On October 13, 2009, the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry released a report stating that “85,000 people have been killed in Iraq by bombs, murders and fighting from 2004 until 2008” (Al Jazeera 2009). The report was based on death certificates which were issued by the Health Ministry. 147,195 people were deemed to be injured, the report states, “but the number of undocumented injuries and deaths could be much higher” (Al Jazeera 2009). Estimates by The Iraqi Body Count Project
, run by academics and peace activists, are much higher: 102,071 civilians since 2003. These numbers have been obtained by “media reports” and further “cross checked with numbers from hospitals, morgues and local non-governmental organizations” (Al Jazeera 2009). But as Al Jazeera reports, a 2006 study by The Lancet
, a British medical journal, reports a much higher figure, 601,000 killed in Iraq between 2003 and 2006 (Al Jazeera 2009).
Understanding this reportage of death and injury through the theoretical framework of Mbembe’s seminal essay, “Necropolitics,” compels us to pay attention to the identity-based nature of the continuing violence in Iraq. While a necropolitical engagement in Iraq through U.S. invasion has resulted in these deaths and injuries, the issue is not only about U.S. invaders versus an Iraqi resistance even though this is a major element. Such a characterization is reductive and does not explain the complexity of the contests involved in the invasion of Iraq. The complicities between identities based on ethnicity and religious difference and U.S. attempts to governmentalize these differences in the Foucauldian sense of the term need to be unpacked. In order to conceptualize the relationship between identity and complicity through the theoretical framework of necropolitics, I’d like to map a link between the colonial conditions that Mbembe describes and the processes which constitute a normative somatechnics, a concept that I will discuss a little later.1
Necropolitics as Mbembe has defined it emerges from the difference of colonial rule – the “colony represents the site where sovereignty consists fundamentally in the exercise of power outside the law (ab legibus solutus) and where ‘peace’ is more likely to take on the face of a war without end” (2003, p. 23). Assuming Foucault’s discussion of sovereignty as a relationship between politics, life and death, thus veering away from conventional accounts of sovereignty as state-based autonomy or self-determination, Mbembe uses Foucault’s conceptualization of biopower to define necropower. If biopower is the exercise of the power “to ‘make live’ and let die” (Foucault 2003, p. 241), Mbembe’s theorization of colonial sovereignty necessitates a theorization of a specific form of biopower: i.e., necropower.
The question of identity in relation to biopower and necropower is pervasive in both Foucault and Mbembe’s accounts. For Foucault, “race is a way of introducing a break into the domain of life that is under power’s control;” this break determines “what must live and what must die” (2003, p. 254). For Mbembe, colonial sovereignty introduces the break of racial and colonial difference enabling it to exercise necropower – or the power “to subjugate life to the point of death” (2003). I want to extend this notion of a break based on race to argue for a conceptualization of breaks based on categorizations of racial/cultural/religious or colonial difference. Constructed through colonial epistemologies and techniques of governance, these breaks may not always result in actual murders or the creation of death worlds. However, these biopolitical breaks enable the power to kill. In fact, it is this enabling condition which transforms biopolitical power to necropolitical power in times of crisis such as invasion, occupation, war, or even a riot, precisely because the categories/breaks are not merely discursive positions. These breaks constitute what I would call a normative somatechnics produced by a combination of colonial epistemologies and techniques of governance. Somatechnics has to do with the manner in which bodies are constituted through technologies of knowledge production (e.g., writing/mapping, reading and representation). So it is also inextricably bound up with techniques of governance, where bodies are constituted through knowledge as identity categories, essentialized beings, for the purpose of governance. This combination of the somatechnical, at the juncture of epistemology and governmentality, I name as a normative somatechnics.
