FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Nice: Entering the Gray Zone

“I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will live as one”

— John Lennon, “Imagine”

So close to home, one of our own, Nicolas Leslie, a UC Berkeley student abroad in France, after being missing for four days, was confirmed dead, one of the 84 victims of the terrorist attack in Nice. Three other Berkeley students were seriously wounded. Grieving and anxious family, friends and administrators are weeping and at a loss for what to say, how to respond to a world turned upside down. This tragic death followed the death two weeks ago of another Berkeley student, nineteen-year-old Tarishi Jain, who was killed in another terrorist attack on a restaurant in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Nice has moved the world one step closer to self-destruction and redefined “us” and “them”.  Nice starkly reveals how totally vulnerable we all are and how deficient are our national and international security systems. We are still being asked to take off our Birkenstock shoes at airport security check points because a disturbed young man named Richard Reid tried to set fire to some kind of explosives tucked into his shoes during a flight from Paris to Miami in 2001. As South African police captain, Louis Helberg, reminded me during our collaborations on human trafficking in Durban: “Remember, the criminals are always smarter than we are.”

Not shoes after all, but the universal icon of modern consumer desire has made its debut as a new weapon of terrorist destruction: the car, better yet the truck. There are more than six hundred million cars, vans, and trucks in the world – they are everywhere in our lives, long ago they displaced sidewalks in the suburbs and made crossing the street a death trap in downtown Manila, Florence, Istanbul, and Cairo. I once hired a taxi just to get safely across Tahir Square (now also referred to as “Martyr’s Square”). Horror films of cars gone berserk and terrorizing towns and cities have long been a Hollywood genre beginning with the 1977 film Car.

The targets of terrorism have changed. Following the Bataclan massacre in Paris ISIS claimed responsibility by announcing that it had moved its frontline action beyond executions of Islamic apostates and infidels toward ordinary secularists who think they can carry on a normal life living in a bubble, isolated from the suffering of the Muslim world, and wrapped inside a cloud of unknowing.  ISIS defined its new soft target as the indeterminate “gray zone.” But it was not what Primo Levi had in mind.  The gray zone encompasses all those who think they are free to live as they wish and even to enjoy life in the sun and the beach, those who wear bathing suits, drink wine, and eat pork belly tacos.

Exterminating the Gray Zone

Following the Paris Bataclan massacres, the ISIS English-language magazine Debiq (Dabiq V11) featured a story declaring its intention to eradicate and exterminate the indeterminate  “gray zone”.   ISIS militants recognize only two possibilities: with or against: “The gray zone is critically endangered, rather on the brink of extinction. Its endangerment began with the blessed operations of September 11th, as these operations manifested two camps before the world for mankind to choose between, a camp of Islam… and a camp of kufr [unbelief], the crusader coalition.”

The ISIS attack on the “gray zone” is reminiscent of the atrocious turn taken by the Argentine generals during the Dirty War. In May 1977, General Iberico Saint Jean, governor of Buenos Aires, famously declared: “First we will kill all the subversives, then we will kill their collaborators… then their sympathizers, then those who remain indifferent and, finally, we will kill the timid.’’

Similarly, Nelson Mandela responded to a massacre of white and coloured students in a tavern by angry radical youth in Cape Town in 1993, warning that more was to come. A political revolution lacking an economic revolution would leave the “angry young lions” in the townships in the dust.  Their new enemy, Mandela said, would be anyone who “ owns a home and has a car.” And he was right: a stoning of white cars from township highway overpasses became a tactic of resistance and defiance.   (Scheper-Hughes 1994, “The Last White Christmas: The Heidelberg Pub Massacre, American Anthropology.”)

Now a berserk terrorist rented a truck to plow into a crowd of vacationers on Bastille Day, honoring the storming of a prison that inaugurated the French Revolution.

Today we are all potential targets of ISIS.

Nice has also assured that there will be new targets of our dangerous and hysterical fears, not only the brown man with a beard sitting next to us on a plane, but the Tunisian taxi cab driver, the Lebanese man driving a Fed Ex delivery truck, and the Syrian waiter serving us a falafel in a corner café.

Imagine this. We are now all living in a world “as one,” although it is not one of our choosing.

More articles by:

Nancy Scheper-Hughes is Chancellor’s Professor of Medical Anthropology, University of California Berkeley. Scheper-Hughes participated in a Vatican plenary on Human Trafficking in April 2015. She has published a series of articles on the “conversion” of Pope Francis, including, “Can God Forgive Jorge Bergoglio?” (2013, CounterPunch,;  “The Final Conversion of Pope Francis” (with Jennifer S. Hughes),  and “Face to Face with Pope Francis”  (2015), Huffington Post.  

December 12, 2018
Arshad Khan
War, Anniversaries and Lessons Never Learned
Paul Street
Blacking Out the Yellow Vests on Cable News: Corporate Media Doing its Job
Kenneth Surin
The Brexit Shambles Rambles On
David Schultz
Stacking the Deck Against Democracy in Wisconsin
Steve Early
The Housing Affordability Crisis and What Millennials Can do About It
George Ochenski
Collaboration Failure: Trump Trashes Sage Grouse Protections
Rob Seimetz
Bringing a Life Into a Dying World: A Letter From a Father to His Unborn Son
Michael Howard
PETA and the ‘S’-Word
John Kendall Hawkins
Good Panopt, Bad Panopt: Does It Make A Difference?
Kim C. Domenico
Redeeming Utopia: a Meditation On An Essay by Ursula LeGuin
Binoy Kampmark
Exhuming Franco: Spain’s Immemorial Divisions
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Democratizing Money
Laura Finley
Congress Must Reauthorize VAWA
December 11, 2018
Eric Draitser
AFRICOM: A Neocolonial Occupation Force?
Sheldon Richman
War Over Ukraine?
Louis Proyect
Why World War II, Not the New Deal, Ended the Great Depression
Howard Lisnoff
Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.
Mark Ashwill
A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!
Laura Flanders
HUD Official to Move into Public Housing?
Nino Pagliccia
Resistance is Not Terrorism
Matthew Johnson
See No Evil, See No Good: The Truth Is Not Black and White
Maria Paez Victor
How Reuters Slandered Venezuela’s Social Benefits Card
December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail