Monday, 11 March 2013

The gods of chaos

In summary, the Pentagon's best minds have dared to venture where most United Nations, World Bank or Department of State types fear to go: down the road that logically follows from the abolition of urban reform. As in the past, this is a 'street without joy', and, indeed, the unemployed teenage fighters of the 'Mahdi Army' in Baghdad's Sadr City - one of the world's largest slums - taunt American occupiers with the promise that their main boulevard is 'Vietnam Street'. But the war planners don't blench. With coldblooded lucidity, they now assert that the 'feral, failed cities' of the Third World - especially their slum outskirts - will be the distinctive battlespace of the twenty-first century. Pentagon doctrine is being reshaped accordingly to support a low-intensity world war of unlimited duration against criminalized segments of the urban poor. This is the true 'clash of civilizations'.

MOUT [Military Operations on Urban Terrain] doctrine - according to Stephen Graham, who has written extensively on the geography of urban warfare, is thus the highest stage of Orientalism, the culmination of a long history of defining the West by opposition to a hallucinatory Eastern Other. According to Stephen Graham, this dichotomizing ideology - now raised to 'moral absolutism' by the Bush administration - 'works by separating the 'civilized world' - the 'homeland' cities which must be 'defended' - from the 'dark forces', the 'axis of evil' and the 'terrorist nests' of Islamic cities, which are alleged to sustain the 'evildoers' which threaten the health, prosperity and democracy of the whole of the 'free world'.'

This delusionary dialectic of securitized versus demonic urban places, in turn, dictates a sinister and unceasing duet: Night after night, hornetlike helicopter gunships stalk enigmatic enemies in the narrow streets of the slum districts, pouring hellfire into shanties or fleeing cars. Every morning the slums reply with suicide bombers and eloquent  explosions. If the empire can deploy Orwellian technologies of repression, its outcasts have the gods of chaos on their side.

Concluding paragraphs of the 'Epilogue' of Mike Davis's Planet of Slums (2006): 'The astonishing facts hit like anvil blows ... a heartbreaking book.' Financial Times