Mass Killing and State Concepts (Comment)

(Comment at Jay Ulfelder’s Dart-Throwing Chimp, “States Aren’t the Only Mass Killers.”)

To begin with what may seem like a trivial point, the “discrete group” killed on 9/11 may not be best described as “Americans.” The problem of defining Al Qaeda’s enemy also raises the question of whether we are in any sense obligated, for the sake of understanding if for no other reason, to consider the perpetrator’s definition or justification of acts that perhaps always entails the ambition to create or consolidate a “state” of some kind, even if not necessarily a modern political-administrative state. Far beyond Rwanda [cited as one of two cardinal examples of mass killing], examples of mass killing in addition to the Holocaust [the other example] have such a long and varied history they become difficult to distinguish from history, and for the same reason cover every type of state or state concept, including the state concepts that arise within or are implicit in resistance to imposition of other state concepts (via old and new species of imperialism, colonial expansion, “settlement” of territories not under recognized state governance, and so on). In the case of 9/11, the targets represented the financial, military, and political arms of an international (or imperial or neo-imperial) order centered in the United States that would have to be disrupted or reduced in order to advance the AQ state concept – the new Caliphate or expanding [super-]state of revolutionary Islamic states. The definitional problem may present inconveniences to the attempted reduction of history to the terms of contemporary social science, but, if by “state” we mean strictly political-administrative states capable of legal recognition within the current international system of states, then the creation of “non-state actors” as somewhat incomprehensible within that framework would be a predictable result. It also means that the further we look into the past, the less relevant and appropriate our categories will be. For example, was the settlement of North America, as accompanied by the mass annihilation of indigenous people and their ways of life over the course of centuries, accomplished by the American “state” or was the American state as we now know it a product among other things of the settlement of North America?


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