Military, media and (im)mobilities

Two important new books on Israel’s occupation of Palestine that both have even wider implications.

First, Adi Kuntsman and Rebecca Stein on Digital militarism: Israel’s occupation in the social media age from Stanford University Press:

pid_23022Israel’s occupation has been transformed in the social media age. Over the last decade, military rule in the Palestinian territories grew more bloody and entrenched. In the same period, Israelis became some of the world’s most active social media users. In Israel today, violent politics are interwoven with global networking practices, protocols, and aesthetics. Israeli soldiers carry smartphones into the field of military operations, sharing mobile uploads in real-time. Official Israeli military spokesmen announce wars on Twitter. And civilians encounter state violence first on their newsfeeds and mobile screens.

Across the globe, the ordinary tools of social networking have become indispensable instruments of warfare and violent conflict. This book traces the rise of Israeli digital militarism in this global context—both the reach of social media into Israeli military theaters and the occupation’s impact on everyday Israeli social media culture. Today, social media functions as a crucial theater in which the Israeli military occupation is supported and sustained.

Here is Laleh Khalili on the book:

“Amidst the hype of Facebook revolutions and the ostensible democratizing power of social media, Adi Kuntsman and Rebecca Stein illuminate the counterpoint: online militarization and the extension of state politics into the virtual realm. They expose the machinery of the Israeli state power at work within social media, and show the possibilities for countering the force of this machinery. Powerfully argued, beautifully researched, and thought-provoking, Digital Militarism is vitally important.”

Second, Hagar Kotef‘s Movement and the Ordering of Freedom: On Liberal Governances of Mobility from Duke University Press:

KOTEF Movement and the ordering of freedomWe live within political systems that increasingly seek to control movement, organized around both the desire and ability to determine who is permitted to enter what sorts of spaces, from gated communities to nation-states. In Movement and the Ordering of Freedom, Hagar Kotef examines the roles of mobility and immobility in the history of political thought and the structuring of political spaces. Ranging from the writings of Locke, Hobbes, and Mill to the sophisticated technologies of control that circumscribe the lives of Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank, this book shows how concepts of freedom, security, and violence take form and find justification via “regimes of movement.” Kotef traces contemporary structures of global (im)mobility and resistance to the schism in liberal political theory, which embodied the idea of “liberty” in movement while simultaneously regulating mobility according to a racial, classed, and gendered matrix of exclusions.

And here is Eyal Weizman on this one:

“In this book Hagar Kotef manages to successfully weave several intellectual projects: a wide-ranging and theoretically sophisticated contribution to political theory, a robust and fine-grained analysis of the mechanisms of Israeli control of Palestinian movement, and a direct confrontation with its injustice. This book is a major contribution to the topological shift in the study of space. Kotef does nothing less than rewrite the history of territory as a matter of movement, and that of sovereignty as the control of matter in movement. By pushing her original insight as far as it would go, she best captures the logic of the world we struggle to live within.”

You can read the introduction on Scribd.

Je ne suis pas Charlie

Once you decide you want to engage with audiences beyond the academy – one of my reasons for starting this blog, which also spirals in to my presentations and (I hope) my other writing – you run the risk of accepting invitations to comment on issues that lie far beyond your competence.  Even supposed ‘experts’ can be caught out, of course: think of  Steven Emerson‘s extraordinary claim earlier this week on Fox News (where else?) that in the UK ‘there are actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in…’  Emerson is the founder and Executive Director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, and ‘is considered one of the leading authorities on Islamic extremist networks, financing and operations’ – or so he says on his website – and he subsequently apologised for his ‘inexcusable error’.

Emerson was being interviewed as part of Fox News’s continuing coverage of the murders at the office of Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris on 7 January, and specifically about the supposed proliferation of what he called ‘no-go zones … throughout Europe’.

A good rule is to treat areas you know nothing about as ‘no-go zones’ until you’ve done the necessary research.

Academics need to take that seriously too, especially as universities become ever busier pumping up their public affairs, boosting their media profiles and offering journalists ready access to the specialised knowledge of their faculty.  Don’t get me wrong: I believe passionately in the importance of public geography, especially with a little g, and I also understand how producers and journalists racing to meet a deadline need talking heads.  But we need to be careful about the simulation of expertise.

This is, in part, why I haven’t said anything so far about the murders in Paris.  But on Thursday I was invited to lead a lunch-time discussion about them at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies; one of the many wonderful things about the place is the trust that emerges out of a commitment to the irredeemably social nature of intellectual work, and so – beyond the cameras, the microphones and the notebooks – I tried to sort out what I had been reading and thinking.    In many ways, it was an extended riff on Joe Sacco‘s cartoon that appeared in the Guardian just two days after the attacks (if you want to know the reactions of Arab cartoonists, then see Jonathan Guyer here and here):

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My starting-points were provided by The colonial present.  First, many commentators have suggested that the attacks were ‘France’s 9/11’; Le Monde‘s banner headline declared emphatically ‘Le 11 Septembre Français’.

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I think this absurd for many reasons, but there are several senses in which the comparison is worth pursuing, particularly if we focus on the response to the attacks in New York and Paris.  Both events, or more accurately television and video feeds of the developing situations, were relayed to watching audiences in real time.  This sense of immediacy is important, because it says something about the ways in which viewers were drawn in to the visual field and interpellated as subjects who were enjoined to respond – and crucially to feel – in particular ways.

