[URBANTH-L]NEWS: Militarizing Anthropology

Angela Jancius jancius at ohio.edu
Sun Oct 21 22:34:40 EDT 2007

[forwarded from Activistscholarship at lists.riseup.net]

Militarizing Anthropology
By  Dina Rabie, Tamer El-Maghraby, IOL Staff
Islamonline.net, October 19, 2007

CAIRO - A US military program recruiting anthropologists to be embedded with 
units in Iraq and Afghanistan is meeting stiff opposition from 
anthropologists as an attempt to militarize the discipline and weaponize 
scientists in the service of Washington's so-called war on terror.

"We are deeply concerned that the 'war on terror' threatens to militarize 
anthropology in a way that undermines the integrity of the discipline and 
returns anthropology to its sad roots as a tool of colonial occupation, 
oppression, and violence," Roberto J. Gonzalez, an anthropology professor at 
San Jose State University and a campaigner, told IslamOnline.net in an email 

The US Department of Defense (DoD) is recruiting anthropologists under the 
Human Terrain System (HTS) program to study social groups in Iraq and 

The program first started on a small scale in 2006 and now has six teams, 
each including at least one anthropologist, embedded in combat brigade units 
in both Muslim countries.

Each team member, who wears the uniform and receives mandatory weapons 
training, costs the Pentagon $400,000 a year, including the cost of 
kidnapping insurance.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has allocated $40 million dollars to expand 
the program, challenged by veteran anthropologists, to increase the number 
of teams to 28.

A group of 11 professors, including Gonzalez, launched the Network of 
Concerned Anthropologists last month to protest the exploitation of 
Anthropology, the science that studies peoples' origin, history and culture, 
in the war on terror.

"The US DoD has in recent months been particularly interested in linguistic 
and cultural anthropology for use in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other theaters 
in the 'war on terror,'" Gonzalez told IOL.

"Because anthropologists gain intimate knowledge of and familiarity with the 
people and culture of a particular place, the Pentagon is interested in 
recruiting them for counter-insurgency operations."

The campaigners are currently circulating a petition among colleagues from 
universities, government agencies, and other institutions to pledge 
"non-participation in the Pentagon's counter-insurgency efforts."

"Over the past several weeks, we have been involved in educating our 
colleagues and the general public about the issues at stake," said Gonzalez.

They plan to send the signed petition to all government, military and 
academic bodies concerned.


The academics believe that the controversial Pentagon program is unethically 
"weaponizing" anthropology for political and military gains.

"We felt compelled to draft the Pledge to say that there are certain kinds 
of work-for example, covert work, work contributing to the harm and death of 
other human beings, work that breaches trust with our research participants, 
and work that calls other anthropologists into suspicion-that 
anthropologists should not undertake," Gonzalez said.

"Many anthropologists are concerned about the potential ethical dilemma 
posed by such work," he elaborated.

The campaigners fear that anthropologists on the HTS teams might 
"unwittingly" harm the Afghans and Iraqis with whom they are speaking by 
sharing their intelligence information with combat brigade commanders.

"If anthropologists on HTS teams interview Afghans or Iraqis about the 
intimate details of their lives, what is to prevent combat teams from using 
the same data to one day 'neutralize' (assassinate) suspected insurgents?" 
Gonzalez asked.

"What safeguards exist to impede the transfer of data collected by 
anthropologists to commanders planning offensive military campaigns?"

Another concern is that the HTS anthropologists wear military uniforms and 
some of them are armed.

"How are the anthropologists able to obtaining the voluntary informed 
consent of those Afghans and Iraqis with whom they are speaking if the 
anthropologist is carrying a weapon?"

The American professor is unaware of other countries recruiting 
anthropologists to serve in the war on terror, launched by the US following 
the 9/11 attacks and later joined by most of Washington's allies.

Anthropology has a fraught history of aiding the US military during 
conflicts, stretching back past Vietnam and the cold war to World War II.

The CIA and other intelligence agencies have long recruited anthropologists 
and social scientists to their agencies.


Dr. AbdAllah Talib Donald Cole, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the 
American University in Cairo (AUC), believes the campaign reflects a 
deepening public dissatisfaction with the Iraq war in particular.

"My educated guess is that a wide majority of American anthropologists do 
not support the war in and on Iraq," he told IOL.

"Several American anthropologists have also been making critical field-based 
research on the US military (including research among American soldiers in 

Last year, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) set up a national 
commission to call for an end to the Iraq war.

The latest USA TODAY/Gallup Poll found that opposition to the war reached a 
record high, with 60 percent of Americans in favor of setting a pullout 

Without UN authorization, the US invaded Iraq on claims of stockpiling 
weapons of mass destruction, a claim that later turned out to be false.

Four years since the invasion, the country is gripped by a bloody cycle of 
violence that claims the lives of both Iraqis and Americans.

Dr. Cole believes Arabs and Muslims should be wary of western 

"But we should be wary of everything that is written about us, whether by 
local people or by foreigners. To be wary does not mean to reject. We need 
to read what anthropologists say about people in the developing world and 
what they say about Islam and Muslims," he explained.

"We can expect to trust the reliability of professional academic 
anthropologists who are subject to peer review and evaluation. But for 
others who are not fully professional, we need to be more careful."


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