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Fear and Loathing in the South.

Fear and Loathing in the South.

Istanbul Graffiti April 2010

Scott Bohlinger – friend, past colleague, and founder of the Non-State Governance Initiative – raised two interesting questions in one of my previous posts: will technology lead to the democratization of violence, and will state actors still be in a position to gain the upper hand in the aftermath? In response to Scott’s questions, my main argument is that violence remains a last resort and, thus, will only evolve in environments that do not meet the following three conditions: achievable access to coping mechanisms, perceived political inclusion, and sufficient state propaganda. States that do not meet these conditions will bear the brunt of evolved violence that will erode state efficacy, with those who rest safely outside offering up technical assistance to affected, favored states, whenever it is in their interest. Specifically, I think that technology, given the right conditions, will lead to further democratization of violence and, moreover, states will not be able to effectively counter this wave of change.

The democratization of violence – good and bad – began ages ago, with the only point of argument being when and to what extent. The process has resulted in increased ability and access to violence: the citizen now has access to more advanced weaponry on the open and illicit market, as well as information on explosives, chemical and biological weapons, and tactics. This increase in access, though, is unlikely to result in real changes for how citizens confront states and is less relevant than evolution that has taken place in technology and society. Largely, the recent evolution has greatly affected how one can choose to oppose states, allowing citizens to adapt opposition to their specific environments. To what extent violence and technology will be employed is heavily dependent upon societies’ proclivity towards collective action; in short, only where the conditions exist, citizens will toy with technology and its ability to magnify or promulgate violence.

From my perspective, democratization of violence will not occur in the economic north – minus exceptions – because the conditions do not exist. The latent barriers to violence in the economic north are steeper because of a culture of materialism and medication – assuagement of one’s discomfort through commerce, drugs, and other ephemeral pleasures. Under this argument, for instance, the US would not witness a wide-spread or effective domestic violent movement that would confront its government unless discomfort levels gravely exceeded available coping mechanisms. (Protest seldom manifests for the same reason). Applying this theory to Iraq, for instance, would suggest that fostering and supporting ‘material therapy’ would significantly assist in assuaging violent resistance. (I’m willing to bet money that Bashar al-Assad, likewise, wishes he had a Wal-Mart right now).

A second likely requirement, though, is providing a semblence of inclusion – the false belief that your interests are being accounted for through your government – concomitantly with social services and economic opportunity; this is essential to breeding dependence upon the state and the belief that regime change is the wrong answer. Taking the case of Iraq, again, the possibilities for peace would be much greater if it could create a false belief in its political system, which seems highly unlikely due to squabbling and clear sectarian divisions that do not allow for ‘equal access’ to political and economic opportunity. For the same notable shortcomings in political inclusion, exceptions to my expectations on a north-south divide include France, Greece, and Italy, for example.

Third, it’s all about branding. Northern states, especially the US, have done a highly effective job at inculcating an aversion to violence against states through propaganda (e.g., the relative use of ‘terrorist’), and their exclusive ability to apply the branding greatly dissuades wide-scale violence against the state. With this, it is imperative to demonstrate that the targeting of the state is the targeting of the people (e.g., al-Qa’eda hates freedom and liberty) – southern states have done a deplorable job of doing this, due at least in part to their citizens’ commendable skepticism.

As noted, exceptions to my north-south divide and the role of violence do exist; Iran and Turkey, for example, are states that I see can fall off the fence if the former were to experience erosion of coping mechanisms, pushing it towards violence, and the latter could see improvement in political inclusion, pushing it towards peace.


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Ali A. Riazi

Ali is an independent advisor on conflict and foreign affairs and an advocate for civilian protection. He has advised the Office of the Secretary of Defense, US military, NGOs, and intelligence oversight staff on topics, such as Afghanistan, civilian protection, irregular warfare, and civil-military affairs. His 13+ years of career experience have spanned humanitarian and national security circles and involved extensive experience throughout the Near East and Central Asia.

Ali earned a BA in Government & Politics (summa cum laude) and a Minor in International Development & Conflict Management from the University of Maryland, College Park. Additionally, he served as an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant in International Political Economy. He is currently pursuing an MLitt in Terrorism Studies through the University of St. Andrews.

Ali's other blog interests can be followed at, and he can be found on Twitter at!/ali_riazi.