Home News Urbicide and the Topic of Politics: Notes on the Syrian Civil Battle

Urbicide and the Topic of Politics: Notes on the Syrian Civil Battle


The Syrian civil struggle is without doubt one of the bloodiest, most harmful conflicts of our period. On the time of writing, ten years after the beginning of the battle, round half of Syria’s pre-2011 inhabitants has been internally displaced or fled the nation, greater than 400,000 have been killed, and enormous city areas of the nation have been severely broken (International Battle Tracker 2021). This final aspect, the huge ranges of destruction that Syria has skilled, alongside the violent re-articulation of the nation’s social geography, seem like a few of the most profound results of the civil struggle. Notably, the destruction of cities, the alteration of native areas, or the mobilisation of the constructed surroundings when conducting struggle shouldn’t be disregarded as politically irrelevant or collateral phenomena. As an alternative, my analysis is guided by a real curiosity in understanding how wartime destruction and the alteration of the constructed surroundings deeply have an effect on the dynamics of id and are available to form the formation of political topics.

Contributing to an rising discipline of Syrian and non-Syrian students coping with the politics of area and wartime destruction and its located, socio-political results (Sharp 2016; al-Sabouni 2016; Azzouz 2019; Harastani and Hanna 2019; Halabi 2017), this piece is underpinned by a number of strikes. First, I present a conceptualisation of the politics of area, primarily targeted on understanding the function that materiality performs in practices of energy and resistance. Second, I suggest a studying of urbicide as a conceptual framework to discover how patterns of destruction and violent spatial reorganisation come to form political topics. Third, this contribution makes a case for a historicisation of fabric destruction in Syria. I argue that solely by understanding the situations of emergence and trajectory of city destruction in Syria as a part of its expertise of modernity we are able to adequately method the current situation. Lastly, I present an exploration of the Syrian battle via the lens of urbicide, detailing the other ways during which the constructed surroundings –its destruction, reorganisation and reconstruction– pertains to the reconfiguration of Syria’s polity.

The Politics of Area

Area, accounting for the a number of, traditionally dynamic social relations between topics and objects (Susen 2013), is constitutive of the non-public and the political. The varied landscapes, areas, and locations during which our identities are consistently cast outcome from the dynamic relationship between time and the all the time contested socio-political particularities of a given place. Importantly, locations are each materials and semiotic nodes – that is, locations are constituted by the piling-up of historic trajectories and tales of peoples and issues, and their boundaries are consistently made and remade.

I argue {that a} poststructuralist, relational conceptualisation of area permits a greater understanding of how practices of energy and resistance emanate in and from spatial configurations and are available to form the formation of political topics (Foucault 2009; Massey 2005; Allen 2003; Murdoch 2006). Within the final many years, some strands of poststructuralism have been criticised for privileging textuality and cultural interpretation whereas side-lining social motion and materiality (Barad 2003). Nevertheless, poststructuralist students have challenged these criticisms in IR and different associated tutorial fields. First, by understanding discourse as materials, enabling a ‘folding of the language/materials dichotomy and an expansive notion of discourse as encompassing the context during which the 2 are essentially inseparable’ (Lundborg and Vaughan-Williams 2015, 5). Second, by rethinking materiality as having a big and political function in articulating subjectivity and due to this fact profoundly interwoven with the sphere of energy, concepts, identities, and sensations. Therefore, the fabric is all the time utterly interrelated with the discursive and the linguistic within the work of poststructuralists (St Pierre 2013), which permit us to method political topics as deeply embedded inside spatialised materialities.

Traditionally and within the current, operations of state energy have mobilised area and its constructed materiality to form the articulation of identities for political functions. Area turns into the goal and medium of state practices of incorporation and exclusion in a number of methods, most notably via city planning and the geographical distribution of our bodies, and the territorial articulation of a given political financial system. As Huxley (2008, 1647) places it, areas are inseparable from initiatives of presidency and, like topics, are ‘fashioned on the inter-sections of cross-cutting powers and knowledges, imaginaries and practices.’

