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Theorizing Self-Destructive Violence

  • Banu Bargu (a1)

The first image that the question of violence in the Middle East conjures up, especially in the West, is that of the suicide bomber. This association, etched into the political imaginary particularly over the course of the last two decades, is due neither to the number of victims suicide bombing creates (more conventional weapons of war can claim as many or more victims), nor to the identity of its victims (conventional weapons are also often directed at civilians). Rather, the potency of the image of the suicide bomber is connected to the simultaneously self-destructive and other-directed form that this act of violence takes. If the Orientalist impulse that has raised the image of the suicide bomber to iconic status is deeply problematic, it nonetheless constitutes an involuted acknowledgement of a reality: the significant rise in self-destructive violence (and not just in the Middle East). I have in mind practices such as hunger striking, self-immolation, and fatal self-mutilation, which constitute an emergent repertoire of struggle that has come to mark a certain current of radical politics around the globe. Those modalities of self-destructive violence that are not directed at others are overshadowed by suicide bombing.

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1 For a prominent example of this kind of work (though with a different geographical focus), see Feldman, Allen, Formations of Violence: The Narrative of the Body and Political Terror in Northern Ireland (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1991). On self-destructive political practices in Turkey's prisons, see Bargu, Banu, Starve & Immolate: The Politics of Human Weapons (New York: Columbia University Press, forthcoming).

2 Althusser, Louis, “Lenin and Philosophy,” in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. Brewster, Ben (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971), 64.

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International Journal of Middle East Studies
  • ISSN: 0020-7438
  • EISSN: 1471-6380
  • URL: /core/journals/international-journal-of-middle-east-studies
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