Nekros is the Greek word for “corpse-like."
In 2003, Achille Mbembe authored an essay after America invaded Baghdad and toppled Saddam Hussien on the pretext, that he was stockpiling "weapons of mass destruction." Over 461,000 Iraqis perished in that eight-year conflict.
The Cameroonian-born philosopher and professor at South Africa's Witwatersrand University titled his essay and subsequent 2016 publication, Necropolitics, which translates to "the politics of death. " Nearly everywhere," said Mbembe, "the Western political order is re-constituting itself as a form of organization for death."
To that end, Mbembe described Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a laboratory harvesting population control, surveillance, and separation techniques proliferating across the planet. "Gaza," he warned, "might well prefigure what is yet to come."
Two decades after Mbembe's 2003 essay, what came to Gaza was Israel's war to liquidate its Palestinian population, render its living space inhabitable, and force Palestinians to abandon their historic homeland. As Israeli Knesset member Ariel Kallner tweeted on October 9, 2023,
“Right now, one goal: Nakba! A Nakba that will overshadow the Nakba of 48. Nakba in Gaza and Nakba to anyone who dares to join their Nakba, because like then in 1948, the alternative is clear.”
We are observing a Necropolitical moment as the "politics of death" in the form of ethnic cleansing is live-streamed to our homes and cell phones.
The facts are well known. Greenlit, armed, and financially underwritten by Joe Biden and American Empire, Israel's Defense Forces [IDF] have inflicted 66,287 injuries on mostly women and children and killed 27,131 Gaza Palestinians and 80 journalists. More than 8,000 persons are currently reported as "missing." IDF units leveled 21 hospitals, 378 schools, 221 religious sites, 359,000 housing units, and 22% of Gaza's farmlands. Having displaced 85% of the population, two million people have been left without adequate food, water, electricity, medical supplies and care, telephone and internet services.
As the planet's most densely populated 140 square mile grid, Gaza has been transformed into a forensic crime scene. Billions of people worldwide who have witnessed the carnage and death Israel continues to visit on the Palestinian people are material witnesses to multiple war crimes.
On December 29, 2023, South Africa filed an emergency complaint to the U.N.'s International Court of Justice (ICJ). South Africa's government charged Israel with violating the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in Relation to the Palestinians in Gaza.
On January 26, 2024, the ICJ ordered Israel to do everything in its power to limit deaths, allow humanitarian aid into the region, and file a compliance report in 30 days while the court deliberated on the case. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the ICJ decision "outrageous." Israel intensified its attacks on Gaza and escalated its deadly raids on the West Bank that have killed 282 Palestinians there since October 7, 2023.
Most people who have observed the continuing massacre of Palestinians cringed at the thought that no country or group of nations has intervened to stop the killing. In their minds there must be a larger meaning this human slaughter signals for the future.
Necropolitics and Michel Foucault's Thesis of Biopower
Achille Mbembe's theory of Necropolitics anticipated this moment not just as a single event but a new phase in Neoliberalism's stewardship of the planet. In Michel Foucault's concept of biopower Mbembe located a launch point to explore the practical conditions by which sovereigns exercised the power to kill, to let live, or expose the Commons to death.
Foucault's theory held that eighteenth-century governments began investing in methods to control the Commons' movements, living spaces, health, working conditions, sexual activity and reproductive practices, natal and mortality rates. Those investments imbued them with the power to extend and improve life for those it privileged. In Western countries whites were privileged and "whiteness" was defined as the "normative social order."
Non-whites and "others" who existed outside the "norm" of reason, law, and Locke's social contract were categorized, separated and denied social and economic investments. Because they threatened the project of whiteness, their movements were regulated by a regime of restrictive controls. Unique spaces like reservations for indigenous First Nations in America were created where they would be monitored, corrected, and confined, thereby exposing them to conditions with higher risks of death. Foucault called this phenomenon "state racism."
Mbembe accepted Foucault's biopower concept emphasizing governments' sovereign powers to improve life and to decide "who shall die." He did not oppose his assertion that racism regulates the "distribution of death," establishes "the conditions of the acceptability of death" and that Nazism was the most extreme expression of the state's "right to kill." Mbembe's issue was Foucault's biopower thesis did not go far enough.
Instead, Mbembe was interested in how the state's right to kill on a mass scale was exercised and what it tells us those who were targeted for death. He thus avers,
"That the technologies which produced Nazism originated in the plantation or in the colony, or that --Foucault's thesis--Nazism and Stalinism actually only amplified a series of already extant mechanisms of Western European social and political formations... (social Darwinism, eugenics, medicolegal theories on heredity, degeneration and race) is irrelevant.
In modern philosophical thought and in the imaginary and practice of European politics, the colony represents a site in which sovereignty fundamentally consists in exercising a power outside of the law (ab legibus solutus)."
