Geopolitics

Colombia, How War Spreads 'Cultural Violence' Into Daily Life

Civil conflict has lasted so long in Colombia that many ordinary people now view gratuitous violence as customary, and in some cases even admirable.

Member of the FARC in the demobilization zone in the province of Tolima
Member of the FARC in the demobilization zone in the province of Tolima
Alejandro Moya

BOGOTÁ — The Colombian press recently reported on a 12-year-old girl in Medellín who was stabbed with scissors by another female student at the José Félix Restrepo INEM school who was just a year older than her. This has been mostly presented as just another case of bullying, though admittedly a serious one. Yet a deeper reading could also consider this incident as an indirect consequence of the prolonged fighting that has assailed Colombia after a half-century of civil conflict.

War has eroded the nation's moral fiber, and disproportionate cases of violence like this, where a negligible dispute at school came to threaten a girl's life, are signs of the deep, intangible harm civil war continues to inflict.

Since the 1970s, sociological studies have observed a marked rise in overall crime rates in the wake of armed conflicts. One of the first and most complete reports was written by Dane Archer and Rosemary Gartner who revealed an increase in homicides and assaults in more than 100 countries that had suffered civil or foreign wars. The crimes were committed by ordinary people, not victims or prisoners of cycles of hate and vengeance, nor necessarily former fighters jaded to violence.

In the 1990s, the Norwegian sociologist and mathematician Johan Galtung formally named this phenomenon "culltural violence." This is understood today to be a sum of social norms, practices, and beliefs that promote violence as an adequate means of resolving conflicts, in place of the traditional prohibitions that restricted it and considered it as a last resort. It is a transformation wherein harming others is no longer taboo nor subject to rejection and remorse, but increasingly an acceptable and even desired source of power, status, money, and moral satisfaction.

Cultural violence is the product of high exposure both to serious levels of violence and to the bombardment of messages justifying, promoting and glorifying aggression. It comes both from witnessing and becoming used to violence and from listening to and persuading yourself that this is good and necessary. The cultural change thus emerges from material violence evident in conflict statistics, and from a symbolic violence, including verbal cues in favor of conflict.

More recent studies like those of Christina Steenkamp highlight the role of jurisprudence in the development of cultural violence. As an instrument of social control and a discourse that first defines reality, then imposes that definition on reality, jurisprudence has the potential to increase aggression and even persuade people that injuring someone is all right.

This perspective makes norms themselves a source of cultural violence. A society that glorifies force and the destruction of enemies using laws, sows delusions in people's minds. It legitimizes notions of eliminating or defacing others or viewing others as toxic bodies devoid of rights and humanity or as diabolical stereotypes. Ten years ago, the German sociologist and jurist Peter Waldmann stated with good reason that Colombia was gravely afflicted with cultural violence, because of the length of its civil conflict. Today, figures on violence and martial laws corroborate his theory.

Updated figures from the state coroner's office, National Police and the Single Register of Victims (RUV), show that in the last 20 years, 40.8% of violent deaths were the consequence of war, and less than 15% related to thefts and related offenses. That makes roughly 45% of homicides the product of household and personal violence.

Colombian laws regulating the conflict have in turn had direct repercussions on the rate of casualties and clashes, on the meaning and moral contents of the war and consequently, on collective perceptions of life and death. In contrast with norms operating in peacetime, our military policy has sanctified victory over human rights and imposed dichotomies in categorizing combatants. The world is divided between friends and enemies.

Our military policy has sanctified victory above human rights.

The Colombian War Manual and Armed Forces Rules of Engagement have classified guerrilla fighters as entirely harmful creatures and a constant, and often lethal threat, to be neutralized or detained on sight. Colombia is one of the few countries that works the Continuous Combat Function, allowing soldiers to attack members of subversive groups at any moment and in any context.

So with war setting the standard, and society following its lead, we have adopted a radical and destructive reading of our conflict geared not at resolving differences but surviving at the cost of the opponent's destruction. There is no room for dialogue here. Both in Colombia and in that school, conflict has become a setting where participants base their imagined futures and sense of identity on a rival's annihilation, not a problem's resolution.

The abnormal growth of cultural violence is no surprise in a country where war became the normal state of affairs for so long. We are no longer dumbstruck before an aggressive and hostile citizen, but admire them and enjoy the harm they do to whomever they please. Without a public debate on the continuing effects of the war, daily violence among citizens is inevitable. Like the schoolgirl who found in her bag a simple, sharp remedy to the small problem of someone who disagreed with her.

