Drones: Terrifying (and maybe illogical)

What does the drone program actually produce if not intelligence? Bodies, of course. Those who die in drone strikes are “dead ends” for US intelligence. Even current Special Ops manager Joseph Votel agrees: “We get a lot more…when we actually capture somebody or we capture material than we do when we kill someone” (italics mine).

Side note: I appreciate someone in the military differentiating between people and raw material (in this instance at least). I found myself bristling at the conflation of subject (people) and object (intelligence/enemy/objective/thing) throughout the drone papers. I find the EKIA acronym highly disturbing—these are human beings.

So it seems the drone program is in the business of consumption; it consumes intelligence (and bodies let’s be honest) but doesn’t actually reciprocate any intelligence. This strikes me as odd given US foreign policy was so deeply invested in procuring intelligence that torture became standard practice. Maybe we could talk a little more about the policy shift from Bush (intelligence gathering) to Obama (find, fix, finish)?

I would like to briefly note that this website is a visual masterpiece—interactive to the point of making me uncomfortable. I assume that’s what the creators were trying to elicit, the discomfort of being thrust into the program yourself. I watched the “blink” in a transfixed state. I can see how these drone operators come to view the business of global killing as a game. And it’s scary.

Climate Everywhere

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As it would be, my copy of Weizman and Shiekh’s book came in today, a day late. Taking a look at the photographs, just flipping through, I noted that the land is eerily vacant. All the scenery is from aerial view, very arid with slight outlines dancing on the sand, phantom remnants of what once was. I was almost saddened by the captions, to read what the Author asserts was once there, and then to see what remains, was depressing. If the Bedouins, nomadic peoples of the Negev desert and elsewhere, really did inhabit the deserts at first in mobile and then stationary settlements, it is a disconcerting premonition to believe that those people suffered forced assimilation into non-Bedouin cultures and the encroachment of their unsovereign desert lands. To consider that they were pressured to abandon their historically occupied lands due to encroachment by states working to ‘make the desert bloom’ is appalling. Those states using intentional climate change as a means to a greedy end is dastardly, and yet it invokes such complacency  from the people because of the ingrained humanistic acceptance of restructuring the land around us.

The way that the Levant region expresses physical evidence of climate change mirrors my current understanding of the climate crisis of the southwestern United States. The southernmost parts of California and Arizona are currently experiencing a severe drought. The mighty Colorado River, the 6th longest river in the United States of America, runs dry before ever reaching the Gulf of California. The problem here is clear: humans are overdrawing from the water table to the point which it cannot naturally recover. The solution, as well, is clear: remove the humans. In this we find the overlying issue: the southwestern continental US has a very high population density, especially surrounding the Colorado River and its mouth. This is remedied through tighter restrictions on water use in this region. Recent legislation has forced citizens to be water-conscious consumers. However, if you look at where the allocation of water resources is distributed, you would see that businesses in this region are the culprits for the real damage to the water table. Beef and milk producing cattle farms are prevalent in this area, and use a hefty amount of the water to maintain their businesses. Farms, in total, are allocated 40% of the water resources in California. To compound this issue even further, because it is the best environment to raise cows, most of the beef and milk produced in the United States comes from this region. The cute little cow from the Real California Milk Corporation commercial is squandering all the water in the southwestern US. *slurp slurp*

These connections go full circle when considering the similarities in the ways we have altered and overdrawn our environment to support our livelihoods and industries in comparison to the ecological encroachment of Bedouin-inhabited desert regions by outsiders hoping to extend their national boundaries. The regions have similar qualities as biomes, chaparral and desert often occur close to each other geographically. Both regions are sunny and dry most of the year, and distributing water and other resources across these regions irrevocably disrupts the naturally occurring biome. The cases are too similar to discount the adverse effects of human intervention in ecological systems in both cases.

Matters of Climate and Reforestation

The part of Conflict Shoreline that captivated my attention is the part that focuses on the 2008 efforts of reforestation in the desert. This deals with many issues surrounding environmentalism, morality, and religious indoctrination. In reading through the piece on the reforestation effort, especially the effort of the radical Christian group the piece encouraged  an abundance of questions.

