Urbicide and Property Under Assad: Examining Reconstruction and Neoliberal Authoritarianism in a “Postwar” Syria

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Emma DiNapoli is a member of the Columbia Law School Class of 2020.

This Note places wartime activity in Syria such as real property seizures and mass demolition within the theoretical framework of urbicide. The wanton, widespread destruction and seizure of homes or public spaces in Syria is a distinct, intentional form of violence against the built environment of the country’s cities, one which is intended to forcibly impose an urban politics of separation and homogeneity. The Assad regime’s tactics in Syria and urbicidal conduct more broadly should not be seen as discrete destructive events—or even series of events—occurring during periods of direct hostilities, but ought to be interpreted expansively: as ongoing processes in which postwar reconstruction is not the solution to urban destruction but rather the continuation of such violence. A failure to account for the logic underlying urbicidal wars may result in post-conflict authoritarian practices of economic patronage and the selective recognition of property assets in ways that are themselves urbicidal in purpose and effect. This Note argues that current reconstruction orthodoxy and the international community’s focus on property restitution as a means to facilitate the return of refugees and internally displaced persons (“IDPs”) is misguided; “traditional” models of post-conflict property restitution fail to properly consider the linkages between methods of destruction and possibilities of future conflict, thus permitting urbicidal reconstruction and the persistence of authoritarianism.

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