(draft, post in progress) More surveillance, more bombs, more border controls, less democracy, less freedom: Europe is reacting hysterically after the deadly terror attacks in Paris one week ago. How to make sense of what is happening?
The deadly terror attack in France has brought, as anthropologist Jeremy Trombley at Struggle forever writes, "the violence that people around the world experience on a daily basis back into our own sheltered and secured lives. They remind us not only that the world is a violent place, but that, perhaps, our lives are peaceful because there is violence elsewhere."
People in Europe have during the recent days got the chance to get an inside view into the struggles of people in less priviledged countries that are regularily bombed by the West.
In theory there is a slight possibility for some kind of solidarity or cosmpolitanism to develop out of this, and a critique of Western policies.
The common discourse in mainstream media is - unsurprisingly - a totally different one.
Heather E. Young-Leslie was right when she two days after the attack wrote:
Sadly, l'horreur of Paris 13 Nov. 2015 will, probably, lead to greater political support for the hawks: the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, pro-militaristic, pro-fascist and neo-Nazi elements in France and other parts of the EU. We will hear that it is necessary to relinquish freedoms in order to protect liberté, and solidarité will be purchased with rhetorics of anti-immigration and victim-blaming.
Double standards. Photo: ugocuesta, flickr
This natio-chauvinist "we" against "them" rethoric tends to silence cautious attempts to discuss the wider context of the terrorist attack, including the role of the West in creating terrorism, and the possibility that the operations by Western powers can be viewed as terrorism as well.
"Them", in the official discourse, not only refers to the Daesh/ISIS attackers but increasingly to all muslims and "non-western" refugees (like those who are escaping the madness i Syria) and immigrants and those who speak Arabic.
Several anthropologists, in their immmidiate reactions to the terror attack, insisted to focus on the wider global context of the terror attacks where the Western powers do bear some responsibilities.
Keith Hart, is writing from Paris, in his open letter to his daughter, first published on Facebook:
The fact is that the French killed 1 mn people in the Algerian war of independence, the second genocide they got away with (the other being Vichy). They have now made themselves the US' closest ally in bombing North Africa and the Middle East, invading Mali, Central African Republic etc. In radio discussions here no-one ever questions their right to do this.
Thomas Hylland Eriksen is reacting in a similar way. "The Syrian conflict, the rise of IS/Daesh, the flows of people out of the country and the reactions with which they are being met in Europe, the feeling of disenfranchisement and marginalisation prevalent among youths of North African origin in France, and the Western countries' active destabilisation of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya cannot be seen independently of each other", he stresses:
[T]he value of human lives varies depending on where you live and who you are. This may be stating the obvious, but there is rarely if ever a major outrage in the rich countries when a drone attack or a missile targeting a terrorist leader instead ends up killing dozens of innocents, including children. Yet this happens routinely and frequently. Not everybody agrees that it is acceptable that the rich countries murder civilians in poor countries, and the Paris terrorist attack can thus be understood as an act of retribution.
Viewed from an subversive anthropological perspective, the distinction between good and bad guys, between terrorists and victims is not as clear as mainstream politicians suggest.
Terrorists or revolutionaries?
Maybe the term terrorist is not a very helpful one at all. Maybe we can get a better understanding of IS/Daesh when we call them - as anthropologist and terror researcher Scott Atram does - for revolutionaries.
In the Guardian he writes that treating Isis as a form of "terrorism" or "violent extremism" would mask the menace. Instead, he describes Isis as being part of a "dynamic, revolutionary countercultural movement of world historic proportions, with the largest and most diverse volunteer fighting force since the second world war".
In a fascinating interview om Russia Today, he explains the revolutionary aspects and even draws lines back to Hitler.
Sophie Shevardnadze, the interviewer,wonders how it can be possible that ISIS's horror brings them even more supporters. "Basically", she says, "what I am asking, is ISIS appealing to sick and disturbed people more than normal people?". The anthropologists answers:
No, it appeals to people in span of normal distribution. I mean, it's like any revolutionary movement, that's why I think even calling it terrorism or just extremism is beyond the pale. (..) It's very much like the French revolution, or even the Bolshevik revolution or even the National Socialist revolution... I mean, look at the French revolution, they were eating one another just like Al-Nusra and ISIS and other groups are eating one another like bloodied sharks, and they were invaded by a coalition of the Great Powers, and yet not only they survived, but they endured, and they introduced the notion of terror itself, as an "extreme measure" as they called it, "for the preservation of democracy", and every revolution since then, every real revolution has done pretty much the same thing, pretty much successfully, so ISIS is no exception.
(...) In any kind of truly revolutionary movement there's a feeling of invincibility once you've fused with your comrades in your cause. The idea is their history is on their side. So, even if they take battlefield losses, they're not going to consider that a loss at all.
