Syrian refugee family thrives in American south

Courtesy of Square, Inc.

by Lesli Davis

A short film produced by Square, Inc. tells the story of a refugee family living in Knoxville, TN.

Yassin Falafel, as some people call him, runs a popular restaurant in downtown Knoxville. After fleeing the war in Syria, he and his family settled in East Tennessee. Initially without a work permit, Yassin began selling his sandwiches at the local mosque. With a little help from an imam at the mosque, Yassin opened his downtown store.

Yassin says that anyone who comes in his restaurant is family – from the fellow refugees he employs to those who have never tried falafel before.

His message is simple: all are welcome.

Courtesy of Square, Inc.


Call for papers: Conference on Transforming Development

The Ford Family Program in Human Development Studies and Solidarity and the Center for Social Concerns at the University Notre Dame in collaboration with SIT Study Abroad announce the 6th annual student conference on human development.

Offering participants the opportunity to explore interdisciplinary and sustainable research to improve livelihoods while advancing human dignity, this year’s theme is inspired by the idea that development is an evolving process. A widening set of stakeholders and rapidly advancing technologies raise new possibilities for the field. The conference will be a chance to reflect on both successes and failures in development, while analyzing opportunities created by these new trends.

With the goal of showcasing student research that investigates collaborative and innovative solutions to address human development’s most challenging issues, we welcome proposals from undergraduate and graduate students to share their research, particularly those based on experiences in the field, in a broad spectrum of topics:

  • Agriculture
  • Aid
  • Business
  • Culture
  • Economics
  • Education
  • Engineering
  • Environment
  • Gender
  • Governance
  • Health
  • Human Rights
  • Infrastructure
  • Migration
  • Peace and Conflict
  • Public Policy
  • Religion
  • Technology

Students interested in presenting a paper should submit their abstract (no more than 500 words) no later than Thursday, November 14.

DC conference: Student proposals sought on diversity in conflict/divided societies

The Georgetown University Conflict Resolution Program is calling for student papers, art, and videography for their conference, “Managing Diversity in Divided Societies.” Submissions should address the following questions:

What tools and mechanisms best promote diversity? How is diversity best approached in conflict societies? How can the arts be used to engage diversity and enhance societal well being?

Cash prizes will be awared to the top three finalists in the categories of diversity, conflict, and peace-building. Submissions are open to third and fourth year undergraduate students and graduate students.

Abstracts will be accepted until October 15th. Submissions are due on December 1st. The conference will be held on January 30-31st.

Send questions and submissions to:

Anthro in the news 5/27/13

A monument to those who have died attempting to cross the US-Mexico border./© Tomas Castelazo, / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

• Heavy toll at the border

The Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office in southern Arizona holds the largest collection of missing-person reports for immigrants who have disappeared while crossing the United States-Mexico border. Many hundreds of remains await identification. An article in The New York Times quotes Bruce Anderson, the chief forensic anthropologist at the medical examiner’s office and adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona: “Less people are coming across…but a greater fraction of them are dying.” There were 463 deaths in the past fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30 — the equivalent of about five migrants dying every four days, according to an analysis by the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights group. As security at the border has tightened, migrants are pushed to seek more remote and dangerous routes.

Conservation vs. people in Chagos

Chagos Islands

Sean Carey provided an update on the situation in the Chagos Islands in an article in The Independent (UK). He notes the pleasure of marine biologists and conservationists working in Chagos who take pleasure in the absence of any people living there. Meanwhile exiled Chagossians are still fighting for the right to return.

