Issue 15.1, February 2000

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Essay Excerpt

My main concern in this article is to trace how the story of violence visited on Somali bodies disappeared from Canadian national and legal consciousness. My contention is that Canadian atrocities in Somalia disappeared into the national mythology of "clean snows" and innocent peacekeepers—noble intermediaries between the superpowers. This process relied on the construction of Somalia as the opposite of Canada, as nothing but heat and dust. Somalis (both those in Somalia and those who come to Canada as refugees) have become the embodiment of disorder and dirt. A spatial technology of domination is at work here beyond the level of metaphor. The very concrete practices of violence against Somalis enabled individual soldiers to imagine themselves as men from the land of clean snow, men whose duties inbringing order to Somalia required violence. I argue that Canadian troops saw themselves as colonizers, civilizing the natives and imposing order on the "chaos of tribal warfare." When their violence was interrogated in a public inquiry, it disappeared into this old colonial story, now reframed as a story of peacekeeping.

My argument focuses on the contemporary national mythologies of white nation-states, specifically Canada. White settler societies, such as Canada, come into being through a genocide of Aboriginal peoples and the theft of land, followed by the enslavement and exploitation of racialized peoples. Ex-colonial nations of Europe have similar histories, in that their own progress as nations has relied on the wealth of their colonies and the labor of people of color, both in the colonies and in the metropolises. These histories notwithstanding, the official mythologies of white nation-states are narratives of innocence: through dint of hard work, the settler conquered the wilderness; the colonizer civilized the natives. In this era of globalization, the story line has shifted only slightly: in the neocolonial narrative, whites must now contend with the disorder and chaos wrought by natives left to their own devices after decolonization. The chaos spills over from the lands of the South when migrants and refugees "invade" and "color" the spaces of the white North. It is this newer story line that inscribes peacekeeping encounters such as the one explored here (pp. 128-129).

From: Razack, Sherene. "From the "Clean Snows of Petawawa":The Violence of Canadian Peacekeepers in Somalia." Cultural Anthropology 15.1(2000): 127-163.