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Urbicide and the Topic of Politics: Notes on the Syrian Civil Warfare

The Syrian civil struggle is among the bloodiest, most damaging conflicts of our period. On the time of writing, ten years after the beginning of the battle, round half of Syria’s pre-2011 inhabitants has been internally displaced or fled the nation, greater than 400,000 have been killed, and enormous city areas of the nation have been severely broken (International Battle Tracker 2021). This final factor, the large ranges of destruction that Syria has skilled, alongside the violent re-articulation of the nation’s social geography, seem like a few of the most profound results of the civil struggle. Notably, the destruction of cities, the alteration of native areas, or the mobilisation of the constructed setting when conducting struggle shouldn’t be disregarded as politically irrelevant or collateral phenomena. As a substitute, my analysis is guided by a real curiosity in understanding how wartime destruction and the alteration of the constructed setting deeply have an effect on the dynamics of identification and are available to form the formation of political topics.

Contributing to an rising discipline of Syrian and non-Syrian students coping with the politics of house and wartime destruction and its located, socio-political results (Sharp 2016; al-Sabouni 2016; Azzouz 2019; Harastani and Hanna 2019; Halabi 2017), this piece is underpinned by a number of strikes. First, I present a conceptualisation of the politics of house, primarily targeted on understanding the position that materiality performs in practices of energy and resistance. Second, I suggest a studying of urbicide as a conceptual framework to discover how patterns of destruction and violent spatial reorganisation come to form political topics. Third, this contribution makes a case for a historicisation of fabric destruction in Syria. I argue that solely by understanding the circumstances of emergence and trajectory of city destruction in Syria as a part of its expertise of modernity we will adequately method the current situation. Lastly, I present an exploration of the Syrian battle by means of the lens of urbicide, detailing the other ways wherein the constructed setting –its destruction, reorganisation and reconstruction– pertains to the reconfiguration of Syria’s polity.

The Politics of Area

Area, accounting for the a number of, traditionally dynamic social relations between topics and objects (Susen 2013), is constitutive of the private and the political. The assorted landscapes, areas, and locations wherein our identities are consistently solid end result from the dynamic relationship between time and the all the time contested socio-political particularities of a given place. Importantly, locations are each materials and semiotic nodes – that is, locations are constituted by the piling-up of historic trajectories and tales of peoples and issues, and their boundaries are consistently made and remade.

I argue {that a} poststructuralist, relational conceptualisation of house allows a greater understanding of how practices of energy and resistance emanate in and from spatial configurations and are available to form the formation of political topics (Foucault 2009; Massey 2005; Allen 2003; Murdoch 2006). Within the final many years, some strands of poststructuralism have been criticised for privileging textuality and cultural interpretation whereas side-lining social motion and materiality (Barad 2003). Nevertheless, poststructuralist students have challenged these criticisms in IR and different associated tutorial fields. First, by understanding discourse as materials, enabling a ‘folding of the language/materials dichotomy and an expansive notion of discourse as encompassing the context wherein the 2 are essentially inseparable’ (Lundborg and Vaughan-Williams 2015, 5). Second, by rethinking materiality as having a major and political position in articulating subjectivity and due to this fact profoundly interwoven with the sphere of energy, concepts, identities, and sensations. Therefore, the fabric is all the time utterly interrelated with the discursive and the linguistic within the work of poststructuralists (St Pierre 2013), which permit us to method political topics as deeply embedded inside spatialised materialities.

Traditionally and within the current, operations of state energy have mobilised house and its constructed materiality to form the articulation of identities for political functions. Area turns into the goal and medium of state practices of incorporation and exclusion in a number of methods, most notably by means of city planning and the geographical distribution of our bodies, and the territorial articulation of a given political financial system. As Huxley (2008, 1647) places it, areas are inseparable from initiatives of presidency and, like topics, are ‘shaped on the inter-sections of cross-cutting powers and knowledges, imaginaries and practices.’

