Creating people's geographies
A very good Fisk piece on sectarianism and how the epistemological violence of imposed imperial cartographic division ultimately results in empirical, on the ground, violence. Put more simply, it is a good reminder of the politics of regional divide and conquer.
I’ve truncated it here and you can read it in full at the Independent. Boldface emphasis is mine.
Graphic: Detail from Picasso’s Guernica
How easy it is to put hatred on a map
Our guilt in this sectarian game is obvious. We want to divide our potential enemies
By Robert Fisk | The Independent | 3rd March 2007
Why are we trying to divide up the peoples of the Middle East? Why are we trying to chop them up, make them different, remind them – constantly, insidiously, viciously, cruelly – of their divisions, of their suspicions, of their capacity for mutual hatred? Is this just our casual racism? Or is there something darker in our Western souls?
Take the maps. Am I the only one sickened by our journalistic propensity to publish sectarian maps of the Middle East? You know what I mean. We are now all familiar with the colour-coded map of Iraq. Shias at the bottom (of course), Sunnis in their middle “triangle” – actually, it’s more like an octagon (even a pentagon) – and the Kurds in the north.
Or the map of Lebanon, where I live. Shias at the bottom (of course), Druze further north, Sunnis in Sidon and on the coastal strip south of Beirut, Shias in the southern suburbs of the capital, Sunnis and Christians in the city, Christian Maronites further north, Sunnis in Tripoli, more Shias to the east. How we love these maps. Hatred made easy.
Our guilt in this sectarian game is obvious. We want to divide the “other”, “them”, our potential enemies, from each other, while we – we civilised Westerners with our refined, unified, multicultural values – are unassailable. I could draw you a sectarian map of Birmingham, for example – marked “Muslim” and “non-Muslim” (there not being many Christians left in England – but no newspaper would print it. I could draw an extremely accurate ethnic map of Washington, complete with front-line streets between “black” and “white” communities but The Washington Post would never publish such a map.
Imagine the coloured fun The New York Times could have with Brooklyn, Harlem, the East River, black, white, brown, Italian, Catholic, Jew, Wasp. Or the Toronto Globe and Mail with French and non-French Canadian Montreal (the front line at one point follows the city Metro) or with Toronto (where “Little Italy” is now Ukrainian or Greek), and colour the suburb of Mississauga green for Muslim, of course. But we don’t draw these Hitlerian maps for our societies. It would be unforgivable, bad taste, something “we” don’t do in our precious, carefully guarded civilisation.
Passing a book stall in New York this week, I spotted the iniquitous Time magazine and there on the cover – and this might truly have been a 1930s Nazi cover – were two cowled men, one in black, the other largely hidden by a chequered scarf. “Sunnis vs Shi’ites,” the headline read. “Why they hate each other.” This, naturally, was a “take-out” on Iraq’s civil war – a civil war by the way, that America’s spokesmen in Baghdad were talking about in August 2003 when not a single Iraqi in his worst nightmares dreamt of what has now come to pass.