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<nettime> Underfire summary
Jordan Crandall on Wed, 17 Mar 2004 12:47:27 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Underfire summary

A summary of the first six weeks of discussion in the Underfire forum.

Week 1.  Economies of terror and the problems of categories

The discussion during this first week was launched by Loretta Napoleoni,
whose work offers an economic analysis of terrorism.  Outlining "the new
economy of terror," which incorporates aspects of the international
illegal and criminal economy, Loretta suggested that this new economic
giant is the primary feeding structure that supports and nurtures global
terror, and that one could do well to understand contemporary terrorism in
these terms - as an economic phenomenon produced by globalization.

Ana Valdes immediately brought up the issue of categories and definitions:
what is the difference, she asked, between terrorism, freedom fighters,
and state terrorism?  Even internally, she said, there are difficulties in
classifications. From her own personal experience as a former member of
Tupamaros, Ana wrote about the problems associated with the group's own
categorization of its actions (which are necessary in order to justify

Loretta replied that terrorism has often been boxed inside criminal
categories, but, citing Paul Gilbert's work, she suggests that the problem
is that it poses to the modern state a very unique dilemma:  whether to
deal with it as a crime or as an act of war.  "This springs from the
double nature of the modern state to guarantee law and order and to
protect national security."  Therefore, in the case of terrorism, states
can opt to use the law or the military.  Until 9/11, modern states have
avoided choosing the latter, "because by granting terrorists the status of
soldiers they implicitly opened the question of their own legitimacy."  
She believes that, given the Bush administration's waging of "two wars"
(i.e., internal/external) Gilbert's analysis is valuable today.  "We see
the modern state avoiding a clear definition of what terrorism really is
and instead using the lack of it to mould the phenomenon to [its] own

Adding his thoughts on the nature of contemporary violence, Brian Holmes
wrote that "the gap between global informational integration on the one
hand - which allows nearly anyone to see how other classes and national
societies live - and the disparities of the global distribution of wealth
on the other, has become so great that violence is inevitable" until
something is done to equal it out.  Loretta said that the key to
understanding contemporary terrorism rests upon understanding the nature
of the unequal distribution of wealth.  Cyril Duneau, writing from Dublin,
added that informational currencies have to be understood alongside
financial ones. He wrote about the value that free internet access and
computer knowledge have for him, as a homeless person.

Picking up on the issue of categories and definitions, Joy Garnett wrote
about her art practice which involves the decontextualization and
re-rendering of war-related images found in the news media.  Stripping her
images of all of their categorical and contextual information, she
realized, over time, the extent to which there was nothing "intrinsic" in
them, and that any image can be "spun" in just about any direction, to
suit any purpose.  She asks, does not this "insane malleability of the
picture" tell us something?

Ryan Bishop suggested that what could be worth exploring are the
connections or parallels between an economics of violence and an economics
predicated upon violent images.  This further opened the issue of the role
and function of representation.  For Brian, "informational integration"
involves an opening up a window onto the lives of others, showing, through
access to representations, how "others" live.  This awareness, when
coupled with the realities of income disparity, can help perpetuate
violence.  Within these very real conditions of income inequality, the
very openness of informational integration, often framed as the solution,
becomes part of the problem.

Loretta then asked a provocative question regarding the "real forces
behind the Islamist insurgency."  Is it really religion that drives this
phenomenon or is religion just a "cover up," the "ideological umbrella"
under which an "extraordinary alliance" has taken place?  She drew a
parallel with the Christian Crusades, showing that they were wars of
economic liberation disguised as wars of religion.  The real economic
forces that drove and funded the crusades, she wrote, "were merchants,
bankers, traders from Europe who wanted to break the economic dependency
from Islam."  At that time Islam was the sole superpower.  She wrote that,
in order "to legitimize such insurgency, the emerging middle class forged
an alliance with the Church."  She wrote that "Osama bin Laden uses the
same rhetoric as Pope Urban II, he has the same backers and is fighting a
similar war."  For Loretta, in considering violence, the real motives are
economic and the official ones are ideological and religious.

Loretta said that if we want to avoid being destroyed (or rather: stay
alive longer, because destruction of any hegemonic power is inevitable),
we "must establish links with the real economic forces that are backing
the Islamist insurgency."  Diplomacy is the only tool that can be used to
accomplish this.

Brian Holmes found that many of Loretta's parallels with the crusades were
too simplifying, and he suggests that a sociological profile is necessary
in order to fully understand the makeup and motives of those classes who
have an economic interest in attacking current economic hierarchies.  
Reminding us of the limitations of economic analyses, he gives an example
of recent writings by Iranian sociologists (whose work he recently
proofread for publication in the Farsi/English magazine called Pages) who
seemed to propose that the Iranian revolution was necessary, "not only or
primarily in order to redistribute the wealth, but rather because the
Shah's modernization programs. placed too much stress on the internal
balances of Iranian society, in terms of rapid changes in mores, customs,
and familial and social relations."