The first issue raised by this is if we should make an effort to correct issues of global climate change on this scale at all. A well-known expert on climate change, John Broome, does not believe we should. Broome, who I had the chance to meet in class over this semester, and many of his peers, believe that efforts to make the world better should be economically sound decisions as well. With only the issues of spending resources in an attempt to correct issues of global climate change in mind, Broome, and many other experts would object to the idea that reforestation is the right thing to do. Ethically speaking, it would do a much greater good to donate to malaria research in South America, or perhaps even merely supply mosquito nets to children at risk of dieses spread by mosquitos. This line of reasoning suggests that acts like this that overuse resources are simply not good choices to make, especially given the fact that one could do much more good with the resources in another, more economic, context. In addition to this, of course, it appears given the information that the actual act of reforestation is hardly creating the good that it is claiming to make, and issues of human rights are perhaps being violated as well, which makes it even more clear that this is not a good use of resources.

I was surprised to find out of the negative effects of reforestation, and it is shocking to read about the negative effects of environmentally conscious activism in the Middle East as a whole. But what interested me even more was the religious affiliation present in this movement. Weizman tells us that in 2008 the God TV Corporation was the company propelling the reforestation effort. He tells us that this company is known for its prediction that all Jewish peoples must convert to Christianity or face “Burning in a lake of fire” (30). What interests me is the stark contrast to many other radical Christian groups in America. This particular group of radical Christians facilitated a reforestation effort with bad consequences. But many (if not most) Radical (Evangelical) Christian groups in America are still pushing against the existence of global climate change. In fact, evangelical extremists largely utilize their position of power to give political aid to candidates who do not put an emphasis on the environmental issues facing America, especially in 2008. Because of this, I was shocked by the affiliation, and the juxtaposition between the two radical Christian views, and it raised even more questions on this group in particular, as well as their motives in the middle east.

The Arab Spring and Social Media

Freshman year I took a first-year seminar specifically on the use of social media in the Arab Spring uprisings, so I paid particular attention to Ehrlich’s mention of the use of social media in the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011. When I took the class in the Fall of 2012 the events of the Arab Spring were still fairly timely and we were looking at commentary still analyzing what had happened. The main premise of the Information and Library Science course was that in the midst of revolutions, social media (especially looking at Twitter) can be an important disseminator of information for non-state actors whose traditional communication forms are limited or not practical for the time at hand. In the United States especially we may see social media as a luxury and would never think of its power to release timely information about where and when to gather in order to protest. An important fact to note, which Ehrlich mentions, is that social media did not “cause” the Arab Spring uprisings but it was a tool of the 21st century not available to traditional revolts of the past. The infectious nature of social media allowed the dissemination of information (especially video and photos) at a rate that could not be curtailed by government administrations and so they harnessed the power of enraging many people. Atrocities committed in one city or location couldn’t be swept under the rug if someone with a cell phone captured detailed proof. These cases of Tunisia and Egypt created swift overthrows of seemingly entrenched government leaders, but as Ehrlich mentions, the case of Syria is different and I learned a lot from reading Inside Syria that didn’t fit into the cookie-cutter mold of the other Arab Spring revolutions.

Additionally, I found the story of Hassino, the gay Syrian man, to be very interesting because he highlighted the mentality of the society at large. Neither the ruling government nor the opposition are inclined to believe in gay rights, so gay Syrians will not win their own personal freedom even if they support the revolution. In fact, some remarked that they were afraid that whoever replaced the devil they knew would be even more conservative (and thus anti-gay). This seems to me a different concept than what we might be used to thinking here in the United States, where revolutions may stand for “freedom for all.” In Syria, the LGBTQ community has to make decisions about who they support on other factors other than their sexual orientation, and know that neither side widely supports the rights they might feel entitled to.

Below are two (old) articles for more information on social media and the Arab Spring if anyone wants to read more. There are other similar articles, but the first one is just a short explanation of what social media meant for the Arab Spring and the second one is an article our class looked at in Fall 2012 about actually mapping the information flows of Tunisia and Egypt.


