Category: "Us and Them"
(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.
"Second Life is their only chance to participate in religious rituals": This seven year old post about the research by anthropologist Tom Boellstorff on the virtual world Second Life came into my mind when I heard about the new special issue "Religion in Digital Games" of the interdisciplinary Open access journal "Online. Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet".
The journal is published by the Institute of Religious Studies at the University of Heidelberg and has just been relaunched and redesigned.
Religion in online games seems to be still a new topic in the university world.
"Until now this certainly huge field of research remains mostly untapped and digital games have only recently been declared an interesting object for scholars of religion", Simone Heidbrink, Tobias Knoll, and Jan Wysocki write in their contribution "Theorizing Religion in Digital Games- Perspectives and Approaches".
As universities generally are conservative institutions, Simone Heidbrink and Tobias Knoll start their introduction with an apology for leaving established paths:
When researching a rather new, unusual or controversial topic in nowadays academia it seems to be a new kind of “tradition” to apologize in great length for doing something the scholar thinks the readerships thinks he is not supposed to study (or something equally confusing along those lines), based on the assumption that it is scientifically unworthy, insignificant or plain nonsense. That was our experience with the topic at hand. (…)
In order to follow the apparently mandatory academic ritual of apologizing and legitimizing, we would herewith like to express our deepest regrets for publishing this special issue of Online – Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet topics on “Religion and Digital Games. Multiperspective and Interdisciplinary Approaches”.
Religion plays a role in many games, as Simone Heidbrink, Tobias Knoll, Jan Wysocki show. This is also true for religious stereotypes that might be reproduced in "neglected media" like video games in more explicit forms - partly because these media are considered to be less relevant in cultural discourse and thus less subject to media critique.
They refer among others to Vít Šisler who in his research shows how Muslims are being stereotyped in different video games. The topic of the Middle East as war zone and virtual battleground has become even more significant in the post 9/11 era. Not only have the numbers of games with an objective of fighting terrorism increased significantly according to him. The stereotyping, the “othering” of the (virtual) Muslim counterpart have become even more racist as well.
Anthropology emerged in a relatively high scientific level in the wider Middle East before it existed as a discipline in the West. Therefore, the label of colonialism often coupled to its emergence must be removed.
This is the main point of an article by Hassen Chaabani in the recent issue of the International Journal of Modern Anthropology.
Although the beginning of the development of anthropology as a discipline is originated in colonial encounter between Western people and colonized peoples and, therefore, coupled to its use in favor of extremist ideologies such as racism, this must not diminish the scientific value of anthropology, he writes.
You won't find many anthropology departments at universities in the Middle East, and its reputation might not be the best. So therefore this article mind be a timely reminder that anthropology has not been a dubious invention by the West. Chaabani sees "the prestige and hegemony of some editors and publishers in some powerful countries" as "one of the factors that could inhibit the development of a real global anthropology".
Hassen Chaabani, who is is president of the Tunisian Anthropological Association, draws our attention to two scholars: Abu Rayhan al- Biruni, a Persian scholar (973-1048) and Ibn Khaldoun, a Tunisian scholar (1332-1406).
Abu Rayhan al-Biruni, he writes, "is considered as one of the greatest scientists not only of the 11th century but of all times". He is most commonly known as a mathematician, astrologer, and historian. But he has also been an anthropologist:
He founded the science of anthropology before anthropology existed as a discipline, and therefore he is considered as the first anthropologist. He was an impartial writer on custom and creeds of various nations and was the first Muslim scholar to study Indian populations and their traditions. In addition he wrote detailed comparative studies on the anthropology of religions and cultures in the Middle East, Mediterranean and especially South Asia. (…)
Living during the high period of Islamic cultural and scientific achievements, Al-Biruni placed a focus on modern anthropological interests including caste, the class system, rites and customs, cultural practice, and women’s issues (Akbar, 2009). Through this modern practice, Al-Biruni used the concepts of cross cultural comparison, inter-cultural dialogue and phenomenological observation which have become commonplace within anthropology today (Ataman K., 2005).
