#PortesOuvertes

Like many other people, I’ve been trying to make sense of the horrific attack in Nice on 14 July. I’ve delayed writing about it because so much remains unknown – though that has not stopped a cascade of malignant certainties spewing from those on the Right who see every event as an opportunity to foment fear, harness hatred and deepen division.

A Tunisian man with no known history of political activism or religious affirmation kills 84 people by deliberately driving a truck through crowds along the Promenade des Anglais who were celebrating Bastille Day; a man who lived on the margins with a record of petty crime and domestic abuse; somebody with precious few resources, yet able to rent a truck and acquire weapons; and a claim to have ‘inspired’ the attack from Islamic State, which then hailed him as a ‘soldier’.

No wonder that Peter Beaumont agonises over ‘a new kind of terror – one we can’t define‘, where the systematic recruitment, training and organisation of other terrorist attacks bleeds into the savage violence of the ‘lone wolf’ prowling undetected in the darkness.  The incorporation and adulation of individuals and small groups with no previous connection to IS or other jihadi groups reverses what he calls the standard ‘polarity of responsibility: encouraging acts of violence that it accepts as bloody tributes thrown at its feet.’

The link with petty crime is not surprising.  Scott Atran notes that

Serious jihadi involvement with petty criminal networks began after the September 11 attacks as an unintended consequence of the ability of the United States and allies to cut off the flow of funding to suspect groups, especially through Islamic charities. So al-Qaeda and others began looking for funding and arms in criminal networks instead. And in these networks there were large numbers of marginalized immigrant youth, especially in France.

Indeed, Joseph Micallef makes a plausible case for IS expanding its involvement in criminality as its territorial hold on Iraq and Syria comes under intensifying assault: ‘The smuggling networks that are used to bring in armaments and militants can be just as easily be used to traffic in drugs and illegal immigrants.’  His inclusion of ‘illegal immigrants’ should give us pause for thought; I have no idea if he intends this to include refugees from the turmoil in Iraq, Syria and Libya (it shouldn’t).  But to the extent that IS is involved in human trafficking then this is a double victimisation of its prey.

All of this may be granted; but a causal link between Lahouaiej-Bouhlel’s murderous drive through crowds of innocent people and the designs of IS or any other radical version of political Islam is proving remarkably elusive.  There is a wider debate in France about whether the terrorism serially inflicted upon its people is at root about ‘the radicalization of Islam’ (Gilles Kepel – below left) or the ‘Islamicization of radicalism’ (Olivier Roy – below right) – there is a good summary here – but in this instance it is far from clear that either of them is relevant.

Gilles Keppel and Olivier Roy

Indeed, Farhad Khorokhavar, a sociologist at the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, doubts that ‘radicalisation’ is the appropriate term at all:

“I don’t think he was radicalised at all… It’s a case of raw violence. He took a decision to kill in a moment of despair. My guess is that it’s much more like a mass shooting in the US than [Islamist] radicalisation.”

He speaks instead of ‘mimetic violence’, where previous attacks have furnished ‘a model that fragile people can imitate.’

So I don’t know whether the atrocity in Nice can be attributed to IS or not – but I have no doubt that the precipitate rush to do so has substantive consequences.

One place to start thinking critically about them is this photograph of a woman consumed by grief as she searches for her son after the attack:

Nice July 2016

The image serves to remind us that – if, to repeat, this does prove to be an attack whose trail can be traced back, however indirectly, to the dismal doors of Islamic State – the victims of such atrocities include people of many cultures and faiths.  Theirs is not a ‘war’ against a single, monolithic enemy; Nice is far from being a homogeneous city – like France, like the rest of Europe – and Alissa Rubin captures what she calls its ‘many-layered’ geography better than most:

There is the Nice of popular imagination, the old-world resort dotted with palm trees and cafes that look out on the Mediterranean Sea, suffused with an incandescent light prized for centuries by artists.

