As is often the case with graduate students, I just spent several months in a dissertation-induced haze and only recently had a chance to go through the latest issues of Gender & Society. Among these was the February 2011 issue that included a symposium on Paula England’s 2010 article on the “uneven/stalled gender revolution.” England’s over-reliance on the structural and institutional aspects of gender was underscored by several savvy pieces of Sociology, including a response by Sara Crawley that emphasizes the cultural and micro-level pieces of the puzzle. Crawley takes England and other scholars to task for the assumption that institutionally-derived identity frames (such as mother, principal, or senator) are more specific and organized than those identities not bound directly to a single institution (i.e. race, class, gender, sexuality, subculture—or, “cultural identities”). The latter identity projects may be more diffuse but are arguably omni-relevant: their meaning is embedded in all social action.
On Monday, Wikileaks, a website devoted to exposing the underbelly of the political and corporate world, revealed thousands of documents that, in a nutshell, depict the complications, perils and pitfalls of the war in Afghanistan. One piece of alarming information is that terrorist organizations in Afghanistan are clearly being supported by Pakistan. Another is solid evidence of the corruption of Hamid Karzai (though this has been suspected for quite some time). The force with which this story hit the news this week, the amount of coverage it has received and the combination of this story with recent exposés on the experience of war in Afghanistan and Iraq have created a situation in which increasing amounts of negative press about the war, whether in small leaks or larger bursts, are emerging. The dominant discourse or narratives about the Afghan war – hunting down a terrorist, bringing justice to terrorists in general, rooting out potential terrorist cells or the humanitarian notion that we’re providing a more stable government and safer society for Afghans – feel as though they are shifting. There is increasing discourse about a lost battle, a waste of precious American dollars and young lives, etc. Perhaps this shift is due to the number of soldiers dying, which makes it increasingly likely that you or someone you know or at the very least a distant acquaintance is fighting in the middle east. Perhaps it’s our disastrous economy and the potential double-dip recession looming that’s making it harder to justify spending billions to fight a war when about 1 in 10 of us are unemployed at home. It could be any combination of these and/or other factors, but I would like to suggest that the increased access to images, information and general visibility of this war will be a key factor in its demise.
Theories of cognitive dissonance suggest that when our behavior clashes with our cognition, an uncomfortable psychological state ensues. For instance, if I am a pacifist, but engage in a violent act, I will experience distress. As I watch the coverage of the war in Afghanistan since the Wikileaks report was released yesterday, I am lead to think about the role of cognitive dissonance in producing social change. No matter what you believe has happened in Afghanistan, the narrative of success and progress, whether in the realm of hunting down terrorists or establishing better government, is at odds with the information in the Wikileaks documents that depict chaos. Changes in attitudes about the Afghan war have been brewing for months. Will this new and increasingly prominent information about the problems of “winning” this battle create psychological tension for many Americans who previously supported the war?
For the last several months, reports about full-body scanners in airports have been floating in and out of the news cycle. These machines were sexualized long before they were implemented. News stories fantasize about every possible voyeuristic scenario, both to titillate and to trouble us. Then, recently, the media hit gold when “a security worker at London Heathrow Airport [...] ogled a female colleague using a full-body scanner [...] after his colleague mistakenly strayed into the scanner, which can see through clothes to produce an image of the body. The case is believed to be the first of its kind since the full-body scanners were put into service at British airports.”
While the media has its own agenda for promoting this story, we might ask ourselves: Why should we care when the implementation of these devices seems so inevitable anyway? (more…)
Following heightened security concerns in Yemen as well as the failed Christmas Day bombing aboard a flight approaching Detroit, the Obama administration has opted to drastically increase security concerning all flights destined for the United States. According to the Washington Post, these new Transportation Security Association (TSA) measures include the physical search of all passengers who hold the passport of, are traveling from, or are traveling to a country on the Statement Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of concern. This list, comprised of over a dozen states, includes Cuba, Iran Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Yemen. (more…)
The announcement that several terror suspects, including Khalid Saikh Mohammed, implicated in the 9/11 attacks, will have their day in New York City courts was released last week. This news sparked fervent debate both between and within political parties for a range of reasons. Why civilian courts? Why in New York City? And what will the ramifications be? One of the possible consequences that has been relatively overlooked is how the incessant coverage of these trials will affect New Yorkers who, eight years ago, were arguably most directly affected by the 9/11 attacks due to the number of deaths and level of damage to the city. What will bringing these trials to New York, where many people still suffer psychological consequences of the events of September 11th, do to the New Yorkers who lived through the destruction, chaos and utter fear eight years ago? More specifically, there is a possibility that some New Yorkers will be re-traumatized by the trials and perhaps anger and even a renewed desire for revenge will surface.
This weekend, CNN, MSNBC and FOX News all featured stories about the possibility of trials in NYC and each one of these channels broadcast at least several scenes of the events of 9/11. Aside from on the anniversary, the images of 9/11 have relatively faded into the background – they are still part of the collective memory, but not anywhere near as salient as they were just several years ago. Bringing these suspects to New York opens the door for increased attention to be focused on the events of 9/11 and for Americans and particularly New Yorkers to be re-exposed to much of the footage that many people find hard to witness even though almost a decade has passed.
