About Jonathan Reeve

Exercise and Sport Science

Paris, Syria, and Instinctual Grief

Butler’s words in “Violence, Morning, Politics” are especially relevant in the wake of the attacks on Paris and the continued deaths in the conflict in Syria. He writes about how we as humans have the tendency to value certain lives over others. “Certain lives will be highly protected”, he writes, “and the abrogation of their claims to sanctity will be sufficient to mobilize the forces of war. Other lives will not find such fast and furious support and will not even qualify as “grievable.”” This phenomenon could explain in part the immense media, political, and cultural response to the 11/13 attacks in Paris, and how the same response did not appear for those who die in the same numbers every day in places of the world such as Syria.

I admit, I was more saddened by the deaths in Paris than I was by the deaths of very similar violence in Syria. Consciously, I hold the value of all lives to be equal. I understand that the loss of a father, a mother, or a child is no greater or less a tragedy in the Middle East as it is in Europe. I understand that humans are humans, created equal no matter the place or the culture. And yet, on instinct, news of the deaths in Paris brought more of a lump to my throat than months of reports of bombings and shootings in the non-western world. Maybe it is the shock of it, the loss of people who live in a usually safe area, whose lives are, as Butler would put it “highly protected” that causes me to grieve more. maybe it is because I, as a Westerner and a speaker of a language that is a mixture of French and Germanic, identify more with the culture of France than I do with the areas of conflict in the Middle East, a region that I am all too ignorant about. And maybe, (And Dear God I pray that this is not the case), deep down on an instinctual level I grieve more for the French Dead because I perceive them as being closer to my race than the families who were torn apart due to a similar violence or due to French missiles on Sunday. Whatever the reason, it is my instinct to grieve more for those who I perceive as being closer to me as a person. I wish that this were not the case, that my instinctual and conscious minds could match in understanding and that I could grieve evenly for the people of the world who must endure greater horrors than I have ever experienced. And I hope that it will change as I get older and I get the chance to travel to new places, meet new people, and read and see new testimonies, and that one day I will be able to collapse my instinctual hierarchy of grief.

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

Lethal Theory: urban swarming tactics and civilian involvement

What struck me the most about the military strategies discussed in the paper by Eyal Weizman was what can happen to the civilians who are caught in the crosshairs of this strategy. While this creative way of approaching a spatial battlefield can certainly be effective in surprising, confusing and circumnavigating the “enemy”, It surly can take the unsuspecting civilian by surprise as well. In a traditional war, there are clearly defined battlefronts, with the focus on moving the line of the enemy back and taking their land. In this new form of war, there is no clearly defined front, and no way to quantify advance. As such, it would be very difficult for civilians to determine where is safe and where is not. Not only does this mean that everywhere would be vulnerable, but that everything would feel vulnerable as well,

 

The article describes the process of carving out a network for troop movement not around buildings, but through them. A hole is blown through the wall, and the groups swarm in and apprehend the shocked inhabitants inside. I am left wondering how many children playing or couples sleeping on the other side of the wall were injured or killed when the wall was destroyed. And even if there were civilian casualties of this method, how could it possibly be reported and responsibility determined? In this chaotic and decentralized method of maneuvering through an area, how do you determine what soldier was where when what happened.

Finally, I noticed the potential for infrastructure damage that this strategy could lead to. While a thousand troops can march through a street one day and leave no evidence of their passing, a thousand troops boring through walls will leave their mark to remind the inhabitants of the conflict long after peace is made.

Swimming with Sharks, and the World Risk Society

Last summer, I went snorkeling at a place called Kicker Rock off of the coast of Ecuador. The place is a shark highway, and is abundant in Blacktip, Galapagos, and Hammerhead sharks. Looking down through the crystal clear waters, I looked on in wonder as these ancient predators passed below me. Two days later, I snorkeled again in deeper water and felt afraid. I was in a location not known for sharks, but I could not see as far through the water. The presence of a killer shark was an unknown for me, as was what direction it might come from. For the rest of my swim, I could not shake my uneasy feeling. According to Beck, while I had a higher chance for catastrophe (Shark attack) at Kicker Rock, I had a greater perception of risk, or the believed possibility of shark attack at the second location.

Shark attacks, like terrorist attacks, capture the public imagination because of their unpredictability. Terrorist attacks can have a higher level of risk, however, because of their ability to happen anywhere in the world, not just in an ocean. According to Beck, attempts by governments and individuals to anticipate the wrong kind of risk can lead to darkly ironic outcomes, such as governments spending billions on a missile defense system and limiting civil rights and liberties. Emulating ideas expressed in Johnson’s article on Blowback, Beck believes that “Modern society has become a risk society in the sense that it is increasingly occupied with debating, preventing and managing risks that it itself has produced”. In this way, an overestimation of risk can be detrimental to those attempting to prevent catastrophe, as it can blind people to the true sources of catastrophe and can lead to actions that only increase the risk. While risk is omnipresent and the source can be uncertain, we still do what we can to prevent catastrophe while recognizing that we will have to be flexible in the face of an unknown event. Finally, we must reconcile how we react to risk with the real possibility of catastrophe.  Otherwise, we will be stuck dynamite fishing for sharks while ignoring the riptide that is sweeping our boat out to sea.