Then there is the other Nice, one that begins to show its face a few blocks inland from the seaside Promenade des Anglais, the majestic arc of a boulevard where 84 people were killed by a 31-year-old Tunisian immigrant at the wheel of a 19-ton truck. This Nice is home to many Muslim immigrants from North Africa, including a secular middle-class that has lived alongside non-Muslim French, and is also a place that local officials estimate has sent as many as 100 young people to fight in Syria with extremists.

“It is rare that these two worlds mix with each other except at the moment of festivities or of agreement, like the gatherings on Saturday,” said Feiza Ben Mohamed of the Muslims of the South, an organization that fights radicalization, referring to the public mourning for those killed in the truck attack.

“Yet the first victim was Muslim, and a good number of the victims were Muslims,” Ms. Mohamed added. “Just yesterday I was on the promenade reflecting on what had happened, and a journalist asked me if I was there to apologize in the name of Muslims. I said to him, ‘No, I came to weep for the dead like everyone else.’”

You can read another (short) essay by Farhad Khorokhavar on these divisions in France, ‘Jihad and the French exception’, here.  In Nice they have been intensified, not only by recruiters for the butchery in Syria – and there is no doubt of their success in Nice: Alpes-Maritimes was one of the first French départements to implement a counter-radicalisation strategy of sorts – but also by the advance of the far right National Front, and no doubt by memories of France’s colonial adventures in North Africa and the Levant and its deepening military involvement in Syria.

For now, France seems under repeated attack: the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris in January 2015; the attacks on the Bataclan and other public places in Paris last November; and now the murder of more than 80 people in Nice.

Martin Rowson cartoon Guardian

Each of these mass murders is truly, wrenchingly shocking: but those of us who live in Europe or North America cannot afford to allow those shock-waves to be refracted by geography because this would erect the bloody partition that is one of IS’s central objectives.  Nihilism meets narcissism.

I made much the same point about Paris and Beirut last year.  Now we might twin Nice with Baghdad. Like Nice – like all cities worthy of the name – Baghdad is far from homogeneous, for all the ethno-sectarian ‘cleansing’ that occurred during the US occupation (see my account of ‘The Biopolitics of Baghdad’: DOWNLOADS tab), and those tensions continue to roil.  The truck bombing and subsequent fire that killed 300 people in the Karrada district as they broke their Ramadan fast at the end of the day on 3 July may have seemed like the ‘new normal’ to commentators watching the rising tide of violence in post-occupation Iraq; it too was claimed by IS.  So too many of us doubtless shrugged our shoulders.

Documented civilian deaths from violence in Iraq 2003-July 2016 (Iraq Body Count)

Documented civilian deaths from violence in Iraq 2003-July 2016 (Iraq Body Count)

And yet, as Walaa Chahine so movingly testified after another bombing there on 12 July, ‘We may be used to bombings in Baghdad, but Baghdad isn’t‘:

We are used to it, so we don’t make hashtags, change our profile pictures, or memorize their names. By taking away these rights away from them, and yes, they have become rights, as long as other victims are given them, we are taking away their connection to us as humans. We forget that we would probably never get used to having our hometowns bombed every day, that just like us, they are humans who don’t forget, can’t forget.

No, the eleven people killed today weren’t used to dying. The 292 killed last week were not used to it. Their families will never get used to it. No matter how long you spend in a war area, you never get used to it. Ask a soldier, ask a refugee, ask someone who experiences violence and pain on the daily if they ever truly get used to it. We might be able to tune out their screams, but we weren’t the ones screaming in the first place.

Iraqi woman grieving in Karrada July 2016

And so, as this contrapuntal geography shows, it bears repeating – until even the tone-deaf Donald Trump gets it – that most of the victims of Islamic State’s terrible violence are other, innocent Muslims.  And they live – and die – outside Europe and North America too.

Digital Militarisms

cover_issue_6_en_US

News from Lucy Suchman of a special issue of Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, and Technoscience on Digital Militarisms.  Here is a list of the articles plus abstracts; all are available for download here (open access).