Amir Parsa entered into the discussions by taking the issue of categories
and definitions further.  He wrote that there is no "Islamic world" - and,
correspondingly, no "West." Geographic definitions are broken up, he
indicated, by other kinds of provisional groupings, and we who inhabit
such regions are a multitude of "ethnic, linguistic, historically
divergent, and combative groups." Such generalized categories as the
"Islamic world" deny the vast complexes of individualities,
subjectivities, and communities that make up any region, and that any
organic unity that such terms assume is dissolved by mobility, conflict,
ideology, and cultural difference.  Amir summarizes some of the conditions
through which such terms become available to us as concepts, and the
problems associated with their un-interrogated use.  Further, he suggests
that the use of dichotomies such as West/Islamic world constitutes a kind
of "surrendering to the aims of the war-machines" - hinting that such
distinctions (like friend/enemy) are a linguistic byproduct of war, or a
linguistic mechanism that parallels a warfare mechanism.  Or even: that
such distinctions help to structure the possibility of warfare.  His text
was intended to provoke us to consider the role that categories and
representations play in the fashioning of reality (a topic that was taken
up more fully during the sixth week of the forum) and to draw attention to
the kinds of violence these distinctions create, in and of themselves.

Through the use of occasional poetic and performative writing, Amir
reminded us of the limitations of analytical discourses, and the role that
the dimensions of intensity and affect have in the generation of
non-categorical meaning.

Closing the week's discussions, Hamid Dabashi claimed the distinction
"terrorism" to talk about the real kinds of terrorism that we,
increasingly, live with on a daily basis - of which the statistics of the
poor on the one hand, and the US military budget on the other, are the
index.  He wrote that any study of terrorism must include the "fact of the
fear experienced by the poorest and most vulnerable nations," perpetrated
on them by "the weapons of mass destruction at the disposal of the most
powerful military machineries."

Week 2.  The privatization of the military, the changing role of the
state, and the inconsistencies of media attention

This week opened with Peter Singer's introduction of his work on the
privatized military industry.  He spoke about a unique and
under-recognized business form, the privatized military firm, defining it
as a "business provider of professional services intricately linked to
warfare."  He went on to explain that these corporate entities specialize
in providing military skills, tactical combat operations, strategic
planning, intelligence, operational and logistics support, troop training,
technical assistance - capabilities that extend across the entire spectrum
of military activities.

Peter explained that in the last decade, such corporations have been
active across the globe, from Albania to Zambia, in rich and poor states
alike. The US military is, of course, one of their biggest clients.  The
military has become reliant upon this industry particularly after
post-Cold War military downsizing, increasing demands for new deployments,
demands for new technical capabilities, and the underlying popularity of

Peter went on to explain some of the roles that these corporations - such
as Dyncorp, Brown & Root, MPRI, and Vinnell - play in Afghanistan and
Iraq.  He mentioned that the Economist termed the Iraq conflict "the first
privatized war."  NBC news described private security as "the fastest
growing industry in Iraq."  Peter mentioned that the privatized military
industry was one of the few for whom the outlook has improved, rather than
harmed, by 9-11, and in fact many new firms were launched in the aftermath
of the attack.  There are several hundred firms now, not only in the US
but across the globe (for example Erinys in South Africa and Janusian in
the UK), and through industry consolidation, members of the public who
invest may find themselves already stock owners.

Ana Valdes wrote that in her native country Uruguay, many of the old
military officers are now organizing private security enterprises.  She
mentioned that Oliver North - who is now in the private security market -
was in the region and closed deals with freelance military in Argentina,
Chile, and Uruguay to provide know-how, weapons, and surveillance
technology from American enterprises.

Peter wrote that clear tensions exist between the security goals of
clients and the corporation's aims of profit maximization.  He said that
one of the fundamental questions surrounding the industry is whether the
public good and the private good can be the same.  He went on to discuss
some of the problems that these corporations face, including market
competition, safety, worker attrition, and human rights.  On the one hand,
he writes, "they have an incentive to be good corporate citizens, but on
the other hand, they have an interest in getting a job done, no matter
what, and keeping quiet any mistakes or incidents that might not sell
well."  On the issue of accountability, he talked about how the public
oversight over the privatized military industry is incredibly poor to
begin with - "to the extent that the Pentagon right now does not even know
exactly how many civilian contractors it has working for it in the Gulf

According to Peter, with the continued growth of global military services
industry, we are seeing the gradual break-down of the Weberian monopoly of
the state on the forms of violence.  He added that he is not asserting
that the state is disappearing - rather, just as it is in other areas such
as trade and finance, its role in the security sphere has become
deprivileged. He said that, while foreign and military affairs are
generally understood to be a state domain, private military firms "provide
for the possibility of policy by private means."  This could mean a "third
party entrance into governance," which introduces a number of potential

Vanessa Gocksch, writing from Columbia, said the discussion was
frustrating for her because it seemed to focus on "the war between the
west and the middle east."  While she thinks that that particular conflict
has the potential for becoming extremely dangerous for the entire world
community, and thus should be focused upon, she thinks that we should aim
more broadly, to analyze US involvement in wars in *all* countries.  For
her, this approach would "help us to understand in greater depth how the
US maneuvers" and the fact that "they are not only aiming at Muslim evil
fundamentalists." She gives the example of the war in Columbia, which is
heavily funded by the US.  She describes it as a particularly gruesome war
that receives no media attention.  She writes that, when a war is
mediatized, human rights can't be infringed upon, survivors and displaced
people receive food and aid, and towns are reconstructed.  Because of the
lack of media attention, this does not occur in Columbia, and there are
few outside of the country who realize that this enthnocide is occurring.  
She beseeches, "Why is there such a war in Columbia?  Why is it so quiet?  
Why is it the country where more journalists are killed per year?  Why is
the US so deeply involved?"