In this passage, Mbembe reminds us that when Europeans codified the rules concerning the "right to wage war," the rules applied only to nation-states that were viewed as equals. These were legitimate wars deemed "rational" under the edict of Jus publicum europaeum, between" civilized" states.
Mbembe then goes on to say, "Colonies are similar to frontiers. Inhabited by "savages," colonies are not organized as a state form and do not create a human world...They do not establish a distinction between combatants and non-combatants or again between an "enemy" and a "criminal."
Here we see how Israel's panoply of arguments justifies ethnic cleansing in Gaza. They will not recognize a Palestinian state and insist the Palestinian Authority is not a real government. Israel claims to be within its rights to commit mass murder against Hamas, although Hamas was legitimately elected by the Palestinian people in 2005, through the Oslo Accords process Israel ratified. Israel fashions itself as a European outpost in a backward oriental Levant.
Further, Israel claims it can't distinguish between Hamas combatants and non-combatants, so they are within their rights to kill them all. They whine like babies about how Hamas uses its people as "human shields." What are they suggesting? In the world's most densely populated patch on earth, are Hamas fighters supposed to just walk out into open spaces and expose themselves to Israel's ubiquitous electronic surveillance to give battle? Even if Hamas fighters wanted to surrender, bearing no weapons and waving white flags, does anyone doubt Israeli troops would shoot them down like animals? That's what IDF forces did to three Israeli hostages that escaped captivity in Shejaiya in December. Like Israel's Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on October 9, 2023, “We are fighting human animals and we act accordingly.”
In political discourse these days, even on "the left," terms of art like "settler state" are the coin of the realm. Over time these terms original meaning diminishes. For those who say Israel is a settler state--as we do--that also implies Palestinians are a colonized people. In every respect, Israel's treats the Palestinian people like "savages" residing outside the boundaries of law as Mbembe argues. Tel Aviv has no compunction about defying the United Nations and the International Criminal Court's actions in the commission of war crimes.
Necropolitics and Mbembe's Concept of Death Worlds
The second dimension of Mbembe's critique asserting Foucault's biopower thesis didn't go far enough focuses on those who are to be killed.
As Rutgers University Professor Jasbir notes in her book Terrorist Assemblages, "Mbembe foregrounds death decoupled from the project of the living." Instead of pondering the question about governments and sovereigns' power "right to kill or let live," Mbembe posed a variant of the following question:
How and under what conditions do contemporary states and sovereign authorities exercise the power to categorize and selectively kill discrete groups in the name of protecting their race, nation, religion or civilization itself? "What," Mbembe asks, "does the implementation of such a right tell us about the one who is thus put to death and about the relationship of enmity that sets such a person against his murderer?"
In as much as Western Neoliberalism still dominates the planet with its globalized markets, digital technologies, and precision-guided weapons of mass destruction, those groups categorized and selectively targeted to be killed are predominantly non-white. Thus, Mbembe marries his plussed-up iteration of Foucault's concept of biopower with the expansive field of Frantz Fanon's revolutionary Decolonial Theory. This radical confection is the core of Mbembe's theory of Necropolitics.
The post-Second World War era in the 1950s found Europe's waning colonial powers retreating in the face of Third World independence and armed national liberation movements in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Today, an unprecedented repopulation of the planet is in train as global migration movements from the Global South are overrunning the decaying and aging metropoles of Global North. The Browning of the Planet is generating fear, hatred, and enmity in the capitals of Europe, America, and Oceania. Increasingly, corporately managed democracies are foregoing the patina of democracy, the rule of law and citizens' rights in favor of authoritarian and fascist governing regimes to maintain power.
While the West races to restructure the global architecture by regulating Global South migration flows and reorganizing space to eliminate threats, they are also confronted with the challenges of climate change, drought, and viral pandemics that are wreaking havoc on the social order. As Mbembe suggests, the Global South Commons must keep moving to survive.
Backed by the United States, Israel is attempting to reorganize its living space and rid itself of the so-called existential threat posed by the existence of Palestinians by mass murder. Russia is doing the same in Ukraine. Putin claims Ukrainians are not a people or a nation; they have no history or distinct culture. Instead, he calls the Zelinsky government a band of Nazi mercenaries sponsored by the United States to overthrow Third Rome's anointed government and dethrone the seat of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Mbembe asserts that Neoliberalism's' globalists and emerging proto-fascist states exercise the "right to kill" special categories of masses in two ways: creating "states of exception" or emergency rule where laws and citizens' rights are "suspended," and second by creating designated spaces where large blocks of masses are confined in varied forms of "camps." In these militarized zones the Commons are subjected to dehumanizing conditions that create slow death, near death or social death environments he calls death worlds.
New Black Nationalists support the argument that since Israel's creation in 1948, it has never been a democracy. Rather its government has functioned in a permanent "state of emergency rule" as a nuclear-armed "state of exception." Killing parties, snatch and grab patrols to torture Palestinians, mass arrests to confine victims in administrative detention without charges, settler violence to steal Palestinian homes, suspended voting rights, building permits denied, homes and schools bulldozed and demolished are the everyday workings of the Israeli government--a permanent state of exception. Mbembe described these conditions as engendering slow death and social death.