Though social and political forces see area as a method of creating management, domination and energy, area ‘escapes partially from those that would make use of it’ as Henri Lefebvre (1991, 26) advised. Thus, practices of spatial domination by no means totally attain their supposed targets, because the ‘dispersed, tactical, and makeshift creativity of teams or people caught within the nets of “self-discipline”’ (de Certeau 1984, xiv-xv) could problem, repurpose and subvert geographies of domination. The truth that area additionally turns into central to methods and practices of resistance exhibits the significance of creating an understanding of area as open and productive, and social classes as by no means totally stabilised and sedimented.

One can discover within the work of postcolonial students, particularly in Franz Fanon’s, a radical understanding of how area and its constructed materiality are associated to processes of resistance and political transformation. As Jabri (2012, 72) argues, Fanon exhibits us a ‘distinctly materialist understanding of the topic of politics’ during which the reappropriation of streetscapes emerges as an act of presence and interjection, confronting oppression and giving delivery to new prospects. Thus, by understanding mundane acts of transgression as transformative mechanisms of the connection between our bodies and world order, Fanon combines ‘the idea of area with the formation of the revolutionary topic’ (Ouaissa 2015, 105).

Relationality, mobility, and the openness of spatial identities don’t invalidate the truth that striation exists, as flows of historical past configure areas in a sure method and sediment variations and limits. Locations even have affective and semiotic intensities – senses of place – which are formative of human subjectivity. Thus, subjectivity seems as not solely the product of our cognitive actions but in addition a distributed phenomenon throughout the completely different bodies-politic surrounding us. Therefore, writing spatial histories calls for consideration to ‘the small print and variations of historical past at explicit instances and particularly locations [and to the] confusions, contradictions and conflicts’ that construct the each day lives of individuals (Philo 1992, 141-142).

The Spatial Politics of the Metropolis at Battle

Departing from conventional IR approaches to struggle which have targeted on violent state interactions and macro-political processes, crucial and feminist IR have highlighted the urgency to method struggle as a ‘social establishment’ (Sylvester 2013, 4) with concrete results upon located topics. A crucial engagement with struggle ought to search to convey the a number of methods during which struggle and violent practices ‘are implicated within the formation of the topic, in articulations of id, and within the places whereby the completely different renditions of struggle discover voice’ (Jabri 2007, 20).

No area is extra politically charged and extra related within the modern wrestle for social order worldwide than the area of the town. From crucial infrastructures to squares, neighbourhoods, and houses, private and non-private city areas have more and more change into securitised and conceptualised as sources of targets and threats (Campbell, Graham and Monk 2007). That is much more seen when coping with the town at struggle, the place each state and non-state actors conceive the town material as a terrain of operations and means to venture and amplify their energy via the exertion of violence. Cities change into occupied, divided, reshaped, re-inhabited, and destroyed beneath struggle. Crucially, late trendy types of city warfare aren’t solely in regards to the actors’ deliberate mobilisation of the city surroundings but in addition about its reinterpretation, manipulation, and the interruption of the political classes city material sustains.

We will discover in an engagement with the literature on urbicide (Coward 2006; 2009; Graham 2007; Fregonese 2009; Kipfer and Goonewardena 2007; Azoulay 2013; Weizman 2006) a outstanding level of articulation for the conceptual strikes elaborated thus far in addition to a strong framework to discover the Syrian case. I method urbicide as a governmental dispositif (Pløger 2008) consisting of the violent spatial reorganisation of the town aiming to disclaim, annihilate, or homogenise place. What’s at stake in episodes of urbicide is the heterogeneity and agonism that city area permits (Coward 2009). In such a rendering, materials destruction is just not merely collateral injury, subordinated and depending on violence instantly perpetrated in opposition to people, however a phenomenon of its personal that needs to be explored regarding political subjectivity.

