Cities and the 'war on terror': Imaginative Geographies, Inter-City Relations and Political Violence


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Cities and the 'war on terror': Imaginative Geographies, Inter-City Relations and Political Violence

  1. 1. Cities and the ‘War on Terror’ Imaginative Geographies, Inter-City Relations and Political Violence Stephen Graham Newcastle University
  2. 2. Introduction •  Imaginative geographies of inter-city relations extremely neglected •  Programmes of organised, political violence have always been legitimized and sustained through complex imaginative geographies of ‘insides’ and ‘outsides’ •  Imperialist societies are constructed through normalizing, binary judgements about both ‘foreign’ and colonized territories and the ‘home’ spaces which sit at the ‘heart of empire’. Cities key symbolic spaces. •  Stark binaries of urban place attachment, particularly at times of war. As the geographer Ken Hewitt has argued, “war mobilizes the highly charged and dangerous dialectic of place attachment: the perceived antithesis of ‘our’ places or homeland and ‘theirs’”.
  3. 3. E.g. Bush Administration’s ‘War on Terror’ •  State and media discourses produce “an unbridled sentimentalizing of one’s own while dehumanizing the enemy’s people and land. Seems an essential step in cultivating readiness to destroy the latter” (Hewitt). •  General Sanchez: “every American needs to believe this; that if we fail here in this [Iraqi] environment, the next battlefield will be the streets of America.” •  Paul Bremer:“[We]would rather be fighting [the terrorists] here [in Falluja] than in New York” •  Three key areas: ‘homeland’ cities, ‘target’ cities, constructions of both within US military technoscience
  4. 4. (1)  Re-imagining ‘Homeland’ Cities as National Security Spaces •  "Everything and everywhere is perceived as a border from which a potentially threatening Other can leap" (Hage). •  “Spread generalized promiscuous anxiety through the American populace, a sense of imminent but inexact catastrophe” (Raban). •  Major cuts in urban social and policing Programmes
  5. 5. (i) Ubiquitous Terror Talk •  Endless flexibility of ‘terrorist’ labelling •  Absolute externality of ‘terrorist’ •  State of eergency:Streams of vague warnings, omnipresent color coded alerts, and endless media coverage of purported threats to US urban life •  Everyday events, malfunctions or acts of violence in the city are now widely assumed be the results of ‘terrorist’ action
  6. 6. (ii) Rebordering: The ‘Domestic Front’ in the “War on Terror” •  ‘Cracking down on diaspora’: Sally Howell and Andrew Shryock •  ”Attempt to reconstitute the [United States] as a bounded area that can be fortified against outsiders and other global influences. In this imagining of nation, the US ceases to be a constellation of local, national, international, and global relations, experiences, and meanings that coalesce in places like New York City and Washington DC; rather, it is increasingly defined by a ‘security perimeter’ and the strict surveillance of borders" (Hyndman).
  7. 7. (iii) Anti-Cosmopolitan Reimaginations of ‘Homeland' Cities •  Tom Ridge “the only turf is the turf we stand on” •  ‘Rebordered’ discourse constructs an imaginary, domesticated, singular, and spatially fixed imagined community of US nationhood •  Such an imagined community contrasts starkly with previous US state rhetoric which centered on notions of boundless mobility and assimilation
  8. 8. •  “Decidedly antiurban and anticosmopolitan ring” Kaplan •  ‘Clash of civilizations’ rhetoric “necessarily “requires that cosmopolitan consciousness is ridiculed” Paul Gilroy •  The very term ‘homeland security’ shifts the emphasis away from complex and mobile diasporic social formations, sustaining large metropolitan areas, towards a much clearer mapping which demarcates clear, essentialized geographies of identity, entitlement and threat. •  “Folksy rural quality, which combines a German romantic notion of the folk with the heartland of America to resurrect the rural myth of American identity” (Kaplan) •  Precludes “an urban vision of America as multiple turfs with contested points of view and conflicting grounds upon which to stand” (Kaplan).
  9. 9. (iv) The ‘New Normalcy’: Reimagining Everyday Spaces and Systems as Sources of Boundless Threat
  10. 10. (v) New Urban Technostructures: New City ‘Walls’
  11. 11. (vi) Urban Design and Planning for ‘Security’
  12. 12. (vii) Capsularisation and an Intensified Militarisation of Material Culture
  13. 13. (viii) Repeated Invocations of Place Annihilation in Neo-Republican Popular Geopolitical Fora
  14. 14. (2) ‘Terror Cities’: Orientalist Constructions of Arab Urban Places as Military Targets •  ”Without a well-organized sense that these people over there were not like ‘us’ and didn’t appreciate ‘our’ values -- the very core of the Orientalist dogma -- there would have been no war" in Iraq. Edward Said
  15. 15. (i) Unveiling Structureless, Intrinsically Devious, Orientalised Cities
  16. 16. (ii) Vertical Representations of Arab Cities as Collections of Military Targets Reduces the “places and people you are about to bomb, to targets, to letters on a map or coordinates on a visual display. Then, missiles rain down on K-A-B-U-L, on 34.51861N, 69.15222E, but not on the eviscerated city of Kabul, its buildings already devastated and its population already terrorized by years of grinding war” (Derek Gregory).
  17. 17. (iii) Systematic and Violent Denial and Erasure of Ground Perspectives
  18. 18. (iv) Essentialising Arab Cities as ‘Terrorist Nests’ •  E.g. Gen Richard Myers, chair JCoS: Falluja a "rat’s nest" or "hornet’s nest" of "terrorist resistance" against US occupation that needed to be "dealt with" .
