Understanding New Wars
Friday, 12 February to Saturday, 13 February
Location: CRASSH, 17 Mill Lane, Cambridge
Dr Harald Wydra (Faculty of Politics, Psychology, Sociology, and International Studies, University of Cambridge)
Whilst for centuries antagonists in inter-state wars could be clearly defined (in terms of technological capacity, disciplined state armies, the pursuit of strategic political goals), ‘new wars’ have ceased to be objects or tools in the service of a political will aimed at state-building. New wars feed on processes of state disintegration, the asymmetry of war parties, and the blurring of front lines, thus arguably making Clausewitz’s conception of war as a duel between antagonists aiming to confront each other in decisive battle obsolete. This conference seeks to explore an interpretive line that investigates logics of symmetry, notably the tendency of antagonists to vindicate their attacks by their own status as victims. Following Clausewitz, it essentially works on the premise that periods of peace, i.e. the absence of war, still can be seen as the continuity of a Zweikampf (combat) between antagonists. Whilst the conqueror wants peace, the defender potentially is the real aggressor because past defeats and humiliations are used as counter-narratives to prepare the counter-attack. Clausewitz’s anthropological insight here is that the aggressor has always been already aggressed. The long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict perhaps best exemplifies how the spiral of vengeance is vindicated by each side’s position as uniquely suffering victims. In the global world, the distinctions between conquerors and defenders, perpetrators and victims have been blurred further. Nowadays, not only terrorists can vindicate their ‘holy war’ by self-attributions of victimhood but the ‘international community’ have used their status as (potential) victims of terrorist attacks to strike back in the name of ‘universal values’. Calls for vengeance phrased in the language of ‘just war’ are now more evenly distributed, making potential aggression in the name of one’s own victimhood and self-defence more likely.
This conference explores the masks of new wars from the perspective of longue durée civilisational dynamics and to discern anthropological, psychological, and even spiritual forms of reciprocity underlying new wars. It will address the following questions: What is the role of narratives of victimhood, suffering, and humiliation in psychologically preparing populations for war? To what extent are new wars underpinned by unconscious psychological-emotional processes of reciprocity? If world religions such as Christianity or Islam are founded on beliefs and ideas that put the care for the victim in the centre of ritual practices how can the ‘cult of victims’ justify terror and violence? What are possible ways to transform spirals of vengeance into active strategies of reconciliation?
Conference delegates can find information about accommodation in Cambridge at the following URLs:
NB. CRASSH is not able to help with the booking of delegate accommodation.
Administrative assistance: Samuel Mather (Conference Programme Manager, CRASSH)
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