Counterinsurgency and the counterrevolution

Another interesting interview tied to a book, this time between Jeremy Scahill and Bernard Harcourt, over at The Intercept.  A central argument of Bernard’s book, The Counterrevolution: how our government went to war against its own citizens,is that contemporary politics is based on – in fact, realizes – a counterinsurgency warfare model.  He explains it like this:

… all of the [ways] in which we govern abroad and at home is now funneled through a particular way of thinking about the world. It’s a mentality. It’s a way of thinking about society that triggers particular kinds of strategies and politics that result from that. And the way of thinking about society is this counterinsurgency paradigm of warfare.

So, counterinsurgency started in the 1950s – well, it started long before then, but it kind of crystallized with Western powers in the 1950s and 60s in Algeria, and Indochina before then, and in Vietnam for the Americans. And it was a particular way of thinking about society, the way society is structured into three groups. With, on the one hand, a small active minority who are the insurgents, and a large passive majority who can be swayed one way or the other, and then a small minority of counterinsurgents.

And that way of thinking has become internalized, second hand. Most, I would say, many in America, but certainly our political leaders are looking at the world through that lens when they look at other countries when they look domestically at their own population, and as a result of that it triggers particular kinds of counterinsurgency practices, really. And three practices particularly that I think when you look at what we’re doing both abroad and at home, you see resonances of them everywhere. The first is the idea of getting total information awareness. That’s always been the key linchpin of counterinsurgency theory, is to get total information on the total population.

And that’s what distinguishes it from just getting good intelligence. It’s that you have to get total intelligence on the total population, not just targeted to people who you suspect, but on the total population. So that you can make a distinction between or you can identify that small group of active insurgents. And you need the information on everyone so that you can make that separation, those fine distinctions between someone who is in that active minority or someone who’s just [in the] you know, passive masses. So that’s the first strategy. The second strategy is then that you have to rid of the active minority that you identified, just that small group of individuals, the insurgents, and you do that through any means possible. And then the third strategy is to win the hearts and minds of the masses, basically.

And I think that starting after 9/11. We saw that way of thinking become the dominant way of governing abroad particularly with the war in Iraq, but then more generally with the use of drones outside of war zones et cetera, use of total information through the NSA in the way in which everything was captured about everyone to the most minor detail. And then also trying to pacify the masses in Iraq through kind of some provision of services or just distribution of cash. But then eventually, when this way of thinking comes back to the United States through different forms of pacification of the masses. Particularly right now, I would say through forms of distraction, really.

The interview loops through a number of arguments that will be familiar to regular readers – about Guantanamo Bay, the carceral archipelago and torture; about the ‘cultural turn’ and counterinsurgency; about drones and targeting killing; and about international humanitarian law, international human rights law and the ‘individuation’ modality of later modern war – but repatriates them from the global borderlands to the United States.

Illegalities and undemocracies

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A postscript to my previous post about Palestine, solidarity and BDS.  Over at Books & IdeasBenjamin Ferron has a review essay on Ingrid Nyström and Patricia Vendramin, Le boycott (2015): Globalisation and the art of boycotting.

There’s some succinct historical context, tracing the politics of boycotts back to the late seventeenth century, but then this about the current Boycott, Disinvest, Sanctions movement:

‘Launched in 2005 at the request of Palestinian intellectuals and academics, and supported by 172 Palestinian civil society organisations, it calls for an economic, academic, cultural and political boycott of the state of Israel to protest against the colonisation and occupation of Palestinian territories, the construction of the Wall of separation and annexation, and campaign in favour of the equality of Israeli Arab and Jewish citizens, and the acknowledgement of the Palestinian refugees’ right of return. The penalisation of these actions in Israel and in France (through the so-called Alliot-Marie circular) shows that this mode of action is threatening to the intended targets or their allies.’

I knew about moves by the Cameron government in the UK and the now mercifully extinct Harper government in Canada to outlaw BDS – the irony of the former Prime Minister threatening to use ‘hate laws’ against anyone with whom he disagreed is wholly unexceptional –   but I now realise that their authoritarian response is much wider than I had imagined, and for the reasons supplied by those last eight words in the quotation.

Of particular relevance to the upcoming plenary at the AAG is this report from Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept that details attempts in the US to suppress pro-Palestinian voices and peaceful actions: ‘Greatest Threat to Free Speech in the West: Criminalizing Activism Against Israeli Occupation‘.

