Nature and Politics in the Middle East

A new edition of the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP)’s Middle East Report is now available online and OPEN ACCESS here:

The coronavirus pandemic is vividly highlighting the fundamental links between people, health and the environment. This issue on nature and politics probes the essential but also sometimes fraught relationships between people and their environments in the Middle East. It provides insights into crucial issues of energy, water and climate change and the political struggles between states and their citizens over environmental stewardship, sovereignty and the allocation of resources. It also takes us into spaces of human-environment interaction that are not so commonly discussed—bird markets, Iraqi landscapes contaminated with toxins, sinkholes around the Dead Sea and Turkish wetlands teeming with wildlife. Through these contributions, “Nature and Politics” offers a critical take on contemporary challenges across the Middle East.

Issue Editors: Jessica Barnes and Muriam Haleh Davis with Guest Editor Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins


Water in the Middle East: A Primer
Jessica Barnes
On Blaming Climate Change for the Syrian Civil War
Jan Selby
Global Aspirations and Local Realities of Solar Energy in Morocco
Atman Aoui, Moulay Ahmed el Amrani, Karen Rignall
Birth Defects and the Toxic Legacy of War in Iraq
Kali Rubaii
Bird Markets, Artisanal Pigeons and Class Relations in the Middle East
Bridget Guarasci
The Unintended Consequences of Turkey’s Quest for Oil
Zeynep Oguz
Terra Infirma – Dead Sea Sinkholes – A Photo Essay
Simone Popperl
The Lost Wetlands of Turkey
Caterina Scaramelli
“Algeria is not for Sale!” Mobilizing Against Fracking in the Sahara
Naoual Belakhdar
An Interview with Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins
Tessa Farmer
“Turkey Wants to be Part of the Nuclear Club” An Interview with Can Candan
Kenan Behzat Sharpe

Airspace Tribunal

I’m taking part in the Toronto Hearing of the Airspace Tribunal on 1 November. I’ve written about the project before – see my post here – but here are the basic details:

Online (via Zoom) All times are Eastern Standard Time

The Toronto hearing of the Airspace Tribunal is co-presented by The Power Plant and the Master of Visual Studies program at the Daniels Faculty, University of Toronto.  Speakers from a broad range of expertise, disciplines and lived experience – including Climate Change, Human Rights, Artificial Intelligence, Geopolitics, Contemporary Warfare, Biopolitics, Psychology and Forced Migration – will consider whether we need increased protection from threats from above through the recognition of this proposed new human right.

The hearing will take place over three 2-hour online panel discussions followed by a one 1-hour online summative session. The Power Plant’s Director, Gaëtane Verna, will be the Chair, introducing each session and all speakers. Counsel to the Tribunal, Kirsty Brimelow QC of Doughty Street Chambers (London, UK), will pose questions to the Experts. Members of the audience – our judges – will also be able to ask questions.

The Airspace Tribunal invites representations from experts across a broad range of disciplines and lived experience to consider the case for and against the recognition of a new human right to protect the freedom to exist without physical or psychological threat from above.

You can find out more (and register: it’s free) here.

There are four sessions – you can access the full program via the link above – but here is the panel for the first one (1400 to 1600 EST):

Shona Illingworth is an artist whose video and sound installations and research-led practice investigate memory, cultural erasure and structures of power and their impact on how the future is imagined in situations of social tension and conflict. She is Reader in Arts, University of Kent

Nick Grief was a member of the legal team which represented the Marshall Islands in the International Court of Justice in cases against India, Pakistan and the UK concerning the obligation to negotiate in good faith towards nuclear disarmament. He is Emeritus Professor of Law, University of Kent and practises at the Bar from Doughty Street Chambers, London, UK

Derek Gregory is Peter Wall Distinguished Professor and Professor of Geography, University of British Columbia at Vancouver, Canada. He is completing a new book, Reach from the Sky, which is is a genealogy and geography of aerial violence; his current research concerns medical care and casualty evacuation in war zones, 1914 to the present.

Gbenga Oduntan, Reader in International Commercial Law, Kent Law School, University of Kent

And for the second (on 4 November):

Jairus Grove is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA.His recent book Savage Ecology: War and Geopolitics at the End of the World develops an ecological theory of geopolitics that argues that contemporary global crises are better understood when considered within the larger history of international politics.

