[URBANTH-L]NEWS: Militarizing Anthropology
jancius at ohio.edu
Sun Oct 21 22:34:40 EDT 2007
[forwarded from Activistscholarship at lists.riseup.net]
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
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?"
"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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