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Death Squad

Death Squad: The Anthropology of State Terror

Edited by Jeffrey A. Sluka
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Death Squad
    Book Description:

    "There is real personal danger for anthropologists who dare to speak and write against terror; by doing so, they potentially and sometimes actually bring the terror down on themselves."-Jeffrey A. Sluka, from the Introduction Death Squad is the first work to focus specifically on the anthropology of state terror. It brings together an international group of anthropologists who have done extensive research in areas marked by extreme forms of state violence and who have studied state terror from the perspective of victims and survivors. The book presents eight case studies from seven countries-Spain, India (Punjab and Kashmir), Argentina, Guatemala, Northern Ireland, Indonesia, and the Philippines-to demonstrate the cultural complexities and ambiguities of terror when viewed at the local level and from the participants' point of view. Contributors deal with such topics as the role of Loyalist death squads in the culture of terror in Northern Ireland, the three-tier mechanism of state terror in Indonesia, the complex role of religion in violence by both the state and insurgents in Punjab and Kashmir, and the ways in which "disappearances" are used to destabilize and demoralize opponents of the state in Argentina, Guatemala, and India.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0048-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction: State Terror and Anthropology
    (pp. 1-45)
    Jeffrey A. Sluka

    This chapter provides an introduction to the general topic of state terror, an overview of contemporary anthropological approaches to this subject, and the outlines of an anthropological theory of state terror, representing an attempt to begin to not only describe but also explain the immense problem of state terror in the world today.

    In political science, there has been a convention of distinguishing between state violence and antistate violence, referring to the former as “terror”¹ and the latter as “terrorism,” but while there is now a massive literature on antistate terrorism, state terror has been neglected by academics,² the media,...

  6. Chapter 1 A Fictional Reality: Paramilitary Death Squads and the Construction of State Terror in Spain
    (pp. 46-69)
    Begoña Aretxaga

    State violence, especially the kind that circumambulates the law, that transgresses the law from within (questioning thus the hegemonic discourse of the state as public interest), that violence that materializes frequently in the assassinations of death squads, the torture of detainees, the disappearance of victims, and other like technologies of terror — such violence, simultaneously public and secret, is deeply wrapped in fictional plots and phantasmatic images. It is that fantasy space within which state violence operates that gives it a surreal, uncanny, and chilling feeling, a power to “unmake worlds” (Scarry 1985) as it “unmakes” bodies. No amount of political,...

  7. Chapter 2 Trials by Fire: Dynamics of Terror in Punjab and Kashmir
    (pp. 70-90)
    Cynthia Keppley Mahmood

    Two regions in the northwestern part of India have been the sites of major insurgencies over the past decade and a half. Punjab has faced an uprising by Sikh separatists aiming for the establishment of a sovereign state called Khalistan, and Kashmir a similar uprising by Muslims intent on either accession to Pakistan or an independent Kashmiri state. Counterinsurgencies in both areas have left the Indian government open to vigorous criticism by international human rights groups, in no area more strongly than in that of extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances. No one knows the actual number of executed and “disappeared”...

  8. Chapter 3 State Terror in the Netherworld: Disappearance and Reburial in Argentina
    (pp. 91-113)
    Antonius C. G. M. Robben

    The funeral procession advanced slowly through the Jewish cemetery of La Tablada, a town on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. The old rabbi, together with the father of the deceased and four escorts, pulled the iron cart with its coffin in measured paces to each new crossroad. A halt. A glance to the left. A glance to the right. The front wheel of the bier spun round and round its axis, resisting the resolute hand of the rabbi. Another halt, more glances. The procession progressed from one juncture to another as if to mark the stages of a life climbing...

