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Marshall Sahlins is Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology Emeritus at Chicago University. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The state-of-nature effect
Fig. 1. US soldiers hand out toys to children during a Human Terrain Team site survey mission in Kilabeen, Iraq, 15 Sep. 2009.
Iraq was once a remarkable mélange of beliefs, customs and traditions; the killings [at Our Lady of Salvation Church, Baghdad] on Sunday drew another border in a nation defined more by war, occupation and deprivation. Identities have hardened; diversity has faded.1
‘Another border in a nation defined more by war’: clearly sectarian identities are not just surviving forms of traditional diversities. Largely configured and differentially advantaged in colonialism, become then the partisan factions of postcolonial politics, and embedded now in agonistic global forces of capitalism and imperialism, the sectarian identities of religion and ethnicity in states such as Iraq incorporate in their own definition the fear and contempt of the other that too readily turns difference into violence.2 Nor is Iraq, then, your grandfather’s insurgency – although the US Counterinsurgency (COIN) manual, with its shopworn definitions and examples, assumes it is (US Army & Marine Corps 2007). Iraq is not simply a war of resistance or national liberation. Neither is it a classic civil war. It is many-sided, not two-sided, with the government itself a factional participant endowed with the advantages of state power. At the local levels of the village and the city neighbourhood, a great variety of parties, recruited on different grounds and espousing diverse causes, sow violence from every quarter. Something of a Hobbesian bellum omnia contra omnes, the conflict has the quality of an up-to-date state of nature – although it is the effect of a coercive sovereign power, the American invasion, rather than the precondition of it. With its ever-shifting and pullulating factionalism, its contending ideologies and reconfiguring identities, its authoritative and subaltern discourses, its cultural hybridizations and partisan primordializations, one might indeed think of the Iraq War as a postmodern state of nature. Consider just one of the myriad such incidents chronicled by Nir Rosen (2010) and Dexter Filkins (2009) in recent comprehensive works on American military incursions in the Middle East:
In April, 2006 the [Sadrist] Mahdi Army attacked a number of high-ranking [Sunni] insurgents, including former Baathists in Baghdad’s Adhamiya neighborhood. They captured the suspects and left with them. Irate locals began shooting at the members of the Iraqi National Guard (ING), and they accused both the [Iranian-created] Badr Organization and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards of being involved. In fact it was a Mahdi Army operation. In the days that followed, Iraqi police fired randomly in Adhamiya. They also shot at generators and power cables to punish the residents…It was more evidence to Sunnis that the state was at war with them (Rosen 2010: 95).
Note the framing of the already polymorphic local violence in terms of national and regional forces. In a sermon a few days later, an elderly cleric set the neighbourhood travails on an even larger scale: ‘This is how the [American] occupiers want to divide the Iraqi people’, he said. ‘This is how they want to plant sectarian division’ (Rosen 2010: 96). Stasis: Ancient and postcolonial versions For all its postcolonial and postmodern attributes, however, the current travails of Iraq in fundamental ways resemble similar conflicts going back to the original history of heteronomous democracies dissolving into indigenous anarchies: particularly the civil strife (stasis) at Corcyra in the fifth year of the Peloponnesian War, as famously described by Thucydides (1996: 3.70-85). Indeed, Hobbes was the first to translate Thucydides directly into English; and, as is sometimes remarked, his own notion of the state of nature was largely inspired by the ancient historian’s narrative of the Corcyrean horror. But what notably draws our attention now is the amount of cultural work – political, economic, military and ideological – that went into the violent disintegration of the Corcyrean polis. In ways much like the effects of the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the internal conflicts in Corcyra and other Greek cities were magnified out of proportion by external interventions, with the similar consequence of transforming local diversities into lethal identities.