ISIS sings the same tune Hitler did, promising Utopia in the end, the anthropologist says:
Look, George Orwell in his review of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" back in 1939 have described the essence of the problem. He said: "Mr. Hitler has discovered that human beings don't only want peace and security and comfort and free from want. They want adventure, glory and self-sacrifice, and Mr. Hitler's appealed to that - and while the Oxford student union at that time vowed to never fight again, Mr. Hitler has 80 million people fall down to his feet, in one of the most advanced countries in the world." How did that happen? Again, ISIS is appealing to the same sort of sentiments, that have been appealed to throughout human history... and no, I don't think we've learned much from history about that.
ISIS consists of young poeple, people in transition. ISIS, the interviewer suggests, might be seen as a form of teen rebellion then? The anthropologist agrees. It is - as most revolutionary movements, driven by young - and educated people, he says. But, the interviewer wonders, we're used to think that young people want freedom, but ISIS is forbidding this?
The anthropologist answers:
I got a call from head of Medical School telling me that her best students have just left to set up field hospital for ISIS in Syria, and she was asking me why would they do this; and I said, "because it's a glorious and adventurous mission, where they are creating a Brand New World, and they do it under constraints." I mean, people want to be creative under constraints. A lot of young people just don't want the kind of absolute freedom you're talking about. The choices are too great, there's too much ambiguity and ambivalence. There are too many degrees of freedom and so one can't chart a life path that's at all meaningful, and so these young people are in search of significance, and ISIS is trying to show them a way towards significance.
Again, we have to take it very seriously, that's why I think it's the most dynamic counter-cultural movement since WWII, and it's something I don't think people are taking seriously, just dismissing them as psychopaths and criminals and... this, of course, is something that we have to destroy. I think, we're on the wrong path in terms of the way we're going to destroy it.
So what is they way out of this? The first step is in Atran's view to understand this movement. Current counter-radicalisation approaches lack in his view the mainly positive, empowering appeal and sweep of Isis's story of the world, and the personalised and intimate approach to individuals across the world. What inspires the ISIS-fighters is not so much the Qur'an but "a thrilling cause that promises glory and esteem".
There are not many anthropologists who are conducting fieldwork among extremists like ISIS/Daesh. It's not just because it's dangerous, Atran says in an interview with Scientific American:
It's because human subjects reviews at universities and especially the [US] defence department won't let this work be done. It's not because it puts the researcher in danger, but because human subjects [research ethics] criteria have been set up to defend middle class university students. What are you going do with these kind of protocols when you talk to jihadis? Get them to sign it saying, "I appreciate that the Defense Department has funded this work," and by the way if you have any complaints, call the human subjects secretary? This sounds ridiculous and nothing gets done, literally.
Then you have crazy things [required by US funding bodies] like host country authorization. Suppose you want to do work in Israel and Palestine. So you go to the Israelis, say, "We want to do studies, just like we do in American universities" and say, "We need host country authorization from some government." They say, "Are you crazy?" And in many countries that are in chaos, who's going to give you permission?
PS: Maybe it might be fruiful to take a look at "On Suicide Bombing" by Talal Asad where he - among others - writes:
It seems to me that there is no moral difference between the horror inflicted by state armies (especially if those armies belong to powerful states that are unaccountable to international law) and the horror inflicted by its insurgents. In the case of powerful states, the cruelty is not random but part of an attempt to discipline unruly populations. Today, cruelty is an indispensable technique for maintaining a particular kind of international order, an order in which the lives of some peoples are less valuable than the lives of others and therefore their deaths less disturbing.
Egypt: Open access to online scientific journals, ebooks and encyclopedias for everybody in the whole country
It does not happen often that there a good news from Egypt where I am still living. This news here, although nearly too good to be true, is at least interesting. In January, Egypt is going to launch the Egyptian Knowledge Bank. Anybody with an Egyptian IP-address will be able to get free access to academic journals, ebooks and other publications that normally only would be available to a small circle of individuals that are affiliated with well-funded universities.
Agreements with 26 international publishing houses have already been signed. According to an official statement by the president's media office the Egyptian Knowledge Bank project would be "the largest digital library in the world".
"Our goal is to provide all Egyptians with access to world-class publications, like Nature and Encyclopedia Britannica. By providing these materials free of charge, the knowledge bank ensures that all Egyptians, no matter what their economic circumstances, will have the tools they need to excel in their education and research", Tarek Shawki, chair of the Presidential Specialized Council for Education and Scientific Research, says.
Gaining access to research materials from private journals and other for-profit online publications has long been difficult in Egyptian academic circles, according to the news site Mada Masr. While the American University in Cairo is able to pay for online journals and databases, public universities like the University of Cairo aren't able to do the same.
The agreement with publisher Elsevier, for example, "provides access to ScienceDirect, Elsevier's full-text platform for research literature and abstract and citation database Scopus. They also include Elsevier's clinical search engine ClinicalKey, and engineering reference platforms Knoveland Engineering Village. The partnership also gives Egypt's policymakers access to SciVal, meaning they will be able assess the impact of these tools, and make informed decisions on how and where to invest in research", according Elsevier.
