How violent is an attack on a person’s religion?

Both the reading from Inside the Wire and our recent discussions about the various forms of “sanctioned” torture in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere got me thinking about how violence and torture can take many different forms, including some that we might not normally think about. It was significant to me that, after the incident where the female MP used the threat of touching the detainee with menstrual blood on her hands, Saar left possibly feeling even more disturbed and ashamed of taking part in the interrogation than he might have if Fareek’s interrogators had used the threat or infliction of physical pain against him. Even without seeing Fareek physically hurt, the spectacle left both Saar and Brooke, the female interrogator, with an equal or greater emotional impression that an act of physical violence might.

It begs the question of whether or not a religious violation like the one Fareek believed he had suffered is an act of violence, and whether such a violation should carry with it the same ethical implications as inflicting physical pain or injury on another person. After all, targeting a person’s relationship with their religion is a kind of attack on the soul. A highly devout believer might prefer to suffer physical harm than jeopardize their relationship with the god or gods that they worship, and in such a case, a violation of their faith or religious practices would carry a greater cost to them than harm to their bodies. Is attacking a person’s religion an act of violence, and what kind of ethical weight does it bear in comparison to physical violence?

-Travis P.

Nonviolence vs violence against totalitarian regimes

The author of Inside Syria notes in a few places that protestors were forced to switch from passive methods to armed retaliation to defend themselves. It made me wonder what kinds of options are available to protestors up against a violent regime, and whether any of them could ever enact any meaningful change without massive amounts of bloodshed.

I found a TEDx talk about the topic in which a political scientist named Erica Chenoweth presents findings that nonviolent revolutions of the past were more likely to conclude with the establishment of a stable, democratic political system than were violent revolutions, and that passive methods of resistance are more likely to galvanize others into joining a revolution than violent ones. Furthermore, she claims that nonviolent revolutions are becoming more likely to succeed as time moves forward.

The author of the Washington Post article covering the video claims to have found in his own studies that violent uprisings are 50 percent more likely to fail than nonviolent uprisings due to their polarizing effect on citizens of the countries in which they occur, and because they tend to provoke all-out attacks from the militaries of the regimes they challenge.

The arguments and evidence are compelling, but it’s hard to blame protestors such as those in Syria for fighting for their lives. Either way, it’s food for thought on the uprising in Syria and other countries undergoing similar upheavals.

-Travis P.

Weizman – military metaphysics

Much of “Lethal Theory” seemed to me like a lot of needlessly philosophical ways of describing blowing holes in walls, but it did make me think about how philosophy and theory could help us wrap our heads around technologies that give us increasingly godlike powers. Having the power to rearrange urban spaces at will or detect and eliminate targets through solid surfaces turns lots of conventional military strategy on its head. How will the battlefield change when weapons can strike virtually anywhere from virtually anywhere and landscape-altering technology can, as Weizman puts it, render city spaces “as navigable as an ocean?”

Another bit that maybe seemed a little exaggerated but still interesting was the part that linked the integrity of physical structures to the upholding of law and order. Weizman claims that the ability to override the wall through penetrative or destructive means breaks down the legal and social order and collapses the literal and figurative boundaries between private and public and legal and illegal – “The very order of the city relies on the fantasy of a wall as stable, solid… The un-walling of the wall invariably becomes the undoing of the law” (75).


How useful is it to think of warfare in terms of such an abstract philosophy of concepts like boundaries and space? How will future advancements in military technology affect the answer to that question?

-Travis P.

What Watchmen Taught Me about the World Risk Society

One significant point I took away from “Living in a World Risk Society” is that risk is at once the greatest divider of world nations and the greatest potential mediator of their conflicts. As Beck points out, international risks “create contexts for action between camps, parties and quarrelling nations, which ignore and oppose one another,” but global risks “activate and connect actors across borders, who otherwise do not want to have anything to do with one another” – in other words, the risks world actors pose toward each other generate defensive action and conflict, but a risk leveled more or less equally at everyone in the world would force them together.

The first and best illustration of this hypothesis I could think of was the alternate-universe Cold War scenario in the graphic novel masterwork Watchmen. For those unfamiliar (spoilers ahead), in Watchmen, a billionaire super-genius hatches a plan to avert the impending nuclear apocalypse between the United States and the Soviet Union by creating a massive “alien creature” and destructively teleporting it into the heart of New York City, killing millions in the shockwave and forcing the nations of the world to stop fighting each other and unite against a fictional, but very convincing, “alien threat.” It’s outlandish, but I thought it nicely exemplified what Beck calls “Enforced cosmopolitanization” – the unification of otherwise unwilling actors against the risks leveled jointly at all of them. In this way, Beck is right to suggest that risk is a kind of “communicative logic,” or universal language, with the response to its presence varying based on variables like its origin or its degree of severity.

Beck mainly discusses risk in the context of factors beyond our control, such as natural disasters, public health mishaps or unpredictable attacks by foreign actors, but the Watchmen example leads me to consideration of how risk could be weaponized or used as a political tool. In many ways, nations regularly control and manufacture risks to their own benefit. Yes, there is irony in that the attempt to mitigate risks almost always leads to the creation of new risks, but it’s worth discussing the kinds of advantages that one might gain from the successful direction of risk.

-Travis P.

Kaldor – new wars are “mutual enterprises”

In “In Defense of New Wars,” Kaldor asserts that most war as we know it today can better be described as a “mutual enterprise” than by the Clausewitzean definition of war as a “contest of wills.” Using the example of the US war on terror, she points out how each attack and counter-attack by the US and terrorist organizations only serve to perpetuate the conflict and drum up additional forces, funds and social/political clout for both sides, resulting in long, inconclusive, and dismayingly profitable conflicts. She says:

“…Warring parties are interested in the enterprise of war rather than winning or losing, for both political and economic reasons” (p. 13).

If participants in wars of the 21st century intentionally pursue long conflicts for the various benefits they yield, then the “new war” described here is no longer about the outcome of the fighting but the fighting itself. By the logic of this passage, new wars are no longer fought as means to an end, but as means to more means. Is it cynical to suggest that new wars are primarily ventures of profit and patriotism?

Kaldor explains that the key to ending a new war comes through attacking the mutual enterprise, rather than feeding the efforts of one side or the other. If war has evolved to fit the model she suggests it has, then the manner by which wars are resolved must also change. What would “new peace” look like?

-Travis P.