ANTHROPOLOGY TODAY VOL 27 NO 3, JUNE 2011
BENJAMIN BOREN / US ARMY
suppliants were slain on the temple altars. nevertheless. it is notable that the cycles of violence have long been closely linked to the electoral process.’ referring thus to the assimilation of particular resentments ‘to a larger. JUNE 2011 fatal impulse. As I read the text. human nature. the agonistic disintegration of the society through the intervention of transcendent causes and external forces. the whole tragedy was played out on the level of the nation – although at the same time in kinship terms. accordingly. religion and/or ethnic differences – which inspire all the more hostility in the measure they are abstract and unconditional. The specific conflicts of the adversaries had been folded into oppositions of greater stakes and higher purposes. joined in the attack on the Sikhs. in which clashes are cumulatively aggregated into larger combats only indirectly connected to the initial triggering incidents. It is also of interest in relation to postcolonial sectarian strife that among the causes of stasis adduced by Aristotle were ‘election intrigues’ and ‘dissimilarity of elements in the composition of the state’ (1958: 1303a9). Considering the large external forces brought to bear in Corcyra on the many civic differences. ‘[B]lood must be avenged with blood. in some cases because they were protected by Hindu neighbours. Stanley Tambiah labels the process ‘transvaluation. and the enemy of all superiority’ (1996: 3.195) study of the massacre of a Sikh community in West Delhi following the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards is a kind of microcosm of the state-of-nature effect. or else as the force that overthrows it. Indeed this kind of reciprocity between microhistories and macroidentities is a key structural dynamic of escalating violence. The primary victims were unusually wealthy Sikhs. supposedly implementing the law. Corcyra had become the site of a contest for pan-Hellenic domination. the particular character of which gets lost in the expansion. This is so. The Hindu assailants represented themselves as sons of Mrs Gandhi and their local Sikh victims as her assassins. So the ancient historian found the true source of the atrocities he described in ‘a lust for power arising from greed and ambition’ (1996: 3. collective. as well as the Middle East? There follow a few summary examples. for crimes ‘of attempting to put down the democracy’ (ibid. many preexisting scores were now settled in blood. And may not the like be said of modern versions of the ancient Corcyrean prototype among postcolonial societies of South Asia. in that it engaged factions that were already at odds. an oligarchic party revolted against the existing democracy. The violence was transgressive insofar as the issues were transcendent. Here I can only gesture towards a few relevant themes. Licensed one way or another by the showdown of absolute values. state power in the form of the police. Throughout Thucydides’ History. because the social orders of economic and political life in local contexts engage processes which are connected to the more encompassing associational principles of Sinhala and Buddhist identity. For those (Americans) who think that democracy is elections and that elections cure all. always rebelling against the law and now its master.82). they had built a temple on land the Hindus considered theirs. more enduring and therefore less context-bound cause or interest’ (Tambiah 1996: 192). selective. In the aftermath of Mrs Gandhi’s death. Specific incidents of parochial import get absorbed in burning issues of race. opposing a covetous human ‘nature’ to a vulnerable man-made ‘culture’ – an unhappy ontology from which the social sciences still suffer the effects. which then become the principles for establishing the relations of rioting persons and the spread of the conflict. Indonesia and Africa. Tambiah also notes a corollary process of ‘focalization’. Describing a similar but more powerful amplification of local disputes into nationwide riots in South Asia. When the Spartans intervened on the part of the privileged few and the Athenians in favour of the democratic many.). In a description reminiscent of Thucydides. kinship and morality. Now. Veena Das’ (1996: 178. So creditors were slain by their debtors. ‘and you have killed our mother’ (Das 1996: 178.195). something analogous to the patronage politics of contemporary postcolonial regimes could generalize disputes within Ancient Greece’s privileged classes into factional conflicts that mobilized large bodies of the populace on each side.In Corcyra.’ they cried. as Bruce Kapferer (2001: 53) so well observes in the Sri Lankan context: A seemingly minor altercation. complemented by an ideological work so intense that ‘words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them’ (1996: 3. but in violent fragmentation and cruel reprisals within each side. Sons turned against fathers. The wider national crime is redoubled as the violation of the deepest interpersonal relationships. beginning with the classical British colonial moves of drawing ethnic boundaries and politicizing ethnic differences – which ultimately issued not only in the bloody enmity of Sinhalas and Tamils. for example.82). but once they are realized in violent acts there is pressure towards their ultimate organization and expression in ethnic and religious terms. one might preferably conclude that it takes a lot of culture to make a state of nature. (‘In the confusion into which life was now thrown in the cities. Among the many reasons is 27 . Das tells how local antagonisms were integrated in the larger religious and nationalist narratives of the assassination and thereby given a ANTHROPOLOGY TODAY VOL 27 NO 3.The sources of the conflict may be in economic hardship or political context. the matters at issue were amplified far beyond all civic considerations and formulated rather in the terms of absolute causes-to-die-for. . said Thucydides. through its dynamic has the effect of exposing or bringing forth its ethnic and religious possibility (the larger more abstract imaginations of reality that are already implicit in everyday activity). . who had been competing for the patronage of an important Congress Party official and the access to state resources this would give them. Thucydides was a student of the sophists’ fateful contrast of physis and nomos. Thucydides (1996: 3. notably on the part of the democratic party that unleashed the final massacre. whose ostentatious display of their wealth had aroused the envy of the poorer Hindu group that led the assault. To judge from certain examples of civil strife in Aristotle’s Politics (1958: 1303b17ff). But perhaps not altogether. imperialism versus independence. for the disorder was clearly a cultural effect. even freedom versus slavery. Yet note that such antagonisms of themselves did not lead to deadly violence – nothing more than stone-throwing at the worst – until they were conflated with larger national forces and issues. Death then ‘raged in every shape’.3 The slaughter was. An account of the modern history of Sri Lanka would be a veritable textbook of the state-of-nature effect. local animosities became global enmities. above respect for justice. In addition.81) wrote. this inherent covetousness appears as the basis of human law. class.84). For his own part. I suggest. and its indiscriminate toll made victims too of justice and religion. the extreme violence was largely the counterpart of the redefinition of all sorts of privilege and inequality as supreme political evils. gladly showed itself ungoverned in passion. The trigger was a drunken exchange between the headmen of the two communities. Note again the idiom of kinship in the retaliation on local Sikhs for the death of the Indian prime minister: ‘you have killed our mother’. a number of Sikh groups escaped with few or no deaths. the notion of a natural basis of cultural order and disorder could well be reversed. and accordingly an arena of oppositions that were effectively existential and uncompromisable: equality versus plutocracy.) Yet by another reading.
