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Free Thinking : The world

From New Delhi, writer Rana Dasgupta

Lethal Cities, And Eyal Weizman

  • Rana Dasgupta
  • 20 Oct 06, 07:09 AM

Thinking back to an earlier post on this blog, written at the time of Israel's bombardment of Beirut, I don't want to lose sight of the fact that contemporary cities are increasingly militarised spaces, and that city warfare is one of the major preoccupations of today's military strategists. Even the fortress of the City of London betrays such preoccupations, but there are other cities, of course, where warfare is a much more literal and everyday component of city life.

This has been the long-term focus of the work of Eyal Weizman.

A recent paper of his is summarised thus:

"The fact that most contemporary military operations are staged in cities suggests an urgent need to reflect on an emergent relationship between armed conflicts and the built environment. Contemporary urban warfare plays itself out within a constructed, real or imaginary architecture, and through the destruction, construction, reorganization, and subversion of space. As such, the urban environment is increasingly understood by military thinkers not simply as the backdrop for conflict, nor as its mere consequence, but as a dynamic field locked in a feedback-based relationship with the diverse forces operating within it – local populations, soldiers, guerrilla fighters, journalists and photographers, and humanitarian agents. This essay belongs to a larger investigation of the ways in which contemporary military theorists are conceptualizing the urban domain. What are the terms they are using to think about cities? What does the language employed by the military to describe the city to themselves (for example, at international conferences dealing with urban warfare) and to the general public (most often through the media) tell us about the relationship between organized violence and the production of space? What does this language tell us about the military as an institution? Not least important is the question of the role of theory in all these operations."


  1. At 03:28 AM on 25 Oct 2006, fitz wrote:

    Cities are cities are cities are cities - people fight not because they dislike cities! but because they don't like other people.

    Go back and look at the great wars of Roman occupation in Britain. The wars were fought away from cities on great plains. Why? I think they had more sense. Why destroy cities - it's not cities we wish to destroy but people. Once they are destroyed we can continue to use their beautiful cities.

    Boedicia of course seen it a little differently - yes she and her army did fight on the plains but she was so incensed by her foes and the rape and killing of her daughters that she not only fought on the plains but then ransacked and destroyed their cities and towns. she didn't dislike cities as such but what they represented.

    Why are cities war zones today? - it seems such a silly question to ask really - because that (certainly in the case of the middle east) is were the majority live. The suicide bombers hide in the cities - the missile launches are made from the cities.

    let me ask you another silly question - if the Arabs in the Gaza strip or where ever else they may live moved out of these areas and took to the desert - would the cities and towns still be attacked?

    War is war is war is war - people are people are people are people - cities are cities are cities are cities.

    there is of course a connection but don't let's carried away with using cities as part of the psychology of war. it just stops us thinking clearly and defining peace!

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  2. At 10:35 AM on 26 Oct 2006, William Cope wrote:

    Just found this site. Full of goodies.

    Wondered about the city and military thing. Cities here seem to have been designed with warfare in mind in medieval times - lots of walls and forts etc everywhere. This then seems to go away (why? a historian would know, I don't, as Larkin might say). Did people in the UK lose a fear of warfare in the 1800s?

    And I wonder if the emerging cities round the world have anything to learn from a process that some of the established cities of the west seem almost to have "gone through" already. Can there be a sharing of experience and knowledge?

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  3. At 04:11 PM on 26 Oct 2006, estherwilson wrote:

    'War is war is war is war - people are people are people are people - cities are cities are cities are cities.

    there is of course a connection but don't let's carried away with using cities as part of the psychology '

    But we see evidence of this all the time, surely?

    On a smaller scale - if a run-down estate or a no-go slum area is redeveloped for the better, with space and greenery people will nurture & tend it.

    The enviornment works with us in this way. And Visa Versa.

    There is an area in Liverpool known as the Welsh streets. Sturdy, good, solid houses, tree lined streets for kids to play in.

    They are under threat of 're-development' i.e. demolition. some of the community are fighting this. I was researching something else when I spoke to some people there.

    One woman - who's house is lovingly tended, the frontage covered in plants & shrubs, with two huge pots full of flowers -has graffiti metal grates on houses either side. Her house looks like a flower in the desert.

    She told me a story. Ten years before she'd planted seeds in the pots ('it would take two men to lift one) but they kept getting nicked.

    She kept buying more, growing the seeds 'from scratch' re-planting and putting them back outside. She got the local kids to help her.
    They had little pots.

    but the big ones kept getting robbed. One night she hid behind the curtains and watched. A car drew up and for the fourth time, two blokes robbed the pots.

    She planted more - 'because I couldn't lose my faith in humanity'. The night she put them out she watched and waited. The car pulled up & drove off - leaving the pots outside.

    Is this not a small example of a 'man-made' enviorn having an effect on the way we behave?

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  4. At 01:12 AM on 27 Oct 2006, fitz wrote:

    I think we are confusing two concepts here. Cities that have become war zones in the big way - the Middle East for example and cities and/or towns which commit war on themselves.

    Esther talks about the former. And I agree living in poverty and poor conditions brings about certain behaviours or is it the behaviours that cause the poverty and poor conditions? And I do have examples in my own existance when improving conditions improve the people.

    So are there not two topics here? - How people commit war on themselves and their neighbours as an internal matter and:

    How people commit war on their neighbours as an external matter.

    The Hazbellah and Israel in Lebanon is an example of the former, whilst the no go areas of say Los Angelas or Buenos Aries is an example of the latter.

    Are there two totally different set of dynamics at play here with each example or are they all much of a muchness?

    or to put it more bluntly is "crapping in your own nest" the same as the "cuckoo mentality of destroying someone elses"?

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