Since this is emphatically not what Dominique Moisi, author of The geopolitics of emotion, had in mind when he insisted that ‘the attacks in Paris and in New York share the same essence’, that both cities ‘incarnate a similar universal dream’ of ‘light and freedom’, perhaps a different comparison will clarify what I mean.  Think of the killing of hundreds, even thousands of people by Boko Haram in Baga in northern Nigeria two weeks ago; reports began to appear in Europe and North America just one day after the murders in Paris, but the focus on France remained relentless.  There were surely many reasons for that (see Maeve Shearlaw‘s discussion here and Samira Sawlani‘s here), but the contrast between the live feeds from Paris and the scattered, inchoate and verbal reports from Baga is part of it – particularly when you realise that the scale of that distant atrocity was eventually  ‘laid bare’, as the Guardian put it, by satellite photographs released by Amnesty International showing more than 3,000 houses (‘structures’) burned or razed in Baga and Doron Baga.  For all the importance of surveillant witnessing in otherwise difficult to reach locations, the distance between bodies and buildings, an ordinary camera and a satellite, and live television and static imagery is telling, and sustains an affective geopolitics that is at once divided and divisive.

(Imagery is important to the Paris attacks in another sense too: when the murderers stormed in to the offices of Charlie Hebdo the focus of their rage was a series of cartoons mocking Mohammed – but they were radicalised by quite other documentary images, including coverage of the wars in Iraq and photographs showing the atrocities committed by American troops in Abu Ghraib: see here and here, and look at Joe Sacco’s cartoon again).

My second borrowing from The colonial present was a re-borrowing of Terry Eagleton‘s spirited invocation of ‘the terrible twins’, amnesia and nostalgia: ‘the inability to remember and the incapacity to do anything else’.  In the book I suggested that these are given a special significance within the colonial memory theatre, where the violence of colonialism is repressed and replaced by a yearning for the culture of domination and deference that it sought to instill.   And in much (fortunately not all) of the commentary on the Paris attacks, France’s colonial past has been effaced.  But here is Tim Stanley writing in the Telegraph:

The ability of a society to forget its recent past is like the amnesia that follows an accident – the body’s way of protecting itself against trauma. Yet in the 1950s and 1960s, as France tried to cling on to its African colonial possessions, political violence was far more common than today. Muslim Algerian nationalists (their race and religion regarded as interchangeable by the French) bombed the mainland, assassinated officials and killed colonialists en masse. The reaction of the state was shocking. In 1961, 12,000 Algerian immigrants were arrested in Paris and held in a football stadium [and at other sites: see the map below]. Many were tortured; more than a hundred disappeared. For days, bodies were found floating in the Seine.

Carte.ParisAlgerie1961Bis

EINAUDI Bataille de ParisYou can find more on the events of 17 October 1961 – on the arrests, torture and summary executions following a mass rally to protest against a curfew imposed on Algerians in Paris – here and here, but the definitive account remains Jean-Luc Einaudi‘s Bataille de Paris (1991).

DIKEÇ BadlandsThis is but one episode in a violent and immensely troubled colonial history.  To point to this past – as Robert Fisk also did, in much more detail, in the Independent – is to loop back to 9/11 again, when attempts to provide similar contextual explanations were dismissed (or worse) as ‘exoneration’.  To be sure, one must be careful: although Chérif and Said Kouachi were the Paris-born sons of Algerian immigrants, Arthur Asseraf is right to reject attempts to draw a straight line between violence in the past and violence in the present.  But can the continued marginalisation of Muslims in metropolitan France, particularly young men in Paris’s banlieus, be ignored?  (Here there is no better place to start than Mustafa Dikeç‘s work, especially Badlands of the Republic).  Doesn’t it matter that more than 60 per cent of prisoners in French jails are Muslims? For the Economist all this means is that jihadists ‘share lives of crime and violence‘ so that structural violence disappears from view, but Tithe Bhattacharya provides a different answer in which the ghosts of a colonial past continue to haunt the colonial present.

And doesn’t the responsive assertion of a ‘freedom of expression’ that is, again, highly particularistic seek to absolutize a nominally public sphere whose exclusions would have been only too familiar to France’s colonial subjects?  Ghasan Hage reads its triumphalist restatement in the aftermath of the Paris murders as a colonial narcissism – a sort of colonial nostalgia through the looking-glass – fixated on what he calls a strategy of ‘phallic distinction’ in which ‘freedom of expression’ is flashed at radicalised Muslims to tell them: ‘look what we have and you haven’t, or at best yours is very small compared to ours.’  (And whose governments have done so much to prop up authoritarian regimes in the Arab world and beyond that thrive on the suppression and punishment of free speech?)

There are, as Joe Sacco’s cartoon makes clear, real limitations on what can be said or shown in France too, including how somebody can present themselves in public – think of the arguments over the veil and the headscarf.  There are also limitations elsewhere in the world, of course, which is why the sacularisation of Charlie Hebdo and, in particular, the march in Paris on 11 January seemingly headed by politicians from around the world, arm in arm (in some cases arms in arms would be more accurate), processing down the Boulevard Voltaire (symbolism is everything), was a scene that, as Seumas Milne noted, was beyond satire:

from Nato war leaders and Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu to Jordan’s King Abdullah and Egypt’s foreign minister, who between them have jailed, killed and flogged any number of journalists while staging massacres and interventions that have left hundreds of thousands dead, bombing TV stations from Serbia to Afghanistan as they go.

True enough, but here too appearance is everything: the photograph was artfully staged (even before one ‘newspaper’ airbrushed the women from the frame) and took place in an otherwise empty side-street.

Paris photo-op PNG

If I can make one last nod to The colonial present, not surprisingly many of these politicians have also used the murders to justify the continued violence of the wars being fought in the shadows of 9/11; if you are in the mood to reverse the looking-glass, then Markha Valenta‘s sobering reflection at Open Democracy is indispensable:

[E]verything that might be said about revolutionary Islamist movements – when it comes to global violence – could be said about global Americanism and US foreign policy. It has been ruthless, cruel, illiberal, anti-democratic. It has wreaked havoc, killed innocents, raped women, men and youths, tortured viciously, violated the rule of law and continues to do so…

It does so in our name. In the name of democracy. And those who expose this … are shut up ruthlessly, cruelly and in ways designed to degrade. (Yet we did not march then.)

This matters because it clarifies what our condition is today, the condition under which last week’s violence took place: an extended and expanding global war between those who claim the right to intervention, brutality and terror in the name of democracy and those who do so in the name of Islam.