so well recounted in Tambiah’s Buddhism betrayed. the Ba’ath Party. the police ‘look like militia members in uniform’ – probably because they are. Initially stirred up by the American occupation. Sermons and rituals directly related the present struggles to the cruel battles of succession to the caliphate that had broken out between descendants and companions of the Prophet. the mix of Shiites and Sunnis in the Iraqi army during the war with Iran. Obeyesekere 1993). as pushed by the IMF and World Bank. were moonlighting for the two major Shiite militias. neighbourhood militias and criminal gangs – entities that were often indistinguishable from one another. the Awakening movement dissolved into tribal fragments. Finally. The Shiites. including the national. and vice versa. Then again. but also of the economic liberalization of the late 1970s. but they were then bitter opponents of the large Mahdi Army of the Sadrists. Most notably. takes on further cosmic dimensions when linked to partisan re-readings of ancient Sinhala chronicles. For all the talk of ‘civil war’ following the destruction of the important Shiite shrine of Al-Askari at Samarra in 2006. Indeed there was a lot of essentialism informing the invaders’ conquer-and-divide policies – which ignored a long history of intermarriage between the various groups. also Shia. that disengaged the religion from its traditional ethical moorings and synthesized it with the defence of Sinhala language. some of them not above attacking each other. and the disbanded Iraqi army. For the week ending 7 October. As for the so-called ‘Sunni Arabs’ who had been deposed from their dominant control of the state. the National Guard. some of the worst instances of civil strife have followed upon direct foreign intervention: in the form not only of Indian arms and political pressure. Indeed. as it was discovered that Sunni tribes in Anbar province and western Baghdad had turned against the radical jihadists. American policies toward the Sunnis were reversed. In the so-called ‘Awakening’ of 2006. often in the name of global causes. nationalist Buddhism. largely recruited through patronage. particularly the Ministry of Interior. the quotidian violence of the street was joined by various government forces. not to mention performances of popular rituals. and commando units (cum death squads) under the control of different government offices. Kapferer tellingly observes that ‘the dominant form of global conflict is now civil war’ (2001: 36). the arms and warriors from other countries made the Iraqi schisms all the worse. The ‘coalition of the willing’ (foreigners) would have to forge a coalition of the unwilling (Iraqis). the Mahdi Army and the Iranian-affiliated Badr Organization. US journalist Dexter Filkins lists 103 different insurgent groups claiming responsibility for attacks on Americans and Iraqis between May and October 2005 (Filkins 2009: 23438). JUNE 2011 . Iraq’s civil strife had been marked by an ever-widening Sunni-Shia faultline and at the same time a progressive devolution of the violence to a variety of locally-organized tribal segments. In response. radical monks appear as protagonists of anti-government revolts as well as anti-Tamil politics. who themselves had been fighting the Mahdi Army of the Sadr movement. moreover. For all its nation-building ideology. were rather mistrusted by the American occupying power because of their supposed ties to Iran. George W. the Iraqi Security Forces. It was as if the current sectarian killings were the sequel to assassinations and usurpations of ancient memory.000 troops to Bahrain to defend a Sunnidominated ruling group under protest from the Shiite majority of that island nation. This was in fact true of the Badr bloc of Shia. the contingent of Shiites in the ruling Ba’ath Party. Here again a certain dialogue of escalating violence came into effect. and others. the hostilities within Iraq motivated the interventions of regional powers on behalf of their co-religionists – which is also to say in their own national interests. the sectarian antagonisms were compounded by their engagement in an international field of contending forces. they were largely and erroneously supposed by the initial American governing authority to be coterminous with Saddamists. From the beginning. but also Turkmen. . moreover.an instigator of spurts of violence’ (Tambiah 1992: 92). as the American invasion became increasingly configured as an Islamophobic crusade. In Iraq. As already noted. the two together giving transcendental purposes to parochial differences. as the internal conflicts exacerbated the opposition of the external powers. Shia and Kurd. The civil strife. more dangerous than the Mahdi Army. . Then there is the development of a militant. Finally. the reciprocal amplification of conflicts of lesser and greater structural order achieved global proportions. political parties. This helped make the Sunni insurgents (aka ‘Ba’athists’) the toughest and most ruthless of America’s opponents in the early years of the war. such that national unity would now have to be a project of ‘reconciliation’ involving parties essentially defined by their differences. Relevant here is the direct relation between the scale of the contending forces and the high-mindedness of their opposing causes. that can assimilate Sinhalese presidents to heroic kings and Tamil others to traditional demons (Kapferer 1998. and other such preexisting conditions of national coherence. Militating for these causes. in March 2011. How ‘the occupiers divide the Iraqi people’4 The American invasion of Iraq in 2003 set off a terrible civil strife in which a myriad of local forces killed each other. Generalizing on the insertion of Sri Lanka and other postcolonies in such international forces of contention and disruption. This alliance of mainstream Sunnis with