“You can’t stop force with force.”

Bigots are American Too

September 11, 2010 - Tea Party sympathizers chant ugly slogans in an anti-Mosque rally while others slip behind them with signs such as Free Hugs, Love, and Bigots are American too.

I’m taking a course this semester called Communities and Conflict, which interested me due to its focus on civilians in war. I have long been deeply frustrated about the wars the United States wages in the name of “freedom” and “liberty.” We allow these pat phrases to gloss over the intense destruction civilians experience on the ground, resulting in a frightening lack of holistic perspective and an inability to grasp why our foreign policy is so problematic. A class on the anthropology of war with a focus on the civilian perspective seemed like a perfect start to help me begin to remedy this gap in my knowledge.

Parallel to this is my increased interest in literature, preferably written by women. Encountering an annotated edition of Virginia Woolf’s anti-war text Three Guineas in the bookstore the other day, I simply could not resist. I have been slowly absorbing the introduction to the book, written by Jane Marcus, with intense pleasure. I don’t generally consider myself to be a pacifist, but I find Woolf’s intention with Three Guineas to be fascinating in light of my own reaction to the texts I’m reading for Communities and Conflict. An interesting and integral feature of the book is the pictures of men who held positions of power in England at the time – a decorated general (and founder of the Boy Scouts), the President of Cambridge, an Archbishop, and a judge – she is prompting us to connect the dots between these interconnected seats of power and direct our ire towards the structure. Jane Marcus states that without these pictures, which many editions removed, one is not reading the same book. In addition (emphasis mine):

The Spanish photographs of mutilated “dead children” and of “ruined houses” are ruthlessly referred to over and over again in the book. They are like a red flag or (perhaps) a Republican banner running through her agonizing argument that you can’t stop force with force. She notes disapprovingly that the Madrid bombing photographs incite one to anger. She will not print them, lest they incite more volunteers to go off to war. But what are we to do with these bewigged and bemedaled men we see in the photographs in the book before us? (lxi)

It seems I would garner Woolf’s disapproval as I can’t help but read Carolyn Nordstrom’s book, A Different Kind of War Story, without feeling despair, helplessness and rage. It chronicles the coping strategies of civilians in the Mozambican Civil War. Layers of violence characterize their lives – from the acute (physical) violence that is typically showcased in accounts of war to the cultural and structural violence that continues to impact Mozambicans in the ensuing upheaval. I can’t help but think “raze it all” when thinking about the perpetrators, an “instinct” (?) to strike back with some sort of violence in response. Something that really gripped me was Nordstrom’s point that one of the essential facets of war is the obliteration of a culture and one’s vision of the future:

The Mozambican scholar Sergio Viera once said to me that the aim of the war was to create a nonsociety, and that is why tactics like castration are employed. The spectacle of violence cannot be detached from its experience, its aftermath, its enduring reality. Dirty war specialists know the actions of today define the truths of tomorrow.

One of the most insidious and powerful targets of violence is the very sense of future that gives definition and direction to people’s lives. In an uncertain present, a future is impossible to determine. But to be human is to have a future, and this lack of future, people said, can fuel further violences…

I think what fascinates me so much about these two texts is the alternatives outlined in respect to the urge to continue the cycle of violence. Nordstrom reveals the coping strategies that Mozambicans have created to stop the violence of the war, stating “it is my opinion that average Mozambican citizens instituted a series of conflict resolution practices that are among the most refined I have seen anywhere in the world” (p. 40). While one may regard Mozambicans with possessing more of a “right” than anyone to fight violence with violence, they employ alternate mechanisms.

For instance, villagers kidnapped and reintegrated soldiers, rehabilitating and accepting them back into community life. Both victims of violence and participants were encouraged to farm plots of land to reestablish their connection to the community and the land in an effort to promote healing. A number of different kinds of ceremonies were held in order to promote this healing process. It seems to me that these ceremonies, conducted by the community as a whole, were integral in recreating the bonds that the violence targets and severs through the promotion of very specific acts. Rather than respond and continue the cycle of violence, Mozambicans invested in the well-being of others and worked to restore the sense of future that had been destroyed. War and violence were treated as a disease that needed to be cured and “taken out of people” (p. 144) rather than an innate part of human nature.

My own exploration of cycles of violence has never gone beyond power dynamics, but I’m finding that I obviously have a lot to learn about subverting that cycle. As illustrated by the protests sweeping the Middle East, pacifism need not be passive and has the potential to be incredibly powerful. I am still astonished to have learned (thanks to the ALOUD podcast with Slavoj Zizek) that the phrase “turn the other cheek”, so often used to promote taking abuse willingly, had another meaning when Jesus invoked the phrase. Rather, it meant to demand equality, creating a dilemma for the person who meted the abuse. With that, I’ll end with a final but captivating quote from Nordstrom’s book:

Ultimately, the Mozambicans who forged systems of resistance to war remind the rest of us that violence is not a fixed entity, a “truth” to be dealt with, but instead it is a social, political, and cultural construction that noncombatants – the targets of most violence – can redefine to assert their own political will. In de-legitimizing violence, people reconstruct a new political culture, one that delegitimizes the politics of force. Such political reconstructions are a serious threat, for they simultaneously delegitimize the political systems that rely on force to maintain power. They remind us that violence crushes political will only if people believe in its ability to do so. When people take the definition of violence into their own hands, they are affecting political will. (p. 143-144)

A Retrospective

1,000 Buddhas Temple in Hong Kong - This place was just breathtaking. And thank you to Mike for photoshopping out a distracting point of light!! One of these days I'll need to learn to do that myself...