No less predictably, one of the immediate and dismally common responses to the murders, amidst the clamour for freedom of speech, was a renewed call for more state surveillance and regulation.  As Teju Cole wrote in the New Yorker,

The only person in prison for the C.I.A.’s abominable torture regime is John Kiriakou, the whistle-blower. Edward Snowden is a hunted man for divulging information about mass surveillance. Chelsea Manning is serving a thirty-five-year sentence for her role in WikiLeaks. They, too, are blasphemers, but they have not been universally valorized, as have the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo.

But it’s not only politicians who are guilty of appropriation.  Putting on one (far) side the extraordinary attempts to turn “Je suis Charlie” to commercial account – to ‘trademark the tragedy and its most resonant refrain‘ – there are other, less venal and more complicated appropriations.

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Heat map of #jesuischarlie hashtag; animation is available here

So back to the looking-glass.  You might think that “Je suis Charlie” is an affirmative gesture born of anger and horror but also of sympathy and compassion, a simple human reflex that has become virtually commonplace – comparable to, say, “We are all Palestinians“.  That was my first thought too. But the trouble is that such a rhetorical claim comes with a lot of baggage.  David Palumbo-liu suggests that  “I am Charlie” can be an assertion of empathy, solidarity or identification.  Even empathy is far from straightforward – why do we extend our fellow feeling to these people and not those? – but, as he shows, the other two progressively raise the stakes.    Sarah Keenan and Nadine El-enany wire this to appropriation with exquisite clarity in a short essay at Critical Legal Thinking:

The #JesuisCharlie hashtag and its social media strategy of solidarity through identification with the victim is … an appropriation of what was a creative and subversive tool for fighting structural violence and racist oppression, perhaps most famously in the “I am Trayvon Martin” campaign. When young black men stood up and said “I am Trayvon Martin”, they were demonstrating the persistent and deeply entrenched demonisation of black men which not only sees them killed in the street on their way to the local shop, but also deems their killers innocent of any wrongdoing. When predominantly white people in France and around the world declare “Je Suis Charlie”, they are not coming together as fellow members of a structurally oppressed and marginalised community regularly subjected to violence, poverty, harassment and hatred. Rather, they are banding together as members of the majority, as individuals whose identification with Charlie Hebdo, however well-​meaning, serves to reproduce the very structures of oppression, marginalisation and demonisation that allowed the magazine’s most offensive images to be consumed and celebrated in the first place.

As the invocations of Voltaire should have demonstrated, there is a substantial difference between defending the right to draw a cartoon and celebrating what is drawn.  Too many commentators clearly want to elide the difference, but there is another distinction to be made too.  A Muslim friend who lives in Paris was distraught at the murders, but when he heard the calls for the cartoons to be re-published immediately after the killings he told me he felt brutalised all over again.  Those who made such demands, who casually sneered at the ‘cowardice’ of those who failed to comply, either forgot or chose to ignore the existence of a far, far larger Muslim audience than the terrorists against whom they vented their spleen: or, still worse, it never occurred to them that there is a difference between the two.

So: je ne suis pas Charlie; I think I’d rather ‘be’ Joe.

***

I am grateful to my friends and colleagues who helped me think through these issues – I realise there’s a lot more thinking to be done, so please treat this as a first, fumbling attempt – and to Jaimie.

Handling the news

A follow-up to Virtual Gaza : Gilad Lotan, chief data scientists at beteaworks, has provided a mapping of the intersections between mainstream media news media and social media here, including a discussion of what he calls ‘personalising propaganda’.

Twitter handles responding to UNRWA school shelling 25-30 July

The Israeli liberal newspaper Ha’aretz appears between the broadly ‘pro-Palestinian’ networks on the right and the ‘pro-Israeli’ on the left.  These are his designations not mine (BBC? the New York Times??!!), but the mappings are of Twitter handles responding between 25-30 July to the Israeli shelling of an UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun – a particular event that sparked a particular series of reports – not the war as a whole.  And we should also remember that there is often a significant difference between reporting in the English-language and Hebrew editions of Ha’aretz

Darkness Descending

I woke this morning to media reports of the continued carnage in Gaza and to headlines recycled from Associated Press announcing that Israel had struck ‘symbols of Hamas power’.  Front and centre in the frenzied assault was an attack on Gaza’s only power station: but its importance is hardly ‘symbolic’.

1509120862In Targets of opportunity Samuel Weber wrote: ‘Every target is inscribed in a network or chain of events that inevitably exceeds the opportunity that can be seized or the horizon that can be seen.’

In ‘In another time-zone…’ (DOWNLOADS tab) I elaborated his comment in relation to so-called ‘deliberative targeting’, which ‘places a logistical value on targets through their carefully calibrated, strategic position within the infrastructural networks that are the very fibres of modern society’:

The complex geometries of these networks then displace the pinpoint co-ordinates of ‘precision’ weapons and ‘smart bombs’ so that their effects surge far beyond any immediate or localised destruction. Their impacts ripple outwards through the network, extending the envelope of destruction in space and time, and yet the syntax of targeting – with its implication of isolating an objective – distracts attention from the cascade of destruction deliberately set in train. In exactly this spirit, British and American attacks on Iraqi power stations in 2003 were designed to disrupt not only the supply of electricity but also the pumping of water and the treatment of sewage that this made possible, with predictable (and predicted) consequences for public health. Similarly, on 28 June 2006, during the IDF’s Operation Summer Rains, Israeli missiles destroyed all six transformers of Gaza’s only power station (which provided over half of Gaza’s power). Being powerless in Gaza was as devastating as in Iraq:

‘The lack of electricity means sewage cannot be treated, increasing the risk of disease spreading, and hospitals cannot function normally. It means ordinary Gazans cannot keep perishable food because their fridges do not work. At night, they are plunged into complete darkness when the electricity cuts off. They rely on candles and paraffin lamps. Many residents have also been left with an irregular water supply as they need electricity to pump water up from nearby wells or from ground floor level to higher floors in blocks of flats.’