Jack Penashue, Director of Social Health for Sheshatshiu Innu First Nations, Sheshatshiu, Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada

Gabriele Schwab, Distinguished Professor, Comparative Literature with joint faculty appointments in Anthropology, English, European Languages and Studies, and Gender and Sexuality Studies; School of Humanities, University of California — Irvine, USA

And for the third (on 7 November):

Anthony Downey is Professor of Visual Culture in the Middle East and North Africa (Birmingham City University). His current research projects explore digital media, knowledge production, and the relationship between cultural practices and human rights. Upcoming and recent publications include Unbearable States: Digital Media and Cultural Activism (forthcoming, 2021) and Critique in Practice (Sternberg Press, 2020). He is the series editor for Research/Practice (Sternberg Press, 2019–ongoing) and sits on the editorial boards of Third Text and Digital War, respectively

Kwame McKenzie, CEO of the Wellesley Institute; Director of Health Equity, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health; and, Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, Canada

Renata Salecl is a philosopher and sociologist whose work has included radical re-evaluation of notions of liberal theories of democracy to offer new approaches to human rights and feminism. She is professor at the School of Law at Birkbeck College, University of London and senior researcher at the Institute of Criminology at the Faculty of Law in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Her recent book A Passion for Ignorance is an original and provocative exploration of our capacity to ignore what is inconvenient or traumatic.

The fourth session is a plenary, closing session. The Airspace Tribunal hearing in Toronto will be recorded and transcribed. Documentation will be incorporated in a special issue of the Journal of Digital War and contribute to Illingworth’s Fall 2021 exhibition at The Power Plant. It will also contribute to the drafting history, helping to build and refine the case for the proposed new human right to be submitted to the United Nations and other bodies.

The War Lawyers

Like all my readers, I suspect, I’ve been battling many things these past months: including, right now, the intensity of teaching online. More on that later, since I doubt that’s what most of you come here for, so what better to celebrate my re-start than news of the publication of a wonderful new book, The War Lawyers: the United States, Israel and Juridical Warfare by my dear friend Craig Jones:

Over the last 20 years the world’s most advanced militaries have invited a small number of military legal professionals into the heart of their targeting operations, spaces which had previously been exclusively for generals and commanders. These professionals, trained and hired to give legal advice on an array of military operations, have become known as war lawyers.

The War Lawyers examines the laws of war as applied by military lawyers to aerial targeting operations carried out by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Israel military in Gaza. Drawing on interviews with military lawyers and others, this book explains why some lawyers became integrated in the chain of command whereby military targets are identified and attacked, whether by manned aircraft, drones, and/or ground forces, and with what results. 

This book shows just how important law and military lawyers have become in the conduct of contemporary warfare, and how it is understood. Jones argues that circulations of law and policy between the US and Israel have bolstered targeting practices considered legally questionable, contending that the involvement of war lawyers in targeting operations enables, legitimises, and sometimes even extends military violence.

Contents:

Introduction: The War Lawyers
1. Targeting without Lawyers: The Vietnam War
2. The Birth of “Operational Law”
3. “‘The Lawyers’ War”
4. Targeting in the Israeli Military
5. The Kill Chain (I): Deliberate Targeting
6. The Kill Chain (II): Dynamic Targeting
Conclusion: Juridical Warfare: Limits and Possibilities

(The cover is from an image by the brilliant elin o’Hara slavick (Bomb after Bomb: a violent cartography).

Big Ron

Ron Johnston – who died last night of a heart attack – was one of the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever known.

We became firm friends when I joined him, Peter Haggett, David Smith and David Stoddart as a co-editor of the first edition of the Dictionary of Human Geography; I wrote about our first collective meeting when our wonderful publisher (and another good friend) John Davey died three years ago.  We all met in the bowels of John’s club (and I say bowels advisedly); I was nervous about meeting such luminaries, but Ron was warm, welcoming and immensely enthusiastic – as always – and even at that first meeting combined a tremendous sense of fun (the jokes and banter came thick and fast on all sides) with intellectual vitality (this wasn’t going to be like any other Dictionary!) and a deep sense of responsibility (without Ron’s managerial and organisational skills I doubt that even John would have been able to guilt-trip us into finishing the project).