“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now…”

Eyal Weizman‘s stunning Wall Exchange, “Forensic Architecture”, which he presented at the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver earlier this month, is now up on YouTube here and embedded below.

If you are puzzled by my riff on Joni Mitchell, start around 46:10 (though you’ll miss a lot if you do…).

And while we’re on the subject of clouds, you’ll find a remarkable analysis of a different sort of militarized cloud in Tung-Hui Hu‘s A Prehistory of the Cloud from MIT:

We may imagine the digital cloud as placeless, mute, ethereal, and unmediated. Yet the reality of the cloud is embodied in thousands of massive data centers, any one of which can use as much electricity as a midsized town. Even all these data centers are only one small part of the cloud. Behind that cloud-shaped icon on our screens is a whole universe of technologies and cultural norms, all working to keep us from noticing their existence. In this book, Tung-Hui Hu examines the gap between the real and the virtual in our understanding of the cloud.

Hu shows that the cloud grew out of such older networks as railroad tracks, sewer lines, and television circuits. He describes key moments in the prehistory of the cloud, from the game “Spacewar” as exemplar of time-sharing computers to Cold War bunkers that were later reused as data centers. Countering the popular perception of a new “cloudlike” political power that is dispersed and immaterial, Hu argues that the cloud grafts digital technologies onto older ways of exerting power over a population. But because we invest the cloud with cultural fantasies about security and participation, we fail to recognize its militarized origins and ideology. Moving between the materiality of the technology itself and its cultural rhetoric, Hu’s account offers a set of new tools for rethinking the contemporary digital environment.

Prehistory of the Cloud

Here is Lisa Parks on what is surely one of the must-reads of the year:

“Hu’s riveting genealogy of the cloud takes us into its precursors and politics, and boldly demonstrates how fantasies of sovereignty, security, and participation are bound up in it. Much more than a data center, the cloud is a diffuse and invisible structure of power that has yielded a data-centric order. Imaginative and lucidly written, this book will be core to digital media studies.”

Reach from the Sky

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I’ve been invited to give the annual Tanner Lectures in Cambridge on 13-14 January 2016. The Lectures are given in parallel at nine universities in the UK and the USA: Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Yale, Berkeley, Michigan and Utah.

Appointment as a Tanner lecturer is a recognition for uncommon achievement and outstanding abilities in the field of human values. The lecturers may be elicited from philosophy, religion, the humanities, the sciences, the creative arts, and learned professions, or from leadership in public or private affairs. The lectureships are international and intercultural and transcend ethnic, national, religious, and ideological distinctions.

The purpose of the Tanner Lectures is to advance and reflect upon the scholarly and scientific learning relating to human values. This intention embraces the entire range of values pertinent to the human condition, interest, behavior, and aspiration. The lectures are published in an annual volume.

The Tanner Lectures were established by the American scholar, industrialist, and philanthropist, Obert Clark Tanner. In creating the lectureships, Professor Tanner said, “I hope these lectures will contribute to the intellectual and moral life of mankind. I see them simply as a search for a better understanding of human behavior and human values. This understanding may be pursued for its own intrinsic worth, but it may also eventually have practical consequences for the quality of personal and social life.”

It’s a huge honour, and thoroughly intimidating when I look at the roster of previous speakers and those delivering the other lectures in 2015-16, and I’m thrilled – though so far I’ve only got as far as a title: ‘Reach from the Sky: aerial violence and the everywhere war‘.  The clock is ticking, so watch this space for progress reports…

Gravity modelling

Mediterranean migration crisis (HRW) MAP

The latest issue of Radical Philosophy (192, July/August 2015) is out now, and it includes a short essay by Martina Tazzioli, ‘The politics of counting and the scene of rescue: Border deaths in the Mediterranean’ (see also my post about The Left to Die Boat).  Her commentary adds new dimensions to discussions of the humanitarian present:

The exclusive focus on the modalities of rescue has overshadowed the peculiar politics of life that underpins military-humanitarian operations: migrants seeking asylum become lives to rescue and their freedom – of movement and of choosing a safe place to stay – is dislodged from the outset. The mechanisms of capture and containment of unauthorized movements act simultaneously through border restrictions that cause border deaths and through the humanitarian channelling system. The risks to life that people who seek asylum in Europe take, being forced to cross the Mediterranean ‘illegally’, and rescue politics are not opposite mechanisms of migration government. This means that humanitarian measures hold a specific political technology over migrant lives by rescuing, sorting and channelling migrants, one in which people escaping wars can seek asylum only by first becoming shipwrecked persons to rescue. Humanitarian and security measures are thus two intertwined political technologies of migration governmentality.