Biruni's tradition of comparative cross-cultural study continued in the "Muslim world" through to Ibn Khaldoun’s work in the 14th century, Chaabani writes:
Some of his books cover the history of mankind up to his time and others cover the history of Berber peoples, natives of North Africa, which remain invaluable to present day historians, as they are based on Ibn Khaldūn's personal knowledge of the Berbers. In fact, he presented a deep anthropological study of Berbers before anthropology existed as a discipline.
Chaabani also writes that the general idea of biological evolution was advanced more than 1,000 years before Darwin by the Iraqi thinker Amr ibn Bahr Al Jahis (800-868) in his book "Book of Animals".
Who was the first anthropologist? Really al-Biruni? A tricky question. Others might point to Classical Greece and Classical Rome, see more in Wikipedia: History of Anthropology (where al-Biruni is mentoned as well). The main point as I see it is that anthropology was developed in many parts of the world, and not only in the so-called West.
In a blog post at AnthroNow, Manissa McCleave Maharawal draws our attention to an important article in the American Anthropologist that was already published in november 2011: Anthropology as White Public Space?
Here, Karen Brodkin, Sandra Morgen, and Janis Hutchinson show that there is still a racial bias in American anthropology. Their online survey among anthropologists of color in the US reveals that anthropology has “not done well when it comes to decolonizing their own practices around race”. A racial division of labor within departments, as well as a range of everyday practices recreate white public spaces. Works by minority scholars and their role in theory building are not reflected in the canon.
(Check also some of her articles on AlterNet)
Inspired by her post, I downloaded and read the paper. Here we find several examples for that anthropologists of color (graduate students and faculty) often are treated as second class academics:
In sum, taken-for-granted practices of racially dividing labor mark anthropology departments as white institutional spaces. They include assigning diversity work to faculty of color, while giving it little value for tenure and promotion, and freeing white faculty from responsibility for it. Informal practices that train students of color for a paraprofessional track reinforce long traditions of treating members of subordinated communities as study subjects and native informants rather than as professional colleagues. The message is that minority anthropologists are not full professionals.
Here are some more quotes from the paper:
Several respondents experienced being actively sought after, only to discover that their most valued attribute was their appearance—so that their university or department could have the look of diversity. One who was so courted discovered that her appointment was tied “to a diversity-related administrative function with little budget or power.”
Those who are held institutionally responsible for the work of creating a more racially diverse faculty and student body are disproportionately minority faculty. As respondents described the amount of time they spent on this work and the consensus of their colleagues that it was their job, we came to think of it as “diversity duty.” –
A racial division of expectations also applies to teaching and advising. Departments often value faculty of color for their ability to teach students of color but not necessarily white students.
Students and faculty of color are often hypervisible as tokens of institutional political correctness but invisible as scholars in their work settings. More specific were reports of white faculty who treated students of color as research assistants and cultural brokers rather than scholars-in-training.
An important conceptual foundation of a secondary track for anthropologists of color is a common assumption that outsider status is the desired norm for anthropological research. This marks insider researchers negatively, most notably marking their knowledge as “folk” or “local” but not“scholarly . ”
Some respondents reported being “valued for my language and cultural insight, not for my intellect”. (…) Another [respondent] described a professor who “wished me to accompany him to Africa to be his go-between with the natives although this would have yielded no advantage to me and would greatly have delayed my ability to complete my program of study… . He wished to exploit me for his gain because of my minority ethnic status.”
(M)any respondents were told that the subject matter of their work, especially studies of U.S. communities of color and patterns of racism, do not belong in anthropology. Several were encouraged to leaveanthropology and move to ethnic studies.