Notably outstanding in situations of urbicide is the concentrating on of infrastructural networks, that are indispensable to maintain city life and configure political subjectivity as a fancy ecology (Coward 2009). This may be seen in city peripheries within the International South, typically characterised by greater levels of informality and impoverishment, the place destruction and militarisation have disrupted the networks of resistance and survival methods via subaltern road politics (Luke 2004; Bayat 1997). From this viewpoint, the annihilation of infrastructures renders the declared enemy as ‘de-modernised by design’ (Graham 2007) for the reason that erasure of infrastructures from each day life prevents complete segments of the inhabitants from accessing the sphere of the state and see their prospects of political company significantly suppressed.

For Graham, urbicide is an inherent a part of the advanced ontology of struggle, which ought to information our consideration to the concrete perpetrators and their particular practices aimed toward destroying the socio-material material of city centres. Nevertheless, city destruction shouldn’t be conceptualised as a dynamic against trendy urbanity however somewhat as integral to peace and struggle (Virilio 2002). Overtly violent or discriminatory city planning earlier than armed battle, typically beneath the rubric of modernisation/renovation and involving mass demolitions, in addition to processes of reconstruction-through-erasure after hostilities, ought to fall beneath the understanding of urbicide.

Furthermore, there’s a ultimate layer of urbicide of paramount significance. Following Marshal Berman’s understanding of the cultural-affective dimensions of urbicide, the destruction and alteration of cities additionally entail the destruction of a way of place and ontological safety, which ‘could present the affective foundations of socio-spatial id’ (Kipfer and Goonewardena 2007, 6). This ‘stickiness’ between the area and the topic needs to be understood as ‘an impact of the histories of contact between our bodies, objects and indicators’ (Ahmed 2004, 90), pointing at histories of previous affective encounters embedded within the materiality of the on a regular basis and their capability to form the current.

Syria: A Historical past of City Destruction

In Syria, city destruction has a historical past, and it’s important to grasp the situations of emergence that make wartime destruction each doable and significant within the first place. City destruction is integral to Syrians’ expertise of modernity. All through the French Mandate (1920-1946), colonial violence concerned intensive spatial cartography of communities, segregative city planning and interventions, and, most paradigmatically, aerial bombing to quell revolt.  The French bombing of Damascus in 1925, alongside a repertoire of discourses and interventions aimed toward reconfiguring area and controlling Syria’s structure of communities, had a outstanding formative impact upon the postcolonial Syrian state and its political topics.

Nevertheless, the degrees of violence, spatial mechanisms of management, and concrete destruction employed through the civil struggle solely make full sense in mild of later developments, significantly beneath the rule of Hafiz al-Asad. Between 1976 and 1982, Islamic militants of the Muslim Brotherhood fiercely challenged the regime with a wave of strikes, assassinations, sabotages, and armed rebellions (Lefèvre 2013). In Aleppo and later in Hama, the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood used the configuration of city area to advance or destroy the revolt.

The showdown in Hama in early 1982 was significantly brutal. On the one hand, the occupation of a number of quarters of Hama by Brotherhood militants exhibits how the city material – the mosque, the alleyway, the hideout– can form and help a strong problem to state authority. Then again, incapable of penetrating Hama’s slim streets, the regime determined to resort to helicopter fireplace, bulldozers, and artillery bombardments to face the revolt. Metropolis quarters had been repeatedly raided, and whole buildings had been demolished when a suspect was recognized, turning Hama’s quarters right into a pile of rubble. The systematic mass killings throughout the town’s neighbourhoods continued till the top of February 1982, claiming the lives of hundreds of Syrians.

Urbicide seeks to extirpate the enemy from the social physique via destruction and uprooting. The ruination of constructed environments and our bodies organises political life via spatial acts of negativity, as these segments of the inhabitants recognized as enemies are rendered dispensable. Underneath urbicide, like beneath the state of siege, violence is all the time metonymical, directed to your complete social physique (Mbembe 2019, 82). ‘Asad needed to punish the entire of Hama’, the Syrian painter Khaled al-Khani argues. ‘By way of us, he needed to show all Syrians that difficult the regime would result in this. And it labored. It labored for 30 years’ (Atassi 2012).

