‘Social Media Drawing’ by Tjarko Van Der Pol
This year’s general conference theme for ISA in San Diego centred on ‘Power, Principles and Participation in the Global Information Age’ and, expectedly, gave rise to a proliferation of papers on the value, consequences and effectiveness of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and other social media in the context of international relations and global politics. Having spent the past three years trying to disentangle the thoughts of one of the more intriguing political theorists on power and politics – Hannah Arendt – it has always struck me that she might have had a word or two to say about the supernova that is social networking as such. I couldn’t help picturing her vigorously engaging with a medium like Twitter, firing off Tweets to relevant interlocutors – @karlmarx no, I think that’s where you’re wrong and dangerous: #history is not ‘made’ by men and #violence not the midwife for a new society! Perhaps even: Yep: RT @karljaspers When #language is used without true significance, it loses its purpose as a means of communication and becomes an end in itself – hashtag and all. Or, on the other hand, flatly dismissing platforms such as Facebook as vanity spheres of little or no substance for political interaction. So I pitched in my paper as a playful thought experiment as to how she might have loved or loathed online social networks as viable platforms and public spheres for the creation of power and conduct of politics proper. This is a somewhat abbreviated version of the full-length paper, which can be found here.
The potency of social networking sites, as channels of communication and a medium for people from all corners of the world to meet in a virtual realm and engage with shared ideas – political or otherwise – has become indisputable. Not least since the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, where bodies and voices were galvanized to part-take in various acts of revolt and revolution in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Libya, facilitated through online networks like Twitter and Facebook, have people discovered the enormous potential for a transnational coming-together in a shared cause. These networks thus appear to present themselves as a global public realm in a virtual space, transcending geographic limitations and boundaries, broadening the scope of possible political impact considerably. But with such a young medium it is perhaps wise to take a step back from the hype and ask how effective are these networks in creating actual political power? In how far can we understand the possibility to mobilize and plan in a non-spatial realm, through social networks, to constitute the generation of power and the actualization of political action? My paper sought to address these questions with an Arendtian lens – for better or for worse.
Inside the Political Twittersphere. Sysomos
Today’s news of the killing of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki by US drones sparked a much overdue flurry of criticism and questions on the ethics and legality of Obama’s death-by-drone programme in the war on terror. Awlaki, al-Qaeda’s alleged ‘chief of external operations’ in Yemen (an upgraded title he received posthumously by officials at the White House and the CIA – previously he was by reputation and status merely a radical Muslim cleric) is the first US citizen to have been assassinated in President Obama’s brand of the fight against terrorism. The drones programme is by no means a recent tool in the American war chest, nor has it been particularly reserved in its remit of eliminating specified targets in this interminable ‘war’ effort. What is new, however, is that the US has today eliminated one of it’s own citizens, without due process, stripping said citizen of his 5th Amendment rights and rendering him nothing if not unworthy of living. The fact that a public outcry against the extra-judicial assassination of a human being becomes audible (aside from the controversial killing of enemy #1 Bin Laden of course) only when a US citizen is concerned starkly highlights the normalised extra-judicial status of all foreign drone targets in the perception of the international public. The gloves that came off during the Bush administration are still off and killing as the new justice is beginning to supersede the norm against assassinations.
The norm against political assassinations has been in serious peril since the Bush administration first overtly conceded the strategic use of target killings, framed as a military act to weed out and eliminate high-level Al-Qaeda members, in 2002. This norm continues to deteriorate with Obama at the helm, who has stepped up the drones programme considerably since he took over from Bush junior in 2008. Today, there are roughly double the number of drone attacks per week in regions deemed terrorist hotbeds, specifically Pakistan. Since 2004, these drone strikes are reported to have killed between 1,579 and 2,490 individuals, whereby some analyses estimate the civilian casualty rate among these statistics to be as high as 20%. The vast majority of these deaths have occurred in 2010. While the policy originated as a programme to “capture and kill” a small number of high value terrorist leaders in the G.W. Bush years, the programme has expanded its remit considerably: up to 2,000 killings can hardly be described as a small number, no less if we accept that the total number of military leaders killed was a mere 35 since 2004.
Leaving aside the sovereignty issue that glaringly stares us in the face in a situation where the US decides to engage militarily within a non-war party, such as Pakistan or Yemen, this is a highly concerning development, as it represents not only the gradual erosion of the norm against assassinations but also the very acceptance of the ethics of the targeted killing of persons on a growing scale. Continue reading
…(cymbal crash)… We have a new Author of Disorder (or is that Disordered Author?). Please welcome, in your virtual way, Elke Schwarz, a PhD student at the LSE working with Kim Hutchings on Hannah Arendt, Michel Foucault, Walter Benjamin, biopolitics and political violence.
‘How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?’. Winston thought. ‘By making him suffer,’ he said. ‘Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough’
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948)
The killing of Bin Laden last month has given new fuel to the claim that torture, as a tool in the securitization tool kit of a neo-conservative US government, actually has its place and validity in a liberal society. How absurd this artificial claim is has been highlighted in many a news source but incidents like this keep the so-called Torture Debate alive and well, as the normalising process unfolds. The practice of torture has become much more widely seen as a ‘necessary evil’ available to a liberal State in the pursuit of the protection of its population, if not humanity at large. A recent study conducted by the Red Cross has shown that as many as 59% of the American teenagers surveyed and 51% of adults accept torture as a means to garner information. When tyrannies torture, however, it continues to be a widely condemned affair and the international community shows no shortage of outrage.
Torture as a practice of and within otherwise liberal societies can only enter the realm of the morally permissible if it is detached from its illiberal roots and the discourses and practices allow societal norms to be such that a violation of the human bodies of some serves as a means to ensure the survival and proliferation of others in the pursuit of information finding. And it is precisely this clinical mask of the instrumental dimension of torture as an means of truth-gathering that the torturer’s power can be understood in terms of their insecurities and vulnerabilities. Facilitated by the display of the fiction of power, the ultimate objective of torture is one of domination in times where political power is challenged and status disputed.
It is perhaps not surprising that torture should emerge as a radical example of routines of illegal acts enacted in the most corporeal sense for the alleged securitisation and greater good for the greatest number of ‘good’ people whose sanctity of life has become precarious. In the wake of 9/11 this increased precariousness of American life has served as a warrant for the now infamous ‘gloves off’ approach instituted by Bush Junior’s neo-conservative posse. The problem is: the gloves have stayed off, even with Obama in command.