In attacking the power station – a repeated and familiar target, and so not one struck ‘by accident’ – the IDF knows very well that in the days, weeks and months to come hundreds, even thousands of people will get sick or even die as sewage plants and water pumps fail, as refrigeration systems stop, and as essential surgeries and life-support systems are interrupted.

The situation before the latest Israeli offensive was highly precarious, as the map below shows; you can download a hi-res version here (if you have power), and the accompanying one-page report spells out the implications.  Israeli restrictions on the importation of spare parts mean that the power plant has never been restored to full capacity after the previous attacks, and since June 2013 the situation has been exacerbated by ‘the halt in the smuggling of Egyptian-subsidized fuel used to operate the [power plant] via the tunnels’ (last year the differential was 3.2 shekels/litre compared with 7.1 shekels/litre for fuel imported from Israel).

GAZA power deficit

At full capacity, Fares Akram reports, the power station should supply 80 megawatts of electricity; before the most recent Israeli offensive it was already degraded, producing at most only 50-60 megawatts.  It was damaged by Israeli shelling three times last week, and the effects tore into what was left of the fabric of everyday life.  Listen to Atef Abu Saif, writing in his ‘Diary of a Palestinian’ on Saturday 26 July (and read the whole thing: it is an astonishing and eloquent testimony to the depravity of the onslaught):

It has now been 40 hours with no electricity. The water was also cut off yesterday. Electricity is a constant issue in Gaza. Since the Strip’s only power station was bombed in 2008, Gazans have had at best 12 hours of electricity a day. These 12 hours could be during the day, or while you are fast asleep; it’s impossible to predict. Complaining about it gets you nowhere. For three weeks we’ve barely had two or three hours a day. And right now, we would be happy with just one.

These blackouts affect every part of your life. Your day revolves around that precious moment the power comes back on. You have to make the most of every last second of it. First, you charge every piece of equipment that has a battery: your mobile, laptop, torches, radio, etc. Second, you try not to use any equipment while it’s being charged – to make the most of that charge. Next you have to make some hard decisions about which phone calls to take, which emails or messages to reply to. Even when you make a call, you have to stop yourself from straying into any “normal” areas of conversation – they’re a waste of power.

And remember that without those mobiles and laptops much of what the IDF has done would not reach the outside world: see this report , for example, which describes how 16 year old Farah Baker (@Farah_Gazan), ‘one of Gaza’s most powerful online voices’ with over 70,000 Twitter followers, was abruptly silenced when she was unable to charge her phone.

Gaza tweet power cut

Last night the power plant was hit by Israeli tank shells again – the IDF spokesman insists that the plant ‘was not a target’: just how many times do you have to strike something before you recognise what it is? – and now it has been forced to shut down completely.  You can watch a video interview with Sara Badiei, an ICRC water and sanitation engineer in Gaza, who describes the knock-on effects of the power shut-down here:

‘If there is no electricity, there is no water, and I want to make that clear… Water needs to be pushed down the lines, down these tubes, you need pumps to be able to run to bring the water out of the well, to push it down the line and to deliver it to the population.  If there’s no electricity, that can’t happen…’

Gaza also relies on 10 power lines from Israel and Egypt to provide an additional 120 megawatts but 8 of these have been cut by Israeli shelling.  In the interview, Sara explains that it takes 5-7 days to repair each line and it is, of course, extremely dangerous work in a war-zone under constant Israeli shelling.

This is not ‘symbolic’: it is infrastructural war of the most vicious kind, waged without restraint or remorse.  In the past, some Israeli politicians have demanded that Israel shut off the power (and water) supply to Gaza – for some of the international legal considerations, see Kevin Jon Heller’s careful review for Opinio Juris – but what has happened today isn’t about turning switches on or off.  Here is Harriet Sherwood in the Guardian:

The power plant is finished,” said its director, Mohammed al-Sharif, signalling a new crisis for Gaza’s 1.7 million people, who were already enduring power cuts of more than 20 hours a day.

Amnesty International said the crippling of the power station amounted to “collective punishment of Palestinians”. The strike on the plant will worsen already severe problems with Gaza’s water supply, sewage treatment and power supplies to medical facilities.

“We need at least one year to repair the power plant, the turbines, the fuel tanks and the control room,” said Fathi Sheik Khalil of the Gaza energy authority. “Everything was burned.”

Since I published the original version of this post, Human Rights Watch has documented – on 10 August – the cascading effects of the strike on the power plant:

 

It has drastically curtailed the pumping of water to households and the treatment of sewage, both of which require electric power. It also caused hospitals, already straining to handle the surge of war casualties, to increase their reliance on precarious generators. And it has affected the food supply because the lack of power has shut off refrigerators and forced bakeries to reduce their bread production.

“If there were one attack that could be predicted to endanger the health and well-being of the greatest number of people in Gaza, hitting the territory’s sole electricity plant would be it,” said , deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Deliberately attacking the power plant would be a war crime.”…

Ribhi al-Sheikh, deputy head of the Palestine Water Authority, said the lack of electricity had idled wells – except where generators were able to provide some back-up power – as well as water treatment and desalination plants. Idling wells endangers crops that require water at the hottest time of year.

Most urban households in Gaza need electricity to pump water to rooftop tanks. Ghada Snunu, a worker for a nongovernmental organization, said on August 4 that her home in Gaza City had been without electricity since the attack on the power plant, forcing her family to buy water in jerry cans and to conserve the used household water to empty the toilets. The collapse of electricity service meant that many Gazans lacked access to the 30 liters of water that is the estimated amount needed per capita daily for drinking, cooking, hygiene and laundering, said Mahmoud Daher, head of the Gaza office of the UN World Health Organization.

This is how Israel exercises its ‘right to defend itself’ and how ‘the most moral army in the world’ is set loose on civilians.