Take that anthro degree and…

….become the Director of UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) and the first East African to direct a UN body. Mukhisa Kituyi will take on the UNCTAD leadership role this September. He is a graduate of political science and international relations from Makerere University in Kampala and also holds a Ph.D. in social anthropology.

study the fashion industry at the new Condé Nast College of Fashion and Design. A few months ago, Zuzanna Ciszewska was working at a public relations agency in Warsaw. The 24-year-old with a master’s degree in anthropology and a lifelong passion for fashion saw an ad in British Vogue. Now she is one of the first 45 students at enrolled in a 10-week course meant to introduce them to topics like the fashion calendar, the history of fashion, important designers, fashion journalism, retail, business, marketing and public relations. Continue reading “Anthro in the news 5/27/13”

Upcoming event: The Social Dimensions of Resilience

The Environmental Change and Security Program will host The Social Dimensions of Resilience at the Wilson Center on:

Monday, March 18, 2013
12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
5th Floor Conference Room

Featuring: Roger-Mark De Souza
Vice President of Research and Director of the Climate Program, Population Action International


Elizabeth Malone
Senior Research Scientist, Joint Global Change Research Institute

Betty Hearn Morrow
Professor Emeritus, Florida International University
Moderator: Laurie Mazur
Author, ECSP Consultant


From the Haitian earthquake to Superstorm Sandy, recent years have presented many “teachable moments” about the need for greater resilience in the face of disaster. To date, much of the conversation on resilience has focused on making infrastructure more robust—by, for example, building seawalls to protect against storm surges. But resilience has social dimensions that are at least as important. Social factors largely determine the extent to which people and communities respond to and recover from changes in the environment, whether gradual (such as climate change) or more abrupt (such as hurricanes). This panel will explore the social dimensions of resilience, including the role of equity–especially gender equity–and inclusive governance. Panelists will present research and initiatives that link reproductive health to climate adaptation, and showcase current projects in Malawi, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and the Caribbean that take a holistic approach to cultivating resilience.

Location: Woodrow Wilson Center at the Ronald Reagan Building, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. (“Federal Triangle” stop on Blue/Orange Line). A map to the Center is available at Note: Photo identification is required. Please allow additional time to pass through security.

Kurdistan Regional Autonomy and the Twentieth Century State

Guest post by Tashi Rabgey
Dr. Tashi Rabgey with Professor Dosky, University of Duhok - Kurdistan Regional Government, Iraq

While traveling in Iraqi Kurdistan last week, I had the opportunity to give a talk at the University of Duhok on the problem of twentieth century statehood.  The question of what will become of the project of rule we know of as the “nation-state” seemed particularly apt in the city of Duhok, given the raging civil war in neighboring Syria, mounting Turkish air strikes on the PKK along the Iraqi border and chilling developments in Iran to the east — all, rather disconcertingly, within easy driving distance of this ancient Kurdish town.

Yet even with Kurdish refugees from Syria streaming daily into Duhok as a reminder of the precariousness of contemporary statehood, the faculty and scholars I met with, both in the capital Erbil and in Duhok, were most animated by questions concerning the flip side of statehood — that is, the more humdrum business of governing and everyday practices of rule.  How can the abundant natural resources of the region be best developed and their social benefits better distributed?  In what ways can Kurdish language use in higher education be further advanced?  What might be some prospects for global partnerships in cooperative research and strategic policy studies?

Faculty and scholars of the University of Duhok

These questions pointed to an extraordinary achievement.  With little fanfare, Iraqi Kurdistan has become a fully autonomous political entity within a reconfigured Iraqi state.  Legally recognized as the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) since the revision of the Iraqi constitution in 2005, the autonomous region has proven its mettle over the past seven years, navigating the treacherous geopolitics of the region while attracting major foreign investment from neighboring Turkey, formerly the loudest detractor of even the idea of an autonomous Kurdistan region within the state of Iraq.

Turkey, of course, has its own unaddressed Kurdish question, with a good part of its southeastern territories being composed of Kurdish lands, and its population of 15 million Kurds having been resistant to Turkish rule throughout the twentieth century.  Indeed, the remarkable success of the Kurdistan autonomous region in Iraq only underscores the larger Kurdish question that remains unanswered in Turkey, Iran and Syria.  Not only have Kurdish areas been subsumed within these states, the Kurds themselves have long been locked in a bitter struggle for their right to exist as a people. Longer term regional stability will require a political commitment to address the issue far beyond Erbil and Baghdad.
Continue reading “Kurdistan Regional Autonomy and the Twentieth Century State”