This state-funded initiative is an interesting variation of the open access debate. So far, the efforts have been focused on making the journals itself free to access - a nearly impossible task so far, at least regarding the more prestigious journals. The growth in open access journals, at least within anthropology - is, it seems, rather caused by the establishment of new journals like HAU, Altérités or Vibrant than established ones becoming open for anybody.
Read more about the Knowledge Bank:
Egypt signs national agreement to expand access to scientific information (Elsevier, 17.11.15)
Dean Shawki: Egyptian Knowledge Bank to Widen Research, Education Opportunities (American University in Cairo, AUC, 11.11.15)
Al-Sisi orders establishment of ?Bank of Knowledge? (Daily News Egypt, 15.11.15)
Presidency launches Egyptian Knowledge Bank project (Egypt Independent, 15.11.15)
Photo: Cíntia Regina, flickr
During the recent (nearly) two years, I've been interviewing researchers that are part of the research project Overheating. The three crises of globalisation: An anthropological history of the early 21st century at the University of Oslo, starting with Thomas Hylland Eriksen: Anthropologists to study humanity’s biggest crises.
I also interviewed most of the researchers that were invited to hold seminars. One of the texts that for me was most fun to write was about the research by sociologist Caroline Knowles. For seven years, she has been following a pair of flip-flops around the world. This flip-flops taught her a lot about the biggest migration streams in history, inequality and the difficulties of "studying up".
The text starts like this:
The woman, who is sinking up to her knees in rubbish in the middle of the huge landfill in the outskirts of Addis Ababa, is not one of the hundreds of scavengers who are searching for things they can use or eat like old airline food and plastic bottles.
The woman is a sociologist.
She has travelled all the way from London to this giant, murky, grey-brown raised area of partially decomposed rubbish. For her, it is the end of a long journey that started several years ago in the world's second largest oil field in Kuwait.
Anthropologist Tereza Kuldova, author of many book reviews here on antropologi.info has recently defended her PhD-thesis Designing Elites: Fashion and Prestige in Urban North India". Now she has turned her thesis into a museum exhibition and an edited volume called Fashion India. Spectacular Capitalism.
Researching fashion means researching society and economic systems at large, she explains in this antropologi.info interview. In her case studying fashion means especially studying inequalities.
antropologi.info: So you turned your PhD thesis both into an exhibition and then into an edited volume?
Tereza Kuldova: Yes, that is correct. At the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo (part of University of Oslo) where I work, we were just in the process of restructuring the museum and developing new creative vision for future research based exhibitions, when I proposed to translate my PhD into a visual form.
– I wanted to create an exhibition that is about Indian fashion as much as about Indian society and the context of fashion production, capturing the complexity of the relationships of production and consumption - the opposite of the India: Fashion Now exhibition at Arken, Denmark, where they presented selected pieces by a handful of famous Indian designers on dummies, basically as art pieces, devoid of any social or economic context, a practice I tried to oppose in my exhibition.
– So I went on a curatorial hunt for the exhibition objects to India and spent one month shopping in New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Lucknow and shipping huge boxes of ethnographic artefacts and props for the exhibition to Oslo. In Kolkata I even commissioned life size glass fibre statues of Gandhi, Shah Rukh Khan, and goddess Lakshmi from the Kumartuli artisans. When I got back, I got a team consisting of conservators, photographers, PR expert, project coordinator, graphic designer and handyman to help me getting the exhibition together. I was then responsible for design, texts and the overall concept and organization. But I also got to nail things on the wall and got all messy painting and so on.
– The edited volume of the same title as the exhibition, Fashion India: Spectacular Capitalism, was based partly on a conference I organized in December 2012, The Indian Phantasm, where I invited some of my great colleagues working on contemporary Indian and popular culture, and then I invited some of the authors especially for the volume. However, each chapter is visually represented in the exhibition, so that the book functions as an in-depth extension of the individual exhibition windows and installations.
– It's a book with some catchy titles! Was “Fashion India - Spectacular Capitalism” your idea? What was the idea behind the title of the book?
– Well, it was my idea in a way… In fact, I was reading Gilman-Opalsky's Spectacular Capitalism: Guy Debord and the Practice of Radical Philosophy, while putting the exhibition together and the concept just seemed to capture what most of the authors in the volume were relating to and no less, what I have been researching.
– Spectacular capitalism refers to the dominant mythological understanding of what capitalism is and what it does in the world, i.e. to a "mythology about capitalism that disguises its internal logic and denies the macroeconomic reality of the actually existing capitalist world"(Gilman-Opalsky 2011: 17), such as the classical statements like "anybody can make it if they work hard enough" or "capitalism will eradicate all inequalities."
– What is spectacular about capitalism?
– There is nothing spectacular about capitalism, except for its mythology.
– It was precisely this mythology that I tried to unpack both in the exhibition and through the volume. While we may cynically take distance from such statements, they are some of the most powerful illusions to which for instance the Indian business elites subscribe and reproduce in their everyday acts. I think that each author in the volume addressed some part of this powerful mythology, be it from historical, anthropological or aesthetic perspective.
