On Kunhadi’s new civility campaign, or how to cross the road when there is no state.
It’s funny. NGOs in Lebanon seem to address every single facet of violence in Lebanese society: be it war-related violence, refugee violence, violence against women, violence against domestic workers, traffic, pollution etc. Structural violence however is something that NGOs do not rally and scream against. Structural violence, as I taught my undergraduate students in Michigan while holding an imaginary gun and shooting at them, is NOT a visible form of violence. It is not rape; it is not physical or verbal abuse. It is a violence of institutions.
And this is exactly why it is such a powerful form of violence. It is very difficult to trace, see and locate structural violence in order for it to be challenged and revealed. Structural violence is the form of oppression, segregation and assault committed by social structures and institutions on certain communities, races, bodies and peoples that produce ontologically different bodies, races and peoples; and also produce chaotic and “uncivilized” people who don’t cross the road properly in Lebanon. The weak structure of Lebanese institutions, something that NGOs arguably help produce, is itself the cause of a lack of obedience (whether intentional as a defiance to the weak state or an unconscious presentiment of the daily absence of the state) to traffic lights and of the “inability” of Lebanese people to “cross the road in the correct manner”.
NGOs in Lebanon, the official spokespersons of Michel Foucault’s biopolitics of modernity, are really starting to get on my nerves. Having a campaign that orient citizens to cross the road in a “civilized” manner assumes that the problem of crossing the roads safely is that of individual ignorance of civility, manifested in modern and sophisticated traffic lights and white stripes on the roads.
Give me a break. As the whole country is drowning in water, it is really obvious that “modernity” and “civility”, for those who consider this top priority in Lebanon, will not be a possibility if the state collapses in a sewer in the next few hours. Civility is a dialogical relationship between citizens and the state. A relationship of trust, fear and productive self-regulatory obedience maybe. But a relationship nonetheless. So, I refuse to hear about civility form NGOs.