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« Urbicide or Psychecide? | Main | Reply to Bousquet »

Motives, Intentions...

Martin, a very good question that I hope we can continue into a wider discussion. I agree that we need to think about the delimitation of urbicide. Indeed, I note in my recent reply to Antoine that this concept must have limits. Perhaps this forum will help illuminate exactly where those limits are.

The problem you raise is the thorny issue of intent. Intent has haunted genocide scholars for a long time. The biggest problem is how can we know intent, or indeed relate it to the event. So many questions open up here, but two are worthy of noting straight away:

  1. How can we actually know what intent is – can we infer it? Can it be taken from interviews (i.e., is the subject a reliable informant?)
  2. What if intent and effect do not match? For example, what if the genocidaire’s intent was to make a better society for his/her children, to cleanse humanity of an element regarded as weakening it?

    More importantly, I take seriously Helen Fein’s argument that intent must not be confused with motive. Intent refers to an action being done deliberately (e.g., turning guns on the quotidian constituents of the city to ensure widespread destruction). Motive is a legal category that we must infer from human informants (i.e., targeting urban fabric to destroy others who are different to me). Motive, intent and effect are different and need not coincide. But I suppose the question would be how do we treat them as different in our social theories. For my part I have largely discarded motive since I am more concerned to bring out patterns of violence that may have been overlooked in extant accounts (in other words to satisfy a nagging feeling that more was going on that was being explained). But perhaps there is more for us to discuss here.

    I'd also note that I do not think there is an either/or logic at work in explanation of cases such as Grozny. The Russians may have deployed disproportional force as a tactical tool, but that tactical operation may be seen as also part of a pattern of violence in which heterogeneity was disavowed. The two logics may coexist, in other words. I am open to seeing cases in which there is only one explanation for a particular violence, but I am also keen to note that finding one explanation need not exclude others from also being applicable. I have to also say that I would be very cautious about accepting Russian tactics as simply an instrumental means to 'clarify' fields of fire and so on. This would seem to leave a form of annihilatory violence that appears to be embedded in a complex identity dynamic unaccounted for. I’d also say that the concern over whether such tactics violate extant laws of war suggests that others don't see this violence as simply instrumental. I'd be interested in your thoughts on this.

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