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.

The Secret US Prisons You’ve Never Heard of Before

 

Worth noting: “CMUs” self-contained housing units, black holes, an abbreviation for communication management unit. These spaces, a “prison within a prison” where prisoners are kept for an undisclosed amount of time, denied physical contact with their family, and closely held under surveillance. A CMU is where animal-rights activists are also held by authorities as “balancers” to the high number of Muslim (Brown and Black men) contained here. The men are the surplus from more than one walk of life, contained out of fear they have the potential to commit crime – personally choosing not to distinguish and politicize acts of terror from criminalization. In this extra-judicial space. African American studies professor, Naomi Murakawa, in a piece posits, “the U.S. did not confront a crime problem that was then racialized; it confronted a race problem that was then criminalized.” She is speaking of course of contemporary and historic US race relations and the prison-industrial complex. So much of our discussion in class mentions or can be related to the Arab Mind and a complex argument over what pathologies have been embedded into the American/Western imagination created for the sake of proliferating intervention into “Brown countries” and how much is actually true. I am asking, does Murakawa apply, are US Black/white race problems analogous?

Perhaps we can assume this is the case. In Murakawa’s research she contends such radicalized pathologies have formed uneven (even brutal) conceptualizations of Blackness and Black bodies. Reading Black bodies as inherently criminal has been one of those ways. In the same way we must confront our domestic anti-Blackness, it would be wise and in line with Murakawa to confront our global perceptions of Blackness. When terror rhetoric begins, the face of this imaginary is not an American, not a woman, not white. This face is Brown, his names is (mis)spelled in Arabic, and the garments laid over his body, whether the photo is accurate or an sketch artists interpretation is of a style distinct from the West. Such is an example of anti-Blackness we must consider and also consider what justifies any form of intervention, occupation, or presence in a country the US should have no claim to.

Abu Ghraib

I had heard of Abu Ghraib before taking this class, but didn’t really know what it was, and wasn’t privy to the details of the atrocities that took place. Watching the documentary Standard Operating Procedure was a horrifyingly eye-opening experience. I still can’t fathom the actuality of the scandal, even now, having researched the incident in depth. On the other hand, it is easily fathomable that these inhumane and disgusting practices took place in the wake of the September 11th attacks and the US initialization of the war on terror.

Wartime inhumanity is not a newfound concept. Conflicts since the beginning of recorded history have spurred states to turn to inhumanity in order to gather crucial information about the strategy and origination of combatant enemy establishments. Torture and humiliation have been used as interrogation tactics since pre-medieval times. They have also been employed as recently as WWI and WWII and throughout many other respectively recent wars and conflicts. In WWII, the deciphering of foreign codes and other means of surreptitious communication proved to be integral tidbits of information regarding enemy strategy, and led traceably to turning points allowing allied victory over axis powers. Those integral tidbits of information came from two sources: double crossing spies and interrogated prisoners of war. Unlike the modern day, however, these practices were often successfully kept secret to the general public because of the lack of media attention and general awareness. In this light, it is verifiably effective to subject enemies to inhumane interrogation techniques. It is wrong, but it is still done, and has been done, since the beginning of human history.

The one part of the story that allows my heart to rest easier is to know that many of those Americans who participated in these atrocities were convicted of their crimes and served prison sentences for their horrendous acts. While I have no doubt that the parts of the US Government were fully aware of what was going on in Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, it is reassuring that those immediately involved in the scandal were sentenced for their crimes. The negative attention that this illegal and inhumane prison spurred in the news media (information was leaked to news media about Abu Grabe in 2004) leads me to believe that in the future, especially now as our world has become so interconnected, the US and other states who are tempted to participate in this inhumanity may think twice before stooping to that level barbarity.

What I took away from this is, disappointingly, that nothing ever changes with us humans. But then again, I have hope that everything may change with morally erect leadership and the widespread public recognition of inhumanity as it is in any form—atrocious.

Reflecting on Standard Operating Procedure

Immediately following Standard Operating Procedure, I have three immediate reactions. The first comes from the idea of a “ghost detainee”, referenced by Military Police Sergeant Javal Davis. It’s a troubling idea for many reasons, one of which is that the possession of ghost detainees puts military personnel unfamiliar with the detainees identities in impossible situations, with little idea who they are dealing with (if anybody significant). It seems to be very compromising with little reward.

The second reaction emerges from something else said by Sergeant Davis. In discussing the photos, he mentioned that the photos record the humiliation of detainees that was rampant at Abu Ghraib; they do not record the actual torture. It is horrifying to imagine these images as that which the soldiers felt comfortable photographing. As Neel mentioned in class on Monday, the photos available to the public are not the worst of those taken at Abu Ghraib; some have been withheld because of the fear of the blowback they would generate. That is a deeply disturbing thought.