Event in Washington, DC


The Woodrow Wilson Center is hosting a book discussion: “Is There A Place for Uzbeks in The Kyrgyz Republic?: Lessons from ‘Under Solomon’s Throne: Uzbek Visions of Societal Renewal in Osh'”


October 04, 2012 // 3:30pm — 5:30pm

Ethnic Uzbeks in the Kyrgyz Republic (Kyrgyzstan) attempted to create a place for themselves in the Kyrgyz-dominated nation-state since its independence in 1991.  For a while, there were reasons to be optimistic about this minority community.  Even though they felt ethnic discrimination, local Uzbek leaders labored through the 1990s and 2000s to build institutions that serve the Uzbek communities within the framework of their Kyrgyzstani citizenship.  That model of ethnic community-building now lies in tatters after the massive conflict between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in June 2010.  What now for Uzbeks in the Kyrgyz Republic?  This talk evaluates their prospects in light of sixteen years of detailed ethnographic work among Osh Uzbeks.

The speaker, Morgan Y. Liu, is a cultural anthropologist studying Islamic revival, postsocialist states, and social justice movements.  An Associate Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, at The Ohio State University, he teaches about the Middle East, Central Asia, Islamic revival and social justice, and cultural theory. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Society of Fellows, Harvard University.  His Ph.D. is from the University of Michigan in Anthropology.

His 2012 book, Under Solomon’s Throne: Uzbek Visions of Renewal in Osh (University of Pittsburgh Press), concerns how ethnic Uzbeks in the ancient Silk Road city of Osh, Kyrgyzstan think about political authority and post-Soviet transformations, based on research using vernacular language interviews and ethnographic fieldwork of urban social life from 1993 to 2011.
Continue reading “Event in Washington, DC”

France deports Roma

The Roma camps in France are not great places to live, but being summarily deported from them is even worse. Dozens of media sources around the world reported on the deportation. I am proud that my colleague, Michelle Kelso, assistant professor of sociology and international affairs at the George Washington University, was quoted in the reports as pointing out that: “Almost every family here is the family of a Holocaust survivor…Their grandparents were deported to camps in World War II.” Kelso translated interviews at Roma camps around Paris for The Associated Press.” See article.

Roma Flag. Wikimedia Commons.
Roma Flag. Wikimedia Commons

Chagossians still want to go home

By contributor Sean Carey

The case concerning the right of return of the Chagos Islanders, who were forcibly removed from their homeland by the British authorities between 1968 and 1973 to make way for the U.S. base on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, is before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. In the near future, the judges will rule whether the case falls within the court’s jurisdiction. If it does, a verdict is expected by July or August.

Diego Garcia Atoll, Chagos Islands, British Indian Ocean Territory. WikiCommons

In the meantime, a petition to the Obama Administration is calling for the Chagossian exiles to be able to return to the outer islands of the Chagos Archipelago like Peros Banhos and Salomon, along with financial compensation and targeted employment programs. The petition has just been launched by the SPEAK Human Rights and Environmental Initiative. The organization was founded in 2010 by a small group of Mauritian lawyers, and is working with the Port Louis-based Chagos Refugees Group led by Olivier Bancoult.

The aim of the petition is to collect at least 25,000 signatures by April 4. A successful number of signatories on the “We the People” website will oblige White House staff to review the issue, seek expert opinion and provide an official response. Details can be found here.

For a comprehensive study of Diego Garcia and the Chagossians’ situation, see the books Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia by David Vine and Chagos Islanders in Mauritius and the UK: Forced Displacement and Onward Migration by Laura Jeffery. Vine is a cultural anthropologist and professor at American University in Washington, DC. Jeffery is a social anthropologist at the University of Edinburgh.

Maldives and open society

By contributor Sean Carey

Mention the Maldives to many Europeans and most of them will think of a string of paradise islands. Along with other countries in the Indian Ocean like Mauritius and the Seychelles, the Maldives is renowned as a honeymoon destination replete with 5-star hotels and luxury spas. In fact, like Mauritius and the Seychelles the country derives most of its foreign currency from tourism.

