01:39:37, by admin   . Categories: politics, Us and Them, Asia, ethics

Army-Anthropologists call Afghans "Savages"?

READ THE COMMENTS BELOW - AND THE UPDATE “Army-Anthropologists don’t call Afghans “Savages”

Do you want to know what anthropologists who work for the US military in Afghanistan write about the people America is at war with? I resist to believe it but according to the Sydney Morning Herald they call some Afghan societies “utter savages".

Here is an excerpt from the report:

“The Zadran have been written up as a small tribe, but they are the biggest in the south-east. Their manners resemble the Waziris [who straddle the nearby border with Pakistan] and the Kharotis [also concentrated in the east], from which we may infer that they are utter savages. They live in small villages … they are great robbers and their country was a refuge for bad characters.”

Sydney Morning Herald correspondent David Brill who has travelled to Afghanistan’s south-east talked to an anonymous American analyst who refuses to endorse the report’s terminology and can’t believe what he is reading there.

Thomas Ruttig, a member of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, is also “shocked by the anthropologists’ assessment of the locals as savages” and says:

“I have been working in Afghanistan for 25 years. They might look like savages, but they have a sophisticated political understanding. ‘There is great hostility to the Americans, but it is not because the people are savages.”

The ‘’savage’s'’ point, and Ruttig’s, is that America’s military tactics have created so much local hostility that it has become difficult, if not impossible, for the locals to accept the US presence and what Washington calls “aid". The “savages” told Ruttig that they had no option but to join a tribal uprising after a controversial civilian “casualty” (meaning the locals were killed by Americans)

>> read the whole story in the Sydney Morning Herald

A few days ago, anthropologist Hugh Gusterson explained Why the war in Afghanistan cannot be won (by the Americans, I assume)

PS: Maybe this issue makes more sense when we remember what the researchers in militarized institutions like the Centre for Studies in Islamism and Radicalisation write about “Americas enemy”.

UPDATE: Much new information: “Army-Anthropologists don’t call Afghans “Savages”


Humain Terrain anthropologist attacked in Afghanistan has died

How the Human Terrain System anthropologists think

Cooperation between the Pentagon and anthropologists a fiasco?

Anthropology and CIA: “We need more awareness of the political nature and uses of our work”

“Anthropology = Smarter Counterinsurgency”

The dangerous militarisation of anthropology

Thesis: The limits of youth activism in Afghanistan

War in Iraq: Why are anthropologists so silent?


Comment from: Joshua Foust [Visitor]
Joshua Foust

Not even a hint that the HTT was quoting an old British ethnography to highlight the terribly quality of historical documents on the area? Nothing? I wonder how much of that report McGeogh actually read…

2009-09-28 @ 21:15
Comment from: [Member]

Hi Joshua. That sounds interesting. Can you tell us more? Which ethnography?

2009-09-28 @ 23:58
Comment from: Oh please [Visitor]
Oh please

Anyone with the ability and inclination to google can find that the quote appears in the Afghanistan Gazetteer of the British Staff Branch in colonial freaking India.

Of course, that requires some effort on the part of the writer of this post, and of the journalist who went ahead with this story.

By the way, where is the indication that this has anything to do with HTS? Not defending it or anything, but there are great efforts among HTS researchers to dispel the kind of nonsense that British colonial officers propagated a hundred years ago. Like the word “savage,” for one.

2009-09-29 @ 15:15
Comment from: [Member]

Hi “Oh please". Thanks for your comment. Do you have the link to the quote? I’ve googled parts of the quote including “utter savages” without result before I wrote this post. Now, I googled the last part as well ("great robbers” and google directed me to a kind of fact sheet about the Zadran http://www.nps.edu/programs/ccs/Docs/Pakistan/Tribes/Jadran.pdf (Program for Culture and Conflict Studies, Naval Postgraduate School):

They are probably a very small tribe living in very small villages; some of them cultivate the little land they have, but they appear chiefly to depend on their flocks for subsistence. They live, some in houses and some in tents. It was said that they are “great robbers”, and their country was formerly refuge for “bad characters”.

The reference is Adamec, Ludwig W., ed. Kabul and Southeastern Afghanistan., Volume 6, 1985

Googling “utter savages” and zadran doesn’t give relevant results.

But you’re right of course. It sounds more like colonial anthropology.

2009-09-29 @ 18:41
Comment from: You're welcome [Visitor]
You're welcome

Same book, actually:


What would you do if you found out a student of yours had someone else did their homework for them, like you’re having me do? Try Google Books next time; it has almost all of the corpus of Afghanistan/India publications of the British Indian Army, since they’re out of copyright.

2009-09-29 @ 19:27
Comment from: [Member]

Thanks for the link! Strange that the book didn’t show up in the search results. So, yes, might be a good idea to search google books additionally.

Concerning homework: Online, there are neither students nor teachers. We’re all educating each other. So thanks for doing your homework as netizen!

2009-09-29 @ 20:57
Comment from: Perhaps [Visitor]

I would agree that “there are neither students nor teachers,” but it seems incumbent upon the author of a headline like “Army-Anthropologists call Afghans Savages” to look a millimeter beneath the surface of the media report he or she is relying on. By the way, you haven’t demonstrated how the Sydney Morning Herald article has anything to do with HTS in particular.

It looks like it might be time to update this post to reflect that fact that it’s profoundly inaccurate.

2009-09-29 @ 23:48
Comment from: [Member]

It was a HTS-report. I’ll write a new post tomorrow. I’ve added a questionmark to the title

2009-09-30 @ 02:58
Comment from: Impressive [Visitor]

A question mark, wow. Can’t wait for your new post on this topic today.

Find any evidence that this was an HTS-authored report? The article quotes an unnamed “analyst.” That’s not evidence.

2009-09-30 @ 16:51
Comment from: [Member]

Somebody who like you prefers to be referred to anonymously confirmed per email that it was a HTS-report. But I admit it is difficult to write about this sitting in Norway about such a sensitive issue and a report that is not available to the me. I’m waiting for one more email from another person, so you’ll have to wait even one more day :)

2009-09-30 @ 23:46

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