24 September 2010

The State, Anthropology, and the Recolonization of Australia's Aboriginals

Embedded Anthropology and the Intervention,” in the September 2010 issue of Arena, is an important article by Barry Morris and Andrew Lattas “on cultural determinism and neo-liberal forms of racial governance,” in broad terms (thanks to Uriohau for this excellent recommendation). The article focuses on what was effectively a new colonization of Australia’s Northern Territory, the militarization of Aboriginal policy, and a liberal interventionist doctrine that exploited fears of pedophilia. As Morris and Lattas point out, few of the measures taken had anything to do with pedophilia—the measures imposed included:
“the appointment of managers to oversee seventy-three prescribed communities; additional restrictions on alcohol and kava; quarantining of a proportion of welfare income; the introduction of an electronic card to monitor and restrict everyday purchases to licensed stores; suspension of the need for permits for entry to prescribed Indigenous areas; the abolition of the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP); the compulsory acquisition of townships through five year leases; and the removal of traditional cultural considerations from judicial-criminal proceedings.”
Morris and Lattas rightly argue that this project is about racial governance, aiming at disciplining and assimilating Aboriginal communities, and attacking indigenous self-determination by denying that Aboriginals have the ability to self-govern. However, what is also critical about their article is the focus on anthropologists serving the state in this effort:
“Some anthropologists have actively embraced the public limelight to articulate cultural determinist arguments which criticize both customary and contemporary Indigenous culture as the true, hidden source of Indigenous problems. Whereas culture, especially ‘traditional’ culture, was previously seen as the salvation of Indigenous remote communities, the focus now is on uncovering and eliminating the dysfunctional aspects of Indigenous culture. Under the Intervention, the rise of cultural determinist arguments has operated as a form of psychological reductionism that allows for the internalisation of moral fault. Cultural determinism has worked to relocate the internalised sources of racial dysfunctionality from the realm of inherited biology to the realm of inherited culture. In terms of the history of anthropology, this is paradoxical for cultural analyses were once embraced and used to escape the reductionisms of biology and psychoanalysis, which posited their own internalised forms of dysfunctionality.”
The authors specifically criticize anthropology professors Peter Sutton (resident in my department at the time I was doing my PhD) and Francesca Merlan. As with the Human Terrain System, vast areas of anthropological knowledge have been dismissed, in favour of a revival of the colonizers’ theory of choice: functionalism. Morris and Lattas explain how the realignment of academics with state interests has taken place in Australia, in what should be a warning (or reminder) to the rest of us.

Free Blogger Ali Abdulemam

Protest the crackdown against dissent in Bahrain, and the imprisonment and torture of human rights defenders and web activists—support the Free Ali Abdulemam campaign:

“To say ‘I want complete democracy now’ is not good for anyone. Throwing open the political process too abruptly will only leave Islamists running the show.” – Sheik Mohammed Bin Ateyatalla Al-Khalifa, president of the Royal Court and a powerful member of the kingdom’s royal family.
Bahrain is a dictatorship ruled by an ethnic and religious minority, that has toyed with some liberalization, and now moved back to smashing any opposition.

According to Mohamed ElGohary on Global Voices: Advocacy Ali Abdulemam, a leading Bahraini blogger and Global Voices Advocacy author, was arrested on 05 September 2010 by the Bahraini authorities for allegedly spreading “false news” on the BahrainOnline.org portal, “one of the most popular pro-democracy outlets in Bahrain, amidst the worst sectarian crackdown by the government in years, and accusations of a supposed ‘terror network’ involving several political and human rights activists.”

Bahrain’s ruling regime has accused opposition activists of a “terror campaign” (Al Jazeera: “Bahrain dissidents face charges,” 05 September 2010; BBC: “Bahrain accuses Shia activists of ‘terror campaign’” 04 September 2010). The accusation, given that the majority of the nation is Shia, that the opposition is somehow allied with Iran and doing its bidding, seeking to overthrow the regime by force and engaging in “propaganda.” Human rights activists imprisoned by the regime have allegedly suffered torture. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights is also reporting that the state has cracked down on dozens of websites. In a country where the local media self-censors, and reporters from Al Jazeera are banned, these sites are the only sources of alternative news and information. The BCHR has issued the following demands:

Thus, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights demands the following from the Bahraini government:
  • To lift the ban and blockage against all public affairs, cultural, social, legal, political and religious websites.
  • The withdrawal of all actions that would restrict freedom of opinion and expression, or prevent the transmission of information.
  • To commit to its international obligations and respect all forms of freedom of expression as enshrined in international conventions and treaties.
  • To amend the Press Law No. 47 of 2002 and make it in line with international standards of human rights.
If you are a blogger and value freedom of expression and the right to dissent, post your support for Ali Abdulemam on your blog. It could be as simple as just posting the YouTube video above, and a link to http://freeabdulemam.wordpress.com/.

