The Body of War – Drones and Lone Wolves

An International Symposium
Lancaster University, 24–25 November 2016
Confirmed Keynote Speakers:

  • David Cook, Associate Professor in Religious Studies at Rice University and author of Martyrdom in Islam (Cambridge).
  • Derek Gregory, Peter Wall Distinguished Professor of Geography at the University of British Columbia and author of Violent Geographies: Fear, Terror, and Political Violence (Routledge).
  • Adam Harvey, American artist working on surveillance, privacy, and biometrics, winner of the Future Greats Award 2014 for his Anti-Drone project (2013).

“The discriminatory concept of the enemy as a criminal and the attendant implication of justa causa run parallel to the intensification of the means of destruction and the disorientation of theaters of war. Intensification of the technical means of destruction opens the abyss of an equally destructive legal and moral discrimination. […] Given the fact that war has been transformed into a police action against troublemakers, criminals, and pests, justification of the methods of this “police bombing” must be intensified. Thus, one is compelled to push the discrimination of the opponent into the abyss.” Carl Schmitt, The Nomos of the Earth (1950)

13 November 2015: three suicide bombers blew themselves up near the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, Paris, killing themselves and a bystander, and triggering a series of violent actions that caused 130 casualties. 15 November 2015: the President of France, François Hollande, after defying the attacks ‘an act of war’ by the Islamic State, launched a three-month state of emergency and ‘Opération Chammal’, a huge airstrike campaign against ISIL targets in Syria.

These two violent actions design a deformed and limitless theater of war, within which all distinctions and limitations elaborated by International Law seem to disappear. It is not merely the loss of the fundamental distinction between combatants and civilians, that both suicide bombers and airstrike bombings signal. In the current situation, all the fundamental principles that gave birth to the Laws of War seem to collapse: spatial and temporal limitations of hostilities, proportionality of military actions, discrimination of targets, weapons and just methods to use them. In this way, the ‘enemy’, from a juridical concept, is transformed into an ‘ideological object’; his figure, pushed to a climax from both these ‘invisible’ and ‘mobile’ fronts, becomes absolute and dehumanized. Hollande, Cameron and Obama’s unwillingness to use ground troops against the ‘uncivilized’ (Kerry2015) is mirrored by the ISIL call to intensify suicide missions against the ‘cowards’ (Dābiq, 12: 2015).

But what lies behind the asymmetric confrontation between airstrikes and ‘humanstrikes’, behind the blurring of the distinction between the state of war and state of peace? What notion of humanity are the physical disengagement of the Western powers (with their tele-killing via drones and airstrikes) and the physical engagement of suicide bom bers (ready to turn their bodies into a weapon) trying to convey? In other words, how and to what extent is there a connection between the automatization and biopoliticization of war operated by Western powers and the sacrificial nature of the conflict adopted by those who want to fight these powers?

In this second part of the “States of Exception” project, our intention is to explore these questions in order to map the crucial transformations of warfare, of its ethical principles and methods of engagement.

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