  9. Chapter 4 The Homogenizing Effects of State-Sponsored Terrorism: The Case of Guatemala
    (pp. 114-126)
    Frank M. Afflitto

    Conflicting yet perhaps complementary ethnographic literature has been generated regarding the nature of community and organizational responses to threats to the right to life in Guatemala. In pursuing such a line of investigation, I conducted participatory action research (see Whyte et al. 1991) with Guatemalan “popular” movement organizations in the early 1900s. Interview data were collected from eighty popular movement respondents in Guatemala during two participatory field research periods (1990 and 1992) and bear witness to the existence of terrorism against the civilian population perpetrated by forces linked to the Guatemalan state. Such terrorism is particularly visible in cases of...

  10. Chapter 5 “For God and Ulster”: The Culture of Terror and Loyalist Death Squads in Northern Ireland
    (pp. 127-157)
    Jeffrey A. Sluka

    This chapter addresses one important aspect of the culture of British state terror in Northern Ireland — Loyalist death squad attacks against the Catholic-Nationalist minority¹—and is an attempt to write against terror through a critical “new anthropology” combining perspectives from progressive streams in the discipline. These include action (see van Willigen 1993:57–75), public interest (Davis and Mathews 1979), collaborative (Kuhlmann 1992), liberation (Huizer 1979; Gordon 1991), advocacy (Paine 1985), and human rights (Downing and Kushner 1988; Messer 1993) anthropology, and commitment, after C. Wright Mills and Noam Chomsky, to the values of humanism and the politics of truth (see,...

  11. Chapter 6 Ninjas, Nanggalas, Monuments, and Mossad Manuals: An Anthropology of Indonesian State Terror in East Timor
    (pp. 158-188)
    George J. Aditjondro

    During the past two decades, the Indonesian state has employed a five-pronged strategy of state terror to subjugate the population of East Timor. This strategy consists of a combination of five tactics, some of which have been applied simultaneously. The first tactic is physical terror, ranging from mass killings, which took place most horribly during the first decade of the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, to a huge repertoire of torture techniques. The mass killings of armed guerrillas and their accompanying women and children, when the armed struggle was the main form of resistance, shifted to mass killings of young...

  12. Chapter 7 Murdered or Martyred? Popular Evaluations of Violent Death in the Muslim Separatist Movement in the Philippines
    (pp. 189-203)
    Thomas M. McKenna

    Two emphases are discernible in recent approaches to the anthropology of terror. On the one hand there may be found studies of the semantics of political violence focused on those who trade in terror and the gruesomely explicit messages they send and receive through the media of bombings, assassinations, detentions, and torture (see, for example, Feldman 1991; Suarez-Orozco 1992; Zulaika 1988). On the other we find primary attention paid to the irrationality and meaninglessness of political terror as experienced by its civilian victims (see especially Nordstrom 1992). That emphasis on incomprehensibility is heightened in those accounts in which citizen victims...

  13. Chapter 8 Parents and Their Children in Situations of Terror: Disappearances and Special Police Activity in Punjab
    (pp. 204-225)
    Joyce Pettigrew

    In 1984 Indian government forces attacked the precincts of the Darba Sahib (Golden Temple) complex causing immense loss of human life and damage to the buildings therein. Code-named Operation Bluestar, this attack had been planned for some months beforehand and was timed for an important day in the Sikh calendar when thousands of pilgrims would be expected to be present as well as many people on an outing with their families. Exact casualties have never been known. This attack was followed swiftly by army combing operations in the villages of the Punjab (Operation Woodrose) when many young people disappeared. The...

  14. Conclusion: Death Squads and Wider Complicities: Dilemmas for the Anthropology of Violence
    (pp. 226-248)
    Kay B. Warren

    Given that by United Nations mandate states are endowed with sovereignty and, thus, legitimately exercise coercion on many fronts (Falk 1997), scholars are confronted with decisive choices in the study of state violence. State terrorism and death squads — the subject of this collection of essays — can be envisioned as aberrations (arising from fascist, totalitarian, and authoritarian regimes), as temporary state extremism in response to armed opposition to state authority, or as routine forms of social control gone awry.¹ The initial decision among these analytical framings channels subsequent lines of questioning and explanation. In this concluding essay, I highlight these and...

  15. List of Contributors
    (pp. 249-250)
  16. Index
    (pp. 251-260)