Configuring the Other: Sensing War through Immersive Simulation – Lucy Suchman

This paper draws on archival materials to read two demonstrations of FlatWorld, an immersive military training simulation developed between 2001 and 2007 at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies. The first demonstration is a video recording of a guided tour of the system, staged by its designers in 2005. The second is a documentary created by the US Public Broadcasting Service as part of their “embedded” media coverage of the system while it was installed at California’s Camp Pendleton in 2007. I critically attend to the imaginaries that are realized in the simulation’s figurations of places and (raced, gendered) bodies, as well as its storylines. This is part of a wider project of understanding how distinctions between the real and the virtual are effectively elided in technoscientific military discourses, in the interest of recognizing real/virtual entanglements while also reclaiming the differences that matter.

***

Military Utopias of Mind and Machine – Emily Cohen Ibañez

The central locus of my study is southern California, at the nexus of the Hollywood entertainment industry, the rapidly growing game design world, and military training medical R&D. My research focuses on the rise of military utopic visions of mind that involve the creation of virtual worlds and hyper-real simulations in military psychiatry. In this paper, I employ ethnography to examine a broader turn to the senses within military psychology and psychiatry that involve changes in the ways some are coming to understand war trauma, PTSD, and what is now being called “psychological resilience.” In the article, I critique assumptions that are made when what is being called “a sense of presence” and “immersion” are given privileged attention in military therapeutic contexts, diminishing the subjectivity of soldiers and reducing meaning to biometric readings on the surface of the body. I argue that the military’s recent preoccupation with that which can be described as “immersive” and possessing a sense of presence signals a concentrated effort aimed at what might be described as a colonization of the senses – a digital Manifest Destiny that envisions the mind as capital, a condition I am calling military utopias of mind and machine. Military utopias of mind and machine aspire to have all the warfare without the trauma by instrumentalizing the senses within a closed system. In the paper, I argue that such utopias of control and containment are fragile and volatile fantasies that suffer from the potential repudiation of their very aims. I turn to storytelling, listening, and conversations as avenues towards healing, allowing people to ascribe meaning to difficult life experiences, affirm social relationships, and escape containment within a closed language system.

***
Simulated War: Remediating Trauma Narratives in Military Psychotherapy – Marisa Renee Brandt

How have the politics of therapy been reconfigured during the so-called Global War on Terror? What role have the new virtual reality therapies that so resemble other forms of military simulation played in this reconfiguration? In this article, I draw upon feminist science and technology’s (STS) theorization of human-machine interaction into order to interrogate how contemporary therapies for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) reconfigure agency in the practice of healing. Analyzing trauma therapy as a site of reconfiguration, I show how new exposure-based therapies for PTSD—both with and without virtual reality—configure aspects of human subjectivity, such as memory, affect, and behavior, as objects for technological intervention. Through comparative analysis of different modalities of PTSD treatment, I show that the politics of therapy is especially enacted through the therapeutic remediation of trauma narratives: the mediational practices through which a traumatic memory is made available for therapeutic reworking. Therapeutic remediation practices configure therapists, patients, and nonhuman actants as subjects and objects with different forms of agency.

***
Weaponizing Affect: A Film Phenomenology of 3D Military Training Simulations during the Iraq War – D. Andy Rice

This article critically considers the relation between simulation design and human experience through the analysis of three-dimensional military training simulation scenarios developed between 2003 and 2012 at the Fort Irwin National Training Center in the Mojave Desert of California. Following news reports of torture at Abu Ghraib, the US military began to implement “cultural awareness” training for all troops set to deploy to the Middle East. The military contracted with Hollywood special-effects studios to develop a series of counterinsurgency warfare immersive-training simulations, including hiring Iraqi-American and Afghan-American citizens to play villagers, mayors, and insurgents in scenarios. My primary question centers on the military technoscience of treating human bodies as variables in a reiterative simulation scenario. I analyze interviews with soldiers and actors, my own experiences videotaping training simulations at the fort, and the accounts of many other visiting journalists and filmmakers across time. From this, I contend that the stories participants tell about simulation experiences constitute one key outcome of the simulation itself, blunting dissent and aiding the fort’s long-term efforts to retain clout and funding in the face of wars whose intensity fluctuates. I treat the ongoing cinematic performances on the fort as a kind of “simulation body” unbounded by skin, a theoretical framework drawn from Vivian Sobchack’s (1992) film phenomenological concept of the “film body” and affect theory grounded in the work of Kara Keeling (2007), as well as Eve Sedgwick (2003), Sedgwick and Adam Frank (1995), and Lisa Cartwright (2008), by way of American behavioral psychoanalyst Silvan Tomkins (2008).

