“What makes for a grievable life?” Butler begins with this in “Violence, Mourning, Politics” as a question situated in Western cultural discourse, quoting Freud and his ideas of mourning and how it can be productive—but then builds on it through a discussion of the body, gender, and politics, to also unveil how sometimes the way that we grieve erases an other. When Butler asks, “Is there something to be learned about the geopolitical distribution of corporeal vulnerability from our own brief and devastating exposure to this condition?” (29) Butler is not saying that this kind of tragedy should be placed into a hierarchy, but this reminder that all of our bodies are vulnerable to loss and violence could also shed light on how this violence is unfairly distributed across the globe.
That is something that I think could be productive, if it constitutes mourning or if it doesn’t: how will this particular attack shape the way that corporeal vulnerability will be restricted to certain persons in the near future? We’ve already heard from Hollande that France is at war, which we can assume will be even more involvement in attacks against ISIS (i.e., in not France). But another source said that he’s proposed an additional 5,000 positions to the national paramilitary force in the next few years as well, maybe to patrol the migrants and refugees who might be in France. Are stateless lives grievable too?
Second: Chantal brought up a really interesting point about how the French flag is the only filter on Facebook. I think it goes along with what Butler said about how grieving in public discourse is selective: that FB is acting much like how the San Francisco Chronicle acted in not posting memorials for Palestinian victims in its newspaper (because the SF Chronicle didn’t want to offend “anybody”). This subtle, under-the-table decision on who is grievable and who is not happens all the time, and I think it contributes to the major problem of the media presenting the “Western” world as invulnerable. But I mean, it also nationalizes and politicizes our grief by making the flag (of all things) the symbol for a so-called international community of support. As Butler says in “Mourning Becomes the Law”: “Mourning seems fully restricted within the national frame.” This would be an even further literalization of that, because it means that even our digital lives can only be grievable along national lines. What if we had the opportunity to have flags for other countries? That’s such a provoking question. I’m not sure if any of my immediate social circles would change. My guess is that if we did have that opportunity, we’d see that our type of mourning is too often too selective, to the point of being dangerous. As Butler says, “at what cost do I establish the familiar as the criterion by which a human life is grievable?” (38) Not sure I can answer that rhetorical question, but perhaps the erasure of certain groups of people, to start.
First off, this reading made me realize that I knew very little about the many groups who are 1) locals in the war in Syria and 2) the countries who are funding these groups. For those interested, this is what what BBC says, this is what Wikipedia says, and here is a super image-heavy article published threeish weeks ago detailing the beginnings of US involvement in air strikes.
Secondly, I thought the reading was a brave attempt at chronicling the democratic uprising in Syria. It gave me a better picture of the wide spectrum of political and human rights interests that, whether liberal or conservative, were against the particular regime that Assad maintained. Ehrlich’s point that Syria’s slightly relaxed laws against homosexuality (citing a 2011 UN report) compared to other countries actually made some people support Assad’s regime was particularly interesting in that it shed light on how state laws can exert an influence of power on citizens that keeps those laws in check (if that makes any sense).
I also thought that this spoke to the plea that Ehrlich makes at the end of Chapter 11, against interventionism. The fact that military groups within Syria kept splitting in the beginning years show that foreign support is not at all easy. My guess is that arms contractors in the US did not foresee that to provide support would also antagonize other groups to splinter off like it did with the SMC. That fact alone shows just how complex these political/military relationships are. Obviously this is made clear in the whole antagonistic relationship between US/Russia. But as more and more countries get drawn, financially and militarily, into this conflict, it makes me wonder how much longer this conflict could go on.
I thought Eyal Weizman’s article was fascinating and presents a really strong argument as to how conflict in urban spaces changes our perceptions of what is considered inside/outside, and also how critical theory is used to destabilize borders.
In trying to apply the new wars thesis to Weizman’s article, one could say that warfare has changed dramatically. But so too is the urban space. Because of new technology that prevents soldiers to go outside without being seen/shot, fighting in Nablus took place indoors, and through that, took on a new logic: doors were now forbidden to pass through, and walls were seen as passageways. It suggests the totalizing force of warfare–that it changes (or maybe even corrupts) everything it touches. And not just by turning cities into ruins (because that has always happened throughout history) but by turning the very conception of a city inside out. By seeing how space is distorted by war, it makes me wonder what happens when the conflict is gone. How do cities rebuild themselves after new-war-conflicts? Will it be the same as old-war-conflicts?
I’d also like to call attention to how brilliantly Weizman connects the idea of a destabilized wall to the idea of a permeable nation border. Critical theory can be used to refine military tactics, but it can also be appropriated to justify how a nation exerts military force over an area outside their borders.
Zinn’s discussion of how black soldiers came to sympathize with Filipinos during the Philippine-American war reminded me of HoSang and LaBennett’s article on racialization. Drawing from Fanon, it is “the hierarchical production of human difference through race” initially made by the colonizer as a reason for colonizing and also used as a means to keep the colonized subject down (by not allowing internal self-making). My watered-down definition of racialization has two actors: the colonizer and the subject. But as Zinn noted, the war in the Philippines brought two colonized groups together in one space: groups of radically different histories of colonization being read through their dark skin as hierarchically inferior to a white person, but also placed on a hierarchy against each other. Throughout A People’s History Zinn wrote about how black soldiers were often given the worst battles with very little recognition, their status as Americans and/or “free” constantly being challenged/stripped away by the treatment of white soldiers and civilians but also expected to fight for those same qualified ideals of freedom. And they were pitted in pretty brutal fights against a group shortchanged by the U.S. under Benevolent Assimilation, an act that in its shady dealings (the way the US presented two different versions of the treaty) and by its words (that the Philippines would still be a territory of the U.S.) affirmed this idea of the Philippines as a savage territory not capable of governing itself.
In this space we can kind of understand Kazanjian’s vital point that not all colonial histories are the same, and therefore the experience of the postcolonial subject is a multiplicity. There is, however, some tenuous, malicious force that allows us to use this umbrella term. And lastly, it’s also pretty disheartening to know that racialized hierarchy happens both inside the metropolis and out, and that preconceptions about race, “model minority” myths, etc. etc. etc., could sometimes be engineered in the colonized space of war.
There were parts of this article that cleared some mystifications about the concept of terrorism, especially in the way that even in its earliest formation its been connected to a political purpose. And this way terrorist acts commit some form of symbolic acts–like how the Narodnaya Volya targeted heads of the state or those who stood for their oppressive regime. And I think this attachment to symbolism is important because of the way victims of terrorist acts have changed from its first meaning to now.
Firstly though, number of victims: When Hoffman distinguishes the difference between a a criminal and a terrorist, he suggests another idea that terrorism is never aimed at only one individual. Terrorist acts can and often harm at least one person, but what makes them different from a bank robber is the intent & ability to instill fear in a larger audience. This suggests a strange role that media has in regard to terrorism. These acts, no matter the victim count, are not as “effective” unless it has been publicized, and without the proper coverage/publicity, they wouldn’t exist.
Also, whereas terrorists targeted members of a ruling class or an oppressive regime, the modern-day conception is that the victims of terrorism are civilians. If terrorism is an act of violence with a political purpose, then what do these victims stand for? Are terrorist attacks against civilians supposed to be stand-ins for an even larger, more nebulous metaphor of a regime of oppression? I guess sometimes those connections are more clear than the others, like capturing news reporters, etc., but it seems like the most twisted, terror-inducing acts are when they are misdirected. And maybe that’s why the word “terror” is so vague and illogical–misdirected anger toward a misdirected victim.
– Trisha R.