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The map above is drawn from the Migrants Files, a database recording the deaths of more than 29,000 migrants who have tried to seek refuge in Europe since 200.  But Martina’s commentary details what she calls the ‘politics of counting’ and in doing so she enlarges the scope of those (other) projects that seek to move behind the statistical toll of wars and other forms of military and paramilitary violence to identify and name their otherwise nameless casualties:

If border deaths are accounted for through a logic of counting, something remains undetectable from the political perspective of the northern shore of the Mediterranean. Moving beyond the logic of counting means refusing to look at border deaths from the standpoint of this governmental gaze – migration agencies or states – and taking into account what border deaths are for the friends and the relatives of the missing migrants. This means engaging in a decolonial move that challenges the logic of recognition that sustains political campaigns and research projects aiming to count and identify dead migrants. By moving from the northern to the southern shore of the Mediterranean we realize that these uncounted deaths not only have a name but are fully known by their friends and relatives. Rather than producing a more exact border deaths population database, it is a question of bringing into visibility the reality of what the visa regime and the European mechanisms of border control generate: the ‘disappearance’ of women and men who die without being detected but who are counted as ‘missing’ in the countries of origin or of transit by those who know them. The logic of identification – giving a name to corpses found at sea – risks, paradoxically, reproducing the hierarchy that assumes dead migrants are people who, in order to exist, have to be recognized, counted and named from the northern shore of the Mediterranean. A politics that accounts for border deaths without reproducing this space of governmentality attends to what exists beyond counting and identification: unaccountable deaths represent the unquantifiable ‘cost’ of borders that cannot be assessed from the northern shore of the Mediterranean and that requires taking into account those people – friends and relatives – for whom they are missing persons.

HRW Med Migration Crisis JPEG

Last week, Human Rights Watch issued a report on The Mediterranean Migration Crisis: Why People Flee, What the EU Should Do; the map at the head of this post identifies sample migration routes derived from the interviews carried out by HRW for its report:

The report draws on Human Rights Watch’s extensive work on the human rights situation in the four main sending countries as well as interviews with Syrians, Eritreans, Afghans, and Somalis who crossed the Mediterranean in May 2015. Human Rights Watch staff interviewed over 150 recently-arrived migrants and asylum seekers in Italy (Lampedusa, Catania, and Milan) and Greece (the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros, and Kos).

Note: For those who had the good fortune to escape spatial science in the 1960s and 70s, and who might well be puzzled by my title, gravity models were (and probably still are) one of the canonical forms of migration modelling.  Martina’s commentary is an urgent reminder of the gravity that lies behind the politics of calibration and calculation.

Butler and bodies in alliance

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I’ve been inspired by Judith Butler‘s work in all sorts of ways – most recently by her discussions of performance, performativity and bodies in spaces that helped me make sense of the events that unfolded in Tahrir Square (see here and here).  I now have news of a new book from Judith that addresses these themes in more detail: Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly, due from Harvard in November.

Judith Butler elucidates the dynamics of public assembly under prevailing economic and political conditions, analyzing what they signify and how. Understanding assemblies as plural forms of performative action, Butler extends her theory of performativity to argue that precarity—the destruction of the conditions of livability—has been a galvanizing force and theme in today’s highly visible protests.

Butler broadens the theory of performativity beyond speech acts to include the concerted actions of the body. Assemblies of physical bodies have an expressive dimension that cannot be reduced to speech, for the very fact of people gathering “says” something without always relying on speech. Drawing on Hannah Arendt’s view of action, yet revising her claims about the role of the body in politics, Butler asserts that embodied ways of coming together, including forms of long-distance solidarity, imply a new understanding of the public space of appearance essential to politics.

