Dispute or Disrupt? Desire and Violence in Protests Against the Iraq War

lipsIn “Dispute or Disrupt? Desire and Violence in Protests Against the Iraq War,” xxx suggests ‘queering’ direct action in order to overcome the limits of rhetorical politics. xxx shows how the Bush Administration’s justifications for the Iraq War were incoherent discourses that drew rhetorical opposition into a politics of identification that made them easy to dismiss. An alternative, xxx claims, are “bodies that mutter” – subjects of desire whose bodily force continues where discourses fail, which he locates in the Code Pink disruption of John McCain’s speech at 2008 Republican National Convention, AIDS crisis-era queer activism, and radical clowning.

Introduction

The movement against the Iraq War was an exercise in failure. The February 15, 2003 global demonstration against the Iraq War was “the largest protest event in human history,” yet it did not prevent the war.[2] A year and half later, the movement was again unsuccessful when the Democratic presidential candidate promising to the end the war lost the general election despite wavering public support for the ongoing conflict.[3] Media attention gave rise to movement celebrities, such as Cindy Sheehan, who demanded that President Bush explain the ‘noble cause’ for which her son died in Iraq, but was unable to secure a meeting with the President. Even after the Democrats had enough political power to end the war, having gained control of Congress in 2006 and then the Presidency in 2008, they only completed full withdrawal in December 2011.[4] In addition to these many defeats, this paper focuses on another: the failure of rhetoric – its inability to dispute official discourses of state violence, and the politics of bodies that fail to achieve rhetoricality.[5] In the former, the paper identifies an impediment to the anti-war effort, and in the latter, the paper finds the constitutive lack of queer desire that overcomes political strategy’s rhetorical limits. Continue reading “Dispute or Disrupt? Desire and Violence in Protests Against the Iraq War”

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Failed Rhetoricality: Bodies that Mutter

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Soon before President Bush left office, he had a pair of shoes thrown at him during a press conference on his farewell journey to Iraq. The thrower was Muntadhar al-Zaidi, an Iraqi journalist upset with the American occupation of his country. In the middle of the press conference, al-Zaidi stood up, yelled, “This is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog,” and threw a shoe at Bush.62 Before security personnel were able to intervene, al-Zaidi launched another shoe, saying, “This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq.” Showing just how unaffected he was by the whole ordeal, Bush later laughed it off by saying, “If you want the facts, it’s a size 10 shoe that he threw,” further shrugging of the protest with the comment, “I don’t know what the guy’s cause was. I didn’t feel the least bit threatened by it.”63 As a strategy of confrontation, al-Zaidi’s shoe-ing follows Voltairine de Cleyre’s classic definition of direct action as one of the “spontaneous retorts of those who feel oppressed by a situation.”64 Moreover, it matches the essential characteristics outlined by direct action advocates, being confrontational, public, disruptive, and illegal.65 Yet it was unable to affect Bush, probably because it was immediately contained by the politics of identification, which raises an important question: can other types of embodied protest disrupt power? Continue reading “Failed Rhetoricality: Bodies that Mutter”

Identification and Interest: Personality Problems and “I Told You So”

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The Politics of Identification: Or, Bush’s Personality Problem

In addition to critique the incoherent discourses justifying the Iraq War, Cindy Sheehan and the Gold Star Families for Peace sought moral clarity by also going after Bush for the killing of innocents. In doing so, they personalized their rhetoric in the hope that it would dramatize the divide between the anti-war movements message of reconciliation and Bush’s personal “crusade.”37 Sheehan had already written that President Bush had shown “arrogance,” had “nothing in his eyes,” and lacked “any real compassion” during a 2004 meeting.38 But she was further enraged when, in a speech on August 3, 2005, President Bush said that US troops killed in Iraq had committed a sacrifice “made in a noble cause.”39 Sheehan, certain that the causes for the war were ignoble, was confident that the President would be unable to articulate the noble cause when pressed to do so. Despite Sheehan’s message being directed at the causes of the Iraq War, and the fact that the Bush Administration’s strategy of silence was a matter of political calculation rather than personal insult, her approach encouraged additional personal attacks on the President’s character. Consequently, a claim that had already existed at the margins of the anti-war movement became its most popular theme: the Iraq War was the result of a personality problem. Continue reading “Identification and Interest: Personality Problems and “I Told You So””