Anthropologists on the Israel-Lebanon conflict
(post in progress) "Strangely, you rarely see anthropologists on the front lines at times like these", anthropologist Maria Teasdale Brodine wrote at anthropology.net on the war in Lebanon nine days ago:
It seems that anthropologists might have the tools to go into a place like this and help opposing sides understand one another. After all, being a cultural anthropologist takes both a lot of diplomatic skill, and being able to respect and attempt to represent the people you're working with.
Since then, some (not many, though!) anthropologists have raised their voice or have been asked to do so by journalists.
Gabriele Marranci, lecturer in the Anthropology of Religion, is one of the authors at the anthropology blog on the Middle East called Tabsir. He makes some comments that are typical for anthropologists (in a positive sense - in my view):
First, it is important to deconstruct one point. “Israel is not ‘the Jew’”, my very religious Rabbi friend repeated again and again to me. I have no problem to believe him: a state cannot be a person or represent what today is a very heterogenic faith: Judaism. (...) Zionism is not Israel; leave aside ‘the Jew’. An ideology can help to build a state, but a state cannot be an ideology, leave aside the personification of a person, ‘the Jew’.
Hence, to really understand what is happening today (...) means to stop observing the antithesis (terrorist vs. non-terrorist, axis of evil vs. axis of good, pro-Israeli vs. anti-Israeli and so on) and focus on more complex macrostructures.
He goes on and explains his thesis: "We are witnessing this carnage because of secularism in action."
Also on Tabsir, anthropologist Daniel Martin Varisco commented several news reports f.ex in the posts The Lobby and Lebanon and Impudence, Impotence and Impunity where he comments an "fascinating article" Indonesia and Malaysia Ready to Send Troops to Mid-East:
Those who are informed by the likes of Daniel Pipes, Bernard Lewis or Sam Huntington would assume that the headline refers to the readiness of the Muslim nations to go fight jihad in support of the Hezbollah. And they would be WRONG! Instead the article talks about how these nations are encouraging the UN Security council to take quick action to end the active fighting and to establish a peacekeeping force. And when that peacekeeping force is established, they will send troops. If we really were locked in a Clash of Civilization, at this point, Hezbollah would be receiving reinforcements from all over the Islamic world.
William Anthropologist O. Beeman, explains in an article at New American Media why Iran could play a role in bringing about peace". Last month, the anthropology professor of Brown University has started blogging >> visit his blog "Culture and International Affairs"
A similar point is made by political scientist Bahman Baktiari and anthropologist Augustus Richard Norton. They argue that "the latest Middle East war underlines the need for an effective structure for dialogue, even with adversaries like Iran" >> read the whole text: Beyond the war in Lebanon. Norten is also interviewed in the Harpers Magazine
There are lots of stories about people escaping from Lebanon. Among them, of course, are anthropologists, f.ex. Rosemary Sayigh. Maybe also typical for anthropologists, she says, she "would not have left had it not been for pressure from her children":
I've never left in any war before. I've lived in Lebanon for 50 years, we've had a lot of war in that time, and I've stayed usually. (But) they said that they would worry too much about me. And I've been planning to come to Cyprus for a holiday, so I thought I'd take it now instead of later, and rationalise it that way.
Efstratios Sourlagas another tough anthropologist. He has no plans to postpone his fieldwork on Greek Orthodox communities in Beirut, he says:
I think it's important to do my research here and I guess, when I decided to come here to do research, I knew perfectly well ... the history of the place and the conditions of being here. I'm not going to be intimidated by the attacks.
At Electronic Lebanon, Sourlagas tells us more about doing fieldwork in this situation - and his doubts:
I came to Lebanon two weeks ago to start my own fieldwork, slightly optimistic that having being before in the region and country several times, feeling as a Greek more at home here with the way of life than in the US where I spent the last three years, possessing a knowledge of Arabic (admittedly poor as it is), and especially my girlfriend being Lebanese, I would not face such problems. (...) However, I find myself now feeling helpless and questioning the purpose and the feasibility of my research here one day after the first Greek nationals have been evacuated from Lebanon via Damascus.
The infrastructure is destroyed, but...
...what leaves one feeling much more helpless and angry is that mainly civilians have to bear the onslaught of the Israeli army (many times with their own lives) as it ushers in its familiar tactic of collective punishment as a response to the capture of two of its soldiers by Hezbollah.
How this scene of eerie quietness contrasted with the noises of thousands of Lebanese taking to the streets of downtown Beirut honking in their cars and waving Italian (and Brazilian!) flags in celebration after the World Cup Final just a few days ago!
UPDATE 2 (8.8.06):
GlobalVoices analyses / sums up some interesting coverage by bloggers from Lebanon and the Middle East >> read Globalvoices: Lebanon Resistance & Unity