Add to Technorati Favorites

Weekly Index
Research Sites

  • Features
  • Categories
  • Resources
  • About


Last 100 Entries
« Modernity and the Metaphysical Trap | Main | Preemptive Sites of Urbicidal Production: Gaza Tunnels »

Cities in the Pincer

Thanks to Martin for such an excellent analysis of the urbanisation of political violence and the ways a whole spectrum of  contemporary ethno-nationalist political projects work by demonizing and targeting the collective materialities  of urban space. I very much agree with his prognosis in his opening remarks about the urbanisation of security, the linkages between political violence and urban infrastructure, and the urbanisation of global politics. Indeed,  Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism, a book due out soon, which will be the subject of another CTlab debate, is very  much an attempt to excavate these very issues. 

I actually think it is useful to widen the canvass to encompass how a whole spectrum of  extreme, Conservative ideologies offer resistance to hegemonic globalizations by demonising, and legitimizing violence against, the mixed-up heterogeneities most focused on cities. Our rapidly urbanising world currently displays strangely parallel worlds of apocalyptic, anti-urban, fundamentalism. These link powerfully with ancient religious tropes surrounding the need to take revenge against the allegedly sinful nature of cities and urbanites. For, as the Retort group put it in their book "Afflicted Powers," both "Empire and Jihad [are]  virulent mutations of the Right." Both are fuelled by remarkably similar pathologies of revulsion against the mixed-up cosmopolitanism and inevitable messy and uncontrollable disorder of life in large cities.

Radical Islamism and the Occidental City

On the one hand, then, radical Islamists the world over  routinely express their revulsion at the West's  -- 'occidental' --  cities. The 9/11 attacks against that icon of western urbanism, the World Trade center -- a modern  Tower of Babel? -- played into an ancient of what Baruma  and Margalit, in their book Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies, call the "myth about the destruction of the sinful city."  

There is little doubt that the allegedly repulsive nature of Western, capitalist, and cosmopolitan urbanism was  a central motivation of the attacks.  The attack’s leaders were themselves qualified urbanists who particularly abhored western architectural modernism. Osama bin Laden has repeatedly stressed in his speeches that he sees  Americans as mere idol-worshippers speading idolatary around the world, and through the Muslim world in particular, in the form of secularism or Christianity. Al Qa’eda’s rhetoric portrays the imperialist and cosmopolitan heartlands of Western cities, in particular, as the ultimate concentrations of sin, debauchery, greed, materialism and soullessness. Far from being anti-modern, though, Al Qa’eda’s operatives are often fully immersed within consumer societies.  Such experiences lead them to believe that both Western and Westernising cities are rootless concentrations of aspiritual and arrogant materialists.  Ruralites, by contrast are seen to be "firmly in tune with nature and tradition, whose blood and sweat have mixed with the soil of the land, which they plow and know as their own." (both quotes are from Baruma  and Margalit’s book).

The Neocon-Christian Right and U.S Core Cities

Perhaps surprisingly, the Christian fundamentalists and neoconservatives so closely associated with the Bush Administration  have taken remarkable similar views of the United States’ core cities. As theocratic  and fundamentalist Christian politics have moved in to the mainstream in the United States, largely by colonising the Republican party, so the long-standing and deeply-rooted anti-urbanism at the heart of US political  and technological culture has turned into all-out urban demonisation. As Steve Macek puts it in his excelent book, Urban Nightmares, the Republican Party’s electoral heartlands generally "despise the liberal modernism that shaped metro culture in the twentieth century and see it as an ideology that is every bit as foreign and threatening as communism."

All too often, then, US conservatives depict poor neighbourhoods in cities as a sort of ‘Hobbesian state-of-Nature’; these often merge seamlessly with their portrayals of the ‘failed’ or ‘feral cities’ of the Global South. This produces an encompassing urban ‘outside’ that straddles the insides and outsides of nations. Generally, Christian-Right discourses normalize exurban and rural life as authentic and mandated by God. At the same time, cities are equated, at best, with “fallen souls” requiring rescue from “soldiers of God.” This discourse of ‘lost souls’ in ‘lost cities’ works to create an essentialised, devilish, urban other. At the same time, it  provides sustenance to militaristic metaphors that the  mobilization of the ‘Soldiers of Christ’  are necessary to ‘take back’ the evil, Unchristian race of central-city dwellers as part of a theocratically-ordained  ‘spiritual war’.

Such descriptions, moreover, work to legitimize both neoliberal  urban policy ‘solutions’ based on combining the  reinstatement  individual discipline  amongst pathologised communities,  combined with highly  militarized policing or military ‘urban operations’. At the same time, coherent causal explanations about what actually produces the plight of marginalized people and places in cities move ever further from view. "In the American city," writes  David Simon, writer of the celebrated TV drama The Wire,  in a recent magazine interview, "the why has ceased to exist" in mainstream US political discourse.

Sociological renderings of the core city as savage urban other were crucial to the erection of the ‘homeland security state’ by the Bush Administration. Murray and Herrstein’s 1994 book The Bell Curve,  for example, emerged as the bible of all neoconservative treatments of social policy and criminology. This cautioned that the  polarization of America between what they called "the cognitive elites" and the IQ-deprived (and highly fertile)  underclass, would eventually require what they termed a "custodial state". This, they imagined,  would be  "a high-tech and move lavish version of the Indian Reservations for some substantial minority of the nation’s population, while the rest of America goes about its business."

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>