Many departments remain attitudinally white in ownership and decision making about the discipline, undermining what Daryl Smith (2009) calls institutional “mattering and belonging . ” This happens through the continuing pattern of marginalizing the work and theoretical perspectives generated by scholars of color, as well as by seeing proper anthropology and ethnic studies as mutually exclusive. Both practices constitute anthropologists of color as less than full anthropologists. White ownership also happens when a predominantly white department collectively enacts mainstream U.S. forms of race avoidance in dealing with racial issues in departmental practice.
Respondents to our survey encountered resistance similar to that reported in 1973 to scholars of color actively shaping the directions of anthropological thought—and, notably , they mentioned hostility toward critical theoretical perspectives on taken-for-granted aspects of mainstream culture. One faculty respondent reflected, “Neither myself nor my grad school peers of color expected the extreme resistance for paradigm changes … we have all been pushed out of these colleges simply because of this resistance.”
Another [respondent] implicated class bias: “ Tenure requires having no life but [an] academic [one] and a class background that gives you a level of financial support to work.” (…) Class and race bias interact. Students of color are disproportionately from working-class backgrounds, and institutional blindness to the concomitants of class works against them.
Perhaps the biggest attitudinal barrier to ethnic diversification is a belief that being an anthropologist inoculates one against racism (as well as other varieties of social stereotyping). Many respondents urged developing a departmental discourse about race that includes reflexivity. Intersectional thinking is at the heart of reflexivity: for example, recognizing that not all minorities are male (or straight or working class) nor are all women white (or straight or middle class) opens up possibilities for making racial diversity the cutting edge of broader diversification. The lesson is to make critical discourses part of departmental discourse. (…) (D)epartments must hold white faculty equally responsible for improving racial diversity for it to be highly valued.
(T)he heart of our conclusion is embarrassingly obvious. It is this: the defamiliarizing insights and analyses generated from vantage points developed by anthropologists of color are better tools for diversifying departmental organization and culture (among other things) than hegemonic ones, and anthropology departments should embrace them instead of marginalizing them. Alternatively put, anthropology has made its mark on understanding cultures by taking seriously the points of view of those it studies. We suggest it needs to take seriously the points of view of those who are internal others to better understand and diversify itself as well as enhance its theoretical robustness.
Source: Brodkin, K, S Morgen and J Hutchinson (2011) Anthropology as White Public Space? (behind paywall, only available for subscribers)
Some of their findings are also reflected in an ethnography of American anthropology that I blogged about nearly two years ago: Reversed Gaze. An African Ethnography of American Anthropology by Mwenda Ntarangwi - see my post How racist is American anthropology?. I see now that I announced a second post about this book, but it never appeared, I hope I’ll have the opportunity to do that soon!
See also a post from 2005: How can we create a more plural anthropological community? and a more recent post The dubious behaviour of Western researchers sightseeing the “Arab Spring”
There has been some discussion on these issues (including the paper) in a post by Jason Antrosio at Savage Minds: Taking Anthropology, Introduction
We are living in a visually biased society. Bonnie Berry has written a book about prejudice and racism based on looks. Antropologi.info contributor Tereza Kuldova has read the book. Here is her review.
Book review of The Power of Looks. Social Stratification of Physical Appearance by Bonnie Berry, Ashgate 2008
By Tereza Kuldova, PhD Fellow, Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo
The Power of Looks deals with one of those topics that impact all of us in our everyday lives every single day, one way or another. Namely our prejudices and conceptions of beauty and attractiveness and the ways in which we act on those and discriminate people based on their looks.
“When we consider the disparity in what we spend our money on, we find the depressing fact that, in the US, more money is spent on beauty than on education or social services. This fact shows the vacuousness of our society, but also may explain why we persist in the mainly pointless behaviors of buying beautifying products and services. If we are not educated, we may believe that physical appearance is more important than being learned, and we may rely on looks to accrue power instead of using our brains” (p.69).
Bonnie Berry calls this phenomenon ‘lookism’, which is one of the many ‘isms’ we have to deal with in our world, such as racism, or colorism.
