The air for states: the essential quality of violence in state formation and protection

New states are usually the product of catastrophe. Violence is the air they breathe.T.J. Clark.

By terror thereof. To forme the wills of all. And whoever calls this into question proposes an end to what we know of politics as such. — Hobbes

Why does the collective “we” focus so intensely on the Islamic beliefs of the attackers in Paris, but not on the attackers’ beliefs, no different from “ours,” in founding a state?

If it is true, as is being reported, that the Paris attackers are linked to IS, then we must ask ourselves:

¿Where does all the insistence in repeating the religious cause come from? ¿Why do we refuse to discuss the problem of the state and the violence that all states originate from?

The will to reduce the attackers to barbarians and savages —different from “us”— extracts these battles from, one, their political origins, and two, their inherently spectacular modernity. Even some of the best writing from an anti-racist perspective misses this. Teju Cole wrote a brilliant short essay for The New Yorker. Cole masterfully identifies the liberal problem of relating with certain victims of violence and not others. But what Cole misses is the essential quality of violence in state formation and protection.

Furthermore, even in the lefty renunciation of Charlie Hebdo as a racist publication (myself included), the usual condemnation of the attacks on the basis of “freedom of the press” gets muddled with how purportedly unimaginable the attacks were, since the press is thought of as sacred. But established states wage warfare on the press all the time. Obama recently unplugged North Korea’s internet, for example. Israel, the United States, and NATO routinely bomb media targets. The list is endless.

Attacks that spread fear and strategically situate sensational violence in the news stream serve to augment recruitment, increase radicalization, and continue to draw causes for war. France already declared it. The discourse of hitting at religious fundamentalism without discussion of state fundamentalism reproduces the demagoguery of people like Rupert Murdoch, Sean Hannity, and the rest who insist on persecuting Islam.

In effect, a categorization of violence against the media as Hobbesian ‘terror’ is an extension of state politics as we know them. To be clear, violence against the media is horrible, but it is absolutely normal in the condition of our present. Further, the media conditions and greatly monopolizes the conditions that create an experience of the present, making media itself a strategic military target within the logics of state formation.

To “be” Charlie Hebdo as a paragon of press freedom is an affective identification with what the Retort collective called an “afflicted power” almost ten years ago, post-9/11. To paraphrase a friend’s hilariously biting comment on Facebook, none of us is a magazine, and even having to declare that one isn’t one looks suspiciously like the people who claim to “be” Charlie. Perhaps one only needs to stipulate that one is not Charlie within a certain logic of state formations based upon these types of mediatized, distant, affective identifications.

The 2015 attacks in Paris are a form of state violence also. Basic history would convey that, much like European conquerors did not come to the Americas to convert indians, the point of the Paris attacks is not Sharia law in and of itself. The inherent cruelty of these attacks, and their media function, is inseparable from the same political foundations of all modern states.