In “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.
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. 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. 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. 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. 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”
The incoherent discourses that justified the Iraq War were not politically ineffective; to the contrary, they trapped opponents in rhetorical disputes that failed to upset the war effort. The personalized ridicule of President Bush and the ‘I Told You So’ narrative behind Cindy Sheehan’s opposition to the Iraq War confirm that rhetorical challenges to state violence often fall into traps like those set for disputing homophobic discourse. Treating the Iraq War as the result of a personality problem, anti-war rhetoric created an economy of ridicule that failed to engage larger questions of geopolitical power and furthered a politics of identification that dismissed criticism before its claims could be evaluated. The ‘I Told You So’ narrative created an emotional politics of shared truths that helped produce large publics critical of the Bush Administration, yet they developed greater commonality through celebrity and amateur policy expertise rather than a political plan for ending the war.
Continue reading “Conclusion”
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”