Thursday, 20 October 2011

Gaddafi is Dead.

As the old order has been obliterated in Libya it appears the country is passing through a zero-level of violence onto which the bourgeois framework of law and order can be constructed. The term 'law-creating violence' was used by Walter Benjamin to signify such instances of violence which underpin the enforcement of laws later on. In the battle to take Sirte, Muammar al-Gaddafi has been captured and killed. Before that it was clear there had been numerous civilian casualties and the killing of black men suspected of being mercenaries working for Gaddafi. Perhaps we should bare in mind that each advance made in civilisation is an advance in barbarism, as such an advance arrives head-to-foot in blood it heralds new possibilities of emancipation. The real problem is whether or not the enormous suffering was worth it in the end. It seems thoroughly doubtful that the effects of colonialism, slavery, genocide, war and capitalist exploitation can ever be compensated for in Africa. So we might be best to note a profound historical sense of tragedy here.

The new regime defines itself by its exclusion of Gaddafi, this is a basic aspect of the state as sovereignty constitutes the political body in its inclusion of people. The state holds the monopoly over the power to declare an exception, to suspend normal legal guarantees and deny basic rights to people. The situation might be extended across an entire society in the case of a state of emergency and even a civil war as the expectations of normal everyday life no longer apply. The state divides the people into those who qualify as fully human and those with the lesser status of bare life. The qualified life of politically recognised people is adorned with forms of meaning derived from political recognition and representation. This is what the bare life is devoid of, in fact the difference might be aptly described as the difference between being a human bodily organism and being recognised as a citizen or a person in the moral sense. These are the people who can be carted off to be tortured in Uzbekistan, as well as be killed at home in the middle of the night.

The Roman Empire had a word for an outlaw who could be killed and their property seized legitimately by anyone - homo sacer. The life of a homo sacer cannot be taken in ritual as a sacrifice, as the person has been expunged from society to a realm where all civil rights and civil religious functions are in suspension. To be more specific, the homo sacer resides on the boundaries of political and religious law which means the homo sacer is at once included and excluded from law. Only in the way that the individual has been excluded by law does that individual continue to be included. It is not law but the realm of valued life that the individual is excluded from when they become homo sacer. These people can't be sacrificed to the Gods because they belong outside the recognised terrain of valued life and there is nothing left in them worth sacrificing. To sacrifice such an individual would be sacrilege and for that reason they can be killed with impunity.

The power to distinguish between bare life and recognised life arises from the sovereignty claimed by the state. We'd like to think that the establishment of a liberal society of law based on rights and freedoms would inoculate society of these practices. But it seems that, at best, it just means everyone is potentially a sovereign as well as a homo sacer. It may be that in any state everyone is at risk of being declared a homo sacer. It is interesting that the Western media reached for the old label "mad dog" to describe Gaddafi, as states have traditionally relegated groups of people to bare life by rendering them to the level of animals with labels such as savages, feral, scum etc. It is quite a leap for Gaddafi to go from sovereign to homo sacer, from qualified life to bare life as he was deprived of his political status and reduced to a hunted man. This came about as the Transitional National Council laid claim to sovereignty as Berbers in the West of the country sought revenge against the regime which had brutalised them.

The death of Gaddafi, as homo sacer, is convenient for NATO and the Western governments that supported him even as he helped maim, mutilate and murder 1.2 million people in Sierra Leone. We can go back to moralising about the Lockerbie Bombing with the Colonel out of the way. The Left can theorise about what could have been in Libya if the revolution had not been "corrupted" while the Right will bask triumphantly in the light of a country set ablaze by over 30,000 bombs. The revolution in Libya might herald a bourgeois democracy in North Africa or at least a moderated form of the old regime. Potentially Libya could become a wonderful holiday destination for white people, whether or not that would lead to less poverty and injustice in the country is another matter. The fact that the rebels initially called for economic justice as well as freedom and democracy has been lost amidst the media hype over yet another "humanitarian intervention". Coverage of the Arab Spring shifted to the Libyan Civil War as it provided a normal narrative for the West, so who cares about what's going on elsewhere?

See also:

Gaddafi's Greatest Hits

No comments: