Saudi Arabia, an ISIS That Has Made It

The Saudi royals are caught in a perfect trap: Weakened by succession laws that encourage turnover, they cling to ancestral ties between king and preacher. The Saudi clergy produces Islamism, which both threatens the country and gives legitimacy to the regime.

.. One has to live in the Muslim world to understand the immense transformative influence of religious television channels on society by accessing its weak links: households, women, rural areas.

.. It is worth reading certain Islamist newspapers to see their reactions to the attacks in Paris. The West is cast as a land of “infidels.” The attacks were the result of the onslaught against Islam. Muslims and Arabs have become the enemies of the secular and the Jews. The Palestinian question is invoked along with the rape of Iraq and the memory of colonial trauma, and packaged into a messianic discourse meant to seduce the masses. Such talk spreads in the social spaces below, while up above, political leaders send their condolences to France and denounce a crime against humanity.

.. Since ISIS is first and foremost a culture, not a militia, how do you prevent future generations from turning to jihadism when the influence of Fatwa Valley and its clerics and its culture and its immense editorial industry remains intact?

.. Daesh has a mother: the invasion of Iraq. But it also has a father: Saudi Arabia and its religious-industrial complex. Until that point is understood, battles may be won, but the war will be lost. Jihadists will be killed, only to be reborn again in future generations and raised on the same books.

Theorizing the Drone

The tools of human geography and the sociology of social networks are now enlisted in the service of a policy of eradication in which “persistent surveillance” makes it possible to pick out dangerous individuals. The painstaking work of establishing an archive of lives progressively gathers together the elements of a file that, once it becomes thick enough, will constitute a death warrant.

.. In short, according to this theory, group membership and identity can be deduced from the number and frequency of contacts, regardless of their nature. Thus it is inevitable that, as one officer concluded, “if we decide [someone is] a bad person, the people with him are also bad.”

..  Imagine that you see a shadow resembling a huge dog. If you have access only to the shadow, how can you tell with certainty what object created it? It may simply have been made by an arrangement of someone’s hands as part of a shadow play.

.. The great myths of invulnerability are almost all accounts of failure. The heroes are invulnerable, except at one point. Achilles’ body is entirely “impenetrable by iron,” with the exception of his heel. Siegfried, who was bathed in the entrails of a dragon, has a body covered “with skin as hard as scales, unaffected by the blows of an axe,” except for his right shoulder, on which the leaf of a lime tree had alighted.

.. The message of these myths is that invulnerability is precisely that, a myth. There is always one unforeseen weak point, one flaw. He has felled a dragon but will die from a fallen leaf.

.. All that the operators have to aim at is the slightly obsolete image of an earlier situation. The New York Timesreports that targets now make the most of this asynchrony: when individuals think that they are being hunted by a drone, they adopt zigzag movements.

.. One of the classic principles of guerrilla warfare is to supply oneself with weapons taken from the enemy camp.

.. Even if the soldiers are beyond reach, civilians are not. As one American soldier explains, “We must understand that attempts to armorize our force against all potential enemy threats . . . shifts the ‘burden of risk’ from a casualty-averse military force onto the populace. In doing so, we have lifted the burden from our own shoulders and placed it squarely upon those who do not possess the material resources to bear it—the civilian populace.”

.. By maximizing the protection of military lives and making the inviolability of its “safe zone” the mark of its power, a state that uses drones tends to divert reprisals toward its own population.

.. To me, the robot is our answer to the suicide bomber.

—Bart Everett

.. Whereas the kamikaze implies a total fusion of the fighter’s body and weapon, the drone ensures their radical separation. The kamikaze: My body is a weapon. The drone: My weapon has no body.

.. Kamikazes are those for whom death is certain. Drone pilots are those for whom death is impossible. In this sense, they represent two opposite poles on the spectrum of exposure to death. In between the two are classic fighters, those for whom death is a risk.

.. One speaks of “suicide bombing” or of “suicide assassination,” but what would be the antonym? There is no specific expression to designate those who kill by explosion without ever risking their lives. Not only is it not necessary for them to die in order to kill, but it is impossible for them to be killed as they kill.

.. This antagonism between the kamikaze and remote control reappears today: suicide bombings versus phantom bombings. The polarity is primarily economic. It sets those who have nothing but their bodies with which to fight in opposition to those who possess capital and technology.

.. Sacrifice, at once incomprehensible and ignoble and immediately interpreted as scorn for life (without any sense that it may, on the contrary, imply scorn for death), is opposed by an ethic based on a love of life—of which the drone surely represents the ultimate expression.

.. This excessive love would certainly be excusable were it not that so much self-complacency hints at self-love. For, contrary to Cohen’s claims, it is certainly our lives, not life in general, that we hold so dear.

..  “How can you believe in your own humanity if you do not believe in the humanity of the enemy?”

.. The drone attacks are widely perceived in the Middle East as cowardly, because the drone pilot is killing people on the ground from the safety of an air-conditioned pod in Nevada ..

.. Talal Asad suggests that the horror provoked in Western societies by suicide bombings lies in the fact that the author of the attack, through his action, a priori rules out any kind of retributive justice. By dying with his victim, coagulating both crime and punishment within a single action, he makes punishment impossible and thereby deactivates the fundamental resort of a form of justice conceived in the penal mode. He will never be able “to pay for what he has done.”

.. They don’t say “Because we saw people getting blown up.” That’s not what causes their stress—at least subjectively to them. It’s all the other quality-of-life things that everybody else would complain about too. If you look at nurses who work night shift, anybody who does shift work, they complain of the same things.

.. So at a practical level, the notion of guilt is entrusted to the care of military social workers specifically assigned to take care of this kind of moral distress on drone bases—murder being considered as one of these spiritual problems.

.. Karl Abraham made the following comment: “It is not only demanded of these men in the field that they must tolerate dangerous situations—a purely passive performance—but there is a second demand which has been much too little considered; I allude to the aggressive acts for which the soldier must be hourly prepared, for besides the readiness to die the readiness to kill is also demanded of him.”

.. psychologist Rachel McNair has suggested expanding the overly narrow notion of PTSD by defining a condition called “Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress” (PITS). Noting that recent literature has focused almost exclusively on the traumas inflicted on passive victims by external forces, she tries to isolate the active component of the anxiety, the one that stems from the fact of having been the agent of violence, in fact a perpetrator of it.

.. A kind of clinic for executioners would thus develop alongside psychotherapies for assassins, all of which would be designed to deliver them from their unease.

..either this weaponry creates insensitive killers, or else it produces a mental process that involves being tormented by guilt, potentially to the degree of inducing neurosis.