My final reaction to the film is that I am troubled by the words of Brent Pack, the Army Special Agent in the Criminal Investigation Division. Speaking of the photos at Abu Ghraib and what qualifies vs. what does not qualify as standard operating procedure, Special Agent Pack said, “I spent four months in Guantanamo Bay. People that haven’t been where I have been, I can’t expect them to see the pictures in the same way.” This quote troubles me because it seems to be clearly verbalizing the problem: those involved in close proximity with places like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib are unable to see the photos for what they are. Because these personnel are overexposed to images like these, the images do not possess the elements of horror and deep, deep wrong to them that they do to the average citizen. This is troubling to me, but seems to be an unavoidable vicious cycle: anybody who works in this area will be desensitized to the horror of images like these, and will thus be less likely to deal with the problem as it needs to be dealt with.

Internet: third wave colonialism*

I was reading this article in the New Yorker: The World Cracks Down on Social Media spending some time also contemplating Kuntsman and Stein in more depth.

“Of course, Zuckerberg… has focussed less on the potential usefulness of these countries to his business than on the potential usefulness of Facebook to their citizens.”

 

“Internet penetration is even lower—but also growing—in Africa, where Facebook this year opened its first office, in Johannesburg.”

Picture this, a white, Western, male goes abroad to teach English, improve the water quality, or build a school in a community that has little infrastructure. Many would applaud and pour out their capital to fund internships, scholarships, and “Global Gap Years” for young humanitarians intent on furthering the US project of civilising (re: imperialism) the indigenous people of color. I will accept I am alone in making this point against the expansion of Internet and data firms in places which have been historically and presently dispossessed by the West and are vulnerable to violence and settler colonialism by foreign governments. Searching through the first one hundred or so Google results of the expansion of Facebook, a for-profit firm, into Johannesburg, South Africa, yielded (not to my surprise) very little pushback. In fact, the media applauded the expansion as “potentially useful to countries” much like Johannesburg, a narrative, I argue, steeped in anti-Blackness, an updated, all too familiar, neocolonialist perspective once used to impress, inter alia, Christianity, aggressive heteropatriarchy, and capitalism into new places. The parallels are too obvious and yet are being overlooked.

Zuckerberg’s humanitarian effort, for instance to alleviate poverty in the developing world, centers the expansion of Internet as integral to the development of these countries. This innovation, I have come to learn is a repurposing of lethal warfare, “be they balloons or drones — to bring high-speed Internet access to “underserved” communities“. The “balloons” in this example would provide Internet to “dark zones” and is currently being lobbied by Facebook and Google.

I am pointing out, drawing upon much of Kuntsman’s literature on “nercopolitics” how this justification for expansion and the use of Black bodies to accumulate wealth is a vicious retelling of settler-colonialism. The more value (profits) Black labor produces, the more Black lives are valued. So, the more potential for super profits from governments or the potential for profit in expansion – the more Black life is fungible. Appealing to how untapped countries could benefit from the expansion of Internet has a vile aftertaste embedded in how military intervention can appear humanitarian.

However, preserving Black life for its potential to produce capital has neither eradicated anti-Blackness, nor has it done anything to end the assault and extermination of Black bodies. In my view, the expansion of the Internet justifies the ephemerality of Black bodies (and cultural wealth created by Black people). It does not secure that Black bodies will survive in the physical being. Photographs can be taken of arts and crafts and records can be scanned and uploaded for safe keeping but this does not protect against those who are displaced by the erection of US owned and operated tech firms abroad. The Internet does not protect against the elimination of Blackness, yet the Internet has simultaneously been carefully crafted as a space where Blackness can exist. So this is what I find interesting about Facebook’s algorithms that hides or removes certain posts from circulating, because even while Blackness is allowed to exist within this space, there is still racist power dynamics, whether that is a by concerted state actors or a freelance actor, such as Zuckerberg.

I definitely acknowledge the expansion of Internet into militarized or oppressed zones as intentional tools to combat, at least digitally, a military project bent on exterminating its opposition. But I am wary of state and private sector cohesion when it repurposes the methods of colonialism into a globalized and accepted  phenomenon. I think we should remain critical even as we occupy our own ambiguities and contradictions in using a tool that could very well kill us.

*I estimate the first wave of colonialism as settler-colonial projects; the second wave as gentrification and the creation and destruction of the ghetto; and the project of digital colonialism where the information we share/create is invested in the project of colonialism and the theory of decolonizing?

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>