Samant Chauhan with his collection during the opening of the exhibition Fashion India at the Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo, 13 spetember 2013. Photo: Adnan Icagic
– How it is addressed in the book?
– For instance, I talk about the notorious meritocratic ideal, and the way it becomes part of the self-justification of Indian elites. The problem with meritocracy is that it systematically legitimizes social inequality by arguing that success depends on the individual's abilities and talents, while ignoring all together the structural conditions of opportunity in the first place.
– Shamus Rahman Khan, in his study of America's elite St. Paul's college, argues that the US lives in an era of democratic inequality, the same applies for India. Democratic inequality refers to a state of affairs in which a certain amount of diversity (few publically recognized self-made men, such as selected famous designers) is combined with the dominant narrative of meritocracy thus creating an illusion of an open society, something that obscures the underlying structural inequalities that are being systematically perpetuated.
– "Laughing at luxury and mocking fashion designers" is the catchy title of one of your contributions. That makes me of course wonder who and what you are writing about!
– This chapter addresses the relationship between designers and village based craftswomen in the chikan embroidery cottage industry in Lucknow, who partake in the production of the high-end luxury fashion pieces, but who resist the patronizing discourses of the designers, who position these women as "poor, illiterate, and in need of rescue" (while positioning themselves as the very rescuers providing precious jobs).
– These women often reverse the assumed dynamics of dependency on the powerful urban designers, by showing the designers that it is them who are dependent on the women's craft skill and not the reverse; showing them that without them the designers are nothing. The village women often mock these designers and laugh at the way they run after money, are always stressed and under pressure, never laugh and so on.
From the opening fashion show at the exhibition "Fashion India. Spectacular Capitalism"
– The city is here opposed to the village, which is paradoxically idealized by the villagers themselves, against all its lacks; the urban poverty which creates real dependency on money with its stress, exploitation and hectic life are increasingly recognized as undesirable. However, it must be said that this is a slightly gendered perspective, as the women appear to idealize the village life far more than men, who tend to focus on the lacks and wrongs.
– The women also often laugh at ideas such as "national pride" or "heritage" and the fact that they are so celebrated within the nationalist discourse and yet remain invisible to the state. So the chapter investigates some of these ironic reversals in the relation between designers and these craftswomen.
– And Paolo Favero writes about How to spend a few hours waiting for a delayed flight in the middle of the night at the Delhi airport and receive an ethnographic enlightenment?
his is a very enlightening and entertaining chapter, where Paolo traces the modern history of Delhi, while reflecting over his own engagement with Delhi throughout his research career - all of this triggered by the newly refurbished Indira Gandhi International Airport, that becomes a material, aesthetic and as such also ideological representation of the current search for Delhi's identity as a powerful global city obsessed with search for and display of "Indianness".
– Paolo then walks us through some of the iconic places in Delhi that reflect these trends. I then describe some of the same process in another chapter of mine in the volume "The Maharaja Style: Royal Chic, Heritage Luxury and the Nomadic Elites".
– What is so special with the newly refurbished Delhi airport?
– The Delhi airport has been then transformed into a glamorous gallery-like, or if you like, Disneyland like, space displaying the opulence of Indian heritage, a clear search for identity within the global order.
The exhibition is based on Tereza Kuldova’s doctoral thesis and research conducted between 2010-12 in Lucknow and New Delhi. The thesis followed traditional hand embroidery from its production in Lucknow, via collaborations with Delhi-based fashion designers to its consumption by Indian elite clientele, thus throwing light on an anthropologically understudied phenomenon of fashion.
– This space can also be read, such as Nilanjana Mukherjee does in one of the book chapters, through the historical lense of the nineteenth century world exhibitions with their temple paviollions, through the royal durbars and the emergence of shopping arcades, all predecessesors of contemporary theatrical fashion shows or miss universe and the like.
– At the Delhi airport, this spatial aesthetics is used to strategically re-brand Delhi as the city of the future global rulers, the hypermodern hub from which poverty or any social problems are photoshopped, at the same time as it re-invents its past in order to project it into the future, thus creating dominant (often branding) narratives of what it means to be Indian, with iconic symbols like Gandhi, traditional handicrafts and so on, symbols that can be easily consumed and displayed in order to show one's belonging.
– You can see these dominant tropes all around, in one space, all bombastically mixed up. Another chapter, by Nemesis Srour for instance looks at the related changing masculine ideal in the Bollywood cinema, that of the powerful, muscular, global Indian, who at the same time remains firmly rooted in tradition, while being the prototypical "consumer patriot".
– What can people who are neither experts in fashion nor in India learn from your book?
– Well, the book is written in an accessible language, and it is accompanied by numerous images, so the readers can get a glimpse of contemporary India through fashion and popular culture and realize that researching fashion means researching society and economic systems at large. It is not a matter of few designer heroes or fashion magazines. To the contrary, it concerns us all in most pressing ways.
– A short/long answer to this would be T. Hoskins's book Stitched Up: The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion. I think we all need to understand how this multi-billion industry operates and rethink our wardrobes accordingly.
