- Revolting Grief
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Following the bombings and massacres in Bagdad, Beirut and Paris by the Islamic State on November 12th and 13th, 2015, social (and some mainstream) media were flooded with accounts about the disproportionate amounts of coverage the Paris events had received from Western politicians (Obama declaring the incidents an attack against humanity), social media corporations (Facebook creating “safety alerts” for people who had survived the attacks in Paris, and not in the other two cities) and from many ordinary citizens showing visual and discursive solidarity with France (incorporating the French flag into their profile photos on Facebook or simply posting statements of sadness about the innocent lives lost in Paris). The critique of these sentiments suggested that we needed to ask ourselves why it was that many more people in the world mourned the deaths of those in Paris, and not those in Beirut or Baghdad, and why some bodies were literally more “mournable” and therefore more “human” than others? These critiques were quickly countered by a defense of what seemed to be a “right to mourn” without intrusions, without corrections and without being lectured at. While I found myself sympathetic to the demands that people should be allowed their state of grief and mourning, it was hard not to notice what these responses accomplished: they depoliticized grief, and individualized mourning.
Butler maintains “[m]any people think that grief is privatizing, that it returns us to a solitary situation and is, in that sense, depoliticizing. But I think it furnishes a sense of political community of a complex order, and it does this first of all by bringing to the fore the relational ties that have implications for theorizing fundamental dependency and ethical responsibility” (2004, 22).1 I agree with this assertion, but I also argue that mourning embodies a potentiality for collectivity and political action beyond simply pointing out our existential interdependency and shared vulnerability (see also Butler 2010).2 If we can understand grief as an opportunity to not only realize our shared precarity, but also to interrogate the structures and institutions that render us precarious, then we can imagine it as a starting point for collective world-making where we interrupt institutions that distribute precarity and grief asymmetrically.3 What I would like to do in this piece is to juxtapose the emotional landscape after these series of attacks to the Islamic State bombing at a peace demonstration in Ankara, and the subsequent practices of mourning. These events speak to what forms of mourning are acceptable to the nation-state, and to the dangers of a solely individualized and depoliticized understanding of mourning. I argue that what we do with our grief is critical in intervening in the mechanisms that cause that very grief, or fail to do so. Instead of hearing calls to a political critique of mourning as individual attacks on the rightness or wrongness of our personal feelings, these violent times might be precisely moments where we understand our locations in transnational social, political and economic structures that produce those events we must mourn, and vis-à-vis structures of feeling that dictate not only what bodies will be mourned, but also what form(s) mourning will take.
The Ankara bombings took place on October 10, 2015 during a peace rally that had set out to gather people to protest the escalating violence in Turkey. The nonpartisan rally entitled “Labor, Peace, Democracy” had been organized by DISK (Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Unions), KESK (Confederation of Public Laborers), TTB (Turkish Doctors’ Union) and TMMOB (Union of Turkish Architects’ and Engineers’ Chambers), and a number of NGOs working for religious and ethnic minority rights as well as the HDP (the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party) were expected to attend. Two powerful blasts went off near the HDP and EMEP (Labor Party) corteges before the march started, ultimately leaving over a hundred dead and over four hundred injured.4 The reports following the incident noted that the police had arrived at the scene faster than ambulances, parking their cars...