EASA2012: Uncertainty and disquiet

Nanterre University, France, 10/07/2012 – 13/07/2012

(W008)

Certainties and uncertainties of the armed fighter

Location V312
Date and Start Time 12 Jul, 2012 at 11:30

Convenors

Marie Lecomte-Tilouine (CNRS) email
Laurent Gayer (CNRS/Sciences Po-CERI, Paris) email
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Short Abstract

The panel aims at exploring the semantic dimension, socialisation, and political role of certainty and uncertainty in armed movements, through narratives.

Long Abstract

We aim at exploring the social and symbolic dimension of armed movements through the parameters of certainty and uncertainty, which are central to this type of organisation. This set of opposites broadly characterises the fighter's position vis-à-vis an ideology or cause versus his/her armed action which is by definition uncertain. Yet the interplay between these two components of armed movements and within each of them is extremely complex, and a collective reflection using this rarely used entry may provide new avenues for comparative research. We would like to encourage contributions based on fighters' personal narratives in their native language, either in oral or written form, ethnographic observations, and video presentations to capture the ways in which certainties and uncertainties are individually experienced and expressed by each fighter, but also the manner in which they are passed down and formulated between each fighter or to the whole group, and beyond, towards different types of audience or readership. However tactic it may be, uncertainty may indeed draw a limit to the armed organisation from within, as a shared mode of existence, and social contract. Yet armed groups do not merely form a risk fraternity or view themselves as such. Instead, are they to be characterised by their areas of certainty, and the specific temporalities or spatialities attached to them? To approach this broad topic, we would like to gather specialists of different movements, in time and place, and to privilege a multi-disciplinary reflection combining social anthropology and political science.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Do jihadi martyrs really want to die? An emic perspective on the uncertainties of self-sacrifical radicalization in Pakistan

Author: Amélie Blom (Institut d'études de l'Islam et des Sociétés du Monde Musulman (IISMM-EHESS))  email
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Short Abstract

Life stories of former recruits from a Pakistani jihadi militia, suggest that individual motivations, on which most of the available academic works focus, might be less a puzzle than the contingency and uncertainties guiding the social mechanisms of self-sacrificial radicalization.

Long Abstract

Using a prosopography based on uncontrollable materials, most academic works on the phenomenon of suicide bombings tend to present a "martyr" who is hyper motivated to die. This contrasts with the life stories of former recruits from a Pakistani jihadi militia, which show that individual motivations might be less a puzzle than the social mechanisms of self-sacrificial radicalization. Three types of mechanisms can then be identified: running away, betting on one's consistency and a quest for organizational framing. This emic approach is also applied to the causes of de-radicalization to suggest, from an "upside-down" perspective, that the act of self-sacrificial violence itself derives neither always from the primary socialization of the militant, nor necessarily from a will to die but, often, from collective techniques of creating consent and individual "absurd decisions".

After the dissolution of certainty: a perpetrator's account of living with violence in Pakistan's Muttahida Quami Movement

Author: Nichola Khan (University of Brighton)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper investigates the deep reach of violence in the life of one man who became a political mercenary during conflicts involving Pakistan’s ethno-nationalist MQM party. It follows the certainty of early participation, to a crisis precipitated by targeted killings, to a stubborn foreclosure of feeling after violence, and queries implications for the ethnographic research encounter.

Long Abstract

In a single case study, this paper investigates the deep reach of violence in the life of one man, 'Arshad', who became a mercenary during the Karachi conflicts of the nineties involving Pakistan's ethno-nationalist Mohajir party, the MQM. It addresses the relative lack of attention to individual or affective aspects in the prevailing historical-political accounts. Individual subjectivity is proposed not in (causal) terms of a 'psychology', but an analytic space for tracing a movement through the 'macro' (politics, economy) to the 'micro' (locality, biography) to understand how a contradictory militarized field involving diverse actors produces violence.

Second, drawing on ethnographic interviews since 1994, the paper traces moments in Arshad's transformation from the high hopes and certainty of early participation in a militia group (1994), to a crisis of selfhood precipitated by targeted killings (2006), to the achievement of a more 'certain', stubborn foreclosure of feeling in the years following violence (2011). More precisely, this comprises a kind of spectrality (Agamben 2009), a deadening of the senses and the self, in the sense of something not yet reconstituted that prohibits feeling alive, whilst it is also generative in securing survival. Third, this persistent tension is refracted in the wider political controversies surrounding violence in Karachi in summer 2011, perceived as homologous with 'MQM' killings two decades previously in which Arshad participated.

Last, the paper forces difficult questions about Karachi politics —as well as about the feelings of antipathy, terror, and compassion that connect ethnographers to people they encounter in their research.