The book shows very clearly how the bias towards attractiveness and beauty creates profound social inequalities and determines our access to both social and economic power. It is not news that people who ‘look better’ have better chances to succeed, get jobs, pass oral exams and so forth. In the same way in which beautiful people are positively ‘discriminated’, those not beautiful enough are negatively discriminated.
This appearance bias, the beauty ideal created and supported and perpetuated by the media, advertising and cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies, creates a feeling in ourselves, a feeling of ‘not being good enough’, the result is anxiety (p. 57). We tend to constantly fix ourselves, be it through make up, clothes, plastic surgery, liposuction, teeth whitening (and more), in order to be perceived as ‘acceptable’ or ‘normal’, if not beautiful. Being perceived as ‘ugly’ or different often leads to social exclusion, isolation, economic, social and romantic discrimination as well as lack of access to social and economic power.
What distinguished The Power of Looks from other popular books on this topic, such as the Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf or Beauty Junkies by Alex Kuczynski, is that it has a distinctively sociological take on the topic. This is a great advantage over the book Bonnie Berry published earlier, Beauty Bias, which was much more ‘popular’ and part of the same discursive realm as the books mentioned above. The Power of Looks has even two chapters on theory, method and possible approaches to the problem of social stratification based on our looks and to what she calls ‘social aesthetics’, from functionalism to symbolic interactionism. It is no doubt that this book can serve as a great introduction into the topic for students of sociology and anthropology.
For greater awareness about lookism
The most important aspect of this book in my view is however not its originality or its bravado of writing, but it is its message and the aim to build awareness about social stratification and discrimination based on looks. This is a message of acute importance in our world that is too often driven by media images of what is beauty and what it means to be beautiful, messages that fuel our continual sense of inadequacy and force us to recreate ourselves according to these images through consumption of products that often do very little to improve our looks. In the worst cases, these images, ideals and messages drive us under the scalpel where many have died. (See for instance this ABC news story Mother’s Death Highlights Dangers of Plastic Surgery).
The book is important in its focus on and analysis of these phenomena. And since it adopts a sociological approach, it not only builds our awareness about appearance bias and the way it shapes hierarchies and inequality, but it also gives us a conceptual apparatus to grasp these phenomena, to be able to conceptualize them, pinpoint them and talk about them. This is what I consider the greatest contribution of the book. And in line with the message of the book, I wish to draw your attention, in this review, to certain issues that the book raises and that I feel are interesting to think through and reflect about.
The topic of discrimination based on skin color is going through the whole book and it is interesting to think in this respect of the work of Nina Jablonski – Skin: A Natural History, which is a more evolutionary take on the topic of skin, yet definitely interesting – particularly the fact that from a biological perspective, white skin which is considered socially superior is in fact biologically inferior, in that it is easily prone to cancer and other environmentally caused damage. For more you can view a TED talk by Nina Jablonski here
Bonnie Berry also refers on many occasions throughout the book to facial and bodily disfigurement and what life can be like for those people in such a visually biased society. The awareness around this issue seems to be growing. Take for instance the popular show by a British fashion designer Wan Gok called Beauty and the Beast: The Ugly Face of Prejudice, which speaks directly to the topic of this book
For more on facial disfigurement see this video:
Skin lightening cream commercials - The intersection between racial ideology and capitalist consumer culture
The role of media and advertising in shaping our tastes, likes and dislikes has been already well documented. The interesting thing is how these commercials try to associate a whole universe of meanings with the products they are trying to sell us. The paramount example is the Indian Fair & Lovely commercial for the most popular Indian skin lightening cream. All of the company’s numerous advertisements follow the same logic which we will see in the example below. These commercials reflect and shape notions of beauty and therefore we should be aware of how they are constructed. Let us look at one of their commercials, as this might ‘flesh out’ the book for its future readers, since it tends to focus little too often on the structural and does not include many concrete examples.
Fair skin is in India often associated with higher status. Now watch how this is played out and reconfirmed in the commercial.
