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Iraq at a Distance

Iraq at a Distance: What Anthropologists Can Teach Us About the War

Edited by Antonius C. G. M. Robben
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Iraq at a Distance
    Book Description:

    The Iraq War has cost innumerable lives, caused vast material destruction, and inflicted suffering on millions of people. Iraq at a Distance: What Anthropology Can Teach Us About the War focuses on the plight of the Iraqi people, caught since 2003 in the carnage between U.S. and British troops on one side and, on the other, Iraqi insurgents, militias, and foreign al Qaeda operatives. The volume is a bold attempt by six distinguished anthropologists to study a war zone too dangerous for fieldwork. They break new ground by using their ethnographic imagination as a research tool to analyze the Iraq War through insightful comparisons with previous and current armed conflicts in Cambodia, Israel, Palestine, Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, and Argentina. This innovative approach extends the book's relevance beyond a critical understanding of the devastating war in Iraq. More and more parts of the world of long-standing ethnographic interest are becoming off-limits to researchers because of the war on terror. This book serves as a model for the study of other inaccessible regions, and it shows that the impossibility of conducting ethnographic fieldwork does not condemn anthropologists to silence. Essays analyze the good-versus-evil framework of the war on terror, the deterioration of women's rights in Iraq under fundamentalist coercion, the ethnic-religious partitioning of Baghdad through the building of security walls, the excessive use of force against Iraqi civilians by U.S. counterinsurgency units, and the loss of popular support for U.S. and British forces in Iraq and Afghanistan after the brutal regimes of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein had been toppled.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0354-7
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Ethnographic Imagination at a Distance: An Introduction to the Anthropological Study of the Iraq War
    (pp. 1-23)
    Antonius C. G. M. Robben

    Anthropology has had a long history of studying cultures at a distance. In fact, anthropology began in the nineteenth century with the study of travel and missionary accounts, memoirs of explorers and sailors, and surveys conducted by colonial administrators. This armchair anthropology made way for in situ research by the pioneering work of early ethnographers of Native American cultures such as Schoolcraft, Morgan, and Cushing, as well as the British Haddon expedition to Torres Straits. Anthropology professionalized under the domineering influence of Franz Boas and Bronislaw Malinowski, who turned ethnographic fieldwork into the discipline’s defining research strategy. Their students traveled...

  5. Chapter 1 “Night Fell on a Different World”: Dangerous Visions and the War on Terror, a Lesson from Cambodia
    (pp. 24-56)
    Alexander Laban Hinton

    Most of us try not to think it: the sky raining paper and ashes; a couple holding hands as they step off the ledge of a skyscraper; sleek modern towers billowing fire, smoke, debris, and human bodies; rescue workers climbing stairs to their end; a skyline gouged by an atomic plume; an unmatched shoe lying on the ground; survivors suited in dust and blood, the living dead; a crushed stroller; the smoldering graveyard of twisted steel and debris that became “Ground Zero”; unclaimed cell phones used by air passengers making their last calls; the smell and taste of the acrid...

  6. Chapter 2 The War on Terror and Women’s Rights in Iraq
    (pp. 57-79)
    Nadje Al-Ali

    Women’s rights and women’s liberation have been part and parcel of the justifying rhetoric of proponents of the so-called war on terror. The U.S.-led interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq have similarly identified the need to “liberate” women from the barbaric practices of the Taliban and the Saddam Hussein regime, respectively. Simultaneously, women have been promoted as the “heroines” of the reconstruction of post-Taliban and post–Saddam Hussein societies (Pratt 2005). The concern for women implicitly justifies military intervention in these countries. Yet the degree to which this rhetorical support is translated into actual support for women’s involvement in reconstruction is...

  7. Chapter 3 The War on Terror, Dismantling, and the Construction of Place: An Ethnographic Perspective from Palestine
    (pp. 80-105)
    Julie Peteet

    By the summer of 2006, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and Lebanon were sites of intense conflict. With the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, U.S. secretary of state Rice in a widely televised interview baldly stated, “these are the birth pangs of the new Middle East.” Viewing the larger “war on terror” from a spatial and experiential perspective in Palestine provides a lens through which to view the extraordinary whirlwind of violence engulfing the region. This essay advances a comparative regional approach to these birth pangs, focusing on Iraq and Palestine. For Palestinians in the West Bank and displaced Iraqis, the vision of...

  8. Chapter 4 Losing Hearts and Minds in the “War on Terrorism”
    (pp. 106-132)
    Jeffrey A. Sluka

    According to the great theorists of guerrilla warfare such as Mao Zedong, Che Guevara, Ho Chi Minh, Vo Nguyen Giap, and Tom Barry, insurgent conflicts, unlike other forms of armed conflict or war, are fundamentally political rather than military struggles for the “hearts and minds”—that is, the popular support—of the civilian population (Taber 2002). That population includes four expanding levels of popular consciousness: first, the local population in the war zones; second, the encompassing national population; third, if the situation is imperialism and the government supported or controlled by a foreign power, the population in that country; and...

  9. Chapter 5 Mimesis in a War Among the People: What Argentina’s Dirty War Reveals About Counterinsurgency in Iraq
    (pp. 133-158)
    Antonius C. G. M. Robben

    When by 2004 U.S. forces had become bogged down in the hostile Sunni Triangle, the buzzwords “shock and awe” of the March 2003 aerial bombing of Iraqi troops and infrastructure were replaced by “swarming” as a trendy term to describe what was becoming an ordinary counterinsurgency war in a high-tech jacket. Superior firepower has always been a characteristic of American warfare, and the “shock and awe” strategy seemed to surpass, at least in word and imagination, all previous campaigns. However, one year after the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime, American counterinsurgency units were swarming around cities such as...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 159-174)
    Ibrahim Al-Marashi

    Prior to 1980, Iraq and Afghanistan provided fascinating case studies for anthropologists. By the 1980s, the Baʿth government of Saddam Hussein had consolidated power and declared war on Iran, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan had sparked a tenacious resistance movement. Both conflicts resulted in chronic instability that would preclude anthropologists from conducting fieldwork in those countries for decades. As a result, the study of both countries by anthropologists declined, in addition to that of other academic disciplines. When the United States went to war with Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, there were perhaps no more than a...

  11. List of Contributors
    (pp. 175-178)
  12. Index
    (pp. 179-186)