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.

On Ehrlich’s “Inside Syria”

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.

[trisha r.]

A Life On The Surface

Notions of ISIS, standing in juxtaposition to Al Qaeda bring with it fascinating implications. ISIS is extremism out in the open, whereas Al Qaeda brings about images of Tora Bora, and attacks from the dark. Notions of hypocrisy are interesting, and also the notions of respect. One of the main objections to American Power by extremists has been its lack of respect, and its hypocrisy. The notion that the west “stole” islamic ideas, science and technology is an interesting one, and a notion that fuels extremists.

Although this article was thought provoking, I think it still misses some of the key issues surrounding violence and what causes it. I believe that violence is inherently causes by mimetic desire, and that the article simply reinforces this notion. Wanting the same thing is what causes people to fight, and at the end of the day we struggle to find true, hard, differences between humans. We fight because we are the same, and we want the same things. ISIS wants, despite all the talk about holding a mirror up to America, fails at what it sees as its greatest sentiment, hypocrisy. ISIS wants to be a global hegemon, and as there can only be one global hegemon, ISIS and the US inevitably stand, at odds with each other.

ISIS as an Empty Text

Devji’s assertion that perhaps, in our current moment, it may be more useful to read the actions and origins of ISIS at the level of pure appearance is a fascinating one. Especially since the events of 9/11, there has been a large degree of interest, both in the academic and public spheres, in trying to figure out where and when this apparent Islam vs. the West dichotomy appears. As Devji notes, people have looked to history as recent Israel’s presence in Lebanon and as far back as the Crusades, or even the foundation of Islam. There is an impulse to slot ISIS into clear and distinct historical, sociological, and ideological frameworks and that tendency may itself be a scientific impulse, resting on the notion that if we can categorize something we can control it. However, the way Devji frames ISIS is precisely the opposite: the group is ahistorical, ideologically inconsistent, and sociologically multiform. One can imagine (delivered in Norbert Wiener deadpan) an anecdote about an analyst who probes every molecule of a planarian, but has no clue what the creature actually looks like.

He notes that built into many of the actors people identify as Islamic terrorists groups is a resistance to depth, a resistance to reading the symbol. A fear and rejection of hypocrisy is also central to these groups, a structural device that does not assuage the dissonance in the politics of some of these groups, but one that produces a transparent organization nonetheless. This transparency in turn leads to ISIS as an organization with one central referent, acting as a reaction to an excrescent Western influence or intervention, but without any relation to anything outside of that. Devji relates the strange religious and political leadership of ISIS and how its central publication is almost “anodyne.” This combined with the public brutality and transparency of the organization lead him to assert that ISIS is an immanent, not transcendent, set of relations. ISIS then exists almost purely as a source of disruption, a reification of dialectic principles. It is often said that we conjure our own enemies.

Of course, as with most things we’ve read thus far, I’m tempted to read this characterization of ISIS in light of the work of Jean Baudrillard. This short excerpt from Simulation and Simulacra (1981) resonates especially with Devji’s approach to ISIS:

Melancholia is the brutal disaffection that characterizes our saturated systems. Once the hope of balancing good and evil, true and false, indeed of confronting some values of the same order, once the more general hope of a relation of forces and a stake has vanished. Everywhere, always, the system is too strong: hegemonic.

 

Against this hegemony of the system, one can exalt the ruses of desire, practice revolutionary micrology of the quotidian, exalt the molecular drift or even defend cooking. This does not resolve the imperious necessity of checking the system in broad daylight.

 

This, only terrorism can do.

 

It is the trait of reversion that effaces the remainder, just as a single ironic smile effaces a whole discourse, just as a single flash of denial in a slave effaces all the power and pleasure of the master.

 

The more hegemonic the system, the more the imagination is struck by the smallest of its reversals. The challenge, even infinitesimal, is the image of a chain failure. Only this reversibility without a counterpart is an event today, on the nihilistic and disaffected stage of the political. Only it mobilizes the imaginary.

Perhaps this provides a way to consider the strange composition of ISIS and similar transparent organizations. The lack of depth and resistance to hypocrisy, the ahistorical and ideologically discrepant (as both dissident and ‘a noise apart’) nature are the result of a nihilism. This bizarre current of the non-referential in ISIS is a somewhat vexing question and nihilism provides a route towards conceptualizing it. It is admittedly an easy answer to a question that is too complex to entertain such explanations, but it provides an interesting way of analyzing an organization that does not view violence as an unfortunate consequence of political change, but an act of value unto itself. Taken with some of Baudrillard’s thought, Devji’s essay could provide a description of ISIS as a post-political entity, certainly an intriguing notion. Perhaps such an idea is merely audacious.