It’s been a month and a half since I returned home from Hong Kong. The place has taken on this strange sense of unreality to me in my mind, as if perhaps it never happened. At the same time, I think things have slowly been percolating under the surface. I had the privilege of talking about my experience last week and it called to mind all the amazing things I observed and learned over the course of the trip.

I had a pretty horrible return home, in truth. Things did not turn out at all as I thought they would and while I don’t want to speak too soon, I believe I’m well on my way to recovery. Regardless, it’s just another challenge that I’m proving to myself I’m strong and resilient enough to get past – it sounds strange, but things really couldn’t have turned out better. I’m fortunate, and I know I’m going to see that in the future. I find myself treasuring little moments at random and it feels good.

I’m slowly reorienting myself to focus on things to come and I can feel the excitement building. Thanks to my summer experience, I’m planning on applying to law school. My daydreams currently focus on moving to California to attend Berkeley, my first choice, but I’ll be applying to NYU and Columbia as well. I’m actually really looking forward to beginning the application process, the likes of which I used to utterly dread. I feel like the work I’ve put into my life in the past two years has truly brought about fundamental changes and the future looks bright. It was a real privilege to spend the summer in Hong Kong and the experience helped show this to me.

I’ve started to slowly sort through the pictures I brought back with me, and it’s such a blessing to have them. There’s a small part of melancholy at recalling the undercurrent of excitement at returning home… but so many other things as well. It’s such an amazing chronicle of the things that happened to me during my trip, what I was feeling and thinking.

Lastly, this semester will be great but tough I’m sure. I’ll have to have three “deliverables” by the end – a group consultant project on reducing child marriage, a human rights and poverty case study and a research paper. I think I’ve settled on the case study topic, which will use the massacre of the migrants in Mexico last month to look at the broader issues of trade policies such as NAFTA and CAFTA and the dangers that the migrants face in their efforts to get to the US border and subsequent treatment once they are here.

As for the research paper, my head is swimming with so many topics and I’m seriously frustrated about the idea of having to pick just one!! I originally wanted to focus on aspects of US development agencies to study whether their projects truly help or if “development” is simply another political weapon. I’m skeptical that I’d have enough serious resources to go on this. In addition, the development world tends to get few things right in general, so who’s to say it’s not typical failure rather than outright malevolence? So I’m pondering other topics instead -

The impact of the Catholic Church on the birth rate in the Philippines (birth control policy) and its resulting impact on migration for economic reasons.

A look at economic sanctions, particularly in Iraq – and whether it affects people disproportionately – causing poor people to suffer for lack of resources with little consequences to elites.

The question of structural violence in development and what must be done to raise awareness about it, especially in first world countries. (I got the idea from reading Peter Uvin’s discussion on structural violence in Rwanda as a result of development aid and the part it played in starting the Rwandan genocide.)

What are the limitations and impacts of legal advocacy as a tool in cases where human rights and economics intersect?

As usual, my brain is working overtime and I can’t settle on any one thing…. And I need to, FAST!!

A Beginning

Planting Fields Arboretum

I’m thrilled. An excerpt from my first graduate school reading:

This book is about two competing stories that seek to explain or make sense of this historical development – the narratives of modernization and underdevelopment. It argues that neoliberal globalization is the latest intellectual heir of the first story, namely, modernization, and postcolonialism is the child of the second story, that of underdevelopment and of resistance to the story of modernization. (Krishna, pg. 2)

In a nutshell, the book argues that although globalization is a movement that is suffusing the entire world with a form of production based on free-market capitalism and an attendant ideology of individualist consumerism, postcolonialism articulates a politics of resistance to the inequallities, exploitation of humans and the environment, and the diminution of political and ethical choices that come in the wake of globalization. If neoliberal globalization is the attempt of naturalizing and depoliticizing the logic of the market or the logic of the economy, postcolonialism is the effort to politicize and denaturalize that logic and demonstrate the choices and agency inherent in our own lives. (Krishna, pg. 2)

Postcolonialism contests the claim that free-market ideology is a natural commonsense and that it produces prosperity or improved lives for all. (Krishna, pg. 3)

This domination of the West over the world in the realms of knowledge production and culture, or Eurocentrism, is an enduring legacy of colonialism, and postcolonialism argues that reversing economic domination is inextricably linked to cultural decolonization. (Krishna, pg. 4)

This couldn’t be more tailored to what I want to study!!!

Globalization and Postcolonialism: Hegemony and Resistance in the Twenty-First Century by Sankaran Krishna