In search of certainty in Maoist India

Author: Alpa Shah (LSE)  email
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Short Abstract

Using the case of the Maoist Movement in India, this paper explores how the dialectics between epistemological and ontological uncertainty and certainty, may be central to the making of a revolutionary.

Long Abstract

In the early phases of the spread of an armed revolutionary movement, the dialectics between epistemological and ontological uncertainty and certainty, may be central to the making of a revolutionary. These dialectics are not just the result of an ontological uncertainty of ideological commitment to the movement, but are crucially also about the search for epistemological clarity in social relations imagined to be less opaque and hence more trustworthy. Doubt, an uncertainty about what one knows about one's social relationships is characteristic of the epistemic murk that accompanies the breakdown of the normative order in the revolutionary situation. In this context, revolutionary terror arises from the creation of epistemic clarity—the possibility that on the other side norms and relationships will be more certain. This is a certainty that is carved out of uncertainty and ambivalence, a certainty that denies or projects away uncertainty. Its weapon is paranoia, an ability to make enemies where there would be doubt, betrayal where there would be benefit of the doubt. The potential revolutionary is therefore not only unsure about his/her ideological commitments, but moreover, a crucial component of their predicament might be an uncertainty about the social relations in which they find themselves and the hope that revolutionary engagement might come with more guarantees. Ethnographic insight from the spread of the Maoist movement in India is hence used to show how becoming a revolutionary is also about being in search of certainty.

Turning the arm of the weak into an arm of the strong: simulation, deception and suspicion during the German "red decade"

Author: Dominique Linhardt (CNRS-EHESS)  email
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Short Abstract

The paper focusses on an armed conflict involving undercover action. The example of the struggle of the German urban guerilla groups during the 1970’s demonstrates the hitches stirred up, the abilities required and the problems of legitimization raised by a conflict characterized by clandestineness.

Long Abstract

The use of secret, covert and clandestine forms of action in armed conflicts creates specific frictions the opponents have to deal with. The case of West German urban guerilla groups and the struggle they rouse against the Federal Republic from the beginning of the 1970's is enlightening. These small, isolated and, from the point of view of what a "real" warfare would be, largely underequipped fighters made of clandestineness a central resource of their action and a main feature of their conflict with the security agencies. The impossibility to know when and where they would hit their next target opened up a space of uncertainty that turned their weakness into an effective arm and a political grandeur. Acting in and out of the "underground" involves specific practical and cognitive abilities: simulating normality, processing deception and handling suspicion belong to them and this paper precisely accounts for them. But by setting up a space of uncertainty, the members of the armed groups throw themselves into that very same space. The police and secret services adjust to the characteristics of the action of the urban guerilla groups and likewise also adopt techniques of simulation, deception and suspicion and turn them against their opponents. This process makes of the arm of the weak an arm of the strong. But it also raises issues concerning the state and its legitimacy. That is the reason why the paper concludes on the question of what it means for a democratic state to wage a "shadow war".

A shortened time horizon: the meanings of mobility for intermittent men in arms in Chad

Author: Marielle Debos (Université Paris Nanterre)  email
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Short Abstract

The communication focuses on intermittent men in arms in Chad, a country where the trajectory of 'rebellion-reintegration-defection' is very common. It shows that spatial and political mobility is a survival strategy as well as a tactic to achieve social advancement.

Long Abstract

The communication focuses on intermittent men in arms in Chad, a country where the trajectory of 'rebellion-reintegration-defection' is very common. What does mobility mean for these combatants who take up arms more than once? The communication aims to show that spatial and political mobility is a survival strategy as well as a tactic to achieve social advancement. Mobility means switching sides when necessary and being ready for the next war. Mobility also means seizing opportunities and enjoying the benefits of an unstable political environment and a militarized economy. The communication concludes that in Chad, the very conception of time is linked to experiences of war and to the permanent reproduction of the conditions that led to war. Political instability and everyday uncertainties shorten time horizons.

Good soldiers and a just war: uncertainty, legitimacy and ideology in narratives of former RENAMO combatants in central Mozambique

Author: Nikkie Wiegink (Utrecht University)  email
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Short Abstract

An exploration of the role of ideology in narratives of ex-RENAMO combatants in Mozambique in relation to the combatants’ uncertainty in the continuing search for legitimacy of atrocities.

