t byfield on Fri, 5 Dec 2008 04:28:35 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Saskia Sassen: Cities and new wars: after Mumbai

sjs2@columbia.edu (Thu 12/04/08 at 04:25 AM -0500):

> The project i am developing now asks this about terms like "war" and 
> "city."
> both  are words deeply embedded in particular, albeit globally  
> present, histories. Further, the current instances we have been  
> describing here, resist the conventional meanings: so it is easy to  
> use terms such as terrorism becasue this is a war that does not fit   
> war as in word war 2 (though of course, there were lots of instances  
> that fit into today's "terrorism" bit.
> Question then is whether  these current situations are anomalous  
> (which i think is the easiest way out of a problematic, and I resist  
> going that way), or become heuristic (in the sense of producing  
> knowledge about  the terms themselves: war and city.

Ah. If there aren't yet third, fourth, fifth etc ways to think about this 
than the dichotomy between anomalous and heuristic, there will be -- once 
we build up enough experience, which we surely (and unfortunately) will.

The US context is notable in this regard, because the history of terror
in this country is longer and more complex than is widely acknowledged.

Prior to the spectacular Oklahoma City bombing in '95, rightist attacks
were attributed to "extremists" rather than terrorists: Posse Comitatus, 
the Order, Walter Leroy Moody Jr, and a long list of violence aimed at
women's health practitioners. The racist beliefs of many of these groups
makes it hard to completely avoid drawing connections between them and 
the terrible history of terror aimed at 'minorities,' but even so it's
rare to see those connections made unless there's some direct personal
or institutional connection with the KKK. And it's never connected with
the amazing history of violence perpetrated by Puerto Rican nationalists:
Lolita Lebron and co, who opened fire on the floor of the US House of 
Representatives in 1954 and wounded five congressmen, Antuilo Ortiz's 
1961 hijacking, and the Puerto Rican FALN which apparently claimed over 
120 bombings between in the late '70s and early '80s. Alongside this, 
leftist violent acts are laughably rare. And then, of course, there's
an endless litany of "lone gunman" whose attacks correlate more often 
than not with shifts in demographics, particularly growing immigrant 
populations -- but they're usually described as kooks and their actions
fenced off from any sociopolitical analysis. 

This history is hardly a series of anomalies, though in official/pop
discourse the constituent events have certainly been treated as such
on a number of levels. With the rise, starting in the late '70s, of 
rightist and often Christianist violent groups, we begin to see more
heuristic analysis, though mainly emanating from advocacy groups (for
example, the ADL and the SPLC). The spectacular attacks, in OK City 
and the two on the WTC, have cast a very sharp shadow over this kind
of activity; as has the war in Iraq. I think (hope?) that it's become
much harder to distinguish between domestic rightist bombs and IEDs
in Iraq; but that remains to be seen -- particularly as the US begins
to demobilize vast numbers of US soldiers who'll return, I expect, to
an ambivalent reception, an economic disster zone, and extremely poor 
support services.

At the same time, though, it's not like there's an endless repertoir 
of techniques of terror, so it's fair to ask whether it makes sense
to lump its practitioners together on the grounds that they, say, use
bombs. Given the last several years of what Matt Fuller, I think, has
called the Global War on the Monopoly of Terror, and with it the drive
to see everything -- very much including peaceful organization and 
opposition -- as TERROR. Heuristics have their benefits, because one
alternative, totalizing categories, serve very particular ends. QV
"city" and "war."


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