Brian Holmes remarked that he found Peter Singer's approach disturbingly
pragmatic "at a moment when the tolerance for war seems to be rising so
quickly in the US."  In essence, he wondered how Peter could justify
taking such a pragmatic approach under these conditions.  Echoing this,
Bernard Roddy took it further:  he wondered whether Peter's book seemed
"designed to facilitate the process he sees developing," qualifying the
book as "the kind of literature the corporate institutions supporting
violence could use."

Hamid Dabashi wrote passionately of the importance of developing a clear
conception of "the massive violence that the US empire is perpetrating
around the globe."  He wrote that two factors work against such an
awareness:  the domination of US media in news production around the
world, and "the nature of US domestic politics that feeds on systematic
historical and geographic amnesia."  In response, Harel Shapira said that,
while it is important to understand the global ramifications and
permutations of the US, "this effort also falls on the danger of
performing the American empire." He remarked that empire "is in such an
instance conceptual imperialism," and this is part of what we need to
address when we interrogate dichotomies of west/Islam (as was introduced
in last week's discussions).  And it is not just the dichotomy, he writes,
but "the claim that we can locate its

Writing from Australia, David Young introduced a new geographical vector
into the conversation.  He reminded us about how, as an Australian, he
lives next to the largest Islamic Nation in the world - Indonesia - which
is itself "a prime example of the heterogeneity that lurks behind the
homogeneous category 'Islamic.'"  Indonesia is an extremely complex
nation, he writes, and one which wages highly repressive colonialist
campaigns, in Aceh, West Irian (Papua) and Sumatra.  None of these
colonial wars makes it to the headlines "because reporters are, by and
large, kept completely out of the war zones, and it's been a long standing
practice by both the US and Australia to ignore such campaigns." He writes
that, in all these cases, we have an Islamic nation "pouring people from
its over-populated heartlands into areas which have traditionally been
non-Muslim and/or Javanese thereby causing endemic conflict."  In spite of
the massive violence, suffering, and egregious forms of terrorist activity
in this region, there is little press coverage.  David remarks on this
enormous contradiction:  in Australia, there is more coverage about US
campaigns in places like Columbia, Venezuela, and the Middle East, than
there is about what is going on in the neighboring nation.

Addressing the issue of Columbia, Loretta Napoleoni wrote about the
phenomenon of shell-states - "pseudo states where armed organizations
provide the socioeconomic infrastructure of the state without the core."
She expresses the need for us to pay a lot of attention to Columbia
because, as is happening there, what is taking place in Afghanistan and
Iraq is similar - these countries are being carved into shell states.

Doug Brooks, President of an NGO called International Peace Operations
Association (IPOA), wrote about his advocacy for the use of private
companies in peacekeeping operations.  He founded IPOA after coming to the
conclusion that "the West has largely abrogated its responsibility to
actively participate in international peace operations," and that we blame
the UN for what is really "a failure of the West."  Doug's post aimed to
inform us of the realities of peacekeeping and the potentials for private
companies in making peace operations more effective.  While Peter Singer
takes a cautious approach, Doug is more sanguine, and sees many
possibilities for the road ahead when the role of NGOs is recognized,
especially in their abilities to negotiate between private military
companies and humanitarian organizations.

Interestingly (as Peter Singer addressed in a subsequent post), Peter's
position was taken to be too pro-private military industry on the one hand
(by Brian and Bernard), and too anti-private military industry on the
other (by Doug).

Amir Parsa brought up issues pertaining to recruitment and indoctrination
for the military industry.  Is it possible, he writes, to envision
advertisements which invest in creating a whole mythology about these
companies?  He mentions how ads for the military have "lost a little bit
of their patriotic flavor and focus more now on the sheer
adventure/adrenaline/excitement factor."  Wondering about what the factors
are that motivate potential new recruits, Amir conducted several
interviews with American youth who are interested in enrolling in the
military - dubbing these forays into the "frontlines" of indoctrination.

On the issues of recruitment, Peter wrote that, in this era of
"downsizing, lower comparative pay, and lessening prestige," the private
military industry is able to "pick and choose and even lure many of the
best and brightest away from state militaries."  In economic terms, he
writes, the industry is able to "labor poach."  An enlisted soldier might
make as much serving a single day in a private military combat team, as
they could in a month in the public military.

Issues of recruitment were addressed again later in the forum.

Week 3.  Political organizations, democracy, and violence

After last week's discussions, Chris Hables Gray wondered, "How do we help
people relish how complicated it all is?" His question was seized upon
late at night by Joy Garnett, who, fortified with a bottle of Cotes du
Rhone, launched into a perplexing meditation on the utility of art.

Ana Valdes set the discussion in motion, writing about some of her
conversations with members of Hamas, whom she met during a trip to Gaza
last March.  She described that for the most part, they were members of
the political wing, but some hinted that they were part of the military
wing. She said that they lacked many of the qualities that we as
Westerners normally attribute to Hamas.  Ana wrote that they had all been
in jail, from several months to several years, and that she was able to
relate her own experiences imprisoned in Uruguay in the 70s.  They
discussed the grounds for struggles and the difficulties in negotiating
the borders between religious arguments and political goals.  Ana doubts
that Hamas wants a kind of "Islamic republic" in Gaza or Palestine, since
they spoke to her with pride about the Palestinians being the more
secularized people in the Middle East.  She reported that the people
related to Hamas and the People Party were very critical of Arafat and the
ways in which the Palestinian Authority ruled, or tried to rule, the
occupied territories.  Among other issues, they were concerned about
corruption and the misuse of funds.  To Ana, the Hamas fighters that she
met appeared to be a very pragmatic people, who use "all kinds of tools to
establish a kind of 'anchoring' of Hamas in the people's everyday life."  
She suggested that this is similar to what happens in Sicily, where the
Mafia fills in the gaps that are left by the central government.