Second, Mbembe returns to Fanon's concept of how colonial powers manage space. "Colonial occupation itself consisted in seizing, delimiting, and asserting control over a geographical area--of writing a new set of social and spatial relations...Space was thus the raw material of sovereignty, and the violence that bears within it."
In South Africa, Mbembe points out that "townships" served as the country's main structural form. South Africa's "homelands, " which in part were tribal homelands became the reserves (rural bases) whereby the flow of migrant labor could be regulated, and African urbanization held in check."
Similarly, Israel developed two primary structures as unique spaces to regulate the movement and functions of occupied Palestinians. On the one hand Israel created the world's most elaborate and compartmentalized Apartheid system in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. On the other hand, for seventeen years Israel has maintained the world's largest "open-air prison" in Gaza which is managed under a system of medieval siege warfare Mbembe says this siege warfare is "adapted to the networked sprawl of urban refugee camps."
Its borders are hermitically sealed, and its coastlines blockaded. Military overwatch is conducted by multiple platforms of aerial surveillance and weapons systems that include drones, 2000-pound dumb bombs, cluster and asphyxiation bombs, and laser-guided missiles. Both the tightly enclaved West Bank and the open-air prison in Gaza are forms of Mbembe's death worlds.
Achille Mbembe's concept of space embraces the totality of siege warfare in Gaza that extends beyond the conflict on the ground and Israel's layered ariel domination of the skies over Gaza. Mbembe references the work of Eyal Weizman on sovereignty exercised as the "politics of verticality."
Mbembe observes that "Under a regime of vertical sovereignty, colonial occupation operates through schemes of over-and underpasses, a separation of airspace from the ground. The ground itself is divided between its crust and the subsoil."
Here New Black Nationalists call our reader's attention to the extraordinary amount of life-Palestinian life--that exists in Gaza's underground matrix of tunnels. Customs systems, trade and commerce networks through Egypt, makeshift living spaces, micro medical centers, auto, two-wheel and mule-drawn transportation routes, smuggling, safe houses, and portable administrative offices all hum to the rhythms of life beneath "the crust" of Gaza's topsoil.
There are an estimated 250 miles of tunnels in Gaza 140 square-miles patch. One reason Israel is losing its War on Gaza after four months, is the sophistication of Gaza's underworld of tunnels. Israel is trying or contemplating trying everything to demolish Gaza's tunnel infrastructure: bunker busting bombs, backfilling entrances with earth, blowing up entrances, and flooding the tunnels with water. We suppose gassing the tunnels will their next venture.
A core theme of Mbembe's Necropolitics theory asserts the renewal of colonial practices and war in contemporary democracies is producing a world where laws and rights are permanently suspended; enemies are tightly controlled, separated, and exterminated.
In the cut and thrust of today's destabilizing redistribution of populations across the planet, New Black Nationalists believe Achille Mbembe is foreshadowing an attempt to reorder the architecture of the international system as a form of Digital Global Apartheid.
With the genocide of North America's indigenous First Nations, the theft of Mexico's land, the enslavement of African people and creating Japanese internment camps during the Second World War, American Empire is a pioneer in the technologies of Necropolitics.
The conversion of America's southern border into a frontier manned by military checkpoints more so than an international crossing, Donald Trump's temporary campsites for "illegal aliens," that separated children from their families, the Department of Justice designating cities as "Anarchist Jurisdictions, " Trump's constant attempts to impose the "Insurrection Act of 1807" to invoke emergency rule, and reversing Roe v. Wade and women's reproductive rights are all attempts to suspend citizens' rights and "normal workings of the law" to impose "exceptions."
Mbembe's theory of Necropolitics is highly relevant to Donald Trump's white nationalist project for regime change to create an authoritarian American Apartheid governing structure.
As one of world's most engaging public intellectuals, Achille Mbembe was schooled in the Négritude movement and Black Francophone intellectual traditions that germinated in the Nardal Sisters Parisian salon in the 1920s. His scholarship, like Paulette Nardal, Aimé Césaire, Leopold Senghor, Frantz Fanon, and Édouard Glissant is thick with layered concepts and new terminologies that congeal into a grand narrative. Defining Necropolitics is itself a difficult challenge.
For that reason and because New Black Nationalists believe Necropolitics advances Frantz Fanon's Decolonial theory to the next level, we will be issuing additional papers that further explore Mbembe's notion of the creation of death worlds, the reorganization of global space as a fundament of the fast-evolving international situation, and comparative theories of fascist models articulated by Mbembe, Michel Foucault, and Timothy Snyder.
Coming Soon Part 2: The Myth of the Jewish Nation and the Path to Ethnic Cleansing