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Abstract

This article makes two arguments. First, sectarian identity (ethnic, tribal or religious) is an outcome of war rather than a cause of war, even though such identities make (selective) use of memory. The implication of this proposition is that war should be interpreted less as an external contest of will between two sides but rather as a one-sided and/or parallel effort to construct unidimensional political identities as a basis for power. Power derived from identity so constructed is likely to be authoritarian and repressive. Second, different methods of communication provide the basis for different modalities of power and this matters; power diffuses through all forms of communication. But the language of violence is much less amenable to freedom and human emancipation than other nonviolent forms of communication. The arguments are elaborated through a critique of the work of the German legal theorist Carl Schmitt and his notion of the friend–enemy distinction as a basis of political authority. The article concludes by arguing that in a global era, when traditional inter-state war is declining, there are greater possibilities for multiple identities and a layering of political authority, even though there are also efforts to resurrect the friend–enemy distinction in many ‘new wars’ and, above all, in the war on terror.