What processes enable these colonial epistemologies and techniques of governance? In the colonial context, these normative somatechnics have taken the form of what Appadurai (1993) has theoretically conceptualized as “enumerative communities.” Appadurai traces the formation of enumerative communities in the Indian context through colonial mapping of caste and religion-based communities as part of a bureaucratic production of knowledge about India for the purpose of governance. The mapping of these enumerative communities emerged through an Orientalist gaze, where colonial governance encountered “an indigenous system of classification” (Appadurai 1993, p. 318). But the British obsession with mapping caste, religious and other categories took on a special force, unyoking indigenous social groups “from the complex and localized group structures and agrarian practices in which they had been previously embedded” (Appadurai 1993, p. 327). In fact, “there were enormous difficulties and anomalies involved with the effort to construct an all-India grid of named and enumerated ‘castes’ through the technology of the All-India census taken from the 1870s due to perhaps ‘contradictory information’ produced by the narratives of the natives” (Appadurai 1993, p. 328). Ashish Nandy has noted the ways in which peasants described their multi-religious practices in categories such as “Mohammaden Hindu” (quoted in Vishwanathan 1998, p. xii). Encountering these difficulties, colonial governance began to concern itself with “numerical majorities” which “emerged as a principle for organizing census information” (Appadurai 1993, p. 328). Appadurai links this focus on number in the colonial imagination to the “logical basis for the ideas of ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ groups that subsequently affected Hindu-Muslim politics in colonial India and caste politics during the twentieth century, up to the present” (1993, p. 328). In the Sri-Lankan context, Suvendrini Perera argues that “long established but fluctuating local distinctions (language, religion, caste, region) became inextricably entangled with and were folded into the grand categories of colonial racial classification” (2006).
What is significant about the formation of enumerative and essentialist communities is “the creation of new kinds of self by officially enforced labeling activities” (Appadurai, 1993, p. 326). Appadurai does not suggest that colonial techniques of mapping identity in India were completely successful. Participation in these notions of identity “must have varied according to various dimensions of the colonial subject,” for instance, “her participation in or distance from the bureaucratic apparatus itself” (Appadurai 1993, pp. 334–335). However, a “politics of representativeness, that is, a politics of statistics, in which some bodies could be held to stand for other bodies because of the numerical principle of metonymy” (Appadurai 1993, p. 332) comes into play as part of electoral politics which has historically spawned an essentialist politics of communalism in the Indian context.
I do not want to transport this conceptualization of enumerative and essentialist communities wholesale to the Iraqi context as Appadurai does make the point that this particular mapping is specific to the Indian context as it concerns caste and religious categories. However, I think the
concept of enumerative and essentialist communities is relevant to the contemporary Iraqi context. So, it is necessary to qualify how an enumerative and essentialist normative somatechnics has emerged in the Iraqi context. Mapping a Normative Somatechnics of Iraq: historical contexts
In order to do this, it is necessary to discuss a brief historical context for Iraq in the light of Partha Chatterjee’s distinction between older colonialisms and contemporary empires. Critiquing Hardt and Negri’s (2000) formulation of a decentered global empire which erodes the borders of national interests and sovereignties, Chatterjee suggests that the kind of “competitive metropolitan interests that led to the imperial annexations and conflicts in the nineteenth century” are echoed in the current attempt to “stake out territories of exclusive control and spheres of influence” (2005, p. 494). In this sense, he proposes a general definition of empire “that does not tie it with annexation and occupation of foreign territories” as such (2005, p. 495). It is worth emphasizing here that in the case of Iraq, U.S.-led imperialism has had to operate through invasion and an occupation. However, Chatterjee’s point is that in the context of contemporary imperialism, “the imperial prerogative . . . is the power to declare the colonial exception” (2005, p. 495). Or as Chatterjee suggests, “We all know that there are many sources of international terrorism, but who decides that it is not Saudi Arabia or Pakistan but the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq that must be overthrown by force?” (2005, p. 495). So Chatterjee states: “Those who decide on the exception are indeed arrogating to themselves the imperial prerogative” (2005, p. 495). In the case of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the objective of the U.S. was “regime change” in the words of the U.S. commander-in-chief and other officials rather than a prolonged occupation. The policy appeared to favor the installation of a regime favorable to the U.S., which would give it a sphere of influence.