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In the case of targeted killing (see ‘Drone geographies’, DOWNLOADS tab), the same network effects obtain:

‘…by fastening on a single killing – through a ‘surgical strike’ – all the other people affected by it are removed from view. Any death causes ripple effects far beyond the immediate victim, but to those that plan and execute a targeted killing the only effects that concern them are the degradation of the terrorist or insurgent network in which the target is supposed to be implicated. Yet these strikes also, again incidentally but not accidentally, cause immense damage to the social fabric of which s/he was a part – the extended family, the local community and beyond – and the sense of loss continues to haunt countless (and uncounted) others.’

This tactic, too, has been honed by the IDF, though not exactly refined.  Last year Craig Jones noted:

Since September 29th 2000, Israel has killed 438 Palestinians using the method of targeted killing. Of these, 279 were the ‘object’ of attack, meaning that Israel intentionally targeted them. The other 159 were ‘collateral damage’, chalked up to accidental or incidental consequences of targeting the other 279.

Rummaging around today, I’ve discovered another version of Sam Weber’s thesis with which I began, thanks to Jon Cogburn.  It’s a poem by the late (nationalist) Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai (who died in 2000) called ‘The Diameter of the Bomb’ (translated here by Chana Bloch):

The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
and the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,
with four dead and eleven wounded.
And around these, in a larger circle
of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered
and one graveyard. But the young woman
who was buried in the city she came from,
at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,
enlarges the circle considerably,
and the solitary man mourning her death
at the distant shores of a country far across the sea
includes the entire world in the circle.
And I won’t even mention the crying of orphans
that reaches up to the throne of God and
beyond, making a circle with no end and no God.

The poem was written in 1972, and in 2006 was the inspiration for a documentary film, also called The Diameter of the Bomb, about the aftermath of a suicide bombing in Jerusalem.  But its power reaches beyond place and time.  And that, in case anyone is wondering, is symbolic.

Virtual Gaza

idffacebook

I had originally thought The everywhere war would include a reworked and extended version of my discussion of cyberwarfare and Stuxnet which appeared in the Geographical Journal (DOWNLOADS tab), but the chapter is now about ‘virtual’ battlespaces more generally – which are far from being purely ‘virtual’, of course – and includes some of the jottings I’ve made on the role of digital media in later modern war (see here and here).  With that in mind – but rather more than that in mind – I should update the part they are playing in Israel’s latest war on Gaza where, as the Wall Street Journal‘s headline on 23 July had it, ‘Israel and Hamas take fight to social media’.

The IDF is no stranger to information warfare and to the power of social media.  John Timpane explains the back-story succinctly:

In November 2012, Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defense – on Twitter. It thereby became the first nation to initiate hostilities by social media. Starting with a YouTube video of the aerial assassination of Hamas leader Ahmed al-Jabari, Pillar of Defense escalated the social-media war. The Israeli Defense Force (Twitter following: 292,000) tweeted times and places of rocket strikes against Israel. A rag-tag bunch of pro-Hamas Twitter feeds (such as the oft-shut-down @alqassam, with 11,000-plus followers), Facebook pages, and YouTube videos published images of torn bodies and bombed schools.

As of 2014, “both sides,” says [Lawrence] Husick, “have become remarkably more sophisticated in how they use social media to engage with the rest of the world.”

To provide some idea of the scale of operations, al-Jazeera has produced this remarkable representation of the unfolding of a global Twitterstorm about the war; what appears below are screenshots and you really need to watch the whole thing:

#Israelunderfire

#Gaza under attack

The resources each side has at its disposable are far from equal.  According to Harriet Sherwood:

The propaganda war between Israel and the Palestinians is not new, but this battle-round is being fought with unprecedented ferocity. And like the asymmetry in the military conflict, the strength and resources of the Israel social media troops outweigh those of Hamas and other Palestinian organisations.

And those asymmetries have increased. Max Schindler reports,

With dueling Twitter hashtags, Facebook posts and YouTube channels, the Israeli Defense Forces and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, are trading not just fire but also barbs over social media, in an attempt to win hearts and minds around the world. But Hamas, barred from certain platforms, faces additional challenges in the Internet war.

In this round of violence, the social media battle has become increasingly important. Israel’s ability to wage its campaign in Gaza depends on the level of international criticism it sustains.

On Wednesday, Twitter suspended several accounts used by Hamas…. Twitter’s terms of service block use of the website to “a person barred from receiving services under the laws of the United States or other applicable jurisdiction.” Hamas is classified as a terrorist organization by the State Department, denying it access to American commercial products…. Facebook maintains a similar policy, and has deleted dozens of Hamas accounts due to American government restrictions.

All of this has still wider implications because many of the tweets and the cell-phone videos uploaded to YouTube(see below) re-circulate through mainstream media too – though my strong suspicion is that the cautionary ‘cannot be verified‘ tag is used more often to diminish the suffering of people in Gaza than to call into question the IDF’s hasbara (public diplomacy/propaganda, take your pick).

These are more than military (or paramilitary) media operations, but the remainder is not only the work of individual ‘citizen-journalists’.  Ali Abunimah reports on a social media ‘war room’, set up on the first day of the current offensive by students at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a private university, to ‘explain’ Israel’s actions to overseas audiences: ‘israelunderfire’ originated here.  Some 400 volunteers from around the world are now involved in targeting online forums and producing their own (dis)infographics (more – and affirmative – reporting from the the Jerusalem Post here).

IDC Herzliya %22War Room%22

But most of the running is being made by the  IDF’s own concerted media campaign, and as I noted earlier Rebecca Stein has provided a timely analysis of ‘How Israel militarized social media’ that debunks some of the myths that have grown up around its ‘success’ (see also the link to her previous work here):

‘What’s been lost in this coverage – in this story of surprise — is the history of the Israel’s army presence on social media. For in fact, the military’s move to social media as a public relations platform has been rife with improvisation and failure, a process that runs counter to IDF narratives about its innovative work in this regard (the IDF lauding itself as a military early adopter). The army’s interest in the wartime potential of social media can be traced to the first few days of the 2008-2009 Gaza incursion….