Loretta Napoleoni - returning to the discussions after having broken her
arm several days earlier - agreed with Ana's analysis of Hamas and the
parallels that she drew to the Mafia.  To a certain extent, she wrote,
Hamas has taken shape because of the vacuum created by the Palestinian
Authority inside the occupied territories.  The institutionalization of
the PLO has distanced it from the people.  She wrote that the Mafia
"originally filled a socio-economic gap created by the conquest of Sicily
from the Kingdom of Piedmont in the mid 19th century."  She reminded us
that the Mafia was not initially a criminal organization but an illegal
one.  This led her to ask the following question:  Does the original
climate of illegality in which these organizations are forced to operate
condition them and eventually force them to embrace other illegal
activities, such as crime?  "Can a politically motivated armed
organization keep, in the long run, a distance from the world of crime?"

Ana replied that this poses an interesting moral dilemma.  If you are a
"freedom fighter" or you work in an organization struggling for change,
can you justify supporting your struggle with illegal activities such as
drugs trafficking?

Loretta wrote that political violence needs to be focused - that is, to
have a clear political objective - and it needs to be short-lived, like a
revolution, in order to maintain its integrity.  If it becomes a way of
life "it inevitably merges with the illegal and criminal world." She gives
the example that the FARC was once a Marxist movement with a strong
peasant connotation, but "today it acts as the militia of the
narco-traffickers of Columbia."

Asef Bayat wrote that political violence was once a common feature of
Latin American politics, whether coming from the states or societal
groups, but since the late 1980s, things seem to have changed.  He
suggested that civil society groups seem to prefer to do a different kind
of politics.  He wrote that the aftermath of the collapse of the
"actually-existing communism," the global spread of notions of "civil
society," rule of law, human rights, and other factors, "seem to have
undercut the tendency to do politics by violent means in Latin America."
But he points out that this is not the case in other parts of the world -
that, for example "some have suggested that violence in Sub-Saharan Africa
(e.g. in Nigeria) has at least partially to do with the development of
'democratization' and the opening up of civil societies."  Simply put,
Asef says, the argument runs like this:  "when you give free reign to
people, then they can abuse it, in the same way that the states might and
do abuse it."  He raises the following question:  "Does the emergence of
civil society (in terms of non-state collectives) beset 'un-civil',
violent, polity?"

In response, Loretta pointed out the argument of Amy Chua in her book
"World on Fire."  Her central argument, as she explains it, is that, since
the 1980s, the US has forced free democracy and marketization in the third
world, and this phenomenon has fuelled patterns of ethnic conflict by
creating rich ethnic minorities (e.g. Chinese in Indonesia) whose wealth,
in turn, has produced an upsurge in racial/religious hatred among the
indigenous majorities.

Saba Mahmood responded that Loretta's point is well taken, adding that
Asef' s comments also compel us to think beyond the issue of class
inequality "to how forms of democratic liberal governance are not entirely
inimical to the rise of illiberal social movements and forms of political
action."  She suggests that writers such as the Indian political theorist
Partha Chatterjee and the British sociologist Zygmut Bauman "beckon us to
consider the necessary connections between popular political violence and
the structure of democratic liberal governance, rather than thinking of
popular violence as an exception to the latter."  Saba says that this
"poses tough questions for those of us who have long supported an agenda
of democratization as an antidote" to the rise of illiberal or nonliberal

Brian Holmes wrote that it seems difficult these days "to separate
'democracy' from government by a transnational elite, whose interests are
radically different from those of national populations."  Currently
traveling in Argentina, Brian spoke of the situation in that country,
where, he said, "'democratic' government has led to a social catastrophe,
and a minority tendency to reject the whole political class," but there
has not (yet) been any extreme violence.  He suspects that if the
conditions in Argentina do not improve, "the number of people who will
rally to political movements calling for another form of governance than
democracy will inevitably rise."

Chris Gray reminded us that there a many forms of democracy, and that
democracy "has always been based on exclusion in practical terms, even if
the rhetoric was inclusive. "

Salwa Ghaly, writing from the UAE, ended the week with a call for gendered
analyses of many of the issues that have been brought up in the forum. As
an example, she offered, "To those who see the 'experiment' of the Iranian
revolution as one that has engendered some incipient 'democracy,' my
reaction is: at what cost to Iranian women?"  She asked why it is that we
- as activists, theorists, etc - are sometimes blind to the cost that
women pay as one social model is modified, replaced, or overhauled.  She
asks, how are we to read the texts that are often penned so tragically
onto women's bodies?

Week 4.  The military-industrial-spectacle complex, and the conflations
between reality, battlefield simulations, and news programming

This week began with James Der Derian's discussion of the role that media
and entertainment industries play within the warfare complex.  Tracing an
axis of development that links Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and the
Pentagon, he aims for a renewed conception of the relations between
entertainment and war, spectatorship and combat.

