Co-opted Violence

March 10, 2011

In his discussion of the Israeli Defence Force’s co-option of critical theory in the article ‘Lethal Theory’, Eyal Weizman discusses the IDF’s restructuring of standard ‘urban syntax’ to one of non-hierarchical space. Modern warfare takes place in urban environments, and through this re-imaging of the city the IDF is able to intellectually (but more importantly physically) remove the lines between public/private and bring warfare into the living room. Instead of traversing roads and alleys, the IDF (using the theories of Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus), re-image the urban environment –  traditionally a ‘striated’ space, enclosed with fences, borders, walls – into a ‘smooth’ space, one where “borders do not effect [them]”(Shimon Naveh, page 59). Instead of enemy territory dictating army manoeuvres, the built urban fabric is reorganized and reformed so that traditional physical and psychological boundaries are blurred or simply removed.

What is most striking in this co-option is the fact that these theories are being used as a weapon – to communicate, explain and justify their military actions amongst themselves (within the Defence Force), the greater public, and the enemy. Weizman argues that the strong use of theoretical rhetoric and language (see Shimon Naveh’s powerpoint slide, page 60) allows the IDF to elevate their actions to those of intellectual pursuit, helping to hide their violent and often devastatingly destructive nature. In this case philosophical reasoning abstracts physical actions into an attractive portrayal of war that is an easier sell to superiors. Weizman argues however that this form of self-narration is merely a layer of theory over the existing structure, that talk of swarms and non-linearity are in fact “positioned at the very end of a very linear geometrical order” and that the self-sufficiency and non-hierarchical system of the ‘autarkic units’ are actually based “at the tactical end of a very hierarchical system” (Weizman, page 63).

What the Israeli Defence Force (and the many other military theorists around the world) appear to have recognised most clearly however is the inherent power that comes with knowledge. To the public the use of strong theoretical reasoning makes violence seem reasonable and legitimises the IDF’s actions. The clearest message sent through the use of theory as a weapon however is to the enemy – one of intimidation and fear, not only through the physical actions theory can inspire, but the potential for future actions which the enemy cannot comprehend. Theory, and the knowledge gained therein, has the ability to be used outside of its initial discipline, however as the Israeli Defence Force have shown the inherent power can be co-opted to meanings quite disparate to its ethical beginnings.

-Tim Brooks


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