We worked closely together on multiple future editions, each one more demanding, and yet Ron never lost those fine qualities.

I’ve found a wonderful video of him talking with Peter about their love of Geography; it’s a promo for the University of Bristol, but it’s much more than that, and it’s here.

Ron moved from Monash through Christchurch (Canterbury) and Sheffield to Bristol via an interlude at Essex.  I vividly remember him resigning from the Vice-Chancellorship of at Essex to return to the world he loved most: teaching and research.  I wrote to say how much I admired his decision; Bristol was so very smart to appoint him once he stepped down. His move created a sensation at the time, but it was a humble and considered decision.  No careerist, Ron had no time for the brown-nosing that so many saw as the route to preferment; neither did he want to administer the work of others.  No matter how high his star rose, he never saw his colleagues, co-workers or students as somehow beneath him.  He was honest, forthright, and quick to acknowledge when he was wrong (apart from his love of Swindon).

He never stopped writing: writing, for Ron, was thinking – never a simple record of what he had done.  So he never stopped writing because he never stopped thinking (I had a message about his most recent publication on the same day that he was taken to hospital).  Writing for Ron was also living – once you knew Ron, you could hear his voice when you read his work, see the set of his jaw, the twinkle in his eye, and that lovely grin.  Just look at that video.

At one conference where we were supposed to be on the same panel, he was late (a rare event: he was unfailingly courteous), and I joked that he was presumably opening the Publishers’ Exhibition – which got a laugh – and then I added “Now I think of it, he is the Publishers’ Exhibition”, which brought the house down. Ron’s productivity was (and remains) legendary.  And it wasn’t jobbing-writing:  I’ve always marvelled at his ability to write so much and yet to hit the target so many times.

Those who live by citation counts (Ron didn’t) might do well to look at his and shrivel.

This isn’t the place to highlight even some of Ron’s books – how to choose?  But he once told me that his best selling book was his Atlas of Bells – he was a keen and talented campanologist – and I never did find out if he was joking.  It was of course published by John Davey, and now I can’t ask either of them.

We did very different things, but it didn’t matter.  And throughout our long friendship Ron also taught me – by doing rather than saying – that our collective work matters only in so far as it makes a difference to the world.  Ron wrote and wrote and wrote, but it wasn’t a personal odyssey (though he surely gained tremendous satisfaction from it – even if he was rarely satisfied with what he wrote).  He was passionate about the importance of university education, about our calling as teachers and researchers, and his textbooks spiralling through multiple editions showed that in spades; but he had no time for those who thought of universities as ‘ivory towers’, and he was more aware than most of how they are affected by and in turn affect the societies in which they are embedded.  He wanted to captivate his readers, many of them students, by guiding them to the frontiers of geographical research, and cultivating in them a love of ideas – and a profound responsibility for their practical implications.  Much of his substantive research focused on political geography, to which he made a host of vital contributions, but there was also a rich, deep and remarkably generous politics to all Ron’s writing and publishing.

And to his living too.

Material Witness

A new book from the wonderful Susan Schuppli – I was going to say ‘of Forensic Architecture‘ fame, except that her work involves so much more than that!  You can see both her entanglements with forensic architecture and the ‘so much more’ on full display in Material Witness: media, forensics, evidence (MIT Press):

In this book, Susan Schuppli introduces a new operative concept: material witness, an exploration of the evidential role of matter as both registering external events and exposing the practices and procedures that enable matter to bear witness. Organized in the format of a trial, Material Witness moves through a series of cases that provide insight into the ways in which materials become contested agents of dispute around which stake holders gather.

These cases include an extraordinary videotape documenting the massacre at Izbica, Kosovo, used as war crimes evidence against Slobodan Milošević; the telephonic transmission of an iconic photograph of a South Vietnamese girl fleeing an accidental napalm attack; radioactive contamination discovered in Canada’s coastal waters five years after the accident at Fukushima Daiichi; and the ecological media or “disaster film” produced by the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Each highlights the degree to which a rearrangement of matter exposes the contingency of witnessing, raising questions about what can be known in relationship to that which is seen or sensed, about who or what is able to bestow meaning onto things, and about whose stories will be heeded or dismissed.