Though social and political forces see house as a way of building management, domination and energy, house ‘escapes partially from those that would make use of it’ as Henri Lefebvre (1991, 26) advised. Thus, practices of spatial domination by no means absolutely attain their meant targets, because the ‘dispersed, tactical, and makeshift creativity of teams or people caught within the nets of “self-discipline”’ (de Certeau 1984, xiv-xv) might problem, repurpose and subvert geographies of domination. The truth that house additionally turns into central to methods and practices of resistance reveals the significance of growing an understanding of house as open and productive, and social classes as by no means absolutely stabilised and sedimented.

One can discover within the work of postcolonial students, particularly in Franz Fanon’s, a radical understanding of how house and its constructed materiality are associated to processes of resistance and political transformation. As Jabri (2012, 72) argues, Fanon reveals us a ‘distinctly materialist understanding of the topic of politics’ wherein the reappropriation of streetscapes emerges as an act of presence and interjection, confronting oppression and giving delivery to new prospects. Thus, by understanding mundane acts of transgression as transformative mechanisms of the connection between our bodies and world order, Fanon combines ‘the idea of house with the formation of the revolutionary topic’ (Ouaissa 2015, 105).

Relationality, mobility, and the openness of spatial identities don’t invalidate the truth that striation exists, as flows of historical past configure areas in a sure means and sediment variations and bounds. Locations even have affective and semiotic intensities – senses of place – which might be formative of human subjectivity. Thus, subjectivity seems as not solely the product of our cognitive actions but additionally a distributed phenomenon throughout the totally different bodies-politic surrounding us. Therefore, writing spatial histories calls for consideration to ‘the main points and variations of historical past at explicit instances and specifically locations [and to the] confusions, contradictions and conflicts’ that construct the each day lives of individuals (Philo 1992, 141-142).

The Spatial Politics of the Metropolis at Warfare

Departing from conventional IR approaches to struggle which have targeted on violent state interactions and macro-political processes, important and feminist IR have highlighted the urgency to method struggle as a ‘social establishment’ (Sylvester 2013, 4) with concrete results upon located topics. A important engagement with struggle ought to search to convey the a number of methods wherein struggle and violent practices ‘are implicated within the formation of the topic, in articulations of identification, and within the areas whereby the totally different renditions of struggle discover voice’ (Jabri 2007, 20).

No house is extra politically charged and extra related within the up to date battle for social order worldwide than the house of the town. From important infrastructures to squares, neighbourhoods, and houses, private and non-private city areas have more and more turn into securitised and conceptualised as sources of targets and threats (Campbell, Graham and Monk 2007). That is much more seen when coping with the town at struggle, the place each state and non-state actors conceive the town material as a terrain of operations and means to challenge and amplify their energy by means of the exertion of violence. Cities turn into occupied, divided, reshaped, re-inhabited, and destroyed underneath struggle. Crucially, late fashionable types of city warfare usually are not solely in regards to the actors’ deliberate mobilisation of the city setting but additionally about its reinterpretation, manipulation, and the interruption of the political classes city material sustains.

We will discover in an engagement with the literature on urbicide (Coward 2006; 2009; Graham 2007; Fregonese 2009; Kipfer and Goonewardena 2007; Azoulay 2013; Weizman 2006) a outstanding level of articulation for the conceptual strikes elaborated up to now in addition to a robust framework to discover the Syrian case. I method urbicide as a governmental dispositif (Pløger 2008) consisting of the violent spatial reorganisation of the town aiming to disclaim, annihilate, or homogenise place. What’s at stake in episodes of urbicide is the heterogeneity and agonism that city house allows (Coward 2009). In such a rendering, materials destruction shouldn’t be merely collateral harm, subordinated and depending on violence instantly perpetrated towards people, however a phenomenon of its personal that ought to be explored regarding political subjectivity.