***

Tactical Tactility: Warfare, Gender, and Cultural Intelligence – Isra Ali

The participation of women in the landscape of warfare is increasingly visible; nowhere is this more evident than in the US military’s global endeavors. The US military’s reliance on cultural intelligence in its conceptualization of engagement strategies has resulted in the articulation of specific gendered roles in warfare. Women are thought to be particularly well suited to non-violent tactile engagements with civilians in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan because of gender segregation in public and private spaces. Women in the military have consequently been able to argue for recognition of their combat service by framing this work in the war zone as work only women can do. Women reporters have been able to develop profiles as media producers, commentators, and experts on foreign policy, women, and the military by producing intimate stories about the lives of civilians only they can access. The work soldiers and reporters do is located in the warzone, but in the realms of the domestic and social, in the periods between bursts of violent engagement. These women are deployed as mediators between civilian populations in Afghanistan and Iraq and occupying forces for different but related purposes. Soldiers do the auxiliary work of combat in these encounters, reporters produce knowledge that undergirds the military project. Their work in combat zones emphasizes the interpersonal and relational as forms of tactile engagement. In these roles, they are also often mediating between the “temporary” infrastructure of the war zone and occupation, and the “permanent” infrastructure of nation state, local government, and community. The work women do as soldiers and reporters operates effectively with the narrative of militarism as a means for liberating women, reinforcing the perception of the military as an institution that is increasingly progressive in its attitudes towards membership, and in its military strategies. When US military strategy focuses on cultural practice in Arab and Muslim societies, commanders operationalize women soldiers in the tactics of militarism, the liberation of Muslim women becomes central in news and governmental discourses alike, and the notion of “feminism” is drawn into the project of US militarism in Afghanistan and Iraq in complex ways that elucidate how gender, equality, and difference, can be deployed in service of warfare.

***
A Drone Manifesto: Re-forming the Partial Politics of Targeted KillingKatherine Fehr Chandler

Debates about today’s unmanned systems explain their operation using binary distinctions to delimit “us” and “them,” “here” and “there,” and “human” and “machine.” Yet the networked actions of drone aircraft persistently undo these oppositions. I show that unmanned systems are dissociative, not dualistic. I turn to Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto” (1991) to reflect on how drones rework limits ranging from the scale of bodies to geopolitical territories, as well as the political challenges they entail. The analysis has two parts. The first considers how Cold War drones fit into cybernetic discourse. I examine the Firebee, a pilotless target built in the aftermath of World War II, and explore how the system acts as if it were guided by machine responses even though human control remains integral to its operation. The second part considers how contemporary discussions of drone aircraft, both for and against the systems, rely on this dissociative logic. Rather than critiquing unmanned aircraft as dehumanizing, I argue that responses to drones must address the interconnections they produce and call for a politics that puts together the dissociations on which unmanned systems rely.

***
Introduction to Attachments to War: Violence and the Production of Biomedical Knowledge in Twenty-first Century America – Jennifer Terry

This is an excerpt from Jennifer Terry’s book, Attachments to War: Violence and the Production of Biomedical Knowledge in Twenty-first Century America, forthcoming 2017.

Hiroshima Archive

Hiroshima Archive screenshot JPEG

Another impressive interactive web site:  I’ve discussed the wonderful collaborative work of the Japan Air Raids project before – and I’ve returned to it as I work up my account of the entanglements between nuclear weapons and drones (‘Little Boys and Blue Skies’: see DOWNLOADS tab and here and here) – and it’s now been reinforced by the newly translated Hiroshima Archive (the original Japanese-language version has been online since 2011):

The goal of the Hiroshima Archive and an earlier mapping project documenting the bombing of Nagasaki is to preserve the memory of what happened now that more than 70 years have passed since the end of the war, and fewer witnesses and survivors remain alive to pass on their stories.