In February 2012, because the civil struggle escalated, Syrians remembered Hama on the thirtieth anniversary of its bloodbath. The bloodshed in Hama,which had been lengthy subjected to silence and worry, has been recalled and explored with nice depth as if the current requested for a collective social historical past of the previous. As Salwa Ismail (2018, 139-140) places it, ‘contenting with a violent previous and discovering particular person and collective phrases of negotiating one’s relations to it has been formative of Syrians as subject-citizens beneath the Asad regime’.

The Civil Battle and the Urbicide of Syria

The predominant function of cities within the Syrian civil struggle is simple to see. City and peri-urban areas have been important theatres of struggle and areas the place completely different actors have tried to legitimise and implement competing socio-political orders. This has led to large destruction of homes, public buildings, infrastructures, and cultural heritage virtually all through your complete nation. Greater than 53% of the Syrian inhabitants dwelling in city centres have been affected by destruction (REACH 2019, 1), 50% of Syria’s important infrastructure was deemed inoperative by 2017, and a few third of Syria’s houses had been destroyed, together with 36,000 buildings solely in Aleppo (Overton and Dathan 2019). The urbicide of Syria has had a number of registers which are price detailing.

First, each the Syrian regime and the assorted insurgent armed teams which have configured the Syrian rebellion have engaged within the strategic destruction of the constructed surroundings as a mechanism to inscribe a selected socio-political and id regime. As an illustration, the desecration and infrequently full erasure of Christian spiritual buildings, shrines, and plenty of different iconoclastic assaults proliferated as jihadist teams (paradigmatically ISIS) grew in significance. The destruction of non secular buildings entails the lack of historic depth and goals to reshape political group by negating any chance for plurality.

The regime has blatantly resorted to urbicide, partially by its superior air energy, as a mechanism to uproot communities and, in the end, render the revolutionary topic unable to carry out political company. The sieges of the Damascene Gohuta and Japanese Aleppo exactly recommend that the Syrian regime’s materials erasure and important infrastructures had been aimed toward rendering all types of resistance – armed, civil, secular, or Islamist – helpless and restricted to maintain their very survival as human beings. Finally, such a extreme type of an enemy-centric counterinsurgency marketing campaign is the product of the dearth of structural settlement between a regime, which isn’t recognised as sovereign, and the ruled, who aren’t recognised as topics (Azoulay 2013, 209).

As argued earlier, urbicide additionally entails affective, textured, and emotional layers past the strategic destruction carried out by each the regime and insurgent forces. The brutal ranges of destruction have compelled Syrians to bear the ‘surreal transformation of a recognized area…the unrecognisable side of your metropolis, the disorientation, in addition to the painful loss’ (Gómez López, 2017). In Aleppo, Lina Sergie Attar says, nothing prepares you to grasp the brand new maps with the shifting blocks of colors and frontlines (Masahat 2018). Nothing prepares you to grasp the collapse of scales of loss; how the lack of dwelling, the lack of the town and, in the end, the lack of reminiscence come collectively and outline the topic of struggle. The extreme destruction of the town’s material as a ‘web site for rooting places of spatiotemporal reminiscences’ (Brownstein 2016) entailed the erosion of the lived expertise of place and Aleppo’s distinctive sense of the town. Because the novelist Khaled Khalifa places it, Aleppo grew to become a metropolis that now not exists, ‘however it’s defending itself and its reminiscence’ (Mahmoud and Saad 2014).

Second, the urbicide of Syria additionally refers back to the violent rearticulation of the nation’s social geography. Certainly, the struggle has compelled the division of areas, the displacement of communities, the solidification of socio-spatial boundaries, and the formation of recent territories. What’s outstanding about this spatial recomposition of the city area all through the struggle, as heterogeneity is focused and politically antagonistic enclaves are produced, is how the phenomenon of urbicide is linked to the emergence of recent meanings of energy, territory, and id.