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Spencer Tunick Nude Installation in Israel

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Salam!*

Welcome to Monday, where the UK pays homage to slain MP David Amess, Myanmar frees thousands of prisoners, and Facebook gets ready to build its "metaverse." Please fasten your seatbelts: Worldcrunch also takes stock of the long-lasting effects — good and bad — the pandemic has had on the air travel industry.

[*Azeri - Azerbaijan]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Myanmar to free political prisoners: Myanmar's junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has announced the release of 5,636 prisoners who had been jailed for protesting the coup that ousted the civilian government in February 2021.

• Powerful Haiti gang behind the kidnapping of U.S. missionaries: The notorious 400 Mawozo gang is believed to be behind the kidnapping in Haiti of a group of Christian missionaries, including 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian. The brazen kidnapping on Saturday comes as crime is spiking since the killing of President Jovenel Moise in July.

• UK to pay tribute to David Amess: British lawmakers will pay homage in parliament to colleague David Amess, who was stabbed to death Friday in what was described by the police as a "terrorist incident." Officers arrested a 25-year-old suspect whose father, Harbi Ali Kullane, worked as a media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia.

• COVID update: Russia has registered more than 34,000 cases of new infections in the past 24 hours, a new record since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, police in the northeast Italian city of Trieste used water cannons to clear striking dockworkers protesting Italy's new requirements that all employees be vaccinated.

• At least 26 killed in floods in India: Torrential rain has triggered floods and landslides in India's southern coastal state of Kerala, killing at least 26 people.

• Facebook to hire 10,000 in EU to develop "metaverse": The U.S. social media giant plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to build a "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet that the company touts as the future.

Punishing parents for children's bad behavior: After limiting gaming hours for minors, China is now considering legislation to reprimand parents if their children exhibit "very bad behavior" or commit crimes.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Colombian daily El Espectador dedicates its front page to Alex Saab, "owner of the secrets" of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Colombian businessman, wanted by U.S. authorities for allegedly laundering money on behalf of Venezuela's government, has been extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. where he is scheduled to appear in court today.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

4.9%

China's economy registered its slowest pace in a year as the country faces a looming energy crisis with power shortages and increasing pressure on its property sector. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the period between July-September rose 4.9%, the weakest numbers since the third quarter of 2020 and significantly lower than forecasts. The world's second-largest economy faces a debt crisis linked to the China Evergrande Group debt crisis, while energy shortfalls have dropped factory output to its weakest since early 2020, when heavy COVID-19 curbs were in place.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

7 ways the pandemic may change the airline industry for good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

⛽ Cleaner aviation fuel: With air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel. In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials

.🛃 Smoother check-in: The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

✈️ The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less? At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel, in particular, is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"The crimes committed that night are unforgivable for the Republic."

— Emmanuel Macron became the first French president to commemorate the killing of as many as 200 Algerian independence protesters by Parisian police in 1961. For 40 years, French officials ignored the massacre, which took place a year before Algeria gained its independence from France after an eight-year war. In 2012, French President François Hollande acknowledged the killings for the first time on a visit to Algeria, and Macron took it further by attending Sunday's commemoration at the site where the events happened in the French capital. Still, many had hoped the French President would go further and take responsibility for a "state massacre," for a crime many historians consider the most violent repression of a peaceful demonstration in post-War Europe.

📈💥  IN OTHER NEWS

​Low trust, high risk: The global rise of violence targeting politicians

The deadly stabbing of British Parliament Member David Amess confirms an ongoing study on trust and governance in democracies around the world: It's bad. In The Conversation, James Weinberg — the study's author and a lecturer in Political Behavior at the University of Sheffield — writes:

⏪ The assassination of Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on Friday, is a tragic moment for democracy. What makes it even more devastating is that such a catastrophic failure is not without precedent or predictability. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot at her constituency surgery in 2016. Before her, another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, survived a stabbing in 2010. And Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councilor, died in a frenzied attack in 2001 while trying to protect local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones.

☝️ Beyond these critical junctures in the public debate about politicians' safety, elected representatives must live with an increasingly insidious level of popular cynicism that threatens violence on an almost daily basis.

🇬🇧🇳🇿🇿🇦 Not only are these experiences of abuse or threats of physical violence felt across both sides of the political aisle in the UK — they also appear to be growing more common in other democratic contexts where the climate of politics has been presumed to be both calmer and more volatile, from New Zealand to South Africa.


Read the full piece from The Conversation, now on Worldcrunch.com

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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