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American Studies Encounters the Middle East$
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Alex Lubin and Marwan M. Kraidy

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781469628844

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469628844.001.0001

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Drone Executions, Urban Surveillance, and the Imperial Gaze

Drone Executions, Urban Surveillance, and the Imperial Gaze

(p.241) Drone Executions, Urban Surveillance, and the Imperial Gaze
American Studies Encounters the Middle East

Ashley Dawson

University of North Carolina Press

Drone strikes don’t work. They may be effective on a tactical level by facilitating the US’s policy of summary execution against enemy insurgents, but they are not and cannot be successful on a broader strategic level. This is because, like previous forms of aerial bombardment, they alienate significant segments of the populations among whom insurgents dwell, making it far harder to put down insurgencies in the long term. The vertiginously increasing deployment of drone strikes in recent years is explained, this essay argues, by what drone vision does for the imperial self. Underlying drone assassinations is the fantasy that a new technology will fix previous “mistakes” through a heightening of precisely the technologies of remote visual surveillance that are responsible for mass killings in the first place. The fantasy animating aerial bombardment, in other words, is embedded in deeply inscribed cultural perceptions that I call the imperial gaze – the irresistible desire to look at and dominate the colonized. My argument is that empire is characterized by the drive to surveil its subjects visually, and, through this culturally inscribed visual and cognitive mastery, to try to cement its domination of the colonized. The essay looks back at three sites of such visual/cognitive mastery in order to sketch a genealogy of the drone wars.

Keywords:   drones, targeted assassination, surveillance, colonial gaze, empire

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