The 'wall of virtue' that surrounds followers of Isis will not be broken down by bombing Syria

Source: The Tablet

“Sectarianism involves strong feelings, deep resentment, a searing sense of injustice, above all, anger,” explained renowned British social anthropologist Mary Douglas in an important lecture, Seeing Everything in Black and White, delivered shortly before her death in May 2007.

She added: “All of these are intensified when religious loyalty is engaged.”

It’s hard to disagree with Douglas’s analysis of the sectarian vision – in particular, she must be commended for highlighting the importance of how, under certain circumstances, combining religious belief with powerful emotions, can fuel and give impetus to terrorism.

Now, after the Isis attack in St Denis, Paris in which 130 people died, the Al-Qaeda slaughter of at least 21 people by gunmen at a hotel in Bamako, the Malian capital, and another 22 in a Boko Haram-inspired suicide bombing of Shia Muslims near the Nigerian city of Kano, political commentators and the rest of the population are once again struggling to come to terms with what’s happening and why.

So let’s go back to Douglas and review what she had to say about such militant religious groups.

Probably the most important point that Douglas makes concerns the “wall of virtue” constructed by those in the sect. Behind it members can look outwards at other people and classify them as different sorts of human beings – in short, “people not like us”.

Of course, such a classification system doesn’t necessarily lead to conflict or violence – there are plenty of pacifist religious sects in Western and other societies (Amish, Quakers or Swami Narayan) which classify other people as (more or less) metaphysically inferior and place huge restrictions on the number and type of transactions (sharing or exchanging food, handshakes, or daughters and sons) between members and non-members – but in certain circumstances it does.  Continue reading “The 'wall of virtue' that surrounds followers of Isis will not be broken down by bombing Syria”

anthro in the news 12/7/2015

 

A view of Mauna Loa taken from a Pu'u near The Onizuka Center for International Astronomy Visitor Information Station at Mauna Kea. source: Wikipedia

Saying no to big telescope in Hawaii

Indigenous peoples everywhere seek the right to say no to various outside interventions. The National Post (Canada) reported on the controversial plan to build a giant telescope in Hawaii on top of Mauna Kea, a sacred mountain. A proposal to build the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) makes claims that it will benefit the whole world, and that Mauna Kea is the best and most rational place to build it. The article quoted, J. Kehaulani Kauanui, associate professor of anthropology and American Studies at Wesleyan University: “…telescopes on Mauna Kea are “supplant(ing) our indigenous temple of worship” and the TMT would constitute a “desecration” of the cynosure of Hawaiian existence. The Post article goes on to comment: “Canadians know well what this sort of fight looks like at home. It turns out other places have aboriginal peoples who want the right to say no, too.”

 


U.S. military is working on a bomber that later could be nuclear-certified. Source: PressTV

U.S. as major threat to world peace and security

PressTV (Iran) carried an article about the possibility of a new nuclear arms race involving Russia and China and untold financial costs. It drew on comments from Dennis Etler, professor of anthropology at Cabrillo College in California. Etler noted that the United States has “a military budget which exceeds that of all other countries combined, ” adding that the U.S. “has hundreds of military bases spread across the length and breadth of the globe, it has invaded sovereign nations throughout the world to protect what it claims is its national security, it has imposed economic sanctions on countries it deems adversaries, and supports subversion and separatism in order to dismember nations it wishes to control…This has all happened time and again. The U.S. as a result of its unilateral actions has become the major threat to world peace and security.”

 


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anthro in the news 11/30/2015

ISIS recruits through friends and social media

An article in the New York Times on ISIS recruitment provides extensive commentary from cultural anthropologist Scott Atran, co-founder of the Center for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict and senior research fellow at Oxford University. He noted that research has found that radicalization rarely occurs in mosques and rarely through anonymous recruiters and strangers. At a meeting held on Foreign Terrorist Fighters organized by the U.N. Security Council’s counter-terrorism committee. Atran said: “it is the call to glory and adventure that moves these young people to join the Islamic State…jihad offers them a way to become heroes.” Atran, who has interviewed captured fighters from the Islamic State and the al-Qaida linked Nusra Front, added that Islamic State leaders “understand youth much better than the governments that are fighting against them.” They know how to speak to the rebelliousness and idealism of youth, and they are adept at using social media to target youth.