Notably outstanding in situations of urbicide is the focusing on of infrastructural networks, that are indispensable to maintain city life and configure political subjectivity as a fancy ecology (Coward 2009). This may be seen in city peripheries within the International South, usually characterised by larger levels of informality and impoverishment, the place destruction and militarisation have disrupted the networks of resistance and survival methods by means of subaltern avenue politics (Luke 2004; Bayat 1997). From this viewpoint, the annihilation of infrastructures renders the declared enemy as ‘de-modernised by design’ (Graham 2007) for the reason that erasure of infrastructures from each day life prevents complete segments of the inhabitants from accessing the sphere of the state and see their prospects of political company significantly suppressed.

For Graham, urbicide is an inherent a part of the advanced ontology of struggle, which ought to information our consideration to the concrete perpetrators and their particular practices aimed toward destroying the socio-material material of city centres. Nevertheless, city destruction shouldn’t be conceptualised as a dynamic against fashionable urbanity however somewhat as integral to peace and struggle (Virilio 2002). Overtly violent or discriminatory city planning earlier than armed battle, usually underneath the rubric of modernisation/renovation and involving mass demolitions, in addition to processes of reconstruction-through-erasure after hostilities, ought to fall underneath the understanding of urbicide.

Furthermore, there’s a last layer of urbicide of paramount significance. Following Marshal Berman’s understanding of the cultural-affective dimensions of urbicide, the destruction and alteration of cities additionally entail the destruction of a way of place and ontological safety, which ‘might present the affective foundations of socio-spatial identification’ (Kipfer and Goonewardena 2007, 6). This ‘stickiness’ between the house and the topic ought to be understood as ‘an impact of the histories of contact between our bodies, objects and indicators’ (Ahmed 2004, 90), pointing at histories of previous affective encounters embedded within the materiality of the on a regular basis and their capability to form the current.

Syria: A Historical past of City Destruction

In Syria, city destruction has a historical past, and it’s important to grasp the circumstances of emergence that make wartime destruction each potential and significant within the first place. City destruction is integral to Syrians’ expertise of modernity. All through the French Mandate (1920-1946), colonial violence concerned in depth spatial cartography of communities, segregative city planning and interventions, and, most paradigmatically, aerial bombing to quell rise up.  The French bombing of Damascus in 1925, alongside a repertoire of discourses and interventions aimed toward reconfiguring house and controlling Syria’s structure of communities, had a outstanding formative impact upon the postcolonial Syrian state and its political topics.

Nevertheless, the degrees of violence, spatial mechanisms of management, and concrete destruction employed through the civil struggle solely make full sense in gentle of later developments, significantly underneath the rule of Hafiz al-Asad. Between 1976 and 1982, Islamic militants of the Muslim Brotherhood fiercely challenged the regime with a wave of strikes, assassinations, sabotages, and armed rebellions (Lefèvre 2013). In Aleppo and later in Hama, the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood used the configuration of city house to advance or destroy the rise up.

The showdown in Hama in early 1982 was significantly brutal. On the one hand, the occupation of a number of quarters of Hama by Brotherhood militants reveals how the city material – the mosque, the alleyway, the hideout– can form and help a robust problem to state authority. Then again, incapable of penetrating Hama’s slender streets, the regime determined to resort to helicopter hearth, bulldozers, and artillery bombardments to face the rise up. Metropolis quarters had been repeatedly raided, and full buildings had been demolished when a suspect was recognized, turning Hama’s quarters right into a pile of rubble. The systematic mass killings throughout the town’s neighbourhoods continued till the tip of February 1982, claiming the lives of 1000’s of Syrians.

Urbicide seeks to extirpate the enemy from the social physique by means of destruction and uprooting. The ruination of constructed environments and our bodies organises political life by means of spatial acts of negativity, as these segments of the inhabitants recognized as enemies are rendered dispensable. Beneath urbicide, like underneath the state of siege, violence is all the time metonymical, directed to the whole social physique (Mbembe 2019, 82). ‘Asad wished to punish the entire of Hama’, the Syrian painter Khaled al-Khani argues. ‘By way of us, he wished to show all Syrians that difficult the regime would result in this. And it labored. It labored for 30 years’ (Atassi 2012).

