MENA Academy Weekly Roundup #14
New research on the targeting of hospitals in war, race and COIN, and so much more.
Welcome to this week’s MENA Academy roundup of new research and publications on the political science of the Middle East. The feature article is Regime Schwab, Werner Krause, and Samer Massoud’s extremely unfortunately timely working paper on the effects on violence dynamics of the barbaric practice of bombing hospitals. They distinguish convincingly between the targeting of hospitals and other forms of violence against civilians: “because they are usually unrelated to military dynamics, the targeting of hospitals is a widely visible form and powerful signal of civilian victimization.” Drawing on detailed quantitative and qualitative evidence from Syria between 2017-20, they conclude that “hospital bombings induce rebels to resist more fiercely through two mechanisms: intrinsic motivations and civilian pressure.” Virtually everyone would agree that the bombing of hospitals is uniquly barbaric (or at least they would have until Israel’s campaign against Gaza over the last two months, at which point for many people it became complicated); this paper shows how it’s also counterproductive.
There’s a lot of other interesting work for you to check out this week. Benjamin Krick, Jonathan Petkun and POMEPS grantee Mara Revkin have an innovative working paper based on detailed data from Mosul on the effects of battlefield behavior on military legitimacy. Lana Salman has an absolutely fascinating, deeply researched article on how poor women in Tunisia experience citizenship and understand work. Sarah Parkinson has an important short note in the APSR on the biases produced by reliance on the media in the construction of datasets (listen to us talk about the article here).
And, finally, we round things up with Paul MacDonald and Stacie Goddard’s tremendously important and innovative article on the racial assumptions of COIN doctrine in the fantastic new special issue of Security Studies edited by Ronald Krebs. While their case studies focus on the British counterinsurgency in northwestern India and the American COIN campaign in Afghanistan (which, as always, I don’t feel like aribtarily separating from “the Middle East”), anyone who has spent even a few minutes looking at the COIN doctrines developed in the colonial order — France in Algeria, most obviously — will get how right this is, and how unappreciated the consquences.
This week’s articles:
Regime Schwab, Werner Krause, and Samer Massoud, “The bombing of hospitals and local violence dynamics in civil wars: Evidence from Syria.” Households in Conflict Working Paper #403 (December 2023). ABSTRACT: Can coercive airpower quell a rebellion? Existing literature on the effects of counterinsurgent violence focuses predominantly on casualties resulting from attacks on civilians. It thus overlooks the targeting of civilian infrastructure, which is a frequent phenomenon in war. We fill this gap by examining the targeting of healthcare as one of the most essential infrastructures in war and peace time. We argue that attacks on medical facilities are distinct from direct violence against civilians. Because they are usually unrelated to military dynamics, the targeting of hospitals is a widely visible form and powerful signal of civilian victimization. To assess its effects, we analyze newly collected data on such attacks by pro-government forces and event data on combat activities in Northwest Syria (2017-2020). Applying a new approach for panel data analysis that combines matching methods with a difference-in-differences estimation, we examine the causal effect of counterinsurgent bombings on subsequent violent events. Distinguishing between regime-initiated and insurgent-initiated combat activities and their associated fatalities, we find that the targeting of hospitals increases insurgent violence. We supplement the quantitative analysis with unique qualitative evidence derived from interviews which shows that hospital bombings induce rebels to resist more fiercely through two mechanisms: intrinsic motivations and civilian pressure. The results have important implications for the effects of state-led violence and the strength of legal norms that protect noncombatants.