– And so even though the stories may appear local, they speak to processes that are global, and you can easily see how what is happening in India is uncannily replicated in our own contexts.
– What kept you studying Indian fashion for so many years?
– Maybe precisely the fact that it is not about fashion - fashion is just a lens, a starting point for understanding commercial cultural, design, art, capitalism, desire, prestige, role of material culture, emerging economies, social networks, various forms of capital, emotion and affect, seduction, sexuality and erotics and so on.
– How is your life after the PhD? Still at the museum?
– Yes, for a while. Since I delivered my thesis on time, which happens to be rare in Norway, I received a one year extension grant – that is when I put together the exhibition and now I turning my thesis into a monograph which should come out next year.
– And what do you plan to do in future?
– If everything goes well, I want to start up a new research project on emerging fashion cities and the relation between India and the Gulf, in particular Abu Dhabi.
– Some last words?
– Come and check out the exhibition in Oslo, it is on until 13th of June
>> My look at Tereza Kuldova's master’s thesis about the Chikan embroidery industry in India: That’s why there is peace
>> Her book review No fashion outside the "West"?
Antropologi.info is mainly about social anthropology. So, maybe now it’s time to get inspired by a paper from a neighbouring discipline - archaeology. Lukas Loeb has sent me this paper that he’d like to share with others: The Human Burial of the Abrigo Lagar Velho Child. An analysis of human burial and the understanding of social relations and ancient society.
Loeb is currently a student in the Social Science and Economy Department at the University of Agder, Norway. The paper was written as a part of an anthropology course he took at the University of British Columbia, Canada, in 2009/2010. The course, an Introduction to World Archaeology, provided a survey of world archeology from the emergence of humankind to the beginning of state societies.
What is your essay about, Lukas Loeb?
– My essay is about the human burial of the Abrigo Lagar Velho Child, and the introduction of modern humans in Europe. How we can use a single burial to discover ancient cultures and study their social life by the burial itself and the tools and vegetation surrounding it?
In your email to me, you wrote this is an important topic that you’d like to share with others. Why?
– Many say that the Neanderthals disappeared from Europe because the continent were overtaken by modern humans. My essay discusses the important topic of the modern humans and Neanderthals interacted and that there were some sort of gene flow between these two human species.
Is this discussion also relevant for cultural- and social anthropologists?
– I would say that this discussion is both important and relevant for both cultural- and social anthropologists, this essay discusses and analyzes the burial itself and how it reflects to the religion, social life, hierarchy and status that was present 24,500 BP.
As a bonus: Some links for those who want to know more about your topic?
João Zilhão: Fate of the Neandertals (archaeology.org)
Lagar Velho - the Hybrid Child from Portugal (donsmaps.org)
Thanks for this short interview!
Download the paper (pdf, 421kb)
They beat children and adults during apprehensions and in custody, they deny people with life-threatening medical conditions treatment, separate family members and confiscate their belongings.
“We were held with another woman who was coughing so badly that she threw up violently, over and over. The others in the cell called for help. An officer came over and said, ‘Que se muera!’ - ‘Let her die!’”
Two months ago anthropologists Rachel Stonecipher & Sarah Willen alerted the public on the Access Denied blog about the abuse of migrants on the U.S–Mexican border.
Now, anthropologist Randall McGuire draws our attention to a recently published report “A Culture of Cruelty” that documents the “systematic abuses of human rights” by U.S. Border Patrol along the U.S.-Mexican border.
McGuire, who is the author of Archaeology as Political Action, writes:
This report demonstrates that the Border Patrol systematically abuses people in short-term custody and that existing policies and standards inadequately address a culture of impunity within the agency. Rather than these abuses being the work of a few rogue agents, the Border Patrol has become a rogue agency. The report draws on interviews with almost 13,000 deportees conducted over 2.5 years. (…)
Despite this fact, inadequate procedures exist within the Border Patrol for identifying and correcting systematic abuse. The abuses continue as part of United States border policy. The border wall forces migrants into perilous deserts and mountains.
Since 2008, the number of migrants crossing the border has fallen precipitously. But, the number of people dying in the desert has remained constant. The systematic abuses of human rights and the culture of cruelty in the Border Patrol directly reflect a border policy designed to maximize the risks to migrants’ health and lives.
The report was produced by the organisation No More Deaths. One of its members is anthropology student “Corbett” who on his/her (really good!) blog “The Wild Anthropologist” gives us a summary of the findings.
The whole report can be downloaded from the website http://www.cultureofcruelty.org
It hasn’t received much attention from mainstream media. And when Reuters writes about the report, they use the authorities’ perspective and describe the victims of abuse as “illegal migrants”, as criminals. The difference to the coverage in the independent media publication In These Times is striking.
The term “Illegal” serves to dehumanize people who, even though they are within the country without the approval of the US, are guaranteed human rights by the 14th Amendment: “…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”.