the Americans never sat well with a central government that was now dominated by Shiites and long engaged in eliminating the Sunnis from political 28 power – often literally so by killing or ethnically cleansing them. particularly al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. which effectively puts the profit and livelihoods of people across the class spectrum at electoral risk. mainly Sunni. Left to the strained mercies of the Shiites and the vengeance of the jihadists when the Americans began to withdraw. Saudi Arabia on the Sunni side and Iran on the Shiite were fighting something of a proxy war in Iraq. The causes become as abstract and uncompromisable as the conflict is universal.an outsized government economic sector. there were on average 107 such attacks per day – and this was before the socalled Sunni-Shiite ‘civil war’ of 2006. culture and territory. regional and local police. Bush set this course towards transgressive violence by declaring ANTHROPOLOGY TODAY VOL 27 NO 3. even as it has offered opportunities for turning political loyalty into factional thuggery. for all that they were victimized by the Sunni-dominated Saddam regime. also Sunnis but largely of foreign origin. US policy supposed Iraq to be historically and inevitably divided into opposed religious and ethnic groups. writes James Fearon (2007: 6). however. and a famously non-violent Buddhism becomes a ‘rhetorical mobilizer of volatile masses and. among the usual deleterious effects of which was a widening disparity between rich and poor. Many of these official combatants. the engagement of a wide spectrum of armed groups practising a large variety of brutal tactics was more like a war of each against all. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates sent 2. Arab. Only that their antagonisms were rendered all the more irreconcilable by being inscribed in the primordial terms of the conflicts that originally divided the Sunni cause from the Shia. Shiites of Sadrist persuasion in Iraq staged mass demonstrations against the Saudis: which thereupon aggravated Iraq’s ruling Shiites.
2010. http://www. 6. said…‘We bought into it too much. The resentments it evoked were redoubled when the Americans brought in workers from Thailand.org.1. I wondered what would happen when this massive influx of American money stopped pouring in. Dagher 2009. New York Times. 10. substantially underwriting the Iraqi government and military. . Columbia University charts ethnic cleansing in Baghdad. COIN of the realm ‘We’ve made friends here. Iraqi society was deranged by a double dose of violent shock treatments. ‘When the Americas began paying former insurgents and tribal leaders to help enforce security’. they found it a useful basis for the counterinsurgency strategy they developed in the country. personnel drawing US government funds was greater than that of American combat forces. http://www. Another abbreviation is the focus on the decisive American role. the ‘shock and awe’ of the US invasion and the neoliberal ‘shock therapy’ administered by the American governing authority (cf. the unit’s senior intelligence officer. BRussells Tribunal 2006. is locally known as ‘the Whale’ for the amount of American aid he has swallowed.org/alertdetail. A. Class antagonisms were significant conditions of the large Sadrist movement. Baghdad divided. ‘The only reason anything works or anybody deals with us is because we give them money. 1996) on sectarian violence in South Asian postcolonial states. Research on death squads in Iraq. inspired no doubt by nostalgia for the late anti-communism. graft and profit from development projects have made rich men of many tribal and government leaders – while making enemies for them and the Americans among those excluded from the game. Not to forget the boondoggle it has represented for US corporations such as Blackwater and the others of their mercenary ilk. ‘I am cooperating with the Americans for the sake of my country. the Americans are the occupiers. not only with the imposition of rigid sharia law. They also seriously troubled the Sunni areas in which they were eventually installed. The discussion of Iraq that follows is almost exclusively concerned with civil strife south of the Kurdish area.) Neither did the American ‘homeland’ escape the reciprocal effects. Fronted by al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Ibid. COIN was a wellchosen acronym for it. Bangladesh and elsewhere to do jobs Iraqis were perfectly capable of doing. while he pushed for a local natural gas project worth billions of US dollars and dreamed of turning Anbar into another Dubai. especially considering that the members of the disbanded Iraqi army were left without work or pay.’ Adam Sperry told me when I visited his office in Forward Operating Base Falcon…‘The ideological fight. and even apart from the added force. 2009. C. the Philippines. internal rivalries. never develop. 14 September.7 ‘Ahmed’. 7. compensating Iraqis for property damage and indemnifying them for injuries and deaths. The latter include members of tribal groups of ancient standing that are being sidelined by their foreign-backed. Unemployment in general ran at an estimated 20 or 30 per cent throughout the American occupation. International Relations and Security Network (ISN) Security Watch. This article is fundamentally indebted to the work of Bruce Kapferer (especially 1998. especially in regard to the aftermath: Now the tribes are jockeying [for] power. a reputed warlord and highway robber in his earlier career. brussellstribunal. nearinternational. whose Mahdi fighting corps was essentially an army of the poor. 26 November. the Americans thus made payoffs. forget about it. p. His sumptuous spread included a stable of Arabian horses.ch/isn/CurrentAffairs/Security-Watch/ Detail/?lng=en&id=109316. JUNE 2011 . as a defence of ‘freedom’ against an enemy that despises it. 9. incidentally. in many cases displacing the old for upstarts’. and people…complain bitterly that the machinery of democracy is gilding corruption. Jonathan Spencer writes: ‘Local political antagonisms were recast in the language of national antagonisms: the capillaries of everyday agonism…became channels for violence’ (2007: 133). NEAR (Network for Education and Academic Rights) 2011. these private forces make up a large complement of the American presence. We are trying to evict them’ (Filkins 2009: 115). and ultimately as a showdown optimus maximus between ‘good and evil’. Sheikh Sattar. 