On August 6, 1945, in the final days of World War II, an American aircraft dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima in western Japan. Up to 80,000 people—30% of the population of Hiroshima— were killed instantly, and much of the city was destroyed. Three days later, on August 9, 1945, the city of Nagasaki experienced a similar attack.

The Hiroshima Archive provides a personalized experience of what happened during the bombing. For example, using the online tool, archive users can view a 1945 map of Hiroshima while browsing survivors’ accounts and photos, and where they were located in Hiroshima at the time of the attack. It’s possible to then switch to a contemporary aerial photograph of Hiroshima to see how the location has changed in the years since 1945.

More here.

Empire, faith and war

My time in the archives at the Imperial War Museum this summer was very productive and I made considerable headway in completing my work on casualty evacuation from the Western Front in the First World War and from North Africa in the Second – more on that later.  In the letters and diaries written from Belgium and France I found many, scattered references to the presence of non-Caucasian troops, especially from North Africa and India; as I’ve noted before, it was not all white on the Western Front.

 

Soldier_map

But apart from the heroic work of scholars like Santanu Das there have been few attempts to piece these fragments together.  I’ve now discovered a website, Empire, Faith and War, that aims to put the contribution of Sikhs literally on the map (though it’s much more than an exercise in cartography):

As the world turns its attention to the centenary of the Great War of 1914-18, the ‘Empire, Faith & War’ project aims to commemorate the remarkable but largely forgotten contribution and experiences of the Sikhs during this epochal period in world history.

From the blood-soaked trenches of the Somme and Gallipoli, to the deserts and heat of Africa and the Middle East, Sikhs fought and died alongside their British, Indian and Commonwealth counterparts to serve the greater good, gaining commendations and a reputation as fearsome and fearless soldiers.

Although accounting for less than 2% of the population of British India at the time, Sikhs made up more than 20% of the British Indian Army at the outbreak of hostilities. They and their comrades in arms proved to be critical in the early months of the fighting on the Western Front, helping save the allies from an early and ignominious defeat.

Wartime generations and their stories fading fast, and current and future generations losing vital links to this monumental past.

There’s probably not a single Sikh in the UK who doesn’t have a military connection in their family history. It is often because of those links to the armies of the British Raj that many Sikhs now reside in the UK.

And yet the role of Sikhs in World War One is a largely unknown aspect of the Allied war effort and indeed of the British story.

By revealing these untold stories we aim to help shed much needed light on both their sacrifice, but also on the contribution of all of the non-white allied forces from across the British Empire.

This is possibly our last opportunity to discover and record the stories of how one of the world’s smaller communities played such a disproportionately large role in the ‘war to end all wars’.

Apoorva Sripathi has a good account of the background to the project here.

Offshoring

Offshoring military violence

I’ve written about US military bases overseas before – via David Vine‘s brilliant, painstaking work (see here and here) – but a new study from The Intercept has revealed another, much less visible geography of ‘offshoring’ military violence: the training of foreign military, police and security personnel by the United States.

soaI imagine most readers will know of the infamous ‘School of the Americas‘ at Fort Benning (since renamed the ‘Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation’) – if you don’t, read Juanita Sundberg in Antipode 39 (1) (2007) 144-66 or Sara Koopman in Antipode 40 (5) (2008) 825-47 on transnational protests against the School –  but the network of global military and paramilitary collaboration is much more extensive:

The data show training at no fewer than 471 locations in 120 countries — on every continent but Antarctica — involving, on the U.S. side, 150 defense agencies, civilian agencies, armed forces colleges, defense training centers, military units, private companies, and NGOs, as well as the National Guard forces of five states. Despite the fact that the Department of Defense alone has poured some $122 billion into such programs since 9/11, the breadth and content of this training network remain virtually unknown to most Americans.