(preliminary notes, still in progress, last updated 16.10., 00:30 ) As everybody else, I am trying to make sense of Sunday night’s outbreak of violence in Cairo. While I was - unsuspectingly - walking through the streets of Cairo, trying to find the pasta stand I stumbled upon a week ago, the military was massacring protesters less than ten minutes by foot away from me at the Maspero State-TV building. At least 27 people were killed, more than 300 were wounded during a protest against religious discrimination and a recent destruction of a church in Upper Egypt.Army vehicles run over protesters
It is both interesting and disturbing to see how the event has been covered by international mainstream media in comparison to local and social media.
International media has framed the clashes mainly as a religious conflict while they also could have chosen a totally different perspective: instead of “Muslims against Christians”, they could have chosen “the army against the people”. They could have described the clashes as conflict between forces who support the pro-democracy revolution (the people) and those that rather oppose it (the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, SCAF), as a conflict more of power than of religion.
UPDATE:“The atrocious killings in Maspero are not so much sectarian as a staging point in a full-scale counterrevolution“, writes sociologist Mona Abaza in Ahram Online
UPDATE: This sectarian language in Western media is, as Paul Sedra explains on Jadaliyya, not only inappropriate but dangerous.
As several local commentators stated, the protesters who were attacked by the military were not exclusively Christians.
Many Muslims joined the clashes, and fought against the army and police. At one point a Muslim cleric carried a cross over the 6 October Bridge, leading Coptic protesters in marching on Maspero [the TV-building].
The demonstrators chanted repeatedly: “Muslims, Christians.. One hand!” and denounced Mubarak’s minister of defence, who is controlling the country now - Field Marshal Tantawi.
El-Hamalawy sees the current attacks on the Copts as an “attempt by the ruling military generals to split the ranks of the Egyptian poor and pit them against one another”. The presence of Muslim protesters alongside Copts are according to him “a hopeful sign”.
Al-Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros has made similar observations:
“There were people on the streets from all different sectors of society. Copts, Muslims, other Christians, secularists, even Salafists. ”What united them was not anything to do with sectarian issues or demands but actually a frustration directed at the army for what they feel is the army’s betrayel of the revolution."
Social justice for all, including religious minorities, was one of the demands of the january revolution.
Omar Tarek, an activist and journalist, was one of the Muslim protesters. Around 300 Muslim and Coptic protesters were gathered at state TV-building Maspero, holding candles, chanting and calling for unity according to Daily News Egypt .
Omar Tarek told the newspaper that the Coptic cause is the same as the Muslim cause.
You can’t demolish a house of worship. (…) I am here as an Egyptian, supporting an Egyptian cause.
Headlines like BBC’s Copts mourn victims of Cairo unrest suggest that Muslims or secularists don’t care which is not true. Many muslims joined the Copts at funerals.
Amira Abdel Hamid was one them. He said to Daily News Egypt:
I am here supporting the families of the martyrs and I was hoping that a lot of Muslims would make it to show the whole world that it is not sectarian strife, but an army against its people.
During their march from the Coptic Hospital to the largest Coptic cathedral in Cairo, protesters chant, “Muslims and Christians are one hand!”, reports newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm. And: “Down with military rule!” “This is not a sectarian conflict, this is a military massacre.”
Ahram Online writes about the funeral for Mina Daniel, a young Christian revolutionary “who never forgot the importance of Muslim-Christian unity”:
A Muslim girl who came to support her Christian friend after her brother was killed during the battles Sunday night. Photo: Lilian Wagdy, flickr
Hundreds of Egyptians who had never met Mina Daniel – or, in many cases, had even heard of him before his death – attended the young man’s funeral, chanting, “We are all Mina Daniel.” (…)
Following the funeral, hundreds of mourners, including both Christians and Muslims, solemnly headed to Tahrir Square bearing Mina’s coffin.
There is no doubt that Reuters and others are right when they write that Copts are discriminated. Even tourists like me are realising that the Muslim-Christian relationship is a sensitive issue. But the news agencies neglect to mention that many conflicts have been initiated and provoked by the regimes in power (“Divide and rule”).
Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor at Reuters, for example went so far to claim the following:
The clashes, in which Christians say they were fired on and charged down by armored vehicles, highlighted an irony of the Arab Spring that the region’s dictatorships may have been better guardians of minorities than budding democracies.
But in Egypt, many believe the recent clashes are a result of ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s policies, which nurtured sectarian strife, writes Heba Fahmy in Daily News Egypt.
As Omnia Al Desoukie stresses in another Daily News Egypt article::
While many are quick to point out the marginalization of Egypt’s Copts, less are inclined to label the country as a sectarian state.
Many observers have said that these underlying issues are often manipulated by authorities seeking to cling to power, an accusation often leveled against the Mubarak regime. Incidents such as Sunday night’s events are usually followed by widespread calls for national unity and shows of solidarity between Muslims and Christians.
“We now know a previous massacre, the bombing of the Church of the Two Martyrs in Alexandria in December, in which 21 were killed, was the work of Mubarak’s ministry of the interior”, explains Egyptian short story writer Ahdaf Soueif in the Guardian.