21 April. Wing. leaving aside the UK and other ‘Coalition’ forces. as a chance for a bigger cut of provincial resources and security forces. 9 November. and they distributed ‘microgrants’ to shop owners in their area. the number of private contract Consider the case of Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha of Anbar. J. Yet whether or not the Americans were effectively responsible for Iraqi poverty. but also by assassinating local leaders and demanding their daughters as wives. nouveau riche compatriots. Ibid. the invasion of Iraq in the rhetoric of the Christian crusades. Dagher 2009. Often it seemed as if the American strategy was merely to buy off the Iraqis temporarily. The country is now beset with a spreading Islamophobia. founded the Awakening Movement in the province in 2006 and led it until he was assassinated by an al-Qaeda bomber in 2007.5 In the event. Seemingly random violence has affected several professions: at least 450 academics have been killed since the invasion. 2001) and Stanley Tambiah (1992. So too would the economic deprivations and disparities that attended the second. Guler.’ ‘I take their money but I hate them. From this estate the sheikh presumably kept in contact with his trade and investment companies in the UAE.9 Paying something like 100. 1 November. many more have fled the country. reads a report from Anbar province on the run-up to the January 2009 provincial elections. beginning with clashes between PLO and 29 ANTHROPOLOGY TODAY VOL 27 NO 3. All the same. 2. 9. bribery and corruption into a major counterinsurgency strategy. 2009. 5.6 Money and power: from the beginning of the war. and an intense feudal instinct [sic] that regards elected office . Money could buy them friends and allies. a misstep he then doubled and redoubled by constructions of the invasion as a crucial battle in ‘the global war on terror’. and killings that include Iraqi civilians and US soldiers. EPIC (Education for Peace in Iraq Center). letting ‘development’ contracts large and small to Iraqis and mostly large to Americans. Rauch said…‘They were wary at first.’ Alawi said. ‘they favored some tribes over others.’ Lt. a fleet of armoured SUVs.asp?alertid=588. Shadid. The looting and lawlessness that followed the first would have lingering effects. the latest symptom of which is a proposed congressional witch-hunt of ‘terrorists’. New crackdown on Iraqi academic elite. but when we started paying for things they started coming forward with requests…. Further debts to classical anthropological concepts are noted in an earlier article (Sahlins 2005) on the dialogical relations of microhistories and macrohistories. footing the bill for private paramilitary units. Commenting on this aspect of Das’ study. the elections proved to be not so much the democratic turning point the Americans fecklessly imagined as another sectarian crisis attended by fears of violence.’ Captain Dehart. Something the Americans know as ‘bribery’ and ‘corruption’ when other peoples do it became their own best military tactic – which is also to say that they did not exactly practise the Friedmanite economics that they preached. friends and allies could provide precious intelligence. Sheikh Ahmed’s brother. to the profit especially of the politically powerful. Performing military services that range from cooking to combat. Washington Post 2007. The war has been fought largely with no-bid contracts. It’s money and power’ (Rosen 2010: 246). Church attack seen as strike at Iraq’s core. 4.ethz. a rival sheikh complained. http:// www.8 (Another of Sheikh Ahmed’s critics. and a fine pink mansion. the Islamic opposition knew how to respond in kind by bringing in jihadist fighters from many foreign parts to attack the infidels – who could be Shiites as well as Americans.) By January 2009. For Iraq the adage applies: developing countries.isn. (By 2008. although they are generally uncounted and unremarked as such. December. Lebanon 1975-76 is one oftcited example. Sheikh Ahmed’s acquisitions are particularly noteworthy given that his subtribe was not among the most powerful or prestigious in the region before the American invasion. then ‘inherited the Awakening…and turned it into an enterprise for deals and contracts’. with American help. (This was a major reason for the Sunni overtures to the Americans that created the Awakening Movement.000 Awakening fighters. 11. Klein 2007). 12. Would the Iraqi state become a bribing machine? Would the ruling Shiites even want to pay Sunnis whom they had been trying to exterminate until recently? (Rosen 2010: 247) Creation and resolution of the state of nature The spectre of Middle Eastern ‘failed states’ dissolving into anarchy is a recurrent nightmare of the political science of the Iraq conflict.) Other American companies reap huge returns from so-called development projects that after eight years have failed to provide adequate electricity – although sufficient amounts to electrocute at least 15 American soldiers taking showers. 3. Sheikh Ahmed was living on an extensive estate guarded by Iraqi Army and police checkpoints. caged fawns. . a camel farm. and no-question compensations ranging from hundreds to hundreds of millions of dollars. 8.