Benjamin Krick, Jonathan Petkun and Mara Revkin, “What Determines Military Legitimacy? Evidence from the Battle of Mosul in Iraq.” Households in Conflict Working Paper #402 (November 2023). ABSTRACT: The legitimacy of armed forces in the eyes of civilians is widely recognized as crucial for the success of counterinsurgency. However, the micro-determinants of “military legitimacy” are poorly understood. We argue that perceptions of military legitimacy are shaped by two key dimensions of warfare: just cause and just conduct. Leveraging variation during the battle to liberate the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State, we evaluate our theory with an iterative mixed-methods design combining household survey data, satellite imagery, and interviews. Civilians living in neighborhoods where counterinsurgents’ tactics and strategies reflected less concern for civilian protection view counterinsurgent forces as less legitimate than civilians elsewhere. These results persist after conditioning for personal experiences with harm, suggesting that perceptions are influenced not only by victimization — consistent with previous studies — but also by beliefs about the morality of armed forces’ conduct and the cause for which they are fighting.
Lana Salman, “Revolutionary debtscapes: domestic territories of contestation in Tunisia,” Gender, Place and Culture (November 2023). ABSTRACT: How are poor women politicized in the post-revolution city? I highlight women’s everyday experiences of homemaking, where the intimacy of the home shaped through debt becomes a terrain of politicization that spills outside the confines of domestic spaces. Connecting the literature on popular city-making in the Middle East and North Africa with the literature on social reproduction and microfinance debt, I draw on an ethnography of microlending in Tunisia’s popular neighborhoods to show poor women’s grievances and their political outcomes. I argue that for women who live in and build these spaces, homemaking through microfinance debt is both dispossessive and politicizing because it makes more visible grievances born within the domestic enclosure of the home. Through the social reproductive labor of homemaking, these women understand themselves as right-bearing citizens. I build on the concepts of ‘debtscapes’ (Roy Citation2010) and ‘domestic territories’ (Gago Citation2020) to show that homemaking through debt is a space for articulating grievances about unjust cities and underserviced neighborhoods. The article identifies two mechanisms of politicization: organizing for better service delivery and developing oppositional attitudes towards local governments. Together, these mechanisms elevate poor women’s experiences and reintegrate their biographies into conceptualizations of what counts as politics in the post-revolution city.
Sarah Parkinson, “Unreported Realities: The Political Economy of Media-Sourced Data,” American Political Science Review (21 November 2023). ABSTRACT: What is the gap between scholars’ expectations of media-sourced data and the realities those data actually represent? This letter elucidates the data generation process (DGP) that undergirds media-sourced data: journalistic reporting. It uses semi-structured interviews with 15 journalists to analyze how media actors decide what and how to report—in other words, the “why” of reporting specific events to the exclusion of others—as well as how the larger professional, economic, and political contexts in which journalists operate shape the material scholars treat as data. The letter thus centers “unreported realities”: the fact that media-derived data reflect reporters’ locations, identities, capacities, and outlet priorities, rather than providing a representative sample of ongoing events. In doing so, it reveals variations in the consistency and constancy of reporting that produce unacknowledged, difficult-to-identify biases in media-sourced data that are not directionally predictable.
“Race and Security”, Special Issue of Security Studies edited by Ronald Krebs. My favorite article in the collection is “From ‘Butcher to Bolt’ to ‘Bugsplat’: Race, Counterinsurgency, and International Politics” by Stacie Goddard and Paul MacDonald. ABSTRACT: Beginning in the early 2000s, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan revived interest among security studies scholars in counterinsurgency (COIN) warfare. Yet most studies of COIN in mainstream security studies have not explored the role of race, despite the fact that the principles of COIN warfare were developed during the colonial period when racialized visions dominated politics. We argue that mainstream security scholars tend to overlook race for twointerconnected reasons: first, they treat race as an emotional and interpersonal phenomenon, and second, they assume that racial hostility will manifest in intense and indiscriminate violence. We argue instead that race should be understood as a particular kind of social ontology, one that places human communities into socially reductionist hierarchies based on assumed bio-cultural traits. We then examine how different kinds of racial ontologies were used in the colonial period to develop different kinds of COIN doctrines, whether punitive or paternalistic in character. We demonstrate how these different racialized COIN frameworks informed state practices on the battlefield through a comparative illustration of two COIN campaigns: Britain on the “North-West frontier” of India in the late nineteenth century and the United States along the “Af-Pak border” in the early twenty-first century.
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