An artist-researcher, Schuppli offers an analysis that merges her creative sensibility with a forensic imagination rich in technical detail. Her goal is to relink the material world and its affordances with the aesthetic, the juridical, and the political.

Susan’s own, endlessly interesting web page is here, which includes links to some of her writing here.

Post-Atomic Eyes

An age ago I was asked to contribute to a symposium in Toronto on ‘Post-atomic eyes‘; I confessed at the time that I was taken aback – what on earth were the connections between drones and nuclear weapons?  Eventually I realised the root of the problem: I knew a lot about drones and other forms of more or less conventional aerial violence, but next to nothing about The Bomb (see here).

As I worked on my contribution – nervously, I freely admit – I came to realise that the connections between the two were close and intimate, and immensely consequential for both.  This is a tragically overlooked episode in the genealogy of drones (and aerial violence more generally), and I was asked to turn my presentation into an essay for an edited volume based on the conference.

You can find my first attempt under the DOWNLOADS tab – “Little Boys and Blue Skies“.  The essay was way overdue and over length; I’ve never found it easy to translate a presentation into a text.

But to my surprise (and delight) the editors, Claudette Lauzon and John O’Brian, graciously accepted the essay more or less as is, and the volume (also called Through Post-Atomic Eyes) is now published by McGill-Queens University Press:

What can photography tell us about a world transformed by nuclear catastrophe?

What does it mean to live in a post-atomic world? Photography and contemporary art offer a provocative lens through which to comprehend the by-products of the atomic age, from weapons proliferation, nuclear disaster, and aerial surveillance to toxic waste disposal and climate change.

Confronting cultural fallout from the dawn of the nuclear age, Through Post-Atomic Eyes addresses the myriad iterations of nuclear threat and their visual legacy in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Whether in the iconic black-and-white photograph of a mushroom cloud rising over Nagasaki in 1945 or in the steady stream of real-time video documenting the 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, atomic culture – and our understanding of it – is inextricably constructed by the visual. This book takes the image as its starting point to address the visual inheritance of atomic anxieties; the intersection of photography, nuclear industries, and military technocultures; and the complex temporality of nuclear technologies. Contemporary artists contribute lens-based works that explore the consequences of the nuclear, and its afterlives, in the Anthropocene.

Revealing, through both art and prose, startling new connections between the ongoing threat of nuclear catastrophe and current global crises, Through Post-Atomic Eyes is a richly illustrated examination of how photography shapes and is shaped by nuclear culture.

Contributors include Karen Barad (UC Santa Cruz), James Bridle (Athens), Edward Burtynsky (Toronto), Blaine Campbell (Edmonton), Eric Cazdyn (University of Toronto), Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge (Toronto), Robert Del Tredici (Atomic Photographers Guild; Concordia University), Matthew Farish (University of Toronto), Blake Fitzpatrick (Ryerson University), Lindsey A. Freeman (Simon Fraser University), Derek Gregory (University of British Columbia), Kristan Horton (Berlin), Mary Kavanagh (University of Lethbridge), Kyo Maclear (Toronto), Joseph Masco (University of Chicago), Katy McCormick (Ryerson University), Karla McManus (University of Regina), David McMillan (Winnipeg), Andrea Pinheiro (Algoma University, Sault Ste. Marie), Public Studio (Toronto), Mark Ruwedel (Long Beach, CA), Julie Salverson (Queen’s University), Susan Schuppli (Goldsmiths, University of London), Erin Siddall (Vancouver), Charles Stankievech (University of Toronto), Peter C. van Wyck (Concordia University), Donald Weber (Royal Academy of Art, The Hague), and Eyal Weizman (Goldsmiths, University of London).

Biopolitics of the more-than-human

It’s still a long way off, but I can’t wait to share the news of a new book from Joseph Pugliese: Biopolitics of the More-Than-Human: forensic ecologies of violence (Duke University Press, due in November).