But this imperial prerogative proved untenable. As Toby Dodge points out, this quick in-and-out policy of regime change and state reform which the U.S. planners envisioned did not quite go according to plan. In fact, U.S. imperial interest in Iraq, which envisioned access to a state infrastructure which it could build on, found itself with a set of problems it had not envisioned, namely having to “build even the foundations of infrastructural power” (Dodge 2005, p. 719) as well as think through political representation. Tareq and Jacqueline Ismael have a less sympathetic view in relation to the interests of U.S. imperialism. Through its “shock and awe” creation of Iraqi death worlds, the U.S. invasion destroyed a “large portion of Iraq’s cultural heritage and infrastructure” (Ismael & Ismael 2005, p. 616). This destruction was deliberate. “By applying a pervasive ‘shock therapy,’” and in effect erasing the past, Ismael and Ismael argue, “the neoconservatives firmly believed that a new stage could be set to establish a ‘utopia’ of a free market economy, which would be championed by US transnational and multinational corporations” (2005, p. 616). This utopia was materialized by the sacking of 500,000 Ba’athist police and military officers as well as bureaucrats, thus contributing to large-scale unemployment, and the liquidation of state enterprises. Ismael and Ismael suggest that Paul Bremer, who executed these policies, “created half a million jobless people overnight and made resistance to the US occupation the only viable alternative to unemployment” (2005, p. 617).
This resistance is one of the major reasons for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq even though the U.S. appears to have carved out a sphere of influence with its support for the current Iraqi regime. This process harks back to an earlier form of colonialism in Iraq where occupation appeared to be a necessity, but direct rule proved unworkable for colonial interests.
Earlier British colonialism, as Ismael and Ismael point out, constructed the state of Iraq by carving up the Ottoman Empire after World War I. As a direct outcome of the British rule, which proved to be untenable through the failure of British promises to end occupation and the installation of a regime of taxation which was much harsher than Ottoman rule, an Iraqi resistance movement emerged. This movement precipitated the “original ‘shock and awe’ doctrine” as Ismael and Ismael term it, which resulted in the “gassing of Iraqi civilians” (2005, p. 611). “Men, women and children fleeing from gassed villages in panic were mercilessly machine-gunned by low-flying British planes” (Ismael and Ismael 2005, p. 611). Apparently, Winston Churchill stated that he did not “understand the squeamishness about the use of gas” (Ismael and Ismael 2005, p. 611). In fact, he proclaimed himself “strongly in favor of using poison gas against uncivilized tribes” (Ismael and Ismael 2005, p. 611). Finding direct colonialism unmanageable, the British installed a monarchical regime in 1920 based on a religious affiliation with earlier rulers chosen by the Ottoman Empire. This was a strategy to gain legitimacy for the puppet regime. However, Iraq remained a virtual British protectorate whose main interest appeared to be Iraqi oil until 1958 when the monarchy was overthrown by a military coup. The Ba’ath regime came into power in 1963 through the aid of the CIA, or as Ali Salih al-Saadi of the Ba’ath party stated, “we came into power on the CIA train” (Ismael & Ismael 2005, p. 611). This regime became totalitarian especially under Saddam Hussein who governed Iraq for more than 20 years.
