anthro in the news 11/23/2015


As of November 21, Brussels was on high alert for a possible terrorist attack. source: Smirnoff, Creative Commons

What does ISIS want?

CBS (Minnesota) carried a brief interview with cultural anthropologist William Beeman of the University of Minnesota. He addresses the question: What does ISIS want? He says ISIS is seeking to recreate the Islamic caliphate that was active in the Islamic world from the time of the Prophet to 1926 when the caliph was abandoned: “They would like the entire world to be Muslim, but they want the world to be Muslim in a very, very narrowly defined manner…They are fundamentalist Muslims and their idea of Islam is quite different from the rest of the Islamic world…They want the U.S. to declare war in the worst way…by doing battle, they think they will eventually succeed, they eventually will conquer and establish their domination over the world…it’s a bit of megalomania.”


source: Creative Commons

Combating “homegrown” terrorism in France

John Bowen, Dunbar-Cleve Professor of Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times about how France can combat “homegrown terrorism”

What can France do? I leave aside the questions of border security, surveillance and military strategy in Syria: Those are above my pay grade. But I have two recommendations for how President Francois Hollande can improve matters at home. One, break the isolation. Continue efforts already begun to redesign the urban landscape so that it encourages a sense of national belonging rather than a sense of exclusion. Cease the repeated efforts to stigmatize practicing Muslims with silly rules banning face coverings in public or preventing school officials from offering non-pork meal options to children. The French prize their laïcité — their strict separation of church and state — but there should be room for religious observance in a free, open society. Second, recognize that mainstream Islamic teachers are part of the solution. Many have worked hard to build cultural associations and religious schools, where young people can learn a more complex and responsible idea of Islam. Understand that they base their teachings in a centuries-old body of work, as do Catholic, Jewish and other religious scholars, and stop telling them to devise a brand new “French Islam.” They are citizens or long-term residents of France and participants in global networks of religious scholarship. Whether they help in religious schools or as chaplains in the prisons, they need much more recognition and support from the French state.

On the hotel attack in Mali

An article in VICE News on the attack in Mali on an international hotel included commentary from Bruce Whitehouse, an expert in Africa’s Sahel region and an anthropology professor at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania: “There’s no shortage of groups that could have carried this out…This is not exactly unprecedented.”


source: Creative Commons

Rising xenophobia in the U.S.

Three cultural anthropologists co-authored an article about American xenophobia in the Huffington Post: Seth M. Holmes is associate professor of medical anthropology and public health at the University of California Berkeley, Jennifer Burrell is associate professor of anthropology at the State University of New York Albany. Heide Castaneda is associate professor of anthropology at the University of South Florida.

“As American anthropologists living and researching in both the U.S. and Germany, we have met many refugees from Syria (and other locales) and observed how European countries have responded to the refugee crisis. Germany (half the size of Texas) has welcomed 200,000 Syrian refugees and plans to accept more. And even after the gruesome attacks in Paris last weekend, France (slightly larger than California) reasserted that it will continue to welcome Syrian refugees – 30,000 in the next two years…By contrast, the United States has accepted less than 2,000 refugees to date and President Obama plans to accept only 10,000. In the midst of a humanitarian crisis – especially one in which the U.S. has played an active military role, we have a responsibility to welcome those fleeing for their lives. Indeed, from a global perspective, it seems the U.S. should welcome more than the 10,000 it has offered to receive.”

“At this moment with people fleeing for their lives, which side of history do we want to be on?”


ISIS enemies

The Journal/Gazette (Indiana) published an article about the work of Lawrence A. Kuznar, professor of anthropology at the University of Indiana/Purdue University at Fort Wayne. Kuznar, who is one of coalition of academics working with the U.S. Defense Department to analyze IS, believes the terror group’s next target may be Russia.  Kuznar has identified how ISIS ranks its enemies:  “No. 1 one is other Sunni Muslims that don’t share their particular take on Sunni Islam…No. 2 is Shiite Muslims. And No. 3 is Americans in particular. They really hate us a lot.”


U.S. rejection of Syrian refugees plays into the hand of ISIS

Fox 28 News (U.S.) reported that 22 governors across the US are saying they won’t allow Syrian refugees into their state. Michigan and Indiana’s governors are among them. Some people say making such decisions will only advance ISIS’ goals: According to  Catherine Bolton, assistant professor of anthropology and peace studies at the University of Notre Dame: “Then they [ISIS] can say, ‘Look the infidel is turning you away,’ whereas if people actually leave Syria and are successfully resettled ISIS loses all of its ideological steam.”