In February 2012, because the civil struggle escalated, Syrians remembered Hama on the thirtieth anniversary of its bloodbath. The bloodshed in Hama,which had been lengthy subjected to silence and worry, has been recalled and explored with nice depth as if the current requested for a collective social historical past of the previous. As Salwa Ismail (2018, 139-140) places it, ‘contenting with a violent previous and discovering particular person and collective phrases of negotiating one’s relations to it has been formative of Syrians as subject-citizens underneath the Asad regime’.

The Civil Warfare and the Urbicide of Syria

The predominant position of cities within the Syrian civil struggle is simple to see. City and peri-urban areas have been vital theatres of struggle and areas the place totally different actors have tried to legitimise and implement competing socio-political orders. This has led to huge destruction of homes, public buildings, infrastructures, and cultural heritage virtually all through the whole nation. Greater than 53% of the Syrian inhabitants dwelling in city centres have been affected by destruction (REACH 2019, 1), 50% of Syria’s important infrastructure was deemed inoperative by 2017, and a few third of Syria’s properties had been destroyed, together with 36,000 buildings solely in Aleppo (Overton and Dathan 2019). The urbicide of Syria has had a number of registers which might be price detailing.

First, each the Syrian regime and the assorted insurgent armed teams which have configured the Syrian rebellion have engaged within the strategic destruction of the constructed setting as a mechanism to inscribe a selected socio-political and identification regime. As an example, the desecration and infrequently full erasure of Christian spiritual buildings, shrines, and plenty of different iconoclastic assaults proliferated as jihadist teams (paradigmatically ISIS) grew in significance. The destruction of non secular buildings entails the lack of historic depth and goals to reshape political neighborhood by negating any risk for plurality.

The regime has blatantly resorted to urbicide, partially by its superior air energy, as a mechanism to uproot communities and, in the end, render the revolutionary topic unable to carry out political company. The sieges of the Damascene Gohuta and Japanese Aleppo exactly counsel that the Syrian regime’s materials erasure and important infrastructures had been aimed toward rendering all types of resistance – armed, civil, secular, or Islamist – helpless and restricted to maintain their very survival as human beings. Finally, such a extreme type of an enemy-centric counterinsurgency marketing campaign is the product of the shortage of structural settlement between a regime, which isn’t recognised as sovereign, and the ruled, who usually are not recognised as topics (Azoulay 2013, 209).

As argued earlier, urbicide additionally entails affective, textured, and emotional layers past the strategic destruction carried out by each the regime and insurgent forces. The brutal ranges of destruction have pressured Syrians to bear the ‘surreal transformation of a recognized house…the unrecognisable side of your metropolis, the disorientation, in addition to the painful loss’ (Gómez López, 2017). In Aleppo, Lina Sergie Attar says, nothing prepares you to grasp the brand new maps with the shifting blocks of colors and frontlines (Masahat 2018). Nothing prepares you to grasp the collapse of scales of loss; how the lack of house, the lack of the town and, in the end, the lack of reminiscence come collectively and outline the topic of struggle. The extreme destruction of the town’s material as a ‘website for rooting areas of spatiotemporal recollections’ (Brownstein 2016) entailed the erosion of the lived expertise of place and Aleppo’s distinctive sense of the town. Because the novelist Khaled Khalifa places it, Aleppo grew to become a metropolis that now not exists, ‘however it’s defending itself and its reminiscence’ (Mahmoud and Saad 2014).

Second, the urbicide of Syria additionally refers back to the violent rearticulation of the nation’s social geography. Certainly, the struggle has pressured the division of areas, the displacement of communities, the solidification of socio-spatial boundaries, and the formation of recent territories. What’s outstanding about this spatial recomposition of the city house all through the struggle, as heterogeneity is focused and politically antagonistic enclaves are produced, is how the phenomenon of urbicide is linked to the emergence of recent meanings of energy, territory, and identification.