This brief history of Iraq suggests that the distinction between early and later forms of colonialism in Iraq is less distinct then might be imagined. In fact, earlier British occupation in Iraq functioned through a puppet regime with an elected parliament, and with limited Iraq sovereignty. This history has been repeated in the attempt to install a regime favorable to U.S. interests in the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. In terms of the normative somatechnics of communities, there has been a parallel repetition of history. Beverly Milton-Edwards suggests that in 1920, although “the Shi’a were a demographic majority,” they “took second place to a Sunni elite, who had benefited from privileges designated to them by the Ottoman rulers” (2006, p. 476). And the British who constructed the state of Iraq out of three provinces chose a Sunni Hashemite monarch as a “strategic indigenous buttress” against a Shi’a majority (Milton-Edwards 2006, p. 476). This privileging of Sunni authority continued during the years of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime, a party which came into power through CIA support. Saddam Hussein’s rule was considered to be a secular-authoritarian regime; he attempted to eliminate politicized uses of Islam through the repression and killing of many Shi’a movements. While these movements were autonomous from the state in historical terms, it was the politicized use of religion against his regime that Saddam Hussein attempted to repress. But Milton-Edwards suggests that Saddam Hussein did exploit religious affiliations especially after the invasion of Kuwait in order to regain political legitimacy. This exploitation included “encouragement of Sunni preachers” in mosques to legitimize his rule (2006, p. 478). But it is in the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, and its attempts to establish an Iraqi government that the somatechnics of enumerative communities appears to have become prominent. Or it is the numerical importance given to representation of political parties, as enabled by the U.S., which I would argue continues to contribute to the violence in Iraq.
I want to point out here that I am using terms like Shi’a and Sunni to describe religious collectivities in Iraq. Such a description might highlight my own complicity in th
e use of these referential significations. I use these terms as the lexical outcome of the somatechnics of enumerative and essentialist communities. But while I can’t avoid using these terms, I want to point out that these terms may not be as homogenous or as one-dimensional in terms of lived experiences as governmental and media sources would have us believe. Furthermore, as Ismael and Ismael point out, “political dynamics in Iraq are more complex than a simple Sunni/Shi’ite dichotomy suggests. Fragmentation along the Kurdish/Arab fault line cuts across the religious sectarian fault” (2005, p. 626).
But a perception of sectarian communities as primordial and essentialist in nature was anticipated during U.S. planning of the invasion of Iraq. According to Toby Dodge, the U.S. relied heavily on a small group of exiles later constituted as the Iraqi National Congress. These exiles “argued that Iraq was irrevocably divided between sectarian and religious groupings, mobilized by deep communal antipathy” (2005, p. 712). Such a view provided the basis to what Dodge calls “sectarian mathematics,” where the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003 set up the Iraqi Governing Council. This council was set up by the Coalition and the U.N., but was claimed to be “the most representative body in Iraq’s history” by the Coalition Provisional Authority (Dodge 2005, p. 715). The politicians it chose were selected on the basis of religion and ethnicity – so “13 Shias, five Sunnis, a Turkoman and a Christian” (Dodge 2005, p. 715). This manner of calculating religious and ethnic arithmetic, Dodge suggests, “caused a great deal of consternation across Iraqi political opinion. Criticism focused on the divisive nature of the selection process, arguing that it had introduced overt sectarianism that had previously not been central to Iraqi political discourse” (2005, p. 715). In other words, even though there was a history of Sunni domination in political terms, the sectarian basis of enumerating communities had not been the dominant form of political representation. Dodge’s research reveals that opinion polls suggested “a popular desire to be ruled by those appointed for their skills and qualifications” to deliver much needed services to the people rather than representation through sectarian affiliations (2005, p. 717). In this sense, Dodge concludes that while these ethno-religious affiliations may have already existed, and were exploited at different historical periods, the method of sectarian political representation has relied on the contemporary reconstruction, if you will, of a normative enumerative somatechnics, and has indeed created and exacerbated sectarian-based violence in Iraq.
The reconstruction effort in relation to a normative somatechnics manifested itself in the U.S. deployment of colonial divide-and-rule politics. In April 2004, in the siege of Fallujah (a city north-west of Baghdad), U.S. troops conducted a month-long campaign and failed due to cooperation between Sunni and Shi’a groups to resist U.S. occupation. The U.S. military, according to Ismael and Ismael, “were forced to pull back and withdrew from Fallujah” (2005, p. 619). However, the military changed its tactics and focused on a deal with Shi’ite leader Moqtada al-Sadr to participate in the political process rather than support Sunni militants. The deal included not having to give up arms or disband, and so in November 2004, U.S. troops were able to conduct an even more intensive siege – this time Sunni groups were without support from their Shi’a counterparts.