Discussing the connections between President Bush's "intelligence failure"
and Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" - one could think, for a
moment, that we were on the Larry King Show - James aimed to show the dual
function of technology as both solution and problem.  When it works well,
he says, technological development provides the answer to all our needs.  
When something goes wrong on the human end, however, it provides a
convenient projection onto which political mistakes are loaded.  
According to James, at issue here is the status of "intelligence," whether
human- or technologically-derived.  He wants to show how "intelligence"
functions - that it has been much more than the management of information;
that it has prompted "an inversion not only of Clausewitz's strategic
definition of war. but also of Oppenheim's legal dictum against
intervention"; that it has become the "continuation of war by the
clandestine interference into the affairs of other powers."

Asef Bayat invoked the question he raised last week regarding the
"un-civility" of civil society, in order to reveal a related contradiction
that follows from James's post.  On the one hand, Asef spoke of the role
that the relatively free press in Iran has had in the last few years, as
perhaps the most powerful manifestation of an energetic civil society.  
He spoke of the crucial role it has played in spreading the ideals of
democracy, accountability, and secularization in Islamist Iran on a mass
scale.  On the other hand, however, he is struck by how "James, writing
from the US, accurately views the very media (this crucial stuff of the
American civil society) as perhaps more dangerous to 'truth' than
corporate politicians."  Considering the dilemma this poses, Asef asks:  
"What are we supposed to do, considering how we long for democracy?"

Ana Valdes brought up issues around of battlefield simulations and the
hybridization of news and videogaming, mentioning the work of the
"newsgaming" website, run by a team of independent game developers who
work at the intersection of simulations and political cartoons.  She
reminded us that "recruiting games" have a long history, remembering that
she once played on a Commodore 64 a game called "Commando Libya," launched
at the same time that the US struck Khaddaffi.

James replied that, from Francis Bacon on, simulation was thought to be a
"pretence of what is not," and dissimulation as a "concealment of what
is." He suggests that these are collapsing under new technological powers
of verisimilitude, where a "wag the dog" effect occurs.

James mentioned that Al-Hurra - set up by the US in Lebanon as an
alternative to Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya - had just broadcast its first
show.  The idea, as he sees it, is that "a change in image, rather than a
change in policy, will suffice to produce good feelings in the Middle
East." He also suggested that "the jihadists are getting just as good at
infowar," alerting us to the "terrorist rap video" that is currently
circulating on the Internet.  For James, this shows that "although we may
be guilty of hyping/constructing through simulations a global fear of the
other, there are some real bad guys out there."

Salwa Ghaly wrote that she had seen the broadcast of Al-Hurra that James
referred to.  She wrote that while a great deal of unabashed spin was on
offer, she could see some potential good coming out of the enterprise.  
She hopes that it will be less constrained by Arab social and political
taboos and that it will probe into issues around religion, sexuality, and
gender that other networks won't touch.  "While being suspicious of the
political optic of Al-Hurra," she wrote, "I think it may well help expand
the terrain of badly needed public debate on a number of social issues."  
She mentioned an encouraging broadcast that showed young Arabs and
Israelis interacting and getting along, and fostering lifelong friendships
through a US-based program called Seeds of Peace.  On the other hand, she
found the inclusion of Madeline Albright in the program obscene.

Responding to James and Ana, Benjamin Bratton wondered about "the logics
of instrumental gaming and scenario planning and their kinship to other,
less rationalized forms of prophecy."  Within a consideration of the
material effects of discourses, he introduced two lines of thought related
to pre-emptivity and potentiality.  According to him Rumsfeld's "things we
don' t know we don't know" suggest "discursive (and physical)
potentialities of violence that might erupt (from some virtual plan) into
our 'homeland.'" And warspace is produced as a collaborative prophecy
through such remarks as "We didn't game for that" - a warspace and wartime
in which futures markets and arms markets cohabit.

This "strategy-by-scenario," he writes, "is related to but not exclusive
to the contemporary history of war gaming."  As examples, he mentions the
scenario planning methodologies developed at Rand Corporation, which
helped to steer the Vietnam War, and the aborted DARPA-funded Policy
Analysis Market.  He also mentions information visualization technologies
such as BattleScape, which allows military commanders to both game virtual
scenarios as well as administer actual forces - aligning simulation and
live video feed, prediction and engagement.

As Benjamin sees it, this is "not just a precession of the simulacra .
there is something more 'religious' at work here (in Derrida's ontic sense
of the term)."  He sees it as a kind of motor.  "'Terrorist violence'
constitutes a sort of virtual product, one through which the supply chain
management of various militia is modulated by demand chain technologies."

Ana reminded us that war is fought at many levels, including the symbolic
level.  She said that in the 50s and 60s the CIA paid through the Ford
Foundation millions of dollars to sustain several cultural publications.
These publications "were a weapon in the Cold War and tried to undermine
the support many intellectuals gave to the Soviet Union and Cuba."  She
writes that today "the Muslim world uses the same weapons and also fights
its war in the entertainment field."  She gives the example of the game
Under Ash, made by a programming team in Syria.  Ana explains that this
game is a traditional "shoot up," but the terrorists are Israelis and the
"freedom fighters" must destroy them.  Ana writes that "computer games are
today among the broadest platforms for carrying out narratives and
establishing truths and myths."