Long Abstract

Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Maringue, central Mozambique, more than 15 years after the civil war ended, this paper explores the often contradictory and "messy" narratives of ex-RENAMO combatants and the process of making sense of the war and their own role in this violent conflict. RENAMO has been characterized as a brutal rebel movement with a non-existing ideology. Indeed, most ex-RENAMO combatants presented in this paper were forced to join RENAMO, often at a young age. Ideology was not a motivational force for entering the war, neither for fighting it. How then must we understand that these ex-RENAMO combatants framed the causes of the war and their personal experiences often in ideological terms? This can be situated in the uncertainty of combatants in relation to the legitimacy of violent action and the continuing search for meaning of atrocities witnessed, experienced and perpetrated, even after the war is over. Drawing on the contradicting narratives of former combatants, this paper explores the role of RENAMO ideology as a (post-war) discourse to legitimate participation in the war. Defying the persistent image of RENAMO as a group of "armed bandits", the ex-combatants present their armed struggle as a just war "for democracy", which makes them "good soldiers", at least to a certain (political) audience, but also to themselves. This paper underlines the importance of legitimacy to violent action for (ex-)combatants, even in retrospect, and suggests a more complex understanding of the ideology of armed movements and its impact on its combatants.

Exorcizing the violent past: demobilized paramilitaries in Colombia and the end of certainty

Author: Stefan Khittel (University of Vienna)  email
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Short Abstract

After 2006, when the last paramilitary block officially demobilized and laid down their arms a new era of uncertainty began for its members. Bereft of their arms, their monthly salary and their ideological convictions a new way of life for its members had to be found.

Long Abstract

In the 1990s and up to 2006 the paramilitary units in Colombia became highly organized below a national umbrella organization called AUC (=United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia). The government began a peace negotiation with the AUC sidelining the Marxist guerrilla in 2003, a process that officially finished in 2006 with the total demobilization of the AUC.

Since the peace process involved collective demobilisations, the individual combatants of the paramilitary formations were forced to accept the result of the negotiations. Whereas the city of Medellín developed a nationally admired project of reintegration of the former AUC members other regions were less euphoric or simply less affluent to accept the additional burden of former combatants suddenly reinserted into mainstream society.

The uncertainty of everyday life caught up with the demobilized paramilitaries rather swiftly, since after a standard period when they could count on help by the national or regional government, the overall economic situation frequently worsened, deadly feuds over drug routed degraded into massacres and after the scandal of “Narcopolitics” the political climate changed unfavourably. This led to diversified strategies of the former combatant who was trying to cope with making a living.

Basically three strategies were deployed by these men (and a few women): (re)entry into an illegal armed group, often at the service of drug lords (partly the very same as before demobilization), working for a legal security firm, or starting with “normal” civilian life. Nevertheless, the death toll among reinserted paramilitaries has been continuously high even for Colombian standards.

Lords of death: the imminent forms of death in Serbian paramilitary narratives

Author: Maria Vivod (UMR 7367 Strasbourg France)  email
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Short Abstract

An analysis of death as notion related to certainty trough the narratives of a former Serbian paramilitary unit member. Death seen as imminent event and an ultimate experience, which is to be given, shared and endured; a form of social power to be distributed and/or (meritoriously) survived.

Long Abstract

The theme of death although so obviously connected to the military activity is narrowly mentioned in the narratives of former members of Serbian paramilitary units. However this central motif is recurrent in the indirect forms of expressions in which the feelings of the individual, his understanding and his imaginary related to war-experience and to the ideology - as motivational mechanism - are mirrored.

The aim is to explore the notion of death as leading motive of wartime experience trough the narratives of a former Serbian paramilitary unit leader. Accused for war crimes, facing the Special War Crime Tribunal in Belgrade, a former leader of a notorious paramilitary unit, which participants committed two of most infamous massacres during the armed clashes of former Yugoslavia, explains -while justifying his actions and those of his subordinates- the meaning of a state which he repeatedly compares to a dominion 'of death and life'. An imminent, forthcoming experience such as death, is put in contrast with uncertainty and inconsistence of the social environment. Death as ultimate experience is glorified because it is lived first handed: it is survived, shared and given. A symbol of power - a form of ceremony - whose participants are contaminated with it for life. While living at present a different social reality, expecting social support and recognition for it, this former experience is deconstructed and relived trough personal interpretations.

Ignorance and convictions within the Nepalese People's Liberation Army

Author: Marie Lecomte-Tilouine (CNRS)  email
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Short Abstract

The paper will focus on the way information and ignorance were managed and regulated in the Nepalese People's Liberation Army.

Long Abstract

In this paper I aim to evaluate the nature of the "world of possibilities" which was offered to fighters within the Nepalese People's Liberation Army, and I particularly focus on the eventuality of death in action. Frequent mention to them of this eventuality was made by their hierarchy, notably by commanders, and this was done in various ways ranging from the denial of its definitive nature to its most emotional evocation. I examine how it was received and what it implied for the group. While this eventuality which they were ceaselessly reminded of represented a form of certainty, the fighters themselves were, to a certain extent, left in ignorance of the party's military plans up to the last moment. The specific flow of information that developed within this organisation contributed to its dynamics and power of attraction. The material used here is taken mainly from diaries and recollections written by combatants in Nepali.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.