In Biopolitics of the More-Than-Human Joseph Pugliese examines the concept of the biopolitical through a nonanthropocentric lens, arguing that more-than-human entities—from soil and orchards to animals and water—are actors and agents in their own right with legitimate claims to justice. Examining occupied Palestine, Guantánamo, and sites of US drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, Pugliese challenges notions of human exceptionalism by arguing that more-than-human victims of war and colonialism are entangled with and subject to the same violent biopolitical regimes as humans. He also draws on Indigenous epistemologies that invest more-than-human entities with judicial standing to appeal for an ethico-legal framework that will enable the realization of ecological justice. Bringing the more-than-human world into the purview of justice, Pugliese makes visible the ecological effects of human war that would otherwise remain outside the domains of biopolitics and law.

It is quite simply one of the most stunning, thought-provoking books I’ve read in an age:

“A mesmerizing exploration of the more-than-human dimensions of later modern war that is never less than deeply human. Linguistically inventive, analytically sobering—you keep wondering why it has taken us so long to see like this—Joseph Pugliese’s vision of forensic ecology initiates an arrestingly novel critique of military violence. At once profoundly political and deeply ethical, this is a magnificently vital achievement.” — Derek Gregory

“Joseph Pugliese’s reconfiguration of biopolitics does not simply take the politics of populations and life and extend its range to include the more than human; the very threshold between the human and ‘other’ lifeforms falls away. What is revealed is a new political-legal ethics entirely: not a question of how ‘we’ humans grant rights to others, but of how the more-than-human offers itself as an imperative to rethink the anthropocentrism of European law. Exploring indigenous and non-Western cosmologies provides a way to think about life, value, and politics that does not rely on the dignity of the human and its concomitant violence for all that is other than human. It’s rare to read a book that combines such theoretical dexterity with fascinating empirical analysis of some of our most pressing ethical issues.” — Claire Colebrook

Many readers of this blog will know Joseph’s State violence and the execution of law: Biopolitical caesurae of torture, black sites, drones (2013), also one of my favourites, but this is a radical extension and even transformation of those arguments.

I drew upon some of Joseph’s recent ideas in my extended post on Meatspace here, and I continue to be inspired by them in the work I’m currently doing (both on aerial violence and on medical and casualty evacuation in war zones), but for a preview of his arguments in the new book I recommend:

Covid-19 and armed conflict

The next installment of ‘Under Afghan Skies‘ will appear this week, but I’ve also been trying to pull together what information and insight there is on the impact of the pandemic on Syria (more on that soon too).  En route, these more general reflections provide some helpful context:

(A) International Crisis Group on Covid-19 and conflict: seven trends to watch is here. This was written late last month, and it’s clearly a rapidly evolving situation, but in brief the trends identified by the ICG are:

(1) The vulnerability of conflict-affected populations

The populations of conflict-affected countries – whether those in war or suffering its after-effects – are likely to be especially vulnerable to outbreaks of disease. In many cases, war or prolonged unrest, especially when compounded by mismanagement, corruption or foreign sanctions, have left national health systems profoundly ill-prepared for COVID-19… The areas of active conflict at highest immediate risk of COVID-19 outbreaks may be north-western Syria, around the besieged enclave of Idlib, and Yemen. Both countries have already experienced health crises during their civil wars, with violence impeding the international response to an outbreak of polio in Syria in 2013-2014 and cholera in Yemen from 2016 onward. UN officials have now raised the alarm about COVID-19 infecting the population of Idlib, where a Russian-backed offensive by government forces has systematically targeted hospitals and other medical facilities and led to the displacement of over one million people in the last six months alone. Many people fleeing clashes sleep in fields or under trees, and basic hygiene and social distancing practices are made impossible by the lack of running water or soap as well as cramped living spaces….

Also of concern are the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, where over one million people live in overcrowded conditions, with sanitation facilities and health care services limited to a bare minimum. A government ban on internet and mobile phone services in the camps limits access to vital preventive information, while high levels of malnutrition likely imply that both the refugees and local residents are more susceptible to the disease. Should COVID-19 reach the camps, humanitarian agencies expect it to spread like wildfire, potentially triggering a backlash from Bangladeshis who live in the surrounding areas and are already unnerved by the refugees’ prolonged stay.

