Society for Cultural Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
Building on fieldwork conducted during the siege of Mosul, Iraq, this paper demonstrates how American war reportage reproduced the concerns of human rights and thereby neutralized interrogation of the US-coalition airwar. By evacuating suffering of political content (Fassin 2012) and confirming the sacrality of the biological body (Asad 2003), war reportage recasts the logic of military punishment as regret for unintended consequences, naturalizing the necessity of military intervention.
My observations of journalists in Mosul and analyses of the news they produced indicate a particular commitment: violence– somatic, individuated, immediate –is the worst thing about war. While other approaches to violence consider the injustice from which violence may result, journalism, as for human rights, considers violence itself as what is unjust about injustice (Meister 2011). The ethics of witnessing, I argue, prompts war reportage and human rights discourse to converge: violence can be encountered and thereby known, as what separates victims from perpetrators and what adjudicates innocence and guilt. Here the structures that cause or perpetuate violence are abstracted (Guilhot 2012) and the historical intent of US airwar– punishment of hostile populations –unconsidered. Where biological life maintains the highest value, there violation of life remains the gravest transgression and armed intervention an obligatory response.
What violence is elided in war reportage, to what effect and for what purpose? I address this question ethnographically, arguing that journalism, in its imbrication with human rights, produces only limited understandings of violence. Reexamining this imbrication, the ways we think war and its representation can transform.