In the years that followed, the IDF investment in social media would grow exponentially both in budgetary and manpower allocations, building on this ostensible wartime triumph.

But the process was rife with challenges and missteps…

Today, Israelis are also concerned about losing the media war. But they tell the story differently. In their rendering, the Israeli media problem is a by-product of damning or doctored images (this was the spirit of Netanyahu’s infamous “telegenically dead” remarks), of Palestinian media manipulation, of global anti-Israeli cum anti-Semitic bias. The Israeli media manages these problems by removing most traces of Palestinian dead and wounded from national news broadcasts.’

This feeds in to a deeper narrative in which both Palestinian casualties and Israeli culpability disappear from view, deftly characterised by Yonatan Mendel:

‘”We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children,” Golda Meir said in 1969, ‘but we cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.’ Forty-five years on, in the third week of the Israeli attack on Gaza, with more than 800 Palestinians killed, about a quarter of them children, Israel’s government, its media and Israeli society have turned Meir’s idea of Israel being ‘forced’ to do unacceptable things into a vast and dangerous superstition. It refuses to take responsibility for the killing, just as it refused to take responsibility for the military occupation and the blockade: these, it tells itself, are what it has been forced into. Killing in Gaza in 2014, killing in 2012, and in 2008. But Israel has convinced itself, despite the rising numbers of dead, that isn’t killing anyone in Gaza. Hamas are the people doing the killing; they are responsible for the siege, the destruction, the underdevelopment, the poverty, the absence of peace talks, the postponement of a ceasefire and the use of UNRWA schools for military purposes.’

One final, crucial qualification. Even as he explains how the IDF and Hamas are fighting a media war, a battle to control the story on social media, John Tirmane insists that ‘the real war is of steel and fire, flesh and blood.’  What the countervailing voices of the ‘Twitterstorm’ seek to enable and to disable is an all too material firestorm.

Problematizing Cyber-Wars

Cyber OrientI’ve just received a Call For Papers on Problematizing Cyber-Wars for a special issue of CyberOrient: Online Journal of the Virtual Middle East.  The Guest Editor for the issue is the amazing Helga Tawil-Souri, whose work has done so much to illuminate these issues already and who starts in January as the new Director of NYU’s Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies [more on Helga’s work, with links to her writing and other projects, here].

According to military analysts, since the 1991 Gulf War and even more so since the Hezbollah-Israel 2006 war, we have entered a new phase of warfare, in which kinetic and traditional military power are losing importance to symbolic and media power. Perhaps unsurprisingly given a still-widely held Orientalist view in military circles, many such perspectives revolve around wars and conflicts in the ‘Middle East’ or against ‘Islam’ more broadly – taking place in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine, Syria, but also on cyber networks and mobile phones. 



While these claims are of course hyperbole, this special issue of CyberOrient invites articles on questions of how we might define wars in a (new) media-age in the region; whether, why, and how (new) media are increasingly sites of warfare; the relationships between ‘virtual’ and ‘real’ battlespaces. Topics could include the significance of targeting (and bombing) telecommunications and media infrastructures; the use of (new) media as outlets for propaganda during wartime; the mediatization of war and the militarization of media; the role of participatory or social media and mobile communications during and in wars; relationships or differences between official, military, alternative, citizen, and grass-roots (new) media uses during war and conflict; the expanding definition of warzones; commemoration and memorialization of war in a digital age; among others. We welcome submissions from across disciplines and methodological approaches that are empirically and critically grounded.

IDF tweet re Hamas Twitter account

[In relation to the IDF tweet (above), from earlier this year, Twitter hasn’t suspended the all too obviously fake ‘Hamas Global PR’ here…]

CyberOrient is a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Anthropological Association, in collaboration with the Faculty of Arts of Charles University in Prague. The aim of the journal is to provide research and theoretical considerations on the representation of Islam and the Middle East, the very areas that used to be styled as an “Orient”, in cyberspace, as well as the impact of the internet and new media in Muslim and Middle Eastern contexts.

Submission

Articles should be submitted directly to Helga Tawil-Souri (helga@nyu.edu) and Vit Sisler (vit.sisler@ff.cuni.cz) by 30 September 2014 (Full Papers). Articles should
be between 6,000 and 8,000 words (including references), and follow the AAA style in referencing and citations. Upon acceptance, articles will be published online with free access in spring 2015.

More information can be found here.

UPDATE:  With exquisite timing, Mondoweiss has just published Rebecca Stein‘s analysis of ‘How Israel militarized social media’:

‘What’s been lost in this coverage – in this story of surprise — is the history of the Israel’s army presence on social media. For in fact, the military’s move to social media as a public relations platform has been rife with improvisation and failure, a process that runs counter to IDF narratives about its innovative work in this regard (the IDF lauding itself as a military early adopter). The army’s interest in the wartime potential of social media can be traced to the first few days of the 2008-2009 Gaza incursion….

In the years that followed, the IDF investment in social media would grow exponentially both in budgetary and manpower allocations, building on this ostensible wartime triumph.

But the process was rife with challenges and missteps.’

You can also find more detail in my previous posts here and here.

Theatre of Operations

I am at last back in Vancouver after what seemed at times like a marathon on the road (even though part of it was vacation), and there’s much to catch up on and much to report.

But I’m going to ease myself in gently with news of a forthcoming book by Joseph Masco.  Many readers will know his previous book, The Nuclear Borderlands: the Manhattan Project in post-Cold War New Mexico (Princeton, 2006), a tour de force – appropriately enough – that carried off a string of major prizes. (If you don’t know it, you can get a taste in his ‘Desert modernism’, available as a pdf from Cabinet 13 (2004) here).