In these cases – as for displaced communities in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, Africa and Asia – there is a risk that IDPs and refugees facing large-scale outbreaks of COVID-19 in the camps where they reside may aim to flee again to safety, leading local populations or authorities to react forcefully to contain them, which creates the potential for escalating violence. States attempting to stop the spread of the disease are likely to view new refugee flows fearfully. Colombia and Brazil, for example, closed their borders with Venezuela after previously taking a relatively generous approach to those fleeing the crisis there, but the pressure to escape worsening poverty and health risks in Venezuela could force rising numbers of migrants to use illegal crossings.’

(2) Damage to international crisis management and conflict resolution mechanisms

‘One reason why refugee and IDP populations are likely to be especially vulnerable to COVID-19 is that the disease could severely weaken the capacity of international institutions to serve conflict-affected areas. WHO and other international officials fear that restrictions associated with the disease will impede humanitarian supply chains. But humanitarian agencies are not the only parts of the multilateral system under pressure due to the pandemic, which is also likely to curb peacemaking.

Travel restrictions have begun to weigh on international mediation efforts. UN envoys working in the Middle East have been blocked from travelling to and within the region due to airport closures. Regional organisations have suspended diplomatic initiatives in areas ranging from the South Caucasus to West Africa, while the envoy of the International Contact Group on Venezuela – a group of European and Latin American states looking for a diplomatic solution to the crisis there – had to cancel an already long-delayed trip to Caracas in early March for COVID-related reasons.

The disease could affect crucial intra-Afghan peace talks planned as a follow-up to the February preliminary agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban, at least reducing the number of those who can participate (although limiting the group to real decision-makers and essential support staff could be conducive to serious talks).

More broadly, the disease means that international leaders, focused as they are on dramatic domestic issues, have little or no time to devote to conflicts or peace processes…

The disease could also affect multinational peacekeeping and security assistance efforts. In early March, the UN secretariat asked a group of nine peacekeeping troop contributors – including China and Italy – to suspend some or all unit rotations to blue helmet operations due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19. UN operations have announced further limits to rotations since then, meaning that peacekeepers’ tours of duty will be extended for at least three months in tough mission settings such as the Central African Republic and South Sudan, potentially affecting their morale and effectiveness.’

(3) Risks to social order

‘COVID-19 could place great stress on societies and political systems, creating the potential for new outbreaks of violence. In the short term, the threat of disease is likely acting as a deterrent to popular unrest, as protesters avoid large gatherings. COVID-19’s emergence in China precipitated a decline in anti-Beijing protests in Hong Kong (although public discomfort with radical elements of the protest movement may also have been a factor). There has been a decline, too, in the numbers of protesters taking to the streets in Algeria to challenge government corruption. The Russian opposition largely acquiesced in the authorities’ move, ostensibly justified on health grounds, to block protests against President Vladimir Putin’s decision to rewrite the constitution to extend his tenure in office. At least one exception to this general caution occurred in Niger, where demonstrators took to the streets against rules barring protest, which the government extended by invoking COVID-19. Three civilians were killed by security forces on 15 March.

Yet the quiet in the streets may be a temporary and misleading phenomenon. The pandemic’s public health and economic consequences are liable to strain relations between governments and citizens, especially where health services buckle; preserving public order could prove challenging when security forces are overstretched and populations become increasingly frustrated with the government’s response to the disease….

More broadly, the disease’s catastrophic economic impact could well sow the seeds of future disorder. It could do so whether or not the countries in question have experienced major outbreaks of the disease, although the danger in those that have will be magnified. A global recession of as yet unknown scope lies ahead; pandemic-related transport restrictions will disrupt trade and food supplies; countless businesses will be forced to shut down; and unemployment levels are likely to soar.’