D. kidnapping around 100 employees. as recently reported in ANTHROPOLOGY TODAY by Hayder Al-Mohammad. Filkins. Legends of people. Structural work: How microhistories become macrohistories and vice versa. gangs and groups with their own special interests were dominant in the city and province’ (2010: 23). The spatialization of violence: Case study of a ‘communal riot’. drive-by shootings and other random killings. 2009. New Delhi: Penguin. is to bring larger sectarian causes into the violence of the streets. (ed. 2007. Owing to its economic and military resources. Anthropology.).000 men – of notorious repute. writes Fearon (2007: 7). Aftermath: Following the bloodshed of America’s wars in the Muslim world. Research on death squads in Iraq. Barker. In: Basu. Miss Maysa’ce. homes and lands’ (2010: 26). it would be hard to determine what depths of hell and forms of punishment they deserved. Hobbes. electricity. and political culture in Sri Lanka and Australia. nothing – there was nothing at all’ (2009: 294). and in fact it has had more than one army. In the latter connection. intolerance. 2007. said one of Filkins’ interpreters. suicide bombings. M. apparently Sunnis. 1998. If there were an inferno for Iraqi sinners. I can do worse’. torture and murder of the innocents were among the worst of a lot that included arbitrary arrests and the ‘disappearing’ of people. Princeton: Princeton University Press. this violence in turn being compounded by the intervention of the Israeli and Syrian military. ‘A similar scenario’. their own homes having been destroyed or occupied by Shiites. mostly recently when the United States made the Cold War an overtime period of the Great Game. T. But around the country. agreed to surrender their right to use force in their own interest in favour of a sovereign power who would ‘keep them all in awe’ (1962: 100).5 million.D. By 2006. stated that she saw corpse of [a] (9 or 10) year old who was killed because of suffocation by telephone wires.org. but in the process fell itself into factionalism and became part of the problem. the violence was accordingly generalized. According to a United Nations report. the citizens having renounced their own private rights thereto.Al-Mohammad. tribes. H. B. again. Das. the original war of each against all ended when men. 157-203. BRussells Tribunal 2006. 2007. the central government. Indeed he might have concluded so himself from the sectarian strife that followed upon the breakdown of royal authority in the England of his own day – instead of putting it down to a rapacious human nature and projecting it back to an original human condition. T. J. the aim of Sunnis and Shiites alike was not so much to defeat an enemy force as to rout a despised population. On at least one occasion. was potentially lethal. and S. Rosen. the endgame is to make the situation of the latter unlivable. Anthropological Theory 5: 5-30. in this lawless condition. In the anarchic condition into which Iraq had dissolved. Delhi: Oxford University Press. The looting that ensued not only signified the dissolution of the state. Instead of a reservation of legitimate force to a sovereign power. home invasions accompanied by theft and destruction of property. more than two million had left the country. including the money and arms furnished by the US. New York: Collier Books. Mixed neighbourhoods of Baghdad were largely cleared of their minorities.) E. 2010. Indeed a similar scenario has also been playing out cyclically in Afghanistan since the nineteenth century. http:// brussellstribunal. Klein. But the ‘shock and awe’ of American power produced just the opposite effect in Iraq. Fearon. Baghdad ‘was a free-for-all. Sunnis were the first to rely on this tactic of displacement. Absent an effective state. Spencer. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press. In: Allen. New York: Vintage Books. protection and extortion rackets. There then followed a long period of strife involving Christian. Unravelling the nation: sectarian conflict and India’s secular identity. 1996. Subrahmanyam (eds). 135-60. N. much of it stolen or confiscated from the disbanded Iraqi army. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. more than 4. Oxford: Oxford University Press. although it does not monopolize force. and strategies of intimidation consistent with its existential finalities. whether religious. Relying on one’s tribe: A snippet of life in Basra since the 2003 invasion. For where the identity of the self is conditional upon hatred of the other. Ethnic nationalism and the discourses of violence in Sri Lanka. take on the guise of sectarian political parties or else declare themselves branches of militias such as the Mahdi Army.12 Speaking likewise of children who had been kidnapped and killed and their bodies left on the streets – as well as of kidnap gangs buying and selling their victims – Dexter Filkins was indeed put in mind of Hobbesian anarchy. Those they did not kill outright