It was beyond sickening that a government would kill its citizens in an attempt to turn them against each other – and Muslims flocked to stand with their Christian friends at Christmas mass.
The attack on Egyptian Christians last Sunday “was not sectarian”, she writes, “this was the army murdering citizens.”
So instead of accompanying their articles with background information about Christians in the Middle East (BBC) or Christians under siege in post-revolution Egypt (AP / ABC News), international media could have chosen to highlight the role of the military generals in Egypt as for example CBS’ 60 minutes did. As bonus track one could add a feature about the role of the West, especially the U.S. as sponsor.
Here, the media, especially state media, seems to play a crucial role.
Zeinab El Gundy writes in Ahram Online:
A number of critics say that Egyptian state television not only failed to help resolve the crisis, but actually played a role in aggravating the already-tense situation.
In an unprecedented move, broadcasters on state television at one point called on the Egyptian public to head to Maspero en masse to defend Egyptian soldiers from angry Christian protesters, thereby further fuelling the sectarian flare-up.
On top of this, Issandr El Amrani writes at the Arabist, the military cut off the live TV feeds of several satellite TV stations, including Al Jazeera.
Some more observations at the end
Foreign media relied largely on accounts by the large international news agencies like Reuters and ap. Few journalists bothered to launche their web browser and do some research on their own. Egypt has an impressively large English language blogger og twitter scene, but only few of their accounts make it into mainstream news. One of them who took a look - Robert Mackey from the New York Times had to conclude “Social Media Accounts of Violence in Cairo Challenge Official Narrative“
International media treated Egyptian state and military officials as trustworthy sources. Manar Ammar from the Egyptian news site BikyaMasr had to conclude that "international media outlets largely reported on Sunday night Cairo what state television was reporting.
At the end of this already too long post, I’d especially like to recommend the analysis The Last Choice by Mahmoud Salem aka Sandmonkey, one of Egypts best English language bloggers I’ve read so far. He not only analyses the massacre but also discusses possible local and global consequences. Sandmonkey is ending optimistically with an account from the Sunday night clashes:
After engaging in a street brawl where not a single person could tell who is with who or against who, they stopped a started chanting. One team started chanting “The People and the Army are one hand” and the others started chanting “Muslims and Christians are one hand”, thus providing us with the choices that we as Egyptians were told to make yesterday.
And then, strangely, both sides at the same time changed their chants to “One hand”, and both sides started chanting that fiercely, stopped fighting each other, and joined each other into one big marsh chanting “One hand, One hand”, and thus showing us that they made the right choice. They were presented with the choice between the Army and National Unity, and they refused to make that choice and collectively and organically made the only correct choice: Each Other. Egypt.
In the midst of the battle, they realized on a very basic level that they can’t chose one over the other, and that, even if they have prejudices, they really do not want to fight each other. There is a lesson in that incident for all of us, and it may just hold the key to our salvation.
“What was schemed as sectarian vandalism and a plot against the unity of Egyptians", writes Nermeen Edrees on Global Voices, has turned out to be “a unifying force and a concrete wall to prove that what happened on the night of Black Sunday in Egypt is a Governor versus People clash rather than Christian versus Muslim one.” She quotes Sandmonkey’s tweet: “Don’t say the army killed Christians. Say the army killed Egyptians.”
Hanna Yousef posted a picture with two grieving mothers, one Christian, the other Muslim, supporting each other and writes:
I am so angry. I can’t get over it. How dare they? I mean the shooting, the snipers, the crushing by tanks, the torture and the horrible ugly abject poverty are already too much to handle, and now I am supposed to hate Copts? Now, I am supposed to define them as the other. the other who is different than me, the other I should protect myself against? Well, I won’t. I refuse. (…) The God I believe in doesn’t like fascists.
Today, Friday, people chant for Christian-Muslim unit at Tahrir Square and after the Friday prayers, a march is taking place from Al-Azhar Mosque to the Abbassiya Cathedral where the funerals for Sunday’s victims were held.
- Wonderful story by Marwa Nasser: Cairo marches for unity: “Christians, Muslims. Hand in hand!” (Emaj Magazine 11.10.)
- Great presentation by the Guardian: Egypt’s deadly night: what really happened - a collection of testimonies have been translated from Arabic from the website Maspero Testimonies (Arabic/English),
SEE ALSO:The dubious behaviour of Western researchers sightseeing the “Arab Spring”
Egyptian sociologist Mona Abaza has written an interesting article about “growing inequalities” between researchers from the Middle East and the West.
“While the Arab Spring has enhanced global interest in the Arab world, local academics have often been reduced to service providers for Western ”experts“ who jet in and jet out”, she writes in the Egyptian news site Ahram Online.
Many belonging to our scientific community have recently felt somehow “misused” through being overwhelmed by Western tourist-revolutionary academics in search of “authentic” Tahrir revolutionaries, needing “service providers” for research assistants, for translating, and newspaper summaries, for first hand testimonies, and time and again as providers of experts and young representatives for forthcoming abounding conferences on the Arab Spring in the West.
