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Stephen Graham Ed., Cities, War, and Terrorism

Malden, MA : Blackwell, 2004, 416 pp., $39.95, ISBN : 978-1-40511-515-9
H.V. Savitch

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1Cities, War, and Terrorism, edited by Stephen Graham is a compendium of essays on the intersection of urbanity and violent conflict.  In an era where urban areas have become prime targets for political and religious violence this volume is both relevant and timely. It is also heavily ideological and unforgivably one sided. The volume is premised on the existence of a conspiracy by “neo imperial” nations (led by the United States) to destroy and subjugate under-developed nations.  The “evidence” for this assertion is garnered from an assortment of sources, whose ideological perspectives are hardly surprising. At other times the volume is marred by an absence of evidence or stretches of logic that confound the reader. In the introduction Graham blames neo-liberalism and globalization for urban violence, contending that they have eroded social and economic security in many cities and given way to “violent conflicts over very local, urban, strategic sties.” (p. 6). Because of this, security is the new imperative of nation states. Exactly how this causal chain is established is not clear and left as an assertion.

2Graham’s aim is to compose a volume which provides an overview of how war and cities have intimately shaped each other both historically and contemporarily. To accomplish this he divides the volume into three distinct sections : (1) Cities, War, and Terrorism in History and Theory, (2) Urbicide and the Urbanization of Warfare, and (3) Exposed Cities: Urban Impacts of Terrorism and the “War on Terror.”

3Part I deals with the history and theory of urban warfare. It contains six chapters that explain the control and reaction to terror in the world’s urban areas. Ryan Bishop and Gregory Clancey follow the theme of endemic urban warfare by tracing the development of cities as a target of warfare. Simon Guy continues the section with a review of the emotional attachment to the visual landscape, especially remnants of past conflicts. In particular, he uses the city of Berlin to illustrate his point through such examples as the Reichstag, the Berlin Wall, and Potsdamer Platz. Zygmunt Bauman expounds on earlier assertions linking globalization, urbanization, and war. He describes globalization’s ability to externalize risk from first to third world countries, which has created unparalleled tensions between the two. Finishing out the section, Timothy Luke details the massive “technostructures” that sustain the very pace and essence of modern urban life. While these structures add immeasurable value to our way of life, they bring a similar amount of vulnerability. By allowing so many aspects of our lives to be concentrated in massive conduits, they become target rich environments for those wishing to inflict fear and terror.

4Part II deals with Urbicide and the Urbanization of Warfare. This concept of “urbicide” is defined as “the deliberate killing, or denial, of the city”. The first two essays essentially contest the nature of modern urbicide. Martin Shaw links the concept with the larger act of genocide. Martin Coward, using the example of the 1992-5 Bosnian War, argues that urbicide is a distinct form of war which merits consideration when defining war crimes.

5Eyal Weizman attempts to show how the Israelis use architecture and planning to dominate the landscape. There is nothing new in his claim; certainly nothing that could not be found in critical newspapers or partisan pamphlets. Totally absent from Weizman’s account is an insight into the complications of the issue. Instead, the author treats the reader to a stark caricature, losing sight of the fact that both Israelis and Arabs struggle over possession of a disputed land, and that each use the means that are most available and effective. For Israelis these means are largely the construction of settlements, while for the Palestinians they are random and ad hoc house building. But providing a balanced and full account is not Weizman’s forte. He is more interested in blaming than explaining.

6Graham’s account of the Israeli raid in Jenin tells us something about the volume’s political bent (the book cover is emblazoned with a photo from that city). For this reason and the centrality of “urbicide”, the essay is worth some extended comment. While Graham does take a few paragraphs to mention Israeli civilian casualties, most of the chapter is taken up with details of how Jenin was destroyed by rampant bulldozing and murderous soldiers (laced with an array of photos and a crude cartoon). We should recall however, the context of the raid on Jenin in April, 2002. That action was preceded by 131 Israeli civilians killed by suicide terrorists within a single preceding month. Thirty of these deaths occurred in a single attack in the dining room of a hotel while families were celebrating Passover. Coming on a wave of earlier killings the attack stunned the nation. Evidence during the trial from those who were captured showed they had subsequently smuggled cyanide into the country to be used in the mass poisoning of Israelis.

7Jenin was known as a hotbed of suicide bombers and the Israeli government responded. Soon afterward, Israeli troops entered the city and picked through buildings and twisted alleyways. Only after 23 troops were killed by ambushes, sniper fire and booby trapped buildings, did the army employ heavy mechanized equipment. While the facts adduced to this well known event are controversial, the accepted evidence neither indicates that a “massacre” occurred nor was Jenin subject to anything that might resemble “urbicide”.

8Indeed, when applied to Jenin the concept of “urbicide” melts away. Much of the damage and death attributed to Jenin can be calculated in fractions of less than one. Jenin's municipal land surface is 2.9 square miles (7.51 square kilometers). The United Nations put actual damage from the raid as involving .05 of a square mile (.13 of a square kilometer) or 1.7 percent of the municipal land area. As for Jenin's population the municipality of Jenin holds approximately 35,000 inhabitants; 52 of whom were killed in the raid (more than half were armed). The population loss amounts to 0.15 percent of the population. Like too many articles in the volume, Graham’s account of Jenin tells us that it is not difficult to distort an event.

9A somewhat more nuanced approach can be found in Robert Warren’s essay on “City Streets.” He goes on to deconstruct the way in which the “war on terror” has blurred the line between civilian and military urban operations. Under the guise of national security, governments have taken pervasive action to limit the freedoms of protestors of global inequalities. Alice Hill rounds out the section by addressing the way in which urban areas have been viewed militarily throughout history. She attacks specifically the way Western militaries prefer to attack from a distance, but that current technologies are not available to do so in an urban setting. Moreover the future attainment of such abilities is highly unlikely.

10Part III deals with Exposed Cities and it is both more creative and less strident. Woven throughout the five chapters is a sustained idea that war has become both a global and local event and that its effect on urban areas is tremendous. The section also details the way in which cities have begun to “design out” terrorism. Michael Sorkin opens by drawing unlikely parallels between New York and Ramallah; describing both as “national security cities.” Sorkin discusses the way in which the militarization of security has fundamentally transformed urban life. Peter Marcuse follows similarly by describing the governance effects of the “war on terror” and the trend of job decentralization from high target areas. Jon Coaffee offers a comparative example of London and its construction of a “ring of steel” around its financial district in response to IRA attacks. However he worries that such security initiatives suffer mission creep by attempting to control other incursions such as protests and small-scale crime. David Lyon ends the section with words of caution regarding the propensity of governments to rely heavily on technology in the “war on terror.” Part of his concerns lie in the belief that such monitoring is bound to become highly centralized and will lead to greater social discrimination by governments. These latter essays are quite worthwhile, though many are drawn from larger books by the authors.

11In sum I would recommend that those who are interested in this subject should read this book selectively and with a healthy dose of skepticism. Its most egregious fault is the total blame assigned to the West and to its “Orientalist” mentality. One would hardly know that 9/11 had occurred, that Islamist Jihadists had taken thousands of lives in preceding years and that much of the terrorism in the world has been committed by Arab against Arab (Algeria, Saudi Arabia) and Muslim against Muslim (Pakistan, Afghanistan). This alone leaves one with the uneasy feeling that Cities, War, and Terrorism blurs the line between scholarship and propaganda.

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H.V. Savitch, « Stephen Graham Ed., Cities, War, and Terrorism », Métropoles [En ligne], 4 | 2008, mis en ligne le 18 décembre 2008, consulté le 27 mars 2017. URL :

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