might well be tortured to death in Iraq’s gulag of secret prisons. for example. Obeyesekere. fuel. Iraq’s civil war. The sequence of events in these cases again suggests that Hobbes had the developmental course from the state of nature to the commonwealth rather back to front. N. the blowing up of houses. S. and then became the fourth foreign power to invade the country in 160 years (Barfield 2010.5 million Iraqis were displaced persons in 2007. The Ministry of Interior by itself was running an armed complement of around 100. can be said to be the force majeure among the adversarial parties. bread and rubbish removal to whole neighbourhoods – all of which left those who survived in a state of continual fear. Communal/Plural: Journal of Transnational and Crosscultural Studies 9(1): 33-67. ‘We Iraqis’. New York: Nation Books. an attempt at extermination is not nearly as effective as acts of terror sufficient to drive off the detested others and allow one’s own to claim the space. Tribal rivalries persist as Iraqis seek local posts. The shock doctrine: The rise of disaster capitalism. one of many such testimonies: The citizens of Al-Mohajarea Mosque Street in Al-Gazaliah quarter in Baghdad woke up on April 12th. Everything then happened as if the social contract had dissolved. familial or tribal. each of the 27 government ministries had its own ‘facilities protection force’ (Filkins 2009: 322). but they were soon enough matched and more by Shiites. even if operating as rogue outfits. where merely existing was a sufficient reason for one to die. From a report by the BRussells Tribunal (2006) on death squads in Iraq. politics. 2005. 30 Christian militias that the army not only failed to resolve. it was a state of nature. Leviathan. The politics of Aristotle (trans. K. –– 2001. reciprocal assassinations. At one time it was said that one floor of the ministry was staffed by the Mahdi Army and another by the Badr Organization. Of the 4. Religion and political conflict in India. the ‘Lebanonization of Iraq’. 2006 to see a number of dead bodies of some (Sunnis) thrown on their street in order to scare people and provoke and force them to leave their homes. see especially 242ff). By the end of 2008. 1962. local gangs form around parvenu strongmen who assume the titles of tribal sheikhs and are publicly accorded the respects that are due such status – even though privately they may be reviled as thieves and sons of thieves. pp. Often confounding piety with brigandry. many groups. myths of state: Violence. the ministry’s troops would appear to have attacked the Ministry of Health. pp.10 Commando groups from the Interior Ministry operated as death squads in their own dirty wars in Sunni neighbourhoods. G. Especially in the struggles in the villages and the city neighbourhoods. Barfield. the effect. the other bodies were killed in the same way. Anthropology Today 26(4): 23-26. 2010. In Basra as elsewhere. In this regard. There was no law. Dagher. Pakistan. JUNE 2011 . New York: Henry Holt. the Iraqi government has been beset by infighting. ‘we are all sentenced to death and we do not know by whom’ (2009: 326). the people have become reliant on their tribes ‘to protect them and their family. Afghanistan: A cultural and political history. based on the principle that ‘anything you can do. 19 January. Foreign Affairs 86(2): 2-15. In Hobbes’ version. at the same time. even as the political instruments of safety and justice were suspended. Aristotle 1958. motivated by fear and guided by reason. like all the major blocs. J. Just so in Basra. Rosen (2010) calls it. and Sri Lanka. Some of these groups indeed specialize in extortion. Duttagamini and the Buddhist conscience. Sahlins. but it was not altogether random. car bombings. no courts. 19. political or commercial. 1993. note that the violence was genANTHROPOLOGY TODAY VOL 27 NO 3. Every kind of hostility. the reduced Sunni population had been driven to a few peripheral districts on the western side of Baghdad. 2010. Sunni. 2009. The forever war. ‘militias. it initiated the arming of the population at large. It followed tactics of reciprocal brutality adapted to its lawlessness. aerial bombings. Soon the means of force would become accessible to all through the open sale of arms and ammunition in the marketplace. D. ‘is already playing out in Iraq’. like the wellarmed Basra subtribe that drives into other people’s cars and demands immediate compensation on threat of violence (2010: 23-24). more than half of these Sunnis (UNHCR 2008). December. V. Kapferer. New York Times. The kidnapping. Shiite and PLO forces fighting among themselves as well as with each other.11 The tactical brutalities that achieved these effects amount to a dark form of symmetrical schismogenesis. whether Shiite or Sunni. the denial of water. the coercive instruments of violence had been redistributed to the people in general. where. Still. and the state: Democracy and violence in South Asia. Indeed by 2006.