Butler links assembly with precarity by pointing out that a body suffering under conditions of precarity still persists and resists, and that mobilization brings out this dual dimension of corporeal life. Just as assemblies make visible and audible the bodies that require basic freedoms of movement and association, so do they expose coercive practices in prison, the dismantling of social democracy, and the continuing demand for establishing subjugated lives as mattering, as equally worthy of life. By enacting a form of radical solidarity in opposition to political and economic forces, a new sense of “the people” emerges, interdependent, grievable, precarious, and persistent.

butler_overviewThe book is based on Judith’s three Mary Flexner Lectures, ‘Bodies in Alliance‘, delivered at Bryn Mawr College in 2011:

‘Gender politics and the right to appear’

‘Bodies in alliance and the politics of the street’

‘Towards an ethics of co-habitation’

Wounding the world

BOURKE Wounding the world

Joanna Bourke‘s new book, Wounding the world, has just been published in the UK by Virago (the North American edition, re-titled Deep Violence: Military Violence, War Play, and the Social Life of Weapons, is due from Counterpoint early next year).

Wars are frequently justified ‘in our name’. Militarist values and practices co-opt us, permeating our language, invading our dream space, entertaining us at the movies or in front of game consoles. Our taxes pay for those war machines. Our loved ones are killed and maimed.

With killing now an integral part of the entertainment industry in video games and Hollywood films, war has become mainstream.

2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the declaration of the First World War, and with it comes a deluge of books, documentaries, feature films and radio programmes. We will hear a great deal about the horror of the battlefield. Bourke acknowledges wider truths: war is unending and violence is deeply entrenched in our society. But it doesn’t have to be this way. This book equips readers with an understanding of the history, culture and politics of warfare in order to interrogate and resist an increasingly violent world.

Here is the list of chapters:

PART ONE: WAR WITHOUT END

Introduction

PART TWO: THE SOCIAL LIFE OF WEAPONS

It’s only words

The circulation of violence

PART THREE: INCITEMENT TO MURDER

Kind-hearted Gunmen

Wounding the Innocent

The Dark Art of Ballistics

PART FOUR: MILITAINMENT

Playing War

Violent Gaming

PART FIVE: THE END OF WAR

Protest

You can read the introduction here, from which I’ve snipped this extract:

Our garrisons are maintained throughout the world and yet the military campaigns we wage abroad seem as real to most of us as the metaphorical wars on drugs or obesity. It is not uncommon to hear people waxing lyrical about the sanctity of life – including that of the two-cell embryo – while revering the troops on Remembrance Day. Militarist incursions into our ways of thinking, talking and enjoying ourselves are barely acknowledged. The blurring of entertainment and war, the infiltration of ‘violence-as-fun’ into the popular imagination (‘militainment’) and the advent of warbots – a generic term for drones, robotic weapons, unmanned vehicles, and suchlike – have led many of us to take for granted that war is without end and without borders. Unwittingly, we have effectively been turned into citizen-soldiers.

We have inherited a toxic genealogy. Its names are legion but its purpose is singular: violence. It is precisely its everyday nature – the way it creeps up on us by stealth – that makes it so powerful. But we are not merely passive observers, in thrall to a set of amorphous, militaristic ideologies or corrupting institutions. We are involved in the production of violence: it constitutes who we are and might be and, as such, can be resisted.

There is an early review by Yvonne Roberts in today’s Guardian here.

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It’s a timely book in all sorts of ways, but I’m particularly pleased it’s available now because next month I’ll be in Berlin as part of Hebbel am Ufer’s Waffenlounge (Weapons Lounge):

After the USA and Russia, Germany is the third largest arms exporter in the world. The global market constantly demands better, more effective and ‘cleaner’ weapons. This month HAU Hebbel am Ufer is presenting a new production by Hans-Werner Kroesinger, “Exporting War,” as well as the Berlin premiere of “Situation Rooms,” a groundbreaking installation by Rimini Protokoll, created in co-production with HAU. Both works take up the paradoxical relationships that societies maintain to weapons, and both make use of personal biographies, current military conflicts as well as historical and political contexts. Under the motto “Weapons Lounge” HAU will also be presenting performances, installations, expert talks, and a project by the Houseclub with Kreuzberg pupils.

I’ll be talking about drones, but I’ve been thinking about what Joanna calls ‘the social life of weapons’ and also about the global arms trade (see my early post on ‘The death merchants’ here), so I’m looking forward to reading what she has to say.