 


Weapon of mass destruction

Nuclear weapons test on Bikini Atoll of the Marshall Islands. 1946. source: Creative Commons

The Washington Post reported on the enduring effects of U.S. nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific where, from 1946 to 1958, the United States conducted 67 nuclear tests. If their combined explosive power was divided over that 12-year period, it would equal 1.6 Hiroshima-size explosions per day. The article quoted cultural anthropologist Glenn Alcalay who teaches at Montclair State University in New Jersey. “We have basically destroyed a culture…We’ve stolen their future. When you take the future from a people, you’ve destroyed them.”

 


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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.

Continue reading “anthro in the news 11/23/2015”

International conference in Oslo

This Africa Center for Information & Development conference, “Africa’s triple threat — The rise of transnational and jihadist movements on the continent,” will cover Boko Haram, Al Shabab, and Al Qaeda in the Maghreb and Sahel. Speakers include:

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Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation Twitter page

  • Dr. Emmanuel  Franklune Ogbunwezeh, Head, Africa department of the International Society for Human Rights (ISHR) in Frankfurt
  • Stig Jarle Hansen, Associate Professor, Department of International Environment 6 Development Studies, Noragric. UMB
  • Morten Bøås, Senior Researcher at Fafo’s Institute for Applied International Studies in Oslo
  • Imam Ibrahim Saidy, Imam at Darus Salam Islamic Center Masjid Attawwabin, Oslo
  • Ms. Samia Nkrumah, Ghanaian politician and Chairwoman of the Convention People’s Party
  • Mr. Mohamed Husein Gaas, PhD Fellow at Norwegian University of Life Sciences and a Research fellow a Fafo Institute for Applied International Studies

When: October 17, 2013, 10am – 5pm
Where: P- Hotels, Oslo, Norway
Conference funded by Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation.

22 July, 2011. Oslo

Guest post by Thomas Hylland Eriksen

It was only a matter of hours between the blast in central Oslo and my most extensive and exhausting engagement with international media since I started out as an anthropologist in the 1980s. Between Friday night and Wednesday, I spoke on radio, on television (via a mobile phone), to newspapers and magazines from China to Chile, and wrote articles for nearly a dozen publications in five countries.

My priorities shifted in a matter of hours. Our holiday house was turned into a makeshift media centre, and the computer was online almost 24/7.

Thomas Hylland Eriksen
Thomas Hylland Eriksen in Cuba, 2007. Courtesy of the author.
My engagement with the terrorist attack on Norway is easy to explain. First, although rightwing extremism is not my field of research, cultural diversity in Europe and Norway is, as well as nationalism and ethnicity. Second, I have first-hand experience of the new, Islamophobic kind of nationalism, having been on the receiving end of relatively unpleasant attacks from these quarters for several years.

Actually, I am the only contemporary intellectual mentioned by the terrorist in his writings and YouTube video – a symbol of everything that went wrong with Norway. I have asked YouTube to remove the video.

A few words about the articles: The earliest piece, for OpenDemocracy, was an initial attempt to make sense of the catastrophe and to begin reflecting on the consequences for Norwegian society. It overlaps substantially with articles in Sydsvenska Dagbladet and Information, which, respectively, cover southern Sweden including Lund and Malmö, and a smallish, but select left-leaning audience in Denmark. The title of these Scandinavian-published articles, “Men who hate social democrats,” plays on the Scandinavian title of the first novel in Stieg Larsson’s trilogy (Men Who Hate Women).
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