James wrote that, even in our critiques, "we tend to replicate the
birds-eye perspective of the press and impute too much power to the war
machine."  He remarks that things and do go wrong: "from the micro- to the
macro-level, fog, friction, and general screw-ups regularly operate in
wargames as well as in war."  In response, James Schwoch wrote about the
use of "plausible credibility" in contrast to the Cold War axiom,
plausible deniability.  To him, this is about withholding information and
then spinning media politics not to deny, but to claim that something else
exists in its place.

Paula von Sydow and Rosanne Altstatt wrote about "Shock and Awe," an
exhibition that they have curated at the Edith Russ Site for Media Art in
Oldenburg.  As they explained, the project arose out of the alienation
that the public feels when faced with images of war, and the difficulties
that we face in assessing their veracity.  Hoping to find ways in which we
can regain our trust in images, they have decided to "go to the source and
have image-makers talk about their work in a context beyond where it was
originally broadcast."  They want to examine the circumstances under which
the image was made, and to look at methods of revealing the conditions of
its production.  Through this approach, they will revisit questions of
contextualization.  What are our own requirements for believability of

In contrast, Joanna Griffin takes a strategy of using "direct experience"
as a way of countering the alienation that Paula an Rosanne spoke about.  
She wrote about her art project which involves "hunting submarines around
the British Isles" with her camera.  She is interested in what happens
when one "looks back" at an apparatus of control, "gently pushing at its

Preparing for a massive electrical storm in Adelaide, Linda Wallace
introduced her work "Entanglements," a refigured assemblage of war-related
television images positioned as if in a domestic viewing space.  As Chris
Rose describes it, the driving question of the work is: "How is this
global dynamism, this so-called 'war on terrorism,' rearranging our
interiors and exteriors, speeding up, slowing down, and generally editing
our lives?"

Week 5.  Political culture and the power of images

Susan Buck-Morss began the week by asking, "How do we develop a common
political culture?"  Picking up on several issues introduced earlier, she
continued: "How, for instance, do we join Salwa in supporting the
progressive role feminist solidarity can play in Iran, without supporting
the use US propaganda is making of feminism?"  How do we keep things
"complicated" in the sense that Chris Gray mentioned, while at the same
time heeding Gramsci's warning that the political weakness is not the lack
of opposition but rather, the disorganization of dissent?

She then asks: "What of images?"  She reminds us of Walter Benjamin's
optimism: "only images in the mind motivate the will."  She states that
"the image-world is the surface of globalization.  It *is* our shared
world."  It is all we have of shared experience; without it, we do not
share a world.

With these words, another, nearly parallel, round of conversation began to
take shape - an impassioned discussion on the relevance of
representational meaning, launched by Manuel DeLanda.  It is striking how,
occurring nearly at the same time, we engaged in a debate that assumes the
primacy of representational meaning, and a debate centered around the very
limited role that it plays. (For purposes of clarity, much of this
parallel discussion will be placed in the next week's summary.)

Loretta Napoleoni felt that Susan summarized many of the key problems on
the left today.  How can its voice be heard among all the propaganda that
is going on?  She wrote that "the center and the right have 'stolen' a lot
of the slogans and ideas of the old left."  She gives the example a
feminist and political activist that she knows, who was employed by the UK
government in order to help them understand the gender problems of Iraq.  
Loretta reported that she had just run into her yesterday.  She had just
left Baghdad after 6 months, and had decided that it was "impossible to
work within the system.  This is an unjust war, a war of occupation, and
going to 'liberate' women seems anachronistic in a context where people
have not enough to eat, there is no employment, and war is a way of life."

Harel Shapira wrote that, in general, part of the task is to "stop
politics itself from becoming 'politics by other means.'" He wonders
whether there might be a politics of the everyday that is not located in a
separate space. For him, this would be a political space where "the
activist" is not even a category.  He asks, "would we dare calling young
Palestinians throwing stones activists?"

Picking up on Susan's reference to Benjamin, Joy Garnett wrote that, yes,
images have the power to motivate, but they also have the power to
overwhelm and render immobile.  The magnitude of images occupying the mind
can also stun one into silence and acquiescence.  And, again, she points
out that whatever images gain in symbolic power, they lose in specific
meaning.  They become malleable and suited to other uses.  She points out
that "this is the basis for agitprop, the simplification behind the use of
imagery in political dissent and protest.  But likewise it is the basis

Joy says that the "anchor," the original event or source, would seem to
offer a solution of some kind (and this harkens back to the project of
Paula and Rosanne, discussed last week).  But Joy quotes Milan Kundera:
"The present moment is unlike the memory of it.  Remembering is not the
negative of forgetting.  Remembering is a form of forgetting."  Joy
concludes that the image, in whatever form or use, is always part of a
process of revision.

Responding to Harel's post, Loretta stated that she thinks that young
Palestinians who throw stones are indeed activists.  "They are using
stones to make a point and they are very courageous because they are not
risking their 'political career,' they are risking their life."

Susan took Harel's and Joy's comments to express a skepticism about
politics in a global public space, as opposed to a politics of everyday
resistance. She took Harel's question to be:  are Palestinian boys
throwing rocks "demonstrating" in the public political sense?  Conscious
of the relationship between event and representation and the importance of
giving attention to the latter, Susan wrote that "the Palestinian boys
throwing rocks are also an image that travels globally, and it makes a
difference that we see it."  She stated that she does not think it is
reduced to a cliche in that global transmission.

