fundamental work of individuals, communities and movements around the world. It certainly is a precarious time for radicalism. This grim landscape inevitably raises crucial questions about the current moment and its prospects. Are we witnessing and experiencing a fundamental historical shift? If so, how are we to interpret this transition? Or can these times be transformed into a moment of political possibility by reconsidering and/or expanding existing paradigms as well as by reconnecting solidarities and struggles?
The aim of the 7th International Conference of Critical Geography (ICCG 2015) is to provide an inclusive venue for the discussion of these and other themes that examine the geographies of critical social theory and progressive political praxis. Despite the significance of the issues at stake, we hope to create a fun, engaging and friendly atmosphere that welcomes a wide array of scholars, activists, artists, organizers and others interested in critical socio-spatial praxis. The conference will be held in Palestine, a rich context for critical geographers and others to observe first hand, learn about, and engage with the human, political and economic geographies resulting from more than a century of European settler colonialism and US imperialism. Palestine is however much more than the ‘object’ of imperial, colonial and capitalist forces. It is a place that stands at the heart of the recent Arab uprisings as an inspiration drive to the popular struggles that have profoundly shaken the Arab World and beyond in ways yet difficult to anticipate. Palestine will undoubtedly be an ideal site from where to pursue the mission and commitment set forth in the ICCG’s statement of purpose – that is “developing the theory and practice necessary for combating social exploitation and oppression”.
Deadline for submissions is 1st December 2014. We invite you to submit paper abstracts and encourage proposals for populated panels, roundtable discussions, or sessions with alternative formats that address the proposed conference themes. As indicated in the application form, we ask that you include (a) information on which conference theme your panel or paper addresses; (b) title of your paper or session; (c) a brief bio (max. 100 words) of each participant with contact information, institutional affiliation, and any titles you would like placed in the program; (d) an abstract (max 500 words). Please take into consideration that proposed activities should fit into the 90-minutes time-slots. Full details here. Space is limited to 250 participants.
The conference complies with the Palestinian Call for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.