Location Zero Recap

Let’s see if I can express this a little more clearly than have done, with some additional elaboration on terms and frames of reference that have come up. This should offer as close to a coherent summary as I can manage of recent posts entitled Location Zero (Pts I, II, III, and IV), with some prior points addressed in the Human Terrain Mapping thread.

1. Terrorist sanctuaries so defined since 9/11 are, or have become, “politically hyperreal” in the Baudrillardian sense of things. Policymakers and media pundits talk of cave complexes and urban redoubts, but few, other than a handful of special forces operators, have actually confirmed or experienced them as phenomena in the real. This isn’t to suggest that they don’t exist – the opposite, in fact. Politicization and mediatization of the phenomena has rendered them more real than real.

2. In this political representation, sanctuaries are also “spatial inversions”. Political hyperreality insists on our awareness of them, but we know of them in their absence. They are voids, gaps, cracks, ellisions. Sites, conditions, and processes of intermediacy, transition, and liminality. If we understand that, then we understand sanctuaries to be in the same conceptual arena as neutral ground/states, buffer zones, traffic deserts, scorched earth, or other geographies of exemption. If, in a security sense, such intermediate spaces are “cracks in the system”, then what’s the system? The entire logic chain demonstrates an imbalance of power, an inversion of meaning.

3. The political characterization of extremist sanctuaries has reduced (or elevated) them to representational simulacra – politically hyperreal spatial inversions. The postmodern longhand is a useful explanatory framework for the politics of it. But the notion that extremist sanctuaries are in fact mere fictions of political provenance should be rejected out of hand. Sanctuary concepts and practices are real. They aren’t liberal or realist manifestations, but transcend both. They’re neither benign nor malignant, but function simply as objects and subjects of political and human agency. There are humanitarian sanctuaries, just as there are terrorist sanctuaries. There are scales of sanctuary to consider: in physical terms, state, region, city, enclave, ghetto, house, jail cell, grave. There are disciplinary interpretations – law as sanctuary, culture as sanctuary, the theology of sanctuary, (or reverse the order of these three), etc. – to consider. There are baseline dimensional issues that have to be considered: sanctuary as a complex terrain, of physical (territory, environment), human, and cognitive dimensions. Overlap your interpretive considerations (ie scale of human terrain, scale of cognition, etc.) and the whole thing reveals itself to have been a grossly misrepresented and messy ball of confusion.

4. Sanctuary, as a form of exception or intermediacy, co-exists with the system from which it is exempt. This represents a power imbalance, whereby the system is defined by powerholders (at least initially), who also define the parameters of exception (or of Othering, in another context). That means that the occupants/users/seekers of “sanctuary” are unlikely to view sanctuary in the same way that powerholding system-definers do. So, despite the fact that they feed from and shape one another, there’s an asymmetry at play in these sorts of dyadic oppositions (as with the terrorist/freedom fighter or combatant/non-combatant pairs). This is what Reinhart Koselleck referred to as “asymmetric counterconcepts”. Nothing to do with “asymmetric warfare”, although I’m intrigued by the former’s embeddedness in the latter.

5. This too has limits. The postmodern longhand is a useful method for framing and explaining complex conceptual developments, expecially in longitudinal terms. But how does it translate to investigating contemporary problems? I wondered if it was possible, given the system/sanctuary dyad, to identify a precursor-type of index case. I’ll need to dig into Koselleck to see what he writes about the origins of asymmetric counterconcepts, a.k.a. historical antecedents. Thanks to Matt for a previous redirect on this; it seems to indicate a fundamental problem with attempting to identify a “location zero” through a genealogical approach – and that in itself suggests the futility of the political project.

6. This line of reasoning was based on the assumption that “index case” need refer to the original, first, primordial example of the issue – in a reverse-engineered, genealogical sense. But does it? “Index case” can also simply indicate the first case that brought the issue to our attention, which, depending on what approach we want to take or what considerations we give primacy to, can be just about anything. This suggests that location zero, in the genealogical sense, precedes or triggers the investigation, which then goes to antecedents; but that in a real world investigative sense, identifying location zero – to interdict, apprehend, disrupt, or destroy its user – is an entirely different problem-set.

7. As political theatrics, zero-tropes – ground zero, patient zero, suspect zero, location zero – are also politically reductivist exercises. The display of will, and expenditure of resources, to locate the ultimate terrorist in his ultimate hiding place, from macro to micro scale – and across physical, human, and cognitive dimensions – is, ultimately, self-nullifying. Drop a 500lb bomb to take out a location where might be located a single high value target, and there’s nothing left to confirm success or failure one way or the other. But the offending site’s been dealt with, therefore success, accompanied by media-worthy spectacle. The zero-trope zoetrope itself suggests an anti-Benthamite circum-optic in which the cracks, gaps, and ellisions flashed before our eyes blur and are made real all at the same time.

8. But for dealing with real world phenomena – in which networks of individuals act independently of states and with purpose – zero-tropes might also represent the sort of conceptual levers that can be used to better or more accurately pinpoint proverbial (was it a proverb?) needles in haystacks. This is where the post-structuralism ends and the social network analysis begins. I see one flowing naturally from the other, although I’m certain that I read somewhere that they aren’t reconcilable. Qualifying (and quantifying… I shudder at the thought, but recognize the need) “structural holes” and embeddedness, among other characteristics of small world topographies, could be the way to move past the explanatory impasse and better develop how we investigate evidence of sanctuary concepts and practices.

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