Book Review: Contemporary Violence: Postmodern War in Kosovo and Chechnya By Moore, C.,  (Manchester University Press, 2010)

The book focuses on the Contemporary violence and postmodern war in Kosovo and Chechnya, which has been written by Cerwyn Moore. This book review will start by a short background about this book, and then it will focus on the structure of the book. The main questions of the book will be mentioned on the fourth paragraph, which will be followed by the author’s main arguments and this paper will mention four of them, before it moves to the theoretical explanation of the contemporary violence from the researcher’s perspective and the methodologies that he has used to achieve that. Finally, there will be a conclusion that will cover some of the book’s advantages and disadvantages.

The subject of the book is not new for the author who has been spending a long time searching this issue. Although the book was published in 2010, it had concerned Moore since 1999 when he began his doctoral research in this field that was followed by many pieces of research during the whole decade. This book has focused on a range of issues related to narrative and interpretive IR, as ways into analysing contemporary violence. In doing so, attention has been drawn to different levels of analysis, the role of history in the Caucasus and Balkans, and different social, cultural and local forms of identification.

The author divides his book into eight chapters in addition to the introduction and conclusion. The first chapter based on the recent contributions to the theoretical debate by focusing on the turn in IR, which is concerned with meaning, and tied into the real world relations of global politics through narratives. It starts by acknowledging the role of radical phenomenology as one root of interpretive that has influenced narrative. The second chapter focus on Kosovo and Chechnya as examples of contemporary conflict. The book investigates the history and geographies of these two parts of the world to draw attention to a range of features, similar and dissimilar trends which inscribed the character of violence. The third chapter presents a background theme which influences the networks, groups and affiliations that distinguished the armed resistance movements, in the Balkans and Caucasus. The fourth chapter discusses compression and decompression as a way to understand postmodern war, before moving to explore the hybridisation of war. The fifth chapter discusses the stories and how they play a significant part on both sides of the gap between culture and politics. The sixth shows different groups in Chechnya in the period from 1996 through to early 1998, and the changing dynamics of law enforcement in Russia. In addition to this, it focuses on the emergence of the KLA from the 1980s into the 1990s. The seventh chapter talks about humiliation and guilt with related issues, such as revenge and pride trying to show how events become storied, all that followed by a brief discussion of emotions and politics. The eighth chapter seeks to illustrate the road to war in the Balkans and Caucasus by covering the battle of Gudermes in Chechnya in 1998, and Dagestan in 1999. It discusses the first months of the second war of the 1990s. This chapter concludes by examining the formation of the Kosovan armed resistance movement.

The author has set a number of questions and tries to search them in order to achieve the purpose of this book, such as how texts are interpreted, and carried forward through stories? How are narratives formed, and how do they shape conflict, and how they gave war meaning in Kosovo and Chechnya? How a domestic threat is often popularised? How intimate acts of violence are imbued with the language, emotion and desire? What is the relationship between guilt and pride, victimhood and aggression? How paramilitaries, international aid groups, human rights organisations, transnational media-corporations, militias and inter-governmental organisations are all involved in the present war? How the forces of globalisation and late modernity have facilitated a change in some aspects of contemporary war? Moore has answered all these questions and others along the chapters of the book that made it clear to understand his argument and easy to connect his ideas together.

There are many arguments in this book; however this “book review” will focus on four of them. One main argument in this book is that languages and stories play an important role in IR and inform the interpretive approach to global politics. Moore argues that different identities are shaped by stories that draw together events and characters into the plot. In addition to this, the author asserts that the process in Kosovo and Chechnya differed considerably from the formation of Western European stories of ethnic and national identity, owing to the differing bureaucratic processes of Communism. The third point is that narratives associated with ethnic identity in the Balkans and the Caucasus were neither fixed nor permanent but open to manipulation by strategists and politicians in the post-Cold War period. One final and important argument is that the end of the Cold War and the destruction of the Soviet Union have indicated a new era of war.

In this book, the author has written a very strong theoretical statement, rejecting the old way of defining the conflict. Moore has says: “this book argues that conventional theoretical accounts of war in IR are no longer adequate if indeed they ever were.“ This argument seems very strong, and it seems as if the author rebels against the old theoretical way of understanding and explaining the war. Such very strong statement without any hedging, which academic researchers in general use when they criticize an opinion, may be considered a similar behaviour to those who rebel and use force to draw others’ attentions. Moore argues that to understand the different approaches to the study of war, the body of interpretive work that may help to relate area investigations and social networks with studies of narrative identity. He states that it seems that hermeneutics, phenomenology, postmodernism and poststructuralism each one provide a set of theoretical approaches that can be used to interpret and analyse contemporary violence. There may be a wondering about why does not Moore sees the post-colonialism as a possible theoretical approach to explain these two wars. This question comes owing to his assertion on the colonization, for instance, Moore says, “the Caucasian poetry seeks to challenge the colonial and cultural imperialism by apprehending oral histories of resistance as written texts.”  Moore demonstrates a conceptual framework which drew upon interpretive or hermeneutic approaches to global politics.

The author tries to provide developed ideas based on the work on narratives and hermeneutics, by producing a conversation informed by narrative and hermeneutic discourses and interpretation. Moore has used a hermeneutic form of research to interpret the complexities of contemporary violence because conventional approaches to war in IR focus on strategies, salvoes and shells, and not language and meaning.  To explore the use of narrative in this book the author reconsiders different forms of story and highlight the use of the epic as a way to understand the born of Serbia. The author attempts to acknowledge the role of radical phenomenology as one root of interpreting. This phenomenology has influenced story, addressing the theme of narrative identity, based on the work of Ricoeur, in some part of the book. Moore uses the heroic stories, grounded in myths, which helped to polarise the Serbian and Russian sense of collective identity, and generate a story of resistance in Kosovo and Chechnya.

One of this book advantages is that some of its ideas and arguments are not new, such as “Foreign Fighters and the Case of Chechnya” which was published in 2008, and “Assessing Unholy Alliances in Chechnya” which was published in 2009. In addition to this, some of the book thoughts were drafted in 2004. To ensure that using old ideas is useful for any book, I met Dr Moore in his office and asked him about this issue. He has asserted that he uses some old idea, with full respect to the copyright, and they are much more improved and mature in this book when compared to the first time they were written. Another advantage is that the book has been written in a very attractive way to a level makes the reader thinks that he is reading a novel not an academic book contains complex theories. One final advantage of this book is that the author moves from part to another making the reader waits enthusiastically to see what will happen next and how the author will mingle the scientific issue with the fictional aspect.

It is almost certain to be difficult to judge such complicated academic book, but it can be argued that there is an insufficient historical ground, especially in Chechnya case. In addition to this, it appears that more details are needed to explain the effect of the division between the groups in Chechnya and its role of their defeat in the second war.  How this division and its consequence can be explained from a theoretical perspective? And what if there were no division would that cause the war to extend for a longer time? And how the author would interpret the text according to this hypothesis? And would it affect his theoretical approaches? One last disadvantage of this book is that it has some serious translation mistakes. For instance, (ghazavat (holy war) ghazavat is a very special term and those who use this term mean it because it used to call the battles that led by prophet Mohammed. It does not mean war for people, so if it is translated to foray or battle, it might give the real meaning. Another example is translating “Majlis ul-Shura” to “the military Council” seems inaccurate, and it changes the meaning. It changes the meaning, because those people carefully choose this word that can be translated as a “parliament” has an indication that can be understood by their people.

Fahd Alghofaili