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

Friday, April 17, 2009

Swat gouvernementalité

Quote; from a news report about the by now well-known case of Pakistani Taliban who flogged a girl in Swat:

"Human rights activist Samar Minallah said the girl was from a poor family and was flogged after a neighbour told the Taliban she had had an affair.

"They did this brutality just on suspicion. There was no trial. No evidence, no witness was produced," she said."

(...)

"Minallah said the militants had issued two minutes of footage of the beating and it was being sold in markets.

"It was distributed deliberately by the militants to harass residents and make the point that they can keep on doing what they like," Minallah said."

Brutally effective, isn't it? No interest in a fair trial, not to mention that the norm they were statedly defending may not be accepted by many even in the areas they control (that adultery should be punished by flogging, with relatives made to hold down the girl to be flogged).

The Taliban just showed that they are ready to do this without thinking for a second... And did so on DVD, so it can also be distributed. They did what they did before their version of sharia would have been a government-approved fact in Swat. Just in case.

Spectacle + terror + context-specific message + modern means of distribution. Ain't no rocket science; still it's a revolution beyond the 1990s Afghan Taliban's approach to photography and filming.

Whether the Taliban really didn't think for a second about doing this is another question. They picked on a poor family - there are two basic options how this may have occurred.

1) They randomly picked on the family in question, meaning they bumped into just this case. For the girl and her family this was just a coincidence of poverty and being terrorised.

2) To a degree they chose this family to show an example with. No coincidence. Reasons? Poor families (the large majority) are the primary audience. It had to be one of them, because the Taliban's goal is to have them develop the sort of "gouvernementalité" they wish for. Then there is also the practical idea that the better-off may avoid being disciplined like this, by showing extra generosity as proof of how disciplined they are. And then they may as well leave land and property behind. Go to London for instance, never come back. So their house, their orchards and all else can be taken over. Other than that, the Taliban are not all that interested in governing them.

P.S. I should also point to Arif Rafiq's excellent commentary on the issue.

1 comment:

I.:.S.:. said...

The consequences of adultery could sometimes be pretty harsh around there even before the Taliban came along. In this case, as you point out, she was probably an arbitrary choice of victim, based on a quite possibly spurious accusation from her neighbours. Disapproving gossip and small-minded grudges are prevalent thereabouts, as in small and conservative communities everywhere.

This is a truly harsh spectacle. Similarly brutal torture and war footage on DVDs and copied tapes from the bazaar is increasingly a staple of young boys' education in Taliban zones. The evidence against the executed is probably just as tenuous, according to the legends they are government spies, in case you don't read Urdu. I don't recommend you watch it.