These Western experts “typically make out of no more than a week’s stay in Cairo, a few shots and a tour around Tahrir, the ticket to tag themselves with the legitimacy and expertise of first hand knowledge":
Many overnight Middle East experts show a remarkable tendency to pursue sensational and market-driven topics and readily switch interest as the market forces fluctuate. One day they are self-proclaimed experts on “political Islam” or “Islam and gender” and another, they are authority on “the Arab Spring” and “pro-democracy revolutions”. This superficial and business-oriented handling of crucial developments and changes in the area affects how the peoples of the region are perceived and how policies are shaped in the West.
She adds that “there is nothing wrong with providing services, had the relationship been equal, which was unfortunately never the case":
Without sounding xenophobic, which is a growing concern that personally worries me more than ever, there is much to say about the ongoing international academic division of labour whereby the divide between the so called “theoreticians” of the North and the “informants” who are also “objects of study” in the South continues to grow.
There’s still a lot of orientalism in sociological textbooks as Malaysian sociologist S Farid Alatas pointed out, Abaza stresses:
Namely, that European thinkers remain pervasively as the “knowing subjects” whereas non-Europeans continue to be the “objects of observations and analyses of European theorists”.
Unless these issues are not brought up on the table of research agendas I am afraid that much will be said in the name of the revolution while perpetrating the same inequalities and Orientalist attitudes that are mostly felt in the job market, and in evaluating “whose knowledge counts more” in academe.
PS: “Service providers” is a term she borrowed from her colleague, political scientist Emad Shahin
UPDATE: Interesting comment by a reader at Ahram Online:
Thank you Mona Abaza for having the courage to speak on behalf of local academics like yourself and journalists as well who are expected to offer their insight, information, years of hard work with the western tsunami that’s bombarding them (us). I’m personally sick and tired of having to do their homework for them. Where where they before the revolution and why do I have to give them my ideas?
Her article about this dubious academic tourism was also published in the magazine Jadaliyya. A Egyptian-American researcher writes she has “mixed feelings about this article” and notes among others:
Judith Orr, a British leftist academic said earlier this year that the Egy revolution is a monumental historic event that will be studied for generations. So whatever difficulties in the relationship with Western academics exist, they will need to be worked out somehow. Or maybe not.
UPDATE 2 (30.9.11): “The frustrations expressed by Mona Abaza and her colleagues in Egypt are also shared by a good number of scholars from the region who currently live and teach in Western universities” according to a commenter on Ahram Online
Great comment by Kevin at the Arabist blog. Kevin, a “(white) PhD candidate in History at the University of Michigan working on modern Iraq, suggests the following to American/European academics working on the Middle East:
(1) Reject the practice of organizing your bibliography around the three categories of archival sources, Arabic/Persian/Turkish sources, and secondary sources in European languages. Arabic sources should not all be lumped together - the primary sources of Arab ’subjects’ should be listed alongside those of European subjects and the secondary/theoretical writing of Arabs should be listed alongside that of Europeans and Americans, not in its own special category.
(2) Take Arabs seriously as not only ‘informants’ but also ‘theoreticians.’ As Chakrabarty said, Indians feel compelled to site the authority of Western theorists (Marx, Gramsci, etc.) while Westerners writing on India never feel the need to site Indians AS theorists. For my part, I’ve learned a great deal by seriously reading the work of Iraqi historians and thinking about what their insights can add to the historiography in English and French. (I’ve been particularly struck by the significance of poetry as an historical source and the poet as an historical agent - something totally elided by white men and women.)
Another commenter linked to a text on academic freeloaders that was posted on the Arabist blog four years ago.
What expertise I have was won by extended research in the country over time–but I’ve not been back since 2010. Yet because my book (set in pre-revolution times) just came out, and because I maintain a blog in which I speculate on what’s going on in Egypt, the media contacts me and asks me to pontificate as an expert. It’s one thing when it’s local news media–many companies are trying to survive by “localizing” even the international news–but just this week I was contacted by a European journalist stationed IN CAIRO calling me to speak as an “expert.” I did redirect her to AUC [American University in Cairo] and to a colleague at Cairo University, but clearly many in the media privileges our academic affiliations in North America above people with greater immediate expertise in the region.’
UPDATE 4 (3.10.11): David Judson comments on Abaza from a Turkish journalism perspective in the Hürriyet Daily News: Citing the sightseers ogling the Arab Spring
Similar points about inequalities can be made about anthropology. As Brazilian antropologist Gustavo Lins Ribeiro pointed out six years ago:
Globalisation in anthropology has mirrored unequal relations existing within larger structural processes. Theory, for instance, has flown from metropolitan centers to non-metropolitan centers while the flow of “raw data” makes the opposite movement.
In order to trancend ethnocentrism and orientalism, he and several others edited the the book World Anthropologies. Disciplinary Transformations within Systems of Power .
Kenyan anthropologist Mwenda Ntarangwi discusses similar questions in his book Reversed Gaze. An African Ethnography of American Anthropology.