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« Normative Urbicide [and the Politics of (In)Visible Destruction]? | Main | Motives, Intentions... »

Urbicide or Psychecide?

First of all, I would like to thank the CTlab for hosting this symposium and Dr. Coward for agreeing to it.

I will admit, right from the start, that I have only read a part of Urbicide (chapters 4 and 5) and several of Dr. Coward's articles that were circulated.  It is quite possible, given the meticulous analysis he has conducted, that my observations were covered in an area of the book that I haven't read yet due to time constraints.

I'll start by saying that I wonder if the concept discussed using the term "urbicide" might not better be termed "psychecide".  It struck me, as I was reading the description of the destruction of the Stari Most, that what was being attacked was the "soul" (the conscience collectif if one prefers a secular term) of a community that just happened to be lodged in the physicality of the bridge.  This type of conflict is certainly not new, and I note that the destruction of Carthage was mentioned in the book.

But is it "urbicide" - the killing of a city?

I want to bring forward the suggestion that psychecide might be a more apt descriptor for the process being examined.

If we start by viewing, as Durkheim did, a human community as having a collective consciousness - I prefer the term "soul" - then where would we expect to find it lodged?  In most ancient civilizations, we find some form of monumental architecture, even in non-urban civilizations such as mesolithic England (i.e. Stonehenge).   While this architecture is often discussed in terms of being a ritual centre, Mircea Eliade argued that it was the physical manifestation of the worldview of the people in that civilization - their "axis mundi".  Elide's description of the axis mundi bears a startling resemblance to the description of the Stari Most, and reactions to its destruction.   We can see similar reactions in the Book of Lamentations to the destruction of Jerusalem and the first temple in 586 bce.

One of the hallmarks of inter-ethnic violence, as Martin notes, is the resurgence of "hard" boundaries between ethnic groups and the targeting of any type of "bridge" between them.  This type of group boundary maintenance is not new, and neither is the resort to violence to enforce group boundaries.  What is rarer, however, is the resurgence of group boundaries after an enforced period of tolerance.  We have a few historical examples: Spain comes to mind with the expulsion of the Sephardim, the Ottoman Empire under Murad the Mad, the destruction of the academy in Alexandria, but they are still rather rare.

These examples, however, all share certain characteristics with the examples Martin mentions.  They are all about breaking a "group" into constituent parts and eliminating any who do not fit into the "new" definitions.  They are all about attacking the concept, the "soul" of the "group that was" because it is deemed to be opposed to their own conceptualizations of what is "right and proper".  Finally, they are all about redefining the "world" in a "new" manner that is "purer". This is a characteristic of what A. I. Hallowell called a "revitalization movement".

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