  19. 19. (v) Islamophobic, Racist, Street-Level Military Discourses •  “The Iraqis are sick people and we are the chemotherapy”, ( New Statesman in April 2003). •  “You have to understand the Arab mind. The only thing they understand is force – force, pride and saving face” (Captain Todd Brown, U.S. Fourth Infantry Division •  “Sand nigger’s”, “ragheads”, “towelheads”.
  20. 20. (vi) Constructing ‘Urban Warfare’ •  E.g. Ralph Peters: Falluja a "terror-city" •  "This is the new reality of combat. Not only in Iraq. But in every broken country, plague pit and terrorist refuge to which our troops have to go in the future” •  ”Global media” "a bonanza of terrorists and insurgents" who were allowed to "escape’ US forces in Fallujah in April 2004 •  Thus, US forces "have to speed the kill”. By "accelerating urban combat" to "fight within the ‘media cycle,’ before journalists” arrive, new technologies were needed. •  “If we do not learn to kill very, very swiftly, we will continue to lose slowly"
  21. 21. (vii) Othering by Simulation I : ‘Urban Warfare’ Video Games “ The gaming industry’s latest fetish” (DelPiano) “In a world being torn apart by international conflict, one thing is on everyone’s mind as they finish watching the nightly news: ‘Man, this would make a great game!’” (Jenkins) Andrew Deck: “calls forth a cult of ultra-patriotic xenophobes whose greatest joy is to destroy, regardless of how racist, imperialistic, and flimsy the rationale” for the simulated battle.
  22. 22. US Army “World’s Premiere Land Force” •  One of world’s biggest games developers •  America’s Army •  Full Spectrum Warrior •  Even some video game reviewers have commented that “this game would have been fine without the tawdry 4 letter words and negative racist remarks” from the simulated US soldiers
  23. 23. (viii) Othering by Simulation II : ‘Urban Warfare’ Training Sites •  60 constructed around the world •  Several shared with Israel •  Minarets, calls to prayer, donkeys, simulated smell of rotting corpses
  24. 24. (3) Constructing ‘Homeland’ and ‘Target’ Cities Within U.S. Military Techno-science & the ‘RMA’ •  “The [US] Air Force wants to be able to strike mobile and emerging targets in fewer than 10 minutes so that such targets will have no sanctuary from US air power”, Adam Hebert, (2003). •  Address both homeland cities and the targeted, Arab cities, in integrated ways. Both emphasized as crucial ‘targets’ within one, singular, urbanizing ‘battlespace’
  25. 25. •  Huber and Mills: “Step by step, cities like New York must now learn to watch and track everything that moves" •  "In the post-September 11 world," they write, ‘smart’ computerized systems need to be rolled out to all the infra structural systems of urban America so that US homeland security agencies can "see the plastic explosives in the truck before they detonate, the anthrax before its dispersed, the sarin nerve gas before it gets into the air-conditioning duct"
  26. 26. "We really do want an Orwellian future not in Manhattan, but in Kabul," ”We [sic]can then project destructive power precisely, judiciously, and from a safe distance week after week, year after year, for as long as may be necessary. […] Properly deployed at home, as they can be, these technologies of freedom will guarantee the physical security on which all our civil liberties ultimately depend. Properly deployed abroad, they will destroy privacy everywhere we need to destroy it. […] At home and abroad, it will end up as their sons against our silicon. Our silicon will win"
  27. 27. Persistent Area Dominance •  “Compressing the kill chain” “closes the time delay between sensor and shooter” to an extent that brings “persistent area dominance” (Hebert, 2003). •  E.g. ‘Success’ of 70 Predator assassination raids 2001•  “Total Urban Dominance Layered System” (or TUDLS) deliver “a family of integrated and complementary vehicles layered over an urban area to provide persistent dominance” (ibid.). •  These dominators will be capable of completing the entire kill chain with minimal human involvement” (Plenge, 2004).
  28. 28. Conclusions •  Bush Administration’s ‘war on terror’ rest fundamentally on imaginative geographies: two-sided constructions of urban place •  Mutually constitutive representation of both ‘homeland’ and ‘target’ cities. Backed up by vast domain of symbolic and populargeopolitical violence •  Both constructions deeply anti-urban. One problematises urban cosmopolitanism in ‘homeland cities’ and starves them of resources •  The other uses the absolute externality of ‘‘terrorist’ labelling to essentialise and reify the social ecologies of ‘target’ Arab cities in profoundly racist ways to legitimise widescale state terror & war crimes •  Inscribe biopolitical judgements: zoe vs.homo sacer; E.g. Reactions to 100,000 iraqi civilian deaths vs. 150,000 Asian tsunami deaths
  29. 29. •  Zulaika: Ultimate catastrophe is imitation of Islamic fundamentalist terror •  Ill-defined enemies & goals •  Good (victim) versus-Evil Other •  Divine, theocratic backing •  Absolutist and fundamentalist •  States of exception, abandon rules of engagement •  In radicalising many more potential Islamic terrorists than Osama Bin Laden could ever dream of, the danger is of endlessly reproducing a vicious cycle of atrocity: terror and state terror
  30. 30. •  •  •  •  •  •  But, these are imaginative geographies They are overlain by much more complex geographies of connection and disconnection. Global city networks Media flows Diasporic networks Investment, finance, resource flows Neoliberal reconstruction US military technoscience itself