It begins with a father sitting and reading newspaper, then he asks for a tea with milk. His wife looks back at him with her sad big eyes and says that there is no milk, since there is no money. The father then goes on to complain: ‘I wish I had a son’ – meaning someone who would be able to provide for them. His daughter overhears the comment and starts crying, then the TV in her room features a Fair & Lovely facial cream commercial. At that moment she spots a newspaper job advertisement for an air hostess. She connects the two together (the same way as the audience is supposed to). After applying the cream, she is beautiful and fair, and therefore empowered. She gets the job and the surroundings suddenly turn glamorous, at the end she sits with her parents at what seems to be an airport coffee shop and her father with a happy face comments: ‘now we can get a tea, I guess’. The message is simple, beauty and fairness equals higher status, happiness and success. This nicely portrays the “the intersection between racial ideology and capitalist consumer culture” (p. 40).
Watch the commercial here:
The book itself points to many examples of prejudice and racism based on looks. An interesting one comes from Japan and the apparent racism against Koreans and Chinese prevalent in the popular Japanese comic books, such as manga. It is especially physical features that are being mocked in these comic books. (see for instance Asia Rivals’ Ugly Images Best Sellers in Japan or Racist Cartoons in Asia - An Example of Japanese Racism Against Koreans).
Looks, poverty and power
It is not a coincidence in this respect that, as Bonnie Berry points out:
“South Korea, incidentally, has had, as part of the new economy of Asia, the largest group of aesthetic surgeons practicing in Asia in the 1990s, primarily doing nose and eyelid alterations. (…) These westernizing surgeries, as undertaken by the middle-class Japanese, Vietnamese and Koreans, may be more about signs of achieving middle-class status than achieving and “American identity”, confirming once again that the desire to look a certain way is motivated by the pursuit of economic and social network power” (p. 41, emphasis mine).
This last sentence is possibly the most important here. If you do not look certain way, if you do not conform to the beauty ideals or at least try hard to approximate them, you are prevented from acquiring social and economic power. As Bonnie says:
“For those of us who are not naturally attractive, which is most of us, we must spend time, energy, and funds to make ourselves as acceptable as possible if we want to capture social and economic power” (p. 51)
It is instructive to see how the problems of obesity are correlated with poverty and lack of access to social power:
“The thin ideal is also maintained by social network mobility. Notably, thin women are more likely to marry in an upwardly mobile direction. Heavier women marry men of the same social class or lower” (p. 45).
Another important topic is the surgeries people surrender to in the name of beauty and improvement.
“There have been a growing social acceptance of plastic surgery and growing numbers of people engaging in it. The stigma is gone. Many of us are unhappy with our appearance and we greatly exaggerate to ourselves what we consider to be defects, with this dissatisfaction very likely culturally and socially generated. We compare ourselves to mass media images of beauty; indeed we want to look exactly like them, as it turns out. If full lips are in fashion, we can have them. High cheekbones? Tan skin? Blond hair? Blue eyes? Full lips? No problem” (p. 57).
In her book, Bonnie mentions French artist Orlan who has throughout her career experimented with surgeries and her own body. It certainly does raise questions. That all I leave up to you after watching this video
Succumb to lookism?
As a conclusion, I wish to ask you a question together with Bonnie:
“Should we feel pressure to change and succumb to this pressure? Of course not. But until or unless we are no longer judged and stratified by our appearance, only the bravest of us will not ‘fix up’” (p.63)
“If history is any judge, based on social reactions to other ‘isms’, lookism will remain a discriminating social attitude and behavior, even as it declines in social acceptability. There are signs that appearance bias is being at least discussed. There is greater social awareness. There are a few public policies leveled against lookism. And there are social movement organizations that are making small inroads into consciousness raising and legislation. It will take a long time. Most major social changes do” (p. 125).
Among the books that encourage critical thinking about contemporary world, this one is of those you might like to read.
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.