Why “War in Context”? In October, 2001, I sent a few articles to some friends and colleagues who shared my concern about President Bush’s decision to engage in a “war on terrorism.” These were articles on some of the political and cultural issues whose consideration might have led to an appropriate response to 9/11. I bundled them into a rather long email, subject line: “The War in Context.” There seemed to be a hunger for the type of material I was able to trawl from the Web so I continued sending out emails. After gathering and distributing articles for a few months, I switched to a blog. For several years, this was a news aggregation site, but nowadays also contains my own analysis — at least when I feel like I have something to say.
After 9/11, the Middle East — seen through American eyes inflamed by fear and anger — took on an amorphous, undifferentiated otherness. The threat was called “terrorism” but really it was the unknown. And because we couldn’t isolate it, suddenly it seemed to be everywhere.
The tenor of the political moment was captured in a single sentence as President Bush said, “We will make no distinction between those who committed these acts and those who harbor them.” With those words, as though wielding a scalpel, the president deftly lobotomized the nation. At a time when discrimination was in desperate need of refinement, instead, it was thrown away!
War in Context, from its inception, has been an effort to apply critical intelligence in an arena where political judgment has repeatedly been twisted by blind emotions. It presupposes that a world out of balance will inevitably be a world in conflict.
The tagline, … with attention to the unseen, comes from my observation that in America we inhabit a culture marked by its inattention to the unseen.
This is not a religious statement. The unseen to which I refer is the amalgam of non-material entities whose co-existence and interaction produces culture.
What makes culture work is shared meaning. This has an ephemeral life in a space of resonance that ties together individual human beings. The spark that animates that space is language — a vessel that circumscribes experience and makes it exchangeable and through the aggregation of that exchange gives rise to this amorphous entity that we call culture.
In a materialistic age we have come to confuse culture with its products; we have devolved from being creators to consumers and by so doing come to measure our wealth in terms of what we possess rather than what we share.
While I created War in Context with the vain hope of helping stem cultural divisions, I also wanted to explore the underpinnings of culture itself. These explorations now appear here and there under the byline “Attention to the unseen.”
Who is Paul Woodward? I am by nature if not profession, a bricoleur*. A dictionary of obscure words defines a bricoleur as “someone who continually invents his own strategies for comprehending reality.” In the process of doing just that I have at various times been an independent journalist, editor, designer, software knowledge architect, construction worker, and Buddhist monk, while living in England (where I was born), France, India, and for the last twenty-some years the United States. The views I express here are my own.
I live in Western North Carolina with my wife, Monica, a cat and a dog.
If you have questions or comments, please let me know by writing to editor[at]warincontext.org
* Although it must sound pretentious to call myself a bricoleur, here’s why I like this term. The basic translation of bricoleur is handyman, but as the French anthropologist Claude Levi Strauss suggested, the distinctive attribute of the bricoleur is not the way he uses his hands but the way he thinks. The bricoleur has a syncretic, adaptive view of the world through which whatever comes to hand can be adapted to the required purpose. Design is subordinate to adaptation. This engenders an irreverent, practical approach to the world. Curiosity and resourcefulness are the requisites for engaging with the unfamiliar. This stands in contrast to the increasingly pervasive mystique of expertise, an intellectual feudalism that territoritorializes human understanding. That about which we can claim no expertise, is that about which we should, supposedly, barely venture to think. As a bricoleur, I reject this mentality.
“The United States has been at war one place or another almost every year since 1981. The American public forgets. War in Context does not.”
— Christopher Dickey, Paris Bureau Chief / Middle East Editor, The Daily Beast.
“Paul Woodward’s War In Context provides an idiosyncratic and effusively heterodox view of what important is going on in the world. Never predictable, never dogmatic, the site is always alert to writers and themes that, if not part of standard Beltway discourse, are critical to understanding a struggling planet. I read it often, and always learn something new.”
— Scott McConnell, Founding Editor, The American Conservative
“If you are seriously interested in international politics, especially the Middle East, War in Context is one of the best sites on the web. Not only does it say smart things about war on a daily basis, but it also deals extensively with the broader political context in which war takes place. In that sense, Paul Woodward is a Clausewitzian at heart. He is also tough-minded, smart, and goes where the evidence takes him. The end result is first-rate analysis on the key issues of the day, something that is increasingly difficult to find in the mainstream media. It is for good reason that I make sure to read War in Context every day.”
— John Mearsheimer, Professor of Political Science, University of Chicago, co-author of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.
“War in Context is an indispensable resource, both for its posting of valuable comment and analysis from around the web and for Paul Woodward’s progressive voice which, rather than constraining itself in an ideological straitjacket, is always attentive to facts and the perspectives of suffering people internationally.”
— Robin Yassin-Kassab, author of the novel The Road from Damascus, journalist, and co-editor of Critical Muslim and PULSE