Unlike secular Mauritius and the Seychelles, however, Islam is the official religion of the Maldives and public practice of other religions is forbidden. In order to exercise social and cultural control over relationships between the indigenous population and foreign visitors, authorities in the Maldives permit the development of tourist resorts on unpopulated parts of the territory, which consists of 1192 islands stretching 230 miles from south-west India. So far, this strategy has worked very well.

View of the Maldives. Flickr/nicadlr

After 30 years of autocratic rule, the Republic of Maldives became a multi-party democracy in 2008, headed by President Mohamed Nasheed. The newly-elected leader has been praised by other members of the international community for his achievements, especially in creatively publicising the effects of climate change and rising sea levels on low-lying island states in the Indian Ocean and elsewhere. He has also indicated that he intends to open up the inhabited islands of the Maldives to tourists in order to attract more visitors from the new growth economies of China and elsewhere. “We’ve segregated ourselves in these little islands for too long,” President Nasheed told foreign journalists last year. “The tourists don’t get to see the real Maldives and Maldivian culture. In the past there was a desire to segregate the Maldives from certain influences, but it also kept us from ideas and knowledge. Maldivians are Muslims but modern. The time has come to end the segregation from the outside world.”

Now comes the news that Reporters Without Borders new press freedom index 2011-2012 ranks the country at 73 compared with its previous position of 51 in 2010. The reason for the drop? The NGO claims that the “rising climate of religious intolerance” in the country has had a significant impact on freedom of expression.

Like many other relatively closed Islamic societies that are opening up, the Maldives government, which is attempting to steer a middle course and maintain community cohesion, has found it hard to come to terms both with moderate and fundamentalist Islamic critics. Last September, in an attempt to wrong-foot opposition groups the Government issued new “religious unity” regulations, which prevents the media from producing programmes or disseminating unlicensed information that might be designed to “humiliate Allah or his prophets or the holy Quran or the Sunnah of the Prophet (Mohamed) or the Islamic faith.”

While this policy is relatively easy to enforce with traditional media like television, radio and newspapers the Maldives, like all governments, has found new media platforms much harder to control. Nevertheless, in November, the Islamic Ministry ordered that the website of Ismail “Hilath” Rasheed, a moderate Sufi Muslim, was being blocked on the grounds that it was a threat to the “Maldives’ young democracy.” On December 14, Rasheed was arrested and detained before being released on January 6 without charge after his involvement in a “silent protest” in the capital Male when he called for religious tolerance. The protest designed to coincide with Human Rights Day on December 10 was deemed by the country’s police as “unconstitutional,” although Amnesty International was quick to make Rasheed a “prisoner of conscience.”

On January 20, the Maldives police arrested Sheik Imran, a prominent Muslim cleric and leader of the opposition conservative Adhaalath Party (Justice Party). He had accused President Nasheed of encouraging “anti-Islamic waves” and to the “shores” of the Maldives called for the implementation of full Shari’a law. Interestingly, two days previously, the Maldives government issued a statement and warned foreign embassies that it was extremely concerned that “Islamic fundamentalism” could threaten the social fabric of the Sunni-dominated society, as well as the visitor economy, which contributes around 30 per cent or $1.5 billion to GDP.

On the page devoted to “culture” on the Maldives Tourism Board website –- the country’s tagline is “Always Natural” — the final paragraph reads: “Maldivians are quite open to adaptation and are generally welcoming to outside inspiration. The culture has always continued to evolve with the times… Most Maldivians still want to believe in upholding unity and oneness in faith, but recent waves of reform in the country have created a whole new culture of new ideas and attitudes. The effects of the modern world are now embraced, while still striving to uphold the people’s identity, traditions and beliefs.”

The Maldives, like many societies organized on the basis of kinship and religious faith, is attempting to solve the conundrum of how to allow measured social and cultural change that maintains community cohesion and generates economic growth when many of the drivers for those changes — secular and religious ideologies — lie outside its borders and therefore beyond its control.

It’s a hard one to pull off.