Great expectations come with disappointment: Violence and conflict in the postmodern era

"Progress is not an illusion, it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing" said George Orwell in the midst of political storm that tormented our lives during the Cold War. The fall of Berlin Wall and the advancement in technology and innovation have rendered our everyday lives both practical and more bewildering in the last decades of the twentieth century. But, the technological advancement might create catastrophe too. We see that dualism with the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq when the aircrafts targeted civilians and innocents. These scenes were familiar to us indeed. It happened before in Hiroshima with the devestating impacts of an atomic bomb. Our expectations about creating an equal society mobilised millions of people in the late 1960s and the flames of that socio-political change were evident in the streets from New York and Istanbul to London and Moscow when the millions marched against the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq in 2003. The walls are now being built against the refugees and our silence against the suffering of vulnerable people is giving a dispiriting lesson to the history of humanism.

The power is a delusive and seductive word as it has always been in the course of history. If there is an effort vying for power, there will be also the lackeys of that power, the intrusiveness and the threats posed against the opponent. The physical force, perhaps, is the last destination to shear someone of power. Yet, ironically, it is still the fastest and the most effective method to attain the power. The rise of Isis, for instance, lies in the use of violence as an omnipotent instrument. The dilemma emerges again with the compulsary submissiveness of the local people to the authority of Isis and the conflicts between the states to harness the power of Isis. These dualities invoke the delusive and seductive feature of power.

Hannah Arendt produced one of the most significant and yet debatable texts about the role of violence in the political realm. The perspectives of Arendt on violence take its point of departure from a critical reading of the arguments raised by great intellectuals such as Sorel, Fanon, Weber, Marx and Sartre. Arendt claimed in her book, Reflections on Violence, that “if we turn to the literature on the phenomenon of power, we soon find out that there exists an agreement among political theorists from Left to Right that violence is nothing more than the most flagrant manifestation of power.” Arendt was righteous that the manifestation of power paves the path for calamity and devastation. Perhaps, the question, that we need to ask, lies in the form of freedom that we are dealing with all the ravages produced by violence in the twenty-first century. We can partially reveal that context uncovering the enigma between the technological advancement and the unchanged weakness of humanity against the power through a poem on freedom. That poem belongs to Nazim Hikmet. Here is the passage from the poem:

A Sad State Of Freedom

You may proclaim that one must live

not as a tool, a number or a link

but as a human being—

then at once they handcuff your wrists.

You are free to be arrested, imprisoned

and even hanged.

There's neither an iron, wooden

nor a tulle curtain

in your life;

there's no need to choose freedom:

you are free.

But this kind of freedom

is a sad affair under the stars.

Nazim Hikmet