MASCO Theater of OperationsHis new book, due out from Duke University Press in November, is The Theater of Operations: National security affect from the Cold War to the war on terror:

How did the most powerful nation on earth come to embrace terror as the organizing principle of its security policy? In The Theater of Operations, Joseph Masco locates the origins of the present-day U.S. counterterrorism apparatus in the Cold War’s “balance of terror.” He shows how, after the attacks of 9/11, the U.S. Global War on Terror mobilized a wide range of affective, conceptual, and institutional resources established during the Cold War to enable a new planetary theater of operations. Tracing how specific aspects of emotional management, existential danger, state secrecy, and threat awareness have evolved as core aspects of the American social contract, he draws on archival, media, and ethnographic resources to offer a new portrait of American national security culture. Undemocratic and unrelenting, this counterterror state prioritizes speculative practices over facts, and ignores everyday forms of violence across climate, capital, and health in an unprecedented effort to anticipate and eliminate terror threats – real, imagined, and emergent.

I’ve commented on the idea of a ‘theatre of war’ on several occasions (see here and here) and in his new book Masco seems to be excavating its performative/manipulative dimensions to explore the constitution of ‘a new, planetary theatre of operations’ – something else to take into account as I race towards completing The everywhere war.  I’m also greatly taken by a genealogy that begins not with 9/11, which is emphatically not the moment when ‘everything changed’, but with the Cold War…

The Theater of Operations has won advance praise from another of my favourite authors, Peter Galison:

“We know that in the Cold War transportation infrastructures boomed, electronic infrastructures had to be hardened. We know about weapons and counter-weapons; we even have learned about the astonishing proliferation of security mechanisms put in place during the War on Terror. What Joseph Masco shows us in The Theater of Operations is an entire affective structure—the management of anxiety, resilience, steadfastness, sacrifice—that is demanded of every citizen. Alert to liquid containers above 2.4 ounces, hypervigilant to abandoned bags, suspicious loitering, or the detonation of a thermonuclear weapon—we learn to live our lives aware of tiny and apocalyptic things. With an anthropologist’s eye long attuned to life in the para-wartime state, Masco is the perfect guide to the theater of our lives in the security state.”

Joseph MascoEvidently not a person to stand still for long, Masco is already at work on a book on environmental crisis: you can dip a toe into the water at the excellent somatosphere (on science, medicine and anthropology) here, or dig out his chapter on ‘Bad weather: the time of planetary crisis’ in Martin Holbraad and Morten Axel Pedersen (eds), Times of security: ethnographies of fear, protest and the future, which came out from Routledge last summer.  The abstract (below), together with a link to an earlier essay on ‘Building the Bunker Society’ (available as a pdf), is here:

How, and when, does it become possible to conceptualize a truly planetary crisis? The Cold War nuclear arms race installed one powerful concept of planetary crisis in American culture. The science enabling the US nuclear arsenal, however, also produced unintended byproducts: notably, a radical new investment in the earth sciences. Cold War nuclear science ultimately produced not only bombs, but also a new understanding of the earth as biosphere. Thus, the image of planetary crisis in the US was increasingly doubled during the Cold War – the immediacy of nuclear threat matched by concerns about rapid environmental change and the cumulative effects of industrial civilization on a fragile biosphere. This paper examines the evolution of (and competition between) two ideas of planetary crisis since 1945: nuclear war and climate change. In doing so, the paper offers an alternative history of the nuclear age and considers the US national security implications of a shift in the definition of planetary crisis from warring states to a warming biosphere.

And while we are on the subject of ‘bad weather’, climate change and national security, the GAO recently released a report on the implications of global climate change for US military infrastructure. You can read a summary review here, which points out that while the Pentagon evidently takes climate change very seriously indeed – there has been a string of seminars, workshops and conferences testifying to that – the die-hards in the Republican Party continue to do everything they can to block even military-sponsored research into climate change.  As Representative David McKinley put it:

Our climate is obviously changing; it has always been changing. With all the unrest around the global [sic], why should Congress divert funds from the mission of our military and national security to support a political ideology? This amendment will ensure we maximize our military might without diverting funds for a politically motivated agenda.

The engorgement of ‘military might’ severed from a ‘politically motivated agenda’: you can’t make this stuff up.  Even for the theatre.

Exorbitant witnessing

PLIThe first issue of the Cambridge journal of postcolonial literary inquiry, edited by Ato Quayson, on ‘New topographies of the postcolonial’, is available as an open access edition here.

The Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry is a new peer-review journal that aims to deepen our grasp of postcolonial literary history while enabling us to stay comprehensively informed of all critical developments in the field. The journal will provide a forum for publishing research covering the full spectrum of postcolonial critical readings and approaches, whether these center on established or lesser known postcolonial writers or draw upon fields such as Modernism, Medievalism, Shakespeare and Victorian Studies that have hitherto not been considered central to postcolonial literary studies, yet have generated some of the best insights on postcolonialism. The Journal aims to be critically robust, historically nuanced, and will put the broadly defined areas of literature and aesthetics at the center of postcolonial exploration and critique. Essays of up to 8000 words on any aspect of postcolonial literature, literary history and aesthetics should be sent to The Editor at pli@cambridge.org.

The special issue includes a fine essay by Debjani Ganguly,The world novel, mediated wars and exorbitant witnessing‘, which provides close and illuminating readings of Art Spiegelman‘s Maus and In the shadow of no towers and Michael Ondaatje‘s Anil’s Ghost and connects them to what she calls ‘our era of humanitarian wars’ (see p. 16 for her characterization).  Here is the abstract:

This essay traces the emergence of a new contemporary novel form at the conjunction of global violence in the wake of the Cold War, digital hyperconnectivity, and a mediated infrastructure of sympathy. Since the first Gulf War, and more so, in the rhetoric presaging the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have come to accept that there is very little difference between the technologies used to wage war and those used to view it. This essay argues that the novels of our time are not contiguous with contemporary cinematic or televisual or new media genres in representing the immediacy of violence, but are rather texts that graph the sedimented and recursive history of such mediation. Their alternative way of documenting “witness”—that is, of abstracting the architectonics of testimonial work—urges us to focus not so much on the question of visibility—and its stock thematics of overexposure and desensitization—as on the legibility of this new mode of witnessing. The distinction between visibility and legibility amounts to calibrating differently the work of witnes- sing in novels, their textual and tropological play with multiple modes of spectatorship and engagement, and their distinctively different braiding of the factual and the evidentiary in comparison with genres of the visual.