Susan then discussed the importance of the ways that art or individual
stories (as in the case of Loretta's friend who spent six months in
Baghdad) are able to express complicated truths that cannot easily be
codified -- that is, able to express complex singularities whose meaning
is not reducible to pregiven political categories.  Yet in terms of
categories, she expressed the importance of voting - specifically, voting
George W. Bush out of office.

Harel's question was also taken up by Alice Hunsberger.  Alice wrote that,
if Palestinians throwing rocks are not activists, then who is?  The
political is to be found in the everyday decisions we make, she said,
"just as the sacred, for a religious person, is found in every leaf that

Picking up on the issue of religion, Mary Keller introduced parallels
between the religious body and the activist body.  She writes that "if
both are understood to be similar models of subjectivity - that is if both
are understood to be disciplining, negotiating, bodies that are engaged
with something larger that speaks through them (the Will of Allah, a
Sustainable future, the role of Art), then we can begin to dismantle the
notion that there regressive religious bodies versus progressive activist
bodies."  We can recognize that the training body is negotiating with
power that is entrenched in material and historical force, "intimately
located on territories, and beckoning events of transcendence."  
Following Mark C. Taylor, she wants to introduce theological concerns in
analyses of the power of images (and her post here belongs just as much to
the parallel discussion, on the relevance of representation meaning, which
is included in next week's summary).

In reply to Susan and Loretta, Harel wrote that it is precisely because
these Palestinian boys are risking their life that he, personally, "would
be embarrassed to call them 'activists.'"  Their politics, he says, is in
a sense before "the political" - that is, it is a matter of life but not
lifestyle.  What strikes him about the US is that politics exists in a
separate venue from one's day to day life.  He wonders if perhaps this is
because of the general amnesia in the US, or the history of people coming
there in order to escape politics.  He asks, "are we stuck in this
situation of having to go to separate spaces to express out politics
because we are not 'embedded' or up-close to the event?"

These two strands of conversation - on the power of images, and on the
politics of stone-throwing - were joined together remarkably by James Der
Derian.  James remarked that he wished he could channel Edward Said - "a
sorely missed Palestinian thrower of stones" - in order to ask him if he
would have tossed that rock again in Lebanon, "if he knew how its rapidly
and globally circulated image would be used to discredit so much of what
he stood for."  James would like to believe that the "artistic singularity
of the event (where pleasure, politics, and creativity meet in
unpredictable ways) was well worth it."  However "we need to question how
a globalized media, increasingly, repetitively, unavoidably, acts not only
as trigger and transmitter of conflict as a global event, but also how a
global audience responds to it."  From the actual moment to the eventual
interpretation, James continues, the media "identifies, records, relays,
represents, and informs our response to armed conflict."  It shapes how we
remember or forget its significance, more than any other institution.  He
expresses the consequence for critical inquiry and political action, if we
- as artists, critics, academics - do not get into the "image game."

Such a reliance upon images would come under assault, led by Manuel
DeLanda, in the other channel of conversation.  This will be summarized in
the following week's section.

Week 6.  Ecologies, representations, and the affective dimension of image

Manuel DeLanda opened the discussion with a call to think of military or
economic institutions in non-monolithic terms - that is, in terms of
diverse, mutually-interacting systems of organization, which may operate
on multiple levels or scales.  He said that what we need to consider are
"the dynamics of complex institutional ecologies, in which a variety of
organizations exert mutual influences on one another."

Manuel continued by saying that, instead of abstractions such as "the
 market" or "the state," one should speak, following Fernand Braudel, of
"concrete real entities operating at different spatio-temporal scales" -
for example, from bazaars or local marketplaces to the ways they coalesce
into regional markets to the ways that these are linked together into
larger market systems.  The same for "the state" - it has always been a
heterogeneous entity "comprising not only complex sets of institutions
divided along executive, judicial, and legislative lines, but a large
number of regulatory agencies, military organizations, intelligence
agencies, etc." Manuel feels that we are uttering meaningless nonsense if
we ignore this complexity and talk simply of "the market" or "the state."

However, according to him, given the role that military institutions have
played in the standardization and routinization of civilian society since
the 1500s - where schools, hospitals, and prisons slowly came to adopt a
form first pioneered in military camps and barracks; factories came to
share a common destiny with arsenals and armories; and individual skills
were transformed into collective disciplined routines - we can be
justified in using a term like "militarization."

David Young offered another interesting point on the militarization of
societies.  He wrote that "the Fordist, hierarchical assembly line
actually represented a 'purification' of so-called 'armory production'
which was pioneered by the Springfield Armory during the American Civil

Joy Garnett asked Manuel what he thought about the aestheticization of
military culture in the US and its filtering into products, fashion, and
advertising - specifically, how the "military-action mystique" translates
into popular forms like the Hummer and the chiffon fatigue.

