What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Strikes and stereotypes

Joshua Foust has a must read for you over at Registan. A good take, and some follow-up from later on, on the latest drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas. I agree with most of what is there, as well as with what was quoted there. Some points I'd make are:
- Indeed, the by-standers who die in these strikes are regarded as unequal human beings. Their right to life is disturbingly ignored. If an al-Qaida commander gets killed, and news reports say that altogether a dozen people may have died in that strike, simply not many will care who the rest of those killed were.
- Syed Saleem Shahzad, whose articles sometimes leave me with the impression that I've just been treated to a mixture of wild speculation and a bunch of information operations, but who is also always interesting to read, wrote here that the CIA now has the opportunity to go ahead with strikes, flying drones from Peshawar airfield. If that's the case, and Pakistani permission, even if covertly, is given, then the international legal aspects of these cases are not that interesting. But actually I would have found the lack of regard for by-standers' life as the more serious issue by now anyway.
- Still with regards to the latter: with all due respect for the soldiers who have to tough it out in the Korengal valley, did I happen to be the only one who was disturbed by the ease with which they at times mentioned "signing off on collateral" in that article by Elizabeth Rubin? I wonder if a police officer would feel like signing off on collateral when a bank robber flees to the nearest kindergarten. Or just any unlucky citizen's home.
So, sad but true. This sort of complicity (the media's, the public's, everyone's) with killing by-standers still, partly, has to stem from the calculation that by-standers in fact deserve what they get. Or that it's not really bad that they get what they get. Which in turn is backed up by potentially self-reinforcing stereotypes about Muslims.
Which reminds me of another topic that I wanted to bring up. Protests. The recent reactions in Afghanistan to the Mohammed caricatures re-published in Denmark and the possibly up-coming Islamo-critical movie by Dutch MP Geert Wilders. The silent understanding in the West seems to be that Muslims are exceptionally prone to rioting over things like that. Normally I don't like to take it on me to respond to such gut-level conclusions. But now I feel like I ought to discuss this, at least in a nutshell.
There are basically two ways I'd like to go about this.
First is to point out that it's not "Muslims" who are rioting. Instead, "some Muslims" are rioting. Regarding the Afghan case: while elsewhere there were some protests - usually with a couple of hundred demonstrators at most - against Denmark and the Netherlands at various locations in Afghanistan, on the International Women's Day some 1,000 women turned out to protest in Kandahar to draw attention to women's rights and problems. You know, that's where mullah Omar appeared in front of a cheering crowd in Mohammed's cloak just over a decade back... And in Herat, the main social protest issue of the day recently was not the European interpretation of the freedom of speech, but the lack of security and the rising number of kidnappings. Which led health workers, judges, factory workers and members of other professions to strike in protest.
The other is to point out that the sort of rioting, seen e.g. in Copenhagen, is not unique in fact. Sure all the people of the West cannot be mobilised to riot around a single issue nowadays, yes. But based on individuals' own identity, you can find the painful spot to strike at in most cases. Just consider the example of the Orange Walks in Belfast, and the reaction in Catholic areas even relatively recently. If someone wishes to hear this in a more scientific sort of way: when societal security is perceived as threatened within the societal sector, with the referent object of securitisation being a societal group's identity itself, justifications tend to be elusive for the sort of response people feel appropriate. Some Protestants would feel it would be a threat to their identity if they would have to give up the marches. Some Catholics feel it's a threat to them that the Orange Walks still take place.
So sure they tend to give some response.
All it takes is just hitting (with the right provocation) at the right group identity in any social context (not necessarily at a religious identity, don't be misled by my above example), and with the aid of a mix of conducive factors you can mobilise many people, and produce some wild outcomes.

1 comment:

Joshua Foust said...

(Thanks for the plug, BTW) I find it remarkable the lengths to which a lot of people go to justify such attacks. I'm in a running discussion over whether or not "sovereignty" is inviolable for the right reasons, or if the alqaeda types just snuck in an removed their bodies just to make us look bad, so on.

The possibility that we're just kinda sloppy, and that us being sloppy might have tremendous repurcussions down the road... well, that's just Democrat talk to them.

As for the protests... shouldn't we be happy people in Afghanistan see peaceful protests as a valid method of political expression, as compared to, say, a suicide belt? That's something else I never understood -- we complain and complain and complain about how "Muslims" are so violent, but then when they peacefully protest something, they're too whiny.