This divide-and-rule politics operated through the exercise of colonial sovereignty, which Mbembe explains is about “the classification of people into different categories, resource extraction . . . and the manufacturing of a large reservoir of cultural imaginaries” – these “imaginaries” give meaning “to the enactment of differential rights to different categories of people for different purposes within the same space” (2003, p. 26). Such an exercise of colonial sovereignty was apparent during the sieges of Fallujah in 2004, where Shi’a militants were given different rights for the purpose of a divide-and-rule politics. However, these sieges were not successful in quelling Iraqi resistance. And armed resistance to U.S. occupation became multi-faceted and increased exponentially since the sieges against Fallujah.
These deals with Shi’a and Sunni groups, and a continual divide-and-rule politics between religious and ethnic identities resulted in the proliferation of death worlds. This proliferation was evident in news reports in early 2007. Then, Hamza Hendawi stated that Sunni-Shi’a strife in Tel Afar in March 2007 “proved the most ominous sign that sectarian violence, which has been primarily confined to Baghdad, may be taking deep root outside the capital” (2007). “Enraged by massive bombings that killed at least 63 and wounded 105 on Tuesday, Shiite militants and off-duty policemen went on a killing spree;” this “killing spree” left “60 Sunnis dead in the streets, executed with a gunshot to the back of the head. The massacre was the biggest single act of sectarian violence in recent months” (Hendawi 2007). The town of Tel Afar “had no history of major Sunni-Shiite strife until the U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown” six weeks before the massacre (Hendawi 2007). Abdul Kalam, an Iraqi man, voiced the pain of this change in Sunni-Shi’a interrelations: “Car bombs and death squads have torn apart the fabric of a society where not so long ago, people rarely asked or cared if someone was Sunni or Shiite, where one-third of all marriages used to be mixed. Ethnic cleansing has now forced Sunnis and Shiites to protect their own neighborhoods” (Gibson 2007).
In this sense, a normative enumerative somatechnics enabled a U.S. necropolitical engagement in Iraq, and fueled the creation of death worlds – “new and unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of the living dead” (Mbembe 2003, p. 40). This description could have applied to different areas within Iraq where a colonial necropolitical engagement responded to its own reconstruction of a normative somatechnics which fueled ethno-sectarian violence.
After acknowledgement of “civil war” in Iraq in 2007, the U.S. changed its strategy of divide-and-rule politics. Peter Grier, a journalist writing for the Christian Science Monitor described the effects of these changes: “Think of it this way: In Iraq, the U.S. simultaneously is playing different games of chess against several different opponents. Meanwhile, some of those opponents are conspiring together. Some are trying to blow each other up.” (2007). One of the changes the U.S. made in divide-and-rule politics is to back what it perceived as moderate Sunni and Shi’a groups against those groups which were considered rejectionist – i.e., rejection of U.S. occupation. Hence, the U.S. armed the violence of Sunni against Sunni or Shi’a against Shi’a as described by the Pentagon. Such an approach fueled the deathly game of colonial necropolitics which continued in the guise of a sectarian violence disconnected from the exercise of colonial sovereignty.