Social media inaccuracies of the week

An article in the Washington Post listed highlights of inaccurate social media postings of the week. On the list was an email stating that Japan bars Muslims from becoming citizens. The Post quoted Glenda Roberts, a professor of cultural anthropology at Waseda University: “It is disturbing that such an email is circulating, she told Politifact. “These claims are simply ridiculous.” Since 2013, Japan has in fact relaxed visa restrictions for Malaysians and Indonesians, who are overwhelmingly Muslim.


Human organ trafficking

The Palestine News Network reported on alleged harvesting of organs from slain Palestinians by Israelis. The articles quotes Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Chancellor’s Professor of Medical Anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley. She places Israel at the “top of a list of countries involved in human organs trafficking…It [Israel] has tentacles reaching out worldwide.” She added: “Israeli traffickers have utilised people from diverse locations—the West Bank and Gaza, the Philippines and Eastern Europe.”


Anthropologists pass academic boycott

Inside Higher Education reported on the landslide vote at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, in support of boycotting Israeli academic institutions. Proponents of the academic boycott see it as a way of protesting Israel’s occupation of territories obtained in the 1967 war and of standing up for the rights of Palestinians. Some anthropologists and many other academics oppose the boycott because they believe it will stigmatize Israeli scholars and damage the study of anthropology without having any likely effect on Israeli policy.


Take that anthro degree and…

…become a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner. Christy Kennedy owns Integrated Acupuncture Associates in Brighton, Colorado, where she is currently the sole practitioner. In the 1990s, she worked as a massage therapist while pursuing a B.A. degree in medical anthropology with a minor in health [blogger’s note: I do not know where she earned her B.A.]. She joined the Peace Corps and was introduced to herbal medicine and homeopathic remedies. After returning from the Peace Corps, she earned a master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from the Colorado School of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Denver, a four-year program. She also completed a clinical internship at the Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in southwestern China. Kennedy is the former Vice President of the Acupuncture Association of Colorado.

…become a digital media strategist. Kristen Joy Watts is Instagram’s fashion community lead, and was formerly with R/GA and the New York Times. She has a B.A. from Victoria University at the University of Toronto in anthropology, linguistics, and Italian communication studies, and an M.A. from Columbia University in digital anthropology.

…become a journalist and translator. Austin-based Liliana Valenzuela is a reporter for ¡ahora sí! and She is also an acclaimed Spanish language translator of works by Gloria Anzaldúa, Julia Alvarez, and many more writers. Born and raised in Mexico City, Liliana is an adopted tejana. She received a B.A. and M.A. degree in cultural anthropology and folklore from the University of Texas at Austin.

…become a comedian and actor Basketmouth, a pioneer in the stand-up comedy industry in Africa, is one of Africa’s most known and loved comics. He was listed as one of the funniest people in Africa by CNN’s African Voices early this year.  He picked the stage name Basketmouth because he speaks his mind unfiltered, without holding anything back. A Nigerian, he was the first African comedian to host a one man comedy concert at the HMV Hammersmith Apollo. He has headlined shows in Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, and more. Basketmouth studied sociology and anthropology at the University of Benin.


Neanderthal DNA lives on in many of us

BBC News offered a review of recent key findings about Neanderthal ancestry in contemporary populations which first hit the headlines in 2010. It quotes Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany: “I knew it was a possibility that Neanderthals had mixed with modern humans, but was really biased against it…But the strength of genetic data is that once the results are in, one has to believe the results.”

If we sequenced the genome of every living person, we might recover 30-40% of the Neanderthal genome, says Joshua Akey of the University of Washington in Seattle: “The key point is, our study was not just from a single Neanderthal ancestor. We recovered sequences from the entire history of interactions that happened between modern humans and Neanderthals.”


Beyond the gender binary: Understanding intersex

Barbara King, Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at the College of William and Mary, posted an article on WBEZ News (U.S.) on the meaning of the concept of intersex and what it means to be an intersex: “During the past two weeks, I’ve taught about intersex to my anthropology and gender undergraduates. We start by discussing Sexing the Body, by biologist and Brown University professor emerita Anne Fausto-Sterling, which lays out the anatomical and genetic science of the situation and explains how quick the medical profession has been to surgically “fix” babies identified at birth as intersex, by sculpting the body to make it functionally male or female. Then we read a novel, Golden Boy, by Abigail Tarttelin, in which a British teenager named Max Walker grapples with being intersex. Just at the time when he is starting to date, and wondering how he’ll ever explain to a love interest about his body, he gains from his doctor more information than he ever had before. He asks: Is he really a boy or really a girl? The answer comes back: He is neither.”

King briefly discusses the question of whether or not to “medically fix” intersex people. Her answer is no: “Humans are gloriously variable, and we don’t all fit into neat categories like that. We can educate ourselves right out of that old binary way of thinking.”

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