The Least of All Possible Evils: Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza

I’m really looking forward to Eyal Weizman‘s new book from Verso. I’m still getting through Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation which is probably the most interesting and original book I’ve ever read on Palestine, after Anthropological Urbanism‘s Rakan Budeiri told me about the Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency project Weizman is involved with.

But I’m even more excited about The Least of All Possible Evils: Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza after Didier Fassin’s Munro Lecture in Edinburgh this March titled ‘Humanitarian reason: a moral economy of our time’. Fassin manages to straddle both anthropological, academic analysis and applied, practical work, and to me that’s what anthropology is all about. I should probably write a separate post about how amazing Didier Fassin is, but basically he got me thinking about how the catch-all concept of humanitarianism is really a way of depoliticising injustice, and is a banner under which all sorts of atrocities can be carried out, but is impossible to oppose. Like democracy. No one can be ‘against’ democracy or humanitarianism, but these are both ideologically flexible terms that are used by states and militaries to justify the most abominable actions, like war in Afghanistan for example, when economic and political motives entirely distinct from democracy and humanitarianism.

This is also something Badiou discusses, and of course Žižek’s Violence urges us to “think about the fake sense of urgency that pervades the left-liberal humanitarian discourse on violence” which call for moral outrage and leave no room for sober reflection (2008:3). I’m really enjoying these writers at the moment, so reading that Eyal Weizman is also joining the debate around humanitarianism fills me with nerdy anticipation.

His book seems like it might touch on similar ground to Fassin and Rechtman’s Empire of Trauma as well as Žižek’s Violence, exploring “the defining intervention of Médecins Sans Frontières in mid-1980s Ethiopia; the separation wall in Israel-Palestine; and international and human rights law in Bosnia, Gaza and Iraq,” and showing “how military and political intervention acquired a new “humanitarian” acceptability and legality”. Nonetheless, Weizman is sure to bring new insights and analysis to this discussion, and I can’t wait to get hold of a copy.

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