Colonial sovereignty enables the colonizer to disavow the relational engagement of necropolitics. And the blame for sectarian or ethnicized violence often rests only on those communities who differentiate themselves and are differentiated by others through the categories and investments of religion or race or culture. Such a disavowal was evident in the 2007 Petraeus report where the “nature of the conflict” in Iraq was outlined in this manner: “The fundamental source of the conflict in Iraq is competition among ethnic and sectarian communities for power and resources. This competition will take place, and its resolution is key to producing long-term stability in the new Iraq. The question is whether the com
petition takes place more – or less – violently” (2007, p. 2). Such a statement of ethno-sectarian violence in Iraq produces and confirms in a vicious loop a Darwinian reading of a competition for resources in Iraq without an avowal of colonial intervention and its accompanying divide-and-rule politics, its exploitation and instrumentalization of ethnicized and religious differences for its own purposes. And as the legacy of an enumerative somatechnics becomes normative and disconnected from colonial sovereignty, it acquires the status of a naturalized borderpolitics. Or as Suvendrini Perera puts it in her profound description of family life and ethnicizations in the Sri Lankan context, ethnic arithmetic not only pervaded the language of politics but also supplied the “grammar and vocabulary” in which “identities were – and are – primarily conceptualized, interpreted and experienced” (2006). Necropolitical Complicities
If an enumerative normative somatechnics begins to supply what Perera calls the “grammar and vocabulary” in which “identities were – and are – primarily conceptualized, interpreted and experienced”(2006), the assertion of identities enabled by this technique generates what I would like to name as a necropolitical complicity. In this sense, what I am emphasizing is not only colonial sovereignty’s enmeshment of epistemology and governmentality in relation to identity, but also the indigenous complicity in asserting essentialized and enumerative identities. This complicity is not simply about the investment in a collectivity as such. Identity may be a somatechnical process precisely because of the technique and investment in perceiving one’s body in a set of collectivities – a somareligious investment, for instance, may describe an identity belonging to a collectivity expressed through religious belief, or a somacultural investment may describe belonging to a collectivity expressed through cultural practices. However, these investments can also become reified and abstracted through enumerative concepts such as majoritarian identities or essentialized descriptions of otherness which disavow other ways of relating across collectivities. What I am emphasizing here, therefore, is an embodied entry and investment in a normative enumerative somatechnics.
It is this normative enumerative somatechnics constituted as colonial biopower which is transformed into a necropolitical complicity. The mechanism of necropolitical complicity, I want to emphasize, does not entail a collaborative operation on an egalitarian terrain between colonial sovereignty and the somatechnical investments and actions of the colonized. The violence of the colonial state of exception forces the colonized to play by the epistemological and political parameters set by colonial sovereignty. In fact, rather than characterizing the colonizer/colonized relations as always falling into the binary of power and resistance, it may be more useful to describe this relationship as a mode of operation in the de Certeauvian sense.2
Necropolitical complicity in a normative somatechnics functions as a mode of operation as it is the interaction of relational determinants (de Certeau 1988, p. xi) which enables this complicity rather than individualized agency. I also want to suggest that a mode of operation does not foreclose the question of resistance. Resistances are always possible through modes of operation even though a mode of operation may not always be read as resistance. However, in the case of a necropolitical complicity, violent struggles becomes appropriated into a mode of operation where somatechnical others must be killed in the logic of survival. This logic of survival confirms a colonial belief that the natives are not ready for self-governance as they are at each other’s throats.
This interplay between the violence of colonial sovereignty and violent modes of operation produce not only death worlds, but a complicitous normative somatechnics of identity. One incentive for an investment in a normative somatechnics is access to power and representation in the context of a reconstructed nation-state. What is disabled and harder to rebuild in the struggle for the capture of power and representation is not a romanticized pre-colonial unity as such (because this is non-existent), but pre-colonial relationships between communities marked by a privileging of other identities or different relationships across the borders of ethno-religious difference. Goldie Osuri teaches in the Department of Media, Music and Cultural Studies, Macquarie University, Australia.
1 For a quick guide to the neologism “somatechnics,” see the Somatechnics Research Centre website (Macquarie University, Australia: http://www.somatechnics.mq.edu.au/. See also my attempt to define it in an earlier essay, “Media Necropower: Australian Media Reception and the Somatechnics of Mamdouh Habib” (Osuri 2006).
2 I draw on this de Certeauvian notion as theorized by Joseph Pugliese in his article “The Event-Trauma of the Carceral Post-Human,” where he outlines how refugee acts of self-harm recuperated into a narrative of resistance function as a liberal humanist desire for a “pre-existing humanist subject,” a position that is impossible “legislatively and juridically” for refugees and asylum seekers to occupy in the Australian context (2007, p. 80).
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