(4) Political exploitation of the crisis

‘Against this background of social pressures, there is ample room for political leaders to try to exploit COVID-19, either to solidify power at home or pursue their interests abroad…. Nonetheless, as the crisis goes on, some leaders could order restrictive measures that make public health sense at the peak of the crisis and then extend them in the hope of quashing dissent once the disease declines. Such measures could include indefinite bans on large public gatherings – which many governments have already instituted to stop community spread of COVID-19 – to prevent public protests. Here again there are precedents from West Africa’s Ebola crisis: local civil society groups and opposition parties claim that the authorities prohibited meetings for longer than necessary as a way of suppressing legitimate protests. A harbinger of what is to come may have appeared in Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban asked parliament on 21 March to indefinitely extend a state of emergency that prescribes five-year prison sentences for those disseminating false information or obstructing the state’s crisis response….

… the crisis may create openings for jihadist groups to launch new offensives against weakened governments in Africa and the Middle East. To date, neither ISIS nor any of al-Qaeda’s various branches has displayed a clear strategic vision relating to the pandemic (although ISIS has circulated health guidance to its militants on how to deal with the disease based on sayings by the Prophet Muhammad).’

(5) A turning-point in major power relations?

‘The potential effects of COVID-19 on specific trouble spots is magnified by the fact that the global system was already in the midst of realignment…

In 2014, the U.S. took charge of a belated multilateral response to the West Africa Ebola crisis helped by countries ranging from the UK and France to China and Cuba. Today, the U.S. – whose international influence already had considerably weakened – has simultaneously mishandled its domestic response to COVID-19, failed to bring other nations together and stirred up international resentment. President Donald Trump has not only harped on the disease’s Chinese origins but also criticised the EU for bungling its containment.

China, by contrast, after having to cope with the consequences of the initial outbreak, its early and costly decision to hold back information, and its own uneven response, and having sought at times to blame the U.S. by waging an irresponsible misinformation campaign, now sees in the health crisis an opportunity to gain influence over other states through humanitarian gestures’.

(6) Opportunities to be siezed

‘While the warning signs associated with COVID-19 are significant, there are also glimmers of hope. The scale of the outbreak creates room for humanitarian gestures between rivals. The UAE has, for example, airlifted over 30 tonnes of humanitarian aid to Iran to deal with the disease (Bahrain, by contrast, took the opportunity to accuse the Islamic Republic of “biological aggression”).

(7) Potential crisis mitigation measures

‘Looking ahead, governments will have to decide whether to support more cooperative approaches to handling the crisis, not only in global public health terms but also as a political and security challenge. All leaders face pressure to focus on and spend money and political capital on domestic priorities, and in particular to ignore conflict risks in weak states that may seem hard to resolve or simply not important enough to worry about. But there will be a day after, and if the coming period is not dealt with wisely, it could be marked by major disruptions in already conflict-ridden areas, the eruption of new violence and a far more fragile multilateral system…. The COVID-19 pandemic threatens to be long and draining. It will make diplomacy, and especially crisis diplomacy, harder. But it is crucial to keep channels of communication – and a spirit of cooperation – intact in a period when the international system seems as ready as ever to fragment.’

(B) International Committee of the Red Cross: Cordelia Droege‘s post on ‘COVID-19 response in conflict zones hinges on respect for international humanitarian law‘ is here.

‘…the extreme vulnerability of people in conflict zones to COVID-19, the culmination of degraded or collapsed essential services such as water, sanitation, and health care, is in significant part the result of a disregard over many years of States’ and other belligerents’ obligations – as set out in international humanitarian law and international human rights law – towards populations under their control.

Now we are here, at a new crossroads, but one with familiar signposts. In the long term, a public health response to a pandemic and respect for fundamental legal protections go hand in hand. To illustrate this, the ICRC Legal Division has produced a basic reminder of the key provisions of international humanitarian law, relevant to the COVID-19 pandemic in conflict situations, that we must all keep close at hand when a pandemic hits countries at war.’

She then lists in clear, summary form those key IHL provisions (which concern both rights and responsibilities) in relation to:

  • Medical personnel, provisions and transport
  • Water supply
  • Humanitarian relief
  • Persons specifically at risk
  • Detainees
  • Internally displaced persons, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees
  • Children and education
  • Sanctions regimes and other restrictive measures

(C) Christine Bell has another helpful post over at Just Security on ‘COVID-19 and Violent Conflict: Responding to Predictable Unpredictabilityhere.