Another worry might be that, while the initial experience of 9/11 was horrific, traumatizing and frightening, it also yielded some positive unintended consequences. New Yorkers and Americans more broadly were reminded of the need for pro-social behavior and often reported feeling an increased sense of kindness from their neighbors. People felt compelled to engage in helping behavior and connected to others around them in new ways – a sense of kinship emerged. However, in bringing the terror suspects to trial in New York, one might wonder if this will have the opposite effect and bring out antagonisms and possibly even violence and hatred. There is the possibility that these suspects will be seen as martyrs by their fellow extremists both in the US and abroad, which could fuel anti-American sentiment. There is also the possibility that the American feeling of the need for revenge will re-emerge and could create serious ethnic tensions at home and abroad. In sum, the possibility for re-traumatization and a resurgence of the desire for revenge will be unfortunate outcomes if the trials do indeed take place in New York. The article below on the social benefits of collective trauma indicates that there can be unexpected positive outcomes of even the most shocking and awful events. However, bringing these trials to New York seems as though it has the potential to re-ignite some of the negative sentiments surrounding 9/11, but very few of the pro-social or positive social outcomes of the actual traumatic event itself.
Accused 9/11 Mastermind to Face Civilian Trial in N.Y.
Finding social benefits after a collective trauma: Perceiving societal changes and well-being following 9/11
On Monday, 9 a.m. local time, just as the citizens of Nazran were arriving at their offices a suicide bomber drove a truck full of explosives into the police quarters of Ingushetia’s capital city. This act of terrorism is an example of the violence that has become all too familiar in the north caucus region of Russia. The New York Times presents such acts of terror as a nearly daily occurrence. Depending on the account, between 60 and 138 people were wounded in the attack; at least 10 of which were children. By Monday evening, 20 were identified as dead.
Terrorism in the region is fueled in part by the local militants as well as by the arrival of separatist fighters fleeing the brutal counterinsurgency in Chechnya; where a decade and a half of internal warfare has worn on the rebel movement. When he was elected in October, Ramzan Kadyrov, the president of the region attempted to reach out to opposition leaders and militant commanders in order to ease tensions. Monday’s attack however, is another of many reminders that if change is to come, it will not be quick. Russia’s President, Dmitri Medvedev has sacked the federal interior minister and ordered an increase in strength of police forces in Ingushetia; undoubtedly an indication of his lack of confidence in Kadyrov’s kinder, gentler approach.
Since 9/11, the world’s attention has increasingly been concentrated on the threat of terrorism and the mechanisms designed to uncover and combat it. Much of the focus has been on Al Qaeda; however, a recent British case suggests that this is not the only terrorist threat faced today.
On Wednesday, Neil Lewington was found guilty at the Old Bailey of terrorism and explosives offences. He was originally detained for public order offences after being drunk and abusive to railway staff, but an initial search of his luggage revealed two homemade bombs. Later examinations of his home revealed a fascination with right wing extremism, in particular neo-Nazism and the Ku Klux Klan. Although, all of the evidence under consideration suggests that Lewington acted alone, his refusal to offer any defence leaves many questions unanswered, not least where he obtained the technical information required to make explosive devices.
In spite of recent anti-terrorism legislation, it seems likely that without Lewington’s anti-social behaviour he would not have been apprehended. It is also possible that by exclusively focusing on newly identified threats, we run the risk of missing other older forms of extremism.
Domenico Tosini on the Sociology of Terrorism and Counterterrorism: A Social Science Understanding of Terrorist Threat
On Wednesday, April 8, a U.S. container ship, the Maersk Alabama, was commandeered by a group of Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. The Maersk Alabama was quickly recovered but the captain, Richard Phillips, was held hostage by four of the pirates on a lifeboat for several days. Negotiations were conducted between the marauders and the American destroyer, the U.S.S. Bainbridge. On April 12, acting with President Obama’s authorization and the belief that Captain Phillips was in imminent danger, U.S. snipers shot the 3 pirates that remained aboard the life vessel and rescued the Captain shortly there after. On April 21 the sole survivor was brought to New York and will face trial as an adult on charges of piracy.
Our fascination with pirates may be historical or, perhaps, part of the hidden fantasy of taking to the high seas and living life with reckless abandon. However, it may have to do with the seemingly asymmetric power dynamic between 4 Somalis on a life boat and a U.S. destroyer with a direct line to President Obama.
The standoff between the U.S. Armed Forces and three pirates on a dingy is a very interesting example of the sort of asymmetric combat currently engaged in all over the world. While there seem to be many differences in this case between terrorists and pirates, including their motivation and overall goals, one important commonality is the way in which a super-power engages them. The asymmetry in this particular instance was starker than in others but it causes one to consider, in a time when sheer might is (perhaps only slightly) decreasing as an indicator of power in global relations, how will Sociologists conceive of power in the 21st century?
Link to the story in the Guardian.
Link to Teaching & Learning Guide for: Sociology of Terrorism and Counterterrorism: A Social Science Understanding of a Terrorist Threat
Link to the Blackwell Reference Online: Power by Steven Lukes