 

O’Donnell “New Study Quantifies Use of Social Media in Arab Spring” <http://www.washington.edu/news/2011/09/12/new-study-quantifies-use-of-social-media-in-arab-spring/>

Lotan et al “The Revolutions were Tweeted: Information Flows During the 2011 Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions” <http://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/1246/643>

Social Media, “Inside Syria”

Mentioned briefly on pages 82 and 84, the use and repression of social media communication among youth had a small but significant role in the rebellion against a totalitarian government regime in Syria. Within the past decade, forms of social media and information sharing has become a common tool among state and non-state actors. Including media shared in typical online and print journalism, the realisation of an obscurity of truth, (two sides to every coin) is evidenced by how each “side” in conflict reports information with bias, (i.e. propaganda at its finest). While activists living in Syria are restricted by what and how information can be shared, international coalitions, such as the Associated Press have been known to cover events and create narratives for the consumption of the global community, (i.e. the US). Creating narratives is essential to what is commonly referred to as “grassroots organising”. Grassroots, defined as the most basic level of action and organising, typified by hierarchical and loosely aligned groups such as the Local Coordinating Committee, LCC and more commonly known Black Lives Matter, relies on the ability of groups to create and maintain narratives that support one cause while depicting the opposition as hostile, violent, or uncooperative. For example, a depiction of Syrian youth engaging with state police can be read as hostile by activists or necessary for peace by the state. In this case, the use of violence is enacted and justified. Often times, as in the case of Syria, harm or aggression is justified judiciously or extra-judiciously, by means of moral, communal, or religious codes. In short, social media and the communicating of narratives has played a obvious role in activism and rebellion against state regimes since the advent of print journalism and especially due to the innovation of the smart phone, camera, and social networks.

For more information on how both the Syrian state and non state actors have used social media, visit: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/19/syria-social-media_n_4128360.html

Inside Syria Homosexuality and Violence

I want to discuss a certain section of “Inside Syria,” before we meet in class as while reading it I found myself angered to the point of not being able to keep scrolling to read more. This situation in Syria today, as we know for contemporary times, is one of the most horrific crises one can possibly fathom. Hatred and political difference is rooted in these wakes of violence and crisis. After reading chapter 5, I was completely outraged to realize I did not even begin to think of the violence perpetuated against LGBTQ in Syria, and because of this I feel ignorant. I was quickly able to draw a diagram in my head in which the violence against LBGTQ and the violence against victims in Syria and other Middle Eastern countries like Palestine strongly correlate. These [LGBTQ] communities in the Middle East must live in secrecy or otherwise they will face severe consequences such as death, stoning, death penalty, and more. It is within this correlation that I was able to draw upon a recent technology in Kuwait that to me is absolutely absurd and humorous in intention. This technology is called the “gaydar,” in which will test the sexual orientation of expats entering the country through a screening. The creator proposes that this will prevent “the third sex” from entering the country as well. In Kuwait, if you are under the age of 21 and you engage in homosexual behavior, you will be placed in prison for 10 years or more. In other gulf countries, acting on homosexuality is punishable by death. In the wake of this violence in Syria and Palestine, it is important not to forger about the different subcategories underneath the whole population that already receives violence as a group. Living in Kuwait, I knew of multiple LGBTQ friends who had to live their live completely incognito, similar to the lives of the reported in “Inside Syria,” in which it illustrates how one woman was forced to marry and have children for a man by her family because she was exposed as lesbian. This sickens me, and as much as I want reform in these countries for the sake of humanity, I want it the most for these communities who cannot be comfortable in their own skin, their own homelands, and their own secret walls. I hope to see change one day in the streets I grew up on, as reading these exerts from articles like “inside Syria” I am reminded of the heartbreaking violence taken out on these communities that is far from acknowledgment for change within the government.

Isis and Authenticity: The Search for Identity

While reading Devij’s reflections on the ISIS fighters and how they appear to be embroiled in a search for struggle for authenticity on a geopolitical scale, I was reminded of the main character of the book “The Sirens of Baghdad” and his struggle for identity and authenticity on a personal scale. Through his birth and life in a small village outside of the eye of history, and through the apparent erasure of his bedouin identity through the actions of American soldiers he was left drifting without an identity , authentic purpose, or even home that he could call his own. I believe that this character and those in the real world with a similar experience would be drawn to an organization such as ISIS. Unlike Al-Quaida, ISIS is seeking to establish an expand a concrete geographical homeland that it’s followers can identify with. Beyond that, their focus on anti-hypocracy and transparency would certainly draw those who are dissatisfied with the two-facedness of their current social contracts.