designed to terrorize through demonstration effects. was subject to discord and defection. if they were not meant to be displayed? The counterinsurgency adopts the mindset of the insurgency. at all times. Rosen (2010) makes a strong argument to this effect – though for one reason or another. If war is the continuation of politics by other means. for having the wrong name. UNHCR 2008. and severed heads placed in elevated spots where the sight of them could not be avoided. the violence came from one source: the regime. The US Army/Marine Corps counterinsurgency field manual. Berkeley: University of California Press. then. S. The landmark Thucydides: A comprehensive guide to the Peloponnesian War (ed. Would it have been better to leave Saddam in power?. The Sadrists too have been weakened. for driving your car. Thucydides 1996. This is not only evident in random killing by mercenary and regular troops. they suffered neglect and imprisonment at the hands of the Shiite central government. violence has diminished significantly. Among other consequences. He writes: I am often asked if it was all worth it. the long-term effect of the American imposed democracy has been to install an Iraqi regime whose power has depended on Saddamist tech- niques of state terror – by which means. even as the access to money and force ‘democratically’ obtained by the victors allows them to retain power by continuing to intimidate their opponents. UNHCR global report 2007: Iraq situation. it is because the central government (whoever is prime minister) is the only major faction left standing. US ARMY *** So now they ask anthropologists to join the American military occupation as Human Terrain specialists and make it nice. With the weakening of the large contending forces. Iraq’s ‘civil war’ is over. Corcyra. with a sovereign power that can ‘keep them all in awe’. you can be arrested by militias and disappear in Iraq’s new secret prisons. Strassler). other commentators in the know periodically warn of a return to the old troubles. and the imprisonment in the American gulag of thousands of Iraqis. The problem is that the all-round warfare of Iraqi politics already resembles the American system all too closely in respect of the eventuality that ‘winners take all’. Hobbes was right after all. Still. Tambiah. just as they did under the American-imposed sanctions and bombings before the war and just as they did under the years of Baathist dictatorship (2010: 9). there remains a level of everyday violence that. while for their part. for being a woman. Taken together with the massive Sunni emigration and the driving out of Sunni from Baghdad by the Shiites. Leveling crowds: Ethnonationalist conflicts and collective violence in South Asia. You can be killed for crossing the street. politics and violence in South Asia. New York: Free Press. Their Mahdi Army was defeated and neutralized by the Iraqi army. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.B. now run by Shiites. the civil war. Now it has been democratically distributed: death can come from anywhere. it could be undertaken in broad daylight and its gruesome results were typically left on public display. as if it were Rwanda and they had no role. never wholly controlled by its leader Muqtada al-Sadr. Hence the Americans’ utopian dream of ‘reconciliation’ is not how it all ends. R. I never know what to say. And then. JUNE 2011 . Even the Kurds are reconciled only to the extent they remain autonomous. No wonder then that reports of increased violence – or nowadays a ‘return to civil war’ – intensify before and after provincial and national elections. Afghanistan. as the American generals now say. and in the event the tactics of the Iraqi streets have infected the hearts and minds of American counterinsurgency warriors. But the larger causes having devolved upon local animosities. Buddhism betrayed: Religion. the American occupiers have been a major party to the violence. It all ends. for being a Shiite. Under Saddam. and once the Americans stopped supporting them. this has meant an end to an effective Sunni resistance. sometimes to be fed upon by dogs. most commonly a pending or fraudulent election. only to then be effectively excluded from Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s coalition government. democratic politics is the continuation of a war of terror by other means. If. which is to say unreconciled. notably with American help in the ‘Charge of the Knights’ campaign in Basra and other southern cities in March-April 2009. Americans cannot simply observe the horrors of Iraq and shake their heads with wonder. It seems the Badr Organization too was damaged in the Charge of the Knights. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. A US Army sergeant provides security for a Human Terrain Team in front of a Stryker armoured vehicle in a village near Kandahar Airfield. . . . Afghanistan under the Taliban. It became fully apparent in the graphic images of the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. it seems destined to control the country indefinitely.Fig. this makes the terror of ethnic and sectarian cleansing a useful electoral tactic. Yet what was a misery without end has turned into an end with misery. no matter who you are. and the movement as a whole. l 31 ANTHROPOLOGY TODAY VOL 27 NO 3. Accompanied by dire threats and mean betrayals. what is the current epidemic of so-called post-traumatic stress disorder among American veterans of Iraq but the subjective effect of returning to a state of society after participating in the fear and brutality of a state of nature? The institutional side of these cruel paradoxes of the American presence is the role taken by the ‘democratic’ electoral politics that the US would impose in Iraq. Arabs and Turkmen in the north. and in any case it disengaged from its alliance with the ruling Dawa Party and lost much ground in the 2010 parliamentary elections. there are also ongoing issues between Kurds. America is responsible for the chaos that began with the invasion and followed with the botched and brutal occupation. and other instances of this same phenomenon. the radical jihadists were significantly weakened by the American ‘surge’ and the Sunni Awakening. 1992. Perhaps still more paradoxical. . Awakening members fell into internal dissension. if necessary. Iraq’s people suffered under the American occupation. Why take photographs. US Army & Marine Corps 2007 . 2. as in similar situations elsewhere. or you can be kidnapped by the resistance or criminal gangs. The American military can kill you in an operation. one may well ask. in Iraq. ––1996. and the new Iraq government. as it began. erally not clandestine. as Rosen says. Of course. for going to the market. would be unacceptable in any other country. for being a Sunni. In other words. for being in your house. Moreover. Mangled bodies were dumped in public spaces. at least in the sense that a state of nature is resolved by the emergence of an uncontestable ruling power – something that would also be said of Sri Lanka.J. very few of whom were ever charged or convicted of anything.