For more background, read “The Internet in Bahrain: breaking the monopoly of information,” by Fahad Desmukh, who is a Karachi-based journalist and former Bahraini blogger.

Ali Abdulemam has been imprisoned for political reasons before, as this report from the Wall Street Journal from 11 May 2005 explains—see “After High Hopes, Democracy Project In Bahrain Falters — Gulf Kingdom Reverses Course As Calls for Change Swell; Lessons for the Middle East — A Web Site Rallies Opposition.” Abdulemam is a member of the al-Wifaq Islamic Society, Bahrain’s largest opposition movement. The U.S., unsurprisingly, has been equivocal about supporting democratization in Bahrain, even while touting it for Iraq:
“For the U.S., Bahrain presents a quandary. Construction crews are building new facilities at the headquarters of the Fifth Fleet near the capital Manama. The Pentagon is pressing for port dredging that would allow U.S. aircraft carriers to dock, not just anchor off the coast.
“But even as the Bush administration cheers the idea of democratization here, some U.S. officials privately share the royal family’s concern that Islamists might hijack the political process. They also worry that Iran might expand its influence over a key strategic stronghold.”
The George W. Bush administration had declared Bahrain “an important example of a nation making the transition to democracy.” In 2002, the U.S. gave it the official status of a “major non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally” and started negotiating a bilateral free-trade agreement, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Related Links:
    * Sami Ben Gharbia, “Free Blogger Ali Abdulemam”
    * Anas Qtiesh, “Freedom for Ali Abdulemam”
    * Committee to Protect Bloggers, “Free Blogger Ali Abdulemam”
    * Jillian C. York, “Free Ali Abdulemam”

Wikileaks, the Human Terrain System, and Anthropological Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan

The following are articles written specifically about data contained in the Afghan War Diary released by Wikileaks, in connection with the U.S. Army's Human Terrain System and its deployment of anthropologists and other social scientists in counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. The results are mixed, but what was revealed was also very novel and damning. In the meantime, the two top directors of HTS, Col. Steve Fondacaro, and anthropologist Montgomery McFate have been forced to resign from the program.

  1. Human Terrain Teams in Wikileaks’ Afghan War Diary: Raw Data
    This is the entire list of records in the Afghan War Diary that concern the Human Terrain System, presented unedited and without comment.
  2. Wikileaks’ Afghan War Diary: Problems to Note, More to Come on Human Terrain Teams
    In this essay the ethics of the release of records that have not been redacted to protect the identity of NATO's Afghan civilian informants. Wikileak's "harm minimization process" is questioned, as well as the completeness and significance of the records for achieving an understanding of what happened in the field.
  3. Human Terrain System in Wikileaks’ Afghan War Diary: Searching for Evidence of the Positive
    One question we have to ask ourselves is how the managers of the Human Terrain System can use these same records leaked via Wikileaks to make a positive case for the program embedding civilian social scientists with military units.
  4. Revealing the Human Terrain System in Wikileaks’ Afghan War Diary
    This article presents evidence showing that HTS conducted internal spying of its own fieldworkers in order to gain access to their confidential fieldnotes, and passing them on to military intelligence, as appears in the records. We begin by asking a few questions: When a Human Terrain Team (HTT) is mentioned in the records leaked to Wikileaks, how does the report writer know what he or she knows about the HTT? The answer seems simple enough, in a number of instances: a HTT is embedded with a larger military unit, the report writer indicates where the HTT is, what it is doing at a given moment, and what it plans to do. As for what HTTs themselves report, none of these records are HTT reports. Their reports go elsewhere and have an altogether different form. So when a record indicates what was recorded by a member or members of a HTT, how does the report writer know that, and who are these report writers?
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...