She draws on ongoing research from the Political Settlements Research Programme to identify ‘baseline understandings are likely to be key in designing the most effective responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in conflict-affected regions.’

The PS Research Programme also has a useful list of resources on Conflict, Development and Covid-19 here.

(D)  In a previous series of posts I discussed the militarized response to Ebola – see here, here and here – and Diana Ojeda and Lina Pinto García have provided a chilling, illuminating commentary from Colombia on ‘The militarization of life under war, “post-conflict,” and the COVID-19 crisishere.

(E) Finally – essentially – three thoughtful reflections on the dangerous work done by deploying (sic) the rhetoric of war to discuss the novel Coronavirus (see also my post here):

  • Eve Fairbanks, ‘A pandemic is not a war‘, at HuffPost here;
  • Adriano Iaria, ‘We are not at “war” with COVID-19: concerns from Italy’s “frontline”‘, at ICRC’s Humanitarian Law and Policy blog here;
  • Federica Caso, ‘Are we at war?  The rhetoric of war in the Coronavirus pandemic‘, at The Disorder of Things here.

The Arab Archive

News via the War & Media Network of an important collection of essays edited by Donatella Della Ratta, Kay Dickinson and Sune HaugbolleThe Arab Archive: Mediated Memories and Digital Flows.  It’s available as a free pdf or e-book download here.

As the revolutions across the Arab world that came to a head in 2011 devolved into civil war and military coup, representation and history acquired a renewed and contested urgency. The capacities of the internet have enabled sharing and archiving in an unprecedented fashion. Yet, at the same time, these facilities institute a globally dispersed reinforcement and recalibration of power, turning memory and knowledge into commodified and copyrighted goods. In The Arab Archive: Mediated Memories and Digital Flows, activists, artists, filmmakers, producers, and scholars examine which images of struggle have been created, bought, sold, repurposed, denounced, and expunged. As a whole, these cultural productions constitute an archive whose formats are as diverse as digital repositories looked after by activists, found footage art documentaries, Facebook archive pages, art exhibits, doctoral research projects, and ‘controversial’ or ‘violent’ protest videos that are abruptly removed from YouTube at the click of a mouse by sub-contracted employees thousands of kilometers from where they were uploaded. The Arab Archive investigates the local, regional, and international forces that determine what materials, and therefore which pasts, we can access and remember, and, conversely, which pasts get erased and forgotten.

It includes several vital, thoughtful and thought-provoking essays that address the political and ethical questions surrounding the use, abuse and circulation of images from the Syrian war.  I particularly recommend Mohammad Ali Atassi, ‘The digital Syrian archive between videos and documentary cinema’ – which en route draws on Judith Butler‘s critical reading of Susan Sontag, and on Stefan  Tarnowski‘s ‘What Have We Been Watching? What Have We Been Watching?’ (which makes important distinctions between poetic images, forensic images and commodity images from Syria) – Enrico de Angelis, ‘The controversial archive: negotiating horror images in Syria’, Hadi al Khatib, ‘Corporations erasing history: the case of the Syrian Archive‘, and Donatella Della Ratta, ‘Why the Syrian archive is no longer (only) about Syria.’

Steal of the Century

I’ve just received the welcome news from Ghazi Falah, editor-in-chief of the Arab World Geographer, that the latest issue (vol. 23, no. 1) is available (or soon will be!) on open access here.  Its focus is on the absurd Trump/Kushner “Deal of the Century”….

Contents:

Reflections on the DoC Robert W. McColl

The Steal of the Century: Robbing Palestinians of their Past and Future Ilan Pappe

Israel: Never Missing an Opportunity Walter L. Hixson

The One-State Reality: Reading the Trump-Kushner Plan as a Morbid Symptom Ian S. Lustick

The Changing Geopolitics of Settlements and Borders in Trump Deal of the Century—It is Time to Think Beyond the Territorial Box David Newman

The Trump Administration’s Peace Plan: Palestinian Public Opinion and the Future of Conflict Karl Kaltenthaler

The Deal of the Century in Context – Trump’s Plan is Part of a Long-Standing Settler-Colonial Enterprise in Palestine As’ad Ghanem