Thursday, September 22, 2011

Chronicles of the state's monopoly on legitimate violence (cont.)

The view from my classroom window; Debre Zeit, Ethiopia
The picture at the right is what I saw every weekday for three weeks, as I taught "Intro to Conflict Transformation" at Meserete Kristos College in Debre Zeit, Ethiopia. One prominent feature of this city is its being host to an Ethiopian air force base, on the opposite side of town from where we were at the college. So oftentimes during class, we would see and hear (and feel) the low-flying fighter jets passing over the college on their way to the landing strip a few miles away.

This is the memory that immediately came to mind when I saw the following story on Global Post...
US building drone bases in East Africa
Drone News: The Obama administration is setting up more drone bases in Ethiopia and Seychelles to target Al Qaeda affiliates in East Africa and the Horn of Africa, particularly Somalia.
The emergence of unmanned drones as weapons of war first became deeply troubling to me a few years ago when I saw the PBS Frontline special, Digital Nation, which near the end interviews drone pilots with cozy middle class lives in the US, who go to work in an office and operate computers just like so many other middle class Americans, but they just happened to be flying remote controlled planes halfway around the world, dropping real bombs, killing real people (which have a propensity to kill civilians). I still shudder thinking of that segment. So that the use of drones is spreading to other areas of the globe in the name of the forever war called, "The War on Terror," is an unsettling development.

Another piece of news in the US which troubled me over the past few days was the lead-up to Georgia's execution of Troy Davis. My peacenik friends on Facebook have been in an outright state of hysteria for the past three or four days, reaching a fever pitch yesterday when Davis was indeed executed despite a global uproar to bring his killing to a stop. The circumstances of Davis' state-ordered killing were indeed troubling to me, but I did not join my peacenik friends in changing my Facebook profile picture and linking to every single piece of online news possible surrounding developments in the case. My unsettlement with the whole mania surrounding Davis' being wrongfully put to death was mostly inarticulable, and then a fellow Christian went and wrote a piece which basically explains why I didn't join the cacophony of voices of protest..
The State Killed Two Men Last Night (But We Only Cared For Troy Davis)
Two men were executed last night by the state. And no one said a word about one of them. Because it wasn’t about Troy Davis. Because witnesses didn’t recant. Because the evidence was clear. Because hundreds of thousands worldwide didn’t sign a petition for him. Because it was about a white supremacist. (...) Ours, though, was not the prophetic voice today. Rather, the true prophetic voice on Wednesday came not from Georgia, but from Texas where aging African American Civil Rights activist Dick Gregory fasted for half a day to protest the killing of an avowed white supremacist who murdered a black man solely because he was black.
(See also: Belonging to Each Other in Our Darkness: I Am Lawrence Brewer, I Am Troy Davis on Being Blog)

Both of these news stories highlight what William T. Cavanaugh describes as the state's monopoly on legitimate violence. The first story highlight's the United States' view that is can legitimately carry out its military operations wherever and whenever it damn well pleases, thank you very much, who are you to question that monopoly? The Troy David story is a troubling case of the state's monopoly on legitimate violence within its own borders as well. Because the accused is guilty of violating the laws of the state, it really was immaterial that so many witnesses recanted their testimony, casting severe doubt on the outcome of the state's ruling on Davis' having broken the law. The wheels of institutional justice must grind on.

And finally the commentary of the blogger above illustrates the dangers of activism as event. For Christians it's important to notice how the unsexy political causes (such as an African American man praying for an avowed white supremacist being put to death) can and should shock us into a more holistic and necessarily ambiguous way of looking at and being in the world, faithfully.

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