Deviji writes that “Our impulse is to look for the secret wellsprings of ISIS violence itself constitutes a rehetorical gesture, in which such acts of terror are seen as possessing a certain kind of authenticity and so a deep existential truth”. This romanticized viewpoint of violence could be shared among many members of ISIS, but I believe that this is a viewpoint that is shared with the society at large and pop culture of the United States. Many of our film and works of literature center around characters that are able to break free from the bullish*t of the westernized society and that often defend their liberation through the use of violence. The hyper-violent film “The Matrix” is one example of this, where the protagonists realize that world that they live in is so inauthentic that it is literary a computer program, a shade that has been pulled over their eyes that they must wake up from. Another example is “God Bless America”, an independent film that follows an “enlightened” office drone as he sets out to gun down all the jerks in the country. The fact that our violent fantasies are reflected in our media indicates to me that we share some of the struggles for authenticity that those considering joining ISIS also face. That being said, violence is in my opinion a very poor method of achieving personal authenticity

Sirens of Baghdad: Cultural with Culture

In The Sirens of Baghdad, there is a scene that seems to capture a lot of the issues of cultural tension that the novel depicts. The specific scene that epitomized this for me was the conversations that followed the unjust shooting of Suleyman. In the aftermath of the shooting the conversation that follows, instead of directing unbridled anger towards the men who committed this crime, there is a scene of “pity” for the Americans.

The conversation leads to the exclamation that it is no wonder these soldiers are horrible brutes! In their culture, they come home to wives who are sleeping with their best friends. With lives like this, it is no wonder they are angry all the time.

This is a powerful scene that is attempting to capture the issue of cultural tension between the two regions. What is fascinating is that both parties seem to pity the other party’s culture. The American perception of the war was driven by alterations of the word culture, and the media perpetuated a foreign “culture” that held the people of the Middle East prisoners in need of liberation. This scene shows us the opposite side of this picture. While American media was perpetuating a view that had American people pitying the “culture” of the Middle East, simultaneously, the people of the Middle East were looking at soldier and American culture with similar horror.

Although it isn’t the same exact kind of pity, it is still strikingly similar responses to the opposition’s culture. The idea of having your wife cheat on you with your best friend is just as bad as many facets of Middle Eastern culture that Americans were convinced to believe were awful.

This put the Culture vs. “Culture” question into a new perspective showing that this tension in “culture” is not a one-way street. This little conversation reveals a lot of the tensions that are at play between the two sides of this war, and in at least one way, reveals a similarity rather than a tension in the way each side is responding to the events around the war.

Syria and Humanitarian Aid

Reese Ehrlich’s work in Inside Syria is timely and hugely important. In the selections we read, he effectively discusses the complicated assortment of rebel groups and state backers that comprise the Syrian crisis. However, I am most interested in his discussion of humanitarian intervention. In analyzing the proper approach to dealing with Syria, Ehrlich points out that there is “no humanitarian intervention without regime installation.” This is a fundamental problem. How do we aid in the suffering of countless innocent civilians without creating dependency or conditions requiring occupation?

Ehrlich offers a solution that strikes me as far from satisfying. He proposes that we provide “humanitarian aid…done peacefully” and “programs in which Americans directly help the people of Syria.” These both sound great, but what good do these solutions do for those in the midst of the crisis? Even in saying that, I recognize the reality that no easy solution is forthcoming (as Ehrlich also recognizes in asserting the need for Russian cooperation).

This question is at the heart of modern foreign policy: recognizing our historical legacy as oppressors, how do we aid those who seem to be under significant oppression without creating the same long-term systems of imperialistic oppression that we have been perpetrators of for so much of our history? This is the question that Ehrlich is dealing with, and while I push back against his solutions which seems to regard those in the midst of the crisis as lost, I recognize that perhaps the answer to this question ends in small-scale systems of aid.