Reading Time Magazine recently, and glancing through its opening pages of worldly quirks before turning to the ostensibly more serious articles, a banner headline called “Numbers” stands out presenting an apparently ad hoc list of interesting facts. Under the heading “Congo” is the number 27,000. This we are told in the briefest of terms is the number of sexual assaults reported in one province in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2006. The only other context given is that the “UN says sexual violence in the war-ravaged country is the worst in the world” (Time Magazine 2007: 12). The next listed fact, still under the heading of “Congo,” reads “60%,” which we are told is the percentage of “combatants in the Congo who are believed to be infected with HIV/AIDS.” The column then goes on to discuss the record number of Wikipedia entries made by Japanese government workers, and the number of contestants in a wife-carrying competition in the USA. And that is it. There is no other information on the Congo in the magazine, no other explanation, and one wonders if there is meant to be a connection between the number of sexual assaults and the percentage of HIV-infected combatants. This is the contemporary world of throwaway facts and implied presumptions about the globalizing states of violence Violence is of course a complex social phenomenon, and for all the dif-

ferent ways in which it can be understood, asking basic questions is an important first step. Why do some theatres of violence attract such a high degree of sustained media attention while others can be reduced to numbers for our disturbing amusement? What if 27,000 US soldiers had been injured in one city in Iraq, or 27,000 school children sexually assaulted in one province of France? No-one would dare to place such news in a “numbers” column. In the case of the Congo, it is a combined effect of patriarchy and the persisting effects of colonialism that allow for such violence to be treated

in a remarkably trivialized way. The Congo-darkest Africa, a place of blackness and hopelessness, of wild abuse and rampant disease, and of gender-based violence-is typically treated either without anything of the same seriousness as the most minor threats to “national security” in the West or, like the Sudan, Somalia, and Sri Lanka, thrown in the too-hard basket. While the Congo represents a particularly powerful postcolonial imaginary

of a place experiencing conflict, just as with the insurgency in Iraq, the Republican Army activities in Ireland, or the militia attacks in Timor-Leste, we are continuously presented with what appears to unexaminable violence in a “world on fire,” to borrow Amy Chua’s (2003) phrase. This world is presented as one of barbarity, clans, blood-ties, tribes, revenge, ritual, and savagery. Such violence, it is argued, stems from a global resurgence in tribal and traditional forms of identity, a view which has become entrenched in a wide variety of media sources and has framed both government policies and academic arguments. For example, the otherwise sophisticated documenter of conflict, William Shawcross, writes of “the chaos and the suffering caused by failed states, by tribalism, and by warlordism in the post-Cold War period” (Shawcross 2000: 12). Michael Ignatieff (2003: 21) writes of the “barbarian zones” into which extending imperial order becomes, for him, a necessary imperative. In this worldview, the hopes of an ordered Westphalian system is giving way in many zones of the world to the chaos and mayhem of identity politics based on ethno-political groupings, either emanating from within nation-states or cutting across them.