In Damascus and Aleppo, the regime was wanting to put money into a discourse that activated the long-standing attachments, social behaviours, and senses of place of city Syrians alongside a blunt depiction of the opposition as threatening rural Islamists, selling an imaginary that linked the upkeep of social peace to the political survival of Asad. In lots of the interviews I performed all through 2019, rural/city, class, and sectarian narratives are sometimes intertwined with references to the constructed setting. What’s related about these testimonies shouldn’t be their willingness to emphasize their urbanity and differentiate the town from its outskirts or peripheral neighbourhoods, however somewhat how these long-present socio-cultural notions and spatialisations are in the end mobilised to justify whole struggle upon the opposite.

Third, it is very important notice how practices of fabric destruction through the struggle relate to each the pre-war politics of city improvement and the politics of reconstruction. On the one hand, city renewal as redevelopment-through-demolitionwas used as a weapon of struggle in Damascus as early as 2012 (Solvang and Neistat 2014). For example, demolition plans accepted by Decree 66/2012 didn’t have an effect on areas devastated by the battle, however quarters that witnessed large demonstrations and are strategically situated round key political and financial websites in city Damascus (Rollins 2017). Then again, the incipient reconstruction efforts, akin to Marota Metropolis and Basilia Metropolis (Syrbanism 2019), alongside the authorized framework that maintain them, don’t signify a novel city politics. In reality, the post-war reconstruction framework promoted in Syria up to now is neither “post-war” nor a “framework”. In Syria, we now have seen a group of formal and casual measures, neoliberal in spirit and really uneven in nature, that are extremely depending on the facility relations current in war-torn Syria.

Finally, as Hiba Bou Akar (2018, 182) brilliantly suggests regarding Beirut, we’re dealing in Damascus with a spatial logic of city territorial restructuring that seeks to show former war-torn peripheries into frontiers by means of ‘locking up sure geographies within the current for worry of the longer term, whereas persevering with to create calculated openings for city progress and actual property revenue’. By growing luxurious, prime-location actual property in areas with excessive financial potential however hitherto inhabited by decrease courses, socio-economic cleavages are additional inscribed upon the panorama.

Lastly, urbicide is central within the regime’s envisioned new social geography of loyalty. Homogeneity, on this understanding, shouldn’t be a lot associated to the creation of non secular or ethnic enclaves however somewhat on the inscription of political loyalty upon house. The patterns of fabric destruction, the spatial mapping of trusted and untrusted communities, the pressured displacement of these deemed probably threatening, and the uneven and selective early reconstruction seem as a few of the mechanisms that search to manipulate identities and produce loyal topics. In different phrases, the politics of fabric destruction, the politics of reconciliation in former rebel-controlled areas, the politics of return of those that have been displaced, and the politics of reconstruction ought to be understood as mutually interrelated.


This quick contribution has sought to supply a framework by means of which Syria’s wartime spatial politics and the destruction of the city constructed setting could be adequately understood, considerably as these processes form traces of identification and political topics. It has tried to unravel the a number of intertwined dynamics that urbicidal violence has taken in Syria, from the strategic destruction of the constructed setting to the rearticulation of the city sphere in each peace and struggle to make sure political loyalty. Beneath urbicide, an identifiable context is erased by the amorphous cityscape, now decreased to piles of particles; continuity in place is ceased by the large displacement, which, in flip, dislocates collective reminiscence; historic specificity is negated.

Because the morphology of Syrian cities change and their socio-spatial boundaries are remade, so are Syrians. One of many far-reaching results of the civil struggle has been the rearticulation of political neighborhood: as Syrians are internally displaced and communities turn into tied to new areas, refugees worldwide discover themselves articulating political company by navigating in and thru exile, opening new spheres of motion and political horizons. The battle for city identification, preserving property rights, and reconstructing Syria’s cities by means of accountability, justice, and native company, will form the years to return. Spatial justice ought to entail a reconstruction mannequin that restores the connection of inhabitants to locations in order that return doesn’t turn into alienation.


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