The contours of this sprawling system were discovered by analyzing 6,176 diplomatic cables that were released by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011. While the scope of the training network may come as a surprise, the most astounding fact may be that it is even larger than the available data show, because the WikiLeaks cables are not comprehensive. They contain, for example, little information on training efforts in Colombia, the single-largest recipient of U.S. training covered by the human rights vetting process that produced these records. Other large recipients of U.S. security assistance, such as Pakistan, are vastly underrepresented in the cables for reasons that remain unclear.

My image at the top of this post is just a screenshot and you really should visit the original because it’s an interactive and you can use your mouse to get much more detail.

Zombie law

Britain's Kill List cover JPEGOver at ESIL [European Society of International Law] Reflections [5 (7) 2016], Jochen von Bernstorff has a succinct commentary on ‘Drone strikes, terrorism and the zombie: on the construction of an administrative law of transnational executions‘.

His starting-point is the UK report on the government’s policy on the use of drones for targeted killing that was published in May 2016 in response to the killing of Reyad Khan in Syria last August: you can find more in REPRIEVE’s report on Britain’s Kill List (April 2016) and in two commentaries at Just Security from Noam Lubell here and Kate Martin here.

In Jochen’s view, the UK has effectively endorsed the policies of the Obama administration and in doing so has hollowed out fundamental legal regimes that supposedly constrain state violence.

First is the concerted attempt to legitimise the unilateral killing of suspected terrorists outside ‘hot’ battlefields – in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, for example – as a new form of pre-emptive self-defence to be invoked whenever the state whose sovereignty is transgressed is ‘unwilling or unable’ to take appropriate counter-measures.  I discuss other dimensions of this in ‘Dirty dancing’ (DOWNLOADS tab), and pay attention to its colonial genealogy, but Jochen emphasises another even more starkly colonial inflection:

‘The main protagonists in this discursive effort take it for granted that the new legal regime will not be applied among us, which is among Western states and the five permanent Security Council members. There will be no US-drone attacks in Brussels or Paris to kill ISIS-terrorists without the consent of the Belgian or French government, even if these governments proved to be unable to find and arrest terrorists. The new regime is a legal framework for what can be called the “semi-periphery”, consisting of states that do not belong to the inner circle or are not powerful enough to resist the application of the regime.’

Second, and closely connected, is the claim that armed conflict follows the suspect – that the individuation of warfare (‘the body becomes the battlefield’, as Grégoire Chamayou has it) licenses the everywhere war: simply, wherever the suspect seeks refuge s/he becomes a legitimate target of military violence.  But there is nothing ‘simple’ about it, Jochen contends, because this involves a wholesale exorbitation of the very meaning of armed conflict that completely trashes the role of international human rights law in limiting violence against those suspected of criminal wrong-doing.

Finally, Jochen concludes that the arguments adduced by the UK and the USA (and, I would add, Israel) demonstrate that international law is so often transformed through its violation: in Eyal Weizman‘s ringing phrase, ‘violence legislates‘.  Here is Jochen:

 ‘The Zombie is created by a fundamental reconceptualization of the notion of self- defence and armed conflict in international law with the aim to get rid of all legal constraints on state violence imposed by the law enforcement paradigm. Is this a new legal regime? Are we really moving towards an administrative law of transnational executions? It is an inherent problem of international legal discourse that measures of Great Powers violating the law will often be reformulated as an evolving new legal regime and legal scholars should be extremely sceptical of any such claims, since whoever says “emerging” in an international legal context very likely wants to cheat.’

The things they carried

Britain_war-xlarge_trans++ZgEkZX3M936N5BQK4Va8RWtT0gK_6EfZT336f62EI5U

I’ve drawn attention to Thom Atkinson‘s brilliant documentation of ‘the things they carried’ – the equipment carried by infantry into battle from 1066 to 2014 – several times before (here and here): see his Soldiers’ Inventories here.

He’s now returned to the theme with a new portfolio comparing the kit issued to soldiers from Britain (above), France, Germany (below), Russia and the United States during the First World War.  You can access the images, plus a commentary from Christopher Howsehere.

War_2-xlarge_trans++gsaO8O78rhmZrDxTlQBjdPv9UtmGs4_E1E6Q7ZFHy1w