Reporting from FATA

An update to my post about Wounds of Waziristan: there’s an excellent long-form interview with Madiha Tahir here (and a sawn-off version of the same discussion at Counterpunch).  As you would expect, she is very good indeed about Pakistan’s politics, the complexity of the situation in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Pakistani attitudes to US drone strikes, but she also has some sharp observations about how these are read in the United States:

Paul Gottinger: Can you talk about how the issue of drones is debated on the left in the U.S.?

Madiha Tahir: I was there when the Code Pink marched in Pakistan in October. Code Pink went with the Pakistani politician Imran Khan. We marched to South Waziristan, and we met some survivors and families of victims. Medea Benjamin, the founder of Code Pink, published an article in which she talks about her discomfort that Karim Khan, whose brother and son were killed by drones in December 2009, seeks a desire for revenge.  According to her article, several people in the delegation were uncomfortable with his desire for revenge. I find that very strange. It seems like the right wants the drone victims to be completely evil, and the left wants them to be pure. Both ways of seeing the victims is dehumanizing.

BAIG Reporting from the FrontlinesIn the background of all this is the extraordinary difficulty and danger involved in reporting from FATA.  There is a general survey of the ‘media landscape’ of FATA here and an excellent monthly review from Borderbuzz here, but I’ve found other, more personal sources to be more informative.  The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has addressed the issue directly and explained how its outstanding coverage of drone strikes in North and South Waziristan has been indebted to skilled local reporters like Mushtaq Yusufzai.

Some analysts claim that reporting from the tribal areas is often unreliable. Yusufzai is inclined to agree: ’There is some truth to it. Reporting can be very, very poor and if you rely on your local stringers and journalists they may never ever tell you the truth, because they’re rarely paid, they don’t want to risk upsetting people. The Taliban or security officials or local people might blame him for doing his job. So sometimes it’s easier for him to say nothing – or the wrong thing,’ he says.

Despite the risks, the militant groups can be an important source of information: ’There are a number of people who know, among the Taliban’s leadership, among the fighters, what’s actually happening. So I tell them that I want to write a story about these things if they can help. To some extent they will allow you, but if it’s related to their senior people, to the commanders, they may not allow you to do it and tell you instead to use their public statements.’

State sources such as the military and Pakistan’s powerful intelligence service, the ISI, can be less well-informed. ’Often they don’t themselves have access to those areas,’ says Yusufzai.

Journalists are at risk of interference from the army and ISI. Yusufzai assumes that his phone is often listened to, which he believes can put journalists in danger. ’Sometimes it becomes very dangerous, and the Taliban suspect it is possible you are working for spy agencies, for the government.’

In fact local journalists are afforded little protection by the state – and even local residents are denied access to information – as this short documentary Theater of Conflict – reporting from FATA makes clear:

Last year the Tribal Union of Journalists was awarded the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Human Rights Award; watch the video and you’ll see why.

Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung 2012

Image wars

STALLABRASS Memory of FireI’m still putting together the programme for my graduate course this term (I’ll post the full outline under the TEACHING tab as soon as it’s ready), and I plan to spend some time on what I’m calling Militarized vision and imag(in)ing modern war.

Images have become increasingly important to the conduct of war; in Precarious Life Judith Butler argues that ‘there is no way to separate, under present historical conditions, the material reality of war from those representational regimes through which it operates and which rationalize its own operation.’  This requires us to think carefully about two, closely related issues – media representations of military violence and its effects, and the ways in which militaries have incorporated political technologies of vision into their operations.

I’m thinking of beginning with these two readings:

Bernd Hüppauf, ‘Experiences of modern warfare and the crisis of representation’, New German Critique 59 (1993) 41-76.

Lilie Chouliaraki, ‘The humanity of war: iconic photojournalism of the battlefield, 1914-2012’, Visual communication 12 (3) (2013) 315-340

Then I want to turn to the scopic regimes of advanced militaries, via Virilio and transcripts of several US military investigations into air strikes in Afghanistan and Iraq, to open up a discussion of targeting and political technologies of vision.  (This is probably also the place to say that, since I started to think through the relation between technoculture, targeted killing and the individuation of warfare I’ve also been thinking about the work of Bernard Stiegler; more later, but in the meantime you’ll find a truly excellent bibliography by cultural geographer Sam Kinsley here).

All of this opens up wide fields for debate, of course, but as I was putting together a list of supplementary materials I stumbled upon a new collection edited by Julian Stallabrass, Memory of fire: Images of war and the war of images (Photoworks, 2013):

This richly illustrated book is a visual, theoretical and historical resource about the photography of war, and how images are used as instruments of war. It comprises essays and interviews by prominent theorists, artists and photographers and covers the urgent issues of the depiction of war, the use of images of war by the media, various forms of censorship, the military as a PR and image-producing machine, the circulation of unofficial images and the impact of the digital mediascape.

Full details here , a four-pager in which Stallabrass discusses ‘Rearranging corpses, curatorially’ here, and a video in which he explains the project here:

There’s no shortage of work on these issues, I know, but there’s a particularly detailed engagement with Memory of Fire by Susie Linfield  author of The cruel radiance: photography and political violence (University of Chicago Press, 2010) – here and a sharp response from Stallabrass (scroll down).  There’s also a shorter but still informative review by Ashitha Nagesh at the always stimulating bookforum here.

Finally, you can find Stallabrass’s (2006) reaction to Retort’s Afflicted Powers and its engagement with ‘image wars’, ‘Spectacle and Terror’, on open access at the New Left Review here.