In Damascus and Aleppo, the regime was wanting to spend money on a discourse that activated the long-standing attachments, social behaviours, and senses of place of city Syrians alongside a blunt depiction of the opposition as threatening rural Islamists, selling an imaginary that linked the upkeep of social peace to the political survival of Asad. In most of the interviews I performed all through 2019, rural/city, class, and sectarian narratives are sometimes intertwined with references to the constructed surroundings. What’s related about these testimonies is just not their willingness to emphasize their urbanity and differentiate the town from its outskirts or peripheral neighbourhoods, however somewhat how these long-present socio-cultural notions and spatialisations are in the end mobilised to justify complete struggle upon the opposite.

Third, it is very important word how practices of fabric destruction through the struggle relate to each the pre-war politics of city growth and the politics of reconstruction. On the one hand, city renewal as redevelopment-through-demolitionwas used as a weapon of struggle in Damascus as early as 2012 (Solvang and Neistat 2014). For instance, demolition plans authorised by Decree 66/2012 didn’t have an effect on areas devastated by the battle, however quarters that witnessed massive demonstrations and are strategically situated round key political and financial websites in city Damascus (Rollins 2017). Then again, the incipient reconstruction efforts, equivalent to Marota Metropolis and Basilia Metropolis (Syrbanism 2019), alongside the authorized framework that maintain them, don’t symbolize a novel city politics. In actual fact, the post-war reconstruction framework promoted in Syria thus far is neither “post-war” nor a “framework”. In Syria, we’ve got seen a set of formal and casual measures, neoliberal in spirit and really uneven in nature, that are extremely depending on the ability relations current in war-torn Syria.

Finally, as Hiba Bou Akar (2018, 182) brilliantly suggests regarding Beirut, we’re dealing in Damascus with a spatial logic of city territorial restructuring that seeks to show former war-torn peripheries into frontiers via ‘locking up sure geographies within the current for worry of the long run, whereas persevering with to create calculated openings for city development and actual property revenue’. By creating luxurious, prime-location actual property in areas with excessive financial potential however hitherto inhabited by decrease courses, socio-economic cleavages are additional inscribed upon the panorama.

Lastly, urbicide is central within the regime’s envisioned new social geography of loyalty. Homogeneity, on this understanding, is just not a lot associated to the creation of non secular or ethnic enclaves however somewhat on the inscription of political loyalty upon area. The patterns of fabric destruction, the spatial mapping of trusted and untrusted communities, the compelled displacement of these deemed doubtlessly threatening, and the uneven and selective early reconstruction seem as a few of the mechanisms that search to manipulate identities and produce loyal topics. In different phrases, the politics of fabric destruction, the politics of reconciliation in former rebel-controlled areas, the politics of return of those that have been displaced, and the politics of reconstruction needs to be understood as mutually interrelated.


This brief contribution has sought to supply a framework via which Syria’s wartime spatial politics and the destruction of the city constructed surroundings could be adequately understood, considerably as these processes form strains of identification and political topics. It has tried to unravel the a number of intertwined dynamics that urbicidal violence has taken in Syria, from the strategic destruction of the constructed surroundings to the rearticulation of the city sphere in each peace and struggle to make sure political loyalty. Underneath urbicide, an identifiable context is erased by the amorphous cityscape, now diminished to piles of particles; continuity in place is ceased by the huge displacement, which, in flip, dislocates collective reminiscence; historic specificity is negated.

Because the morphology of Syrian cities change and their socio-spatial boundaries are remade, so are Syrians. One of many far-reaching results of the civil struggle has been the rearticulation of political group: as Syrians are internally displaced and communities change into tied to new areas, refugees worldwide discover themselves articulating political company by navigating in and thru exile, opening new spheres of motion and political horizons. The wrestle for city id, preserving property rights, and reconstructing Syria’s cities via accountability, justice, and native company, will form the years to come back. Spatial justice ought to entail a reconstruction mannequin that restores the connection of inhabitants to locations in order that return doesn’t change into alienation.


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