Slightly annoyed by this line of inquiry, Manuel said that he had little
to say about the spread of military motifs in culture. It seemed trivial
to him, for such a focus placed too much importance on representations.  
In his work, he said, representations play a limited role.  The reason he
chose to write about the battlefield as a social space was "precisely
because the events that happen there are so physical and real."  To put it
bluntly, he said, "bullets pierce your body and kill you regardless of the
beliefs you hold - that is, regardless of how you represent the events to
yourself."  It may be argued, he said, that representations are important
for morale.  They make people fight.  But to him that is only partly true:  
"What makes people fight is not so much the semantic content of beliefs
(the meanings open to interpretation) but the intensity of the devotion
with which one holds those beliefs."  He says that the intensity of
beliefs and desires, the passion behind them, is not in itself
representational.  "Even though 'meanings' do play a role they play a
limited role: given a level of intensity a wide range of meanings will
do."  He argues that the intensity of beliefs and desires (which is not
representational) is crucial in explaining the motivating power of images.

Aside from the dimension of intensity, Manuel also wrote about the
importance of recognizing the dimension of affect.  "We know relatively
little about this component," he remarked, "because we have been obsessed
with semantics for so long."

Responding to Manuel's conception of institutional ecologies, while at the
same time activating questions of personal/public political action from
last week, Ryan Bishop wrote that "The divisions we wish to make between
various spheres of endeavor - daily politics, activism, democratic
politics, stone-throwing - reinforce another important dimension of the
military and the state:  the power to divide, which has been the story of
sovereignty and diasporas from the Torah to the present."

Ryan also wrote that it would be useful to emphasize the role that visual
technologies played in the militarization of society.  He wrote that "the
studies of empirical senses in the 19th century that led to examinations
of movement by Marey and Muybridge were not only deployed in various
'entertainments' such as cinema but within factories for improving
time-motion studies."  Manuel agreed, adding that "the role of
representations can only be made clear when linking them to non-linguistic
practices (such as disciplining workers)."

As I mentioned, this discussion overlapped with last week's discussion on
the power of images.  Much of that discussion assumed the primacy of
representational meaning.  After a series of in-depth messages that
prioritized image-making and semiotic content, Manuel felt compelled to
take a stand.  Exasperated, he launched a scathing message on the "poverty
of representations."  The Underfire discussion was "obsessed with
representations," he said, lamenting that "intellectuals and artists alike
have been trapped in the straightjacket of semiotics" for three decades.  
He cited Foucault's distinction between discursive and non-discursive
practices and explained that what irritated him was the fact that
intellectuals everywhere claim that such non-discursive activities (which
include torturing, monitoring, drilling soldiers, etc.) are discursive.  
This, to him, is a "bastardization of Foucault."  He feels that it is
important to make a stand for the "re-conceptualization of language and
images in the context of non-discursive practices."

Ognjen Strpic said that terrorism might present a challenge to Manuel's
credo.  He wrote, "There is one feature of terrorism that is left
unaddressed if terrorism is explained (away?) in terms of intensities of
beliefs and desires:  the question of justice."  Terrorists intensely
desire what they believe is just, he said, and there has to be a
justification for a belief - all the more for such intense beliefs held by
large groups." Ognjen doesn't see how Manuel can account for moral
justification in his ontology, and he believes that "justification is the
crucial issue on any discussion of terrorism."  Further, he says that
"Underfire's talk of representations of armed conflicts is relevant and
potentially fruitful precisely because representations tend to reveal the
means of

Manuel agreed that moral justification is part of the explanation of this
social behavior, but he asks, on what other basis do they justify their
actions than by their beliefs -- whether in terms of historical narratives
about past injustices, their God-given rights as members of a certain
religion, or current facts and situations?

Bernard Roddy wrote that he has "serious doubts about any form of analysis
that does not acknowledge the ideological or unconscious interests of the
one who reflects, and the bearing that representational culture has on
 that."  Different cognitive states can drive one to the same actions,
Bernard says, but "what one thinks is 'real' depends on what
representations are informing one's cognitive faculties."

Mary Keller wrote that "one is headed down a dead-end if the religiousness
of the terrorist is characterized as a product of belief."  She said that
religiousness is better related to "long-term, disciplinary practices that
speak through the persons practicing to different effect in different
bodies in different situations."

>From Cairo, Ian Robert Douglas wrote that the essence of war the struggle
for being.  To him, the whole of reality is immanent: "it is the pitched
fear of one against the other in a world where people fear death."  He
wrote that concepts like democracy, change, liberty are all ultimately
worthless "unless we think and feel through the relation each of us hold -
that our societies hold - to being, to 'being here', to life, to our
anxieties about absence."

Chris Gray announced that he is happy to be one of "Foucault's bastards,"
and that on a pragmatic level he does not find the distinctions between
discursive and non-discursive as profoundly useful.  He sees culture in
terms of discourse systems - everything is discursive, and "war is about
the making and unmaking of the world."  He wrote, "War/Terror/Torture are
about attacking bodies as a way of reinforcing or deconstructing

At this point Manuel, clearly, had had enough.  He replied that he and
Chris "clearly have absolutely nothing to talk about."

David Young and Ryan Bishop both offered to broker a detente.  Ryan wrote,
"could we not say that language, culture, and perception are mutually
dependent and influential, as well as inextricably interrelated?  If so,
then we need not prioritize either the linguistic/symbolic or the material
but rather understand that we are not engaged in a debate about confusing
the map for the territory but rather understanding that without the map
there would be no territory constituted as such, and vice versa."

Fearing - as many did - that this line of discussion was heading down a
dead end, Bernard Roddy threw in the towel.  "With all due respect, " he
wrote, "someone get us out of this!"

Jordan Crandall

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