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Traitors: Suspicion, Intimacy, and the Ethics of State-Building

Sharika Thiranagama
Tobias Kelly
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The figure of the traitor plays an intriguing role in modern politics. Traitors are a source of transgression from within, creating their own kinds of aversion and suspicion. They destabilize the rigid moral binaries of victim and persecutor, friend and enemy. Recent history is stained by collaborators, informers, traitors, and the bloody purges and other acts of retribution against them. In the emergent nation-state of Bhutan, the specter of the "antinational" traitor helped to transform the traditional view of loyalty based on social relations. In Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tigers' fear of traitors is tangled with the Tamil civilians' fear of being betrayed to the Tigers as traitors. For Palestinians in the West Bank, simply earning a living can mean complicity with people acting in the name of the Israeli state. While most contemporary studies of violence and citizenship focus on the creation of the "other," the cases in Traitors: Suspicion, Intimacy, and the Ethics of State-Building illustrate the equally strong political and social anxieties among those who seem to be most alike. Treason is often treated as a pathological distortion of political life. However, the essays in Traitors propose that treachery is a constant, essential, and normal part of the processes through which social and political order is produced. In the political gray zones between personal and state loyalties, traitors and their prosecutors play roles that make and unmake regimes. In this volume, ten scholars examine political, ethnic, and personal trust and betrayals in modern times from Mozambique to the Taiwan Straits, from the former Eastern Bloc to the West Bank. This fascinating collection studies the tension between close personal relationships, the demands of nation-states, and the moral choices that result when these interests collide. In asking how traitors are defined in the context of local histories, contributors address larger comparative questions about the nature of postcolonial citizenship.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0589-3
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction: Specters of Treason
    (pp. 1-23)
    Tobias Kelly and Sharika Thiranagama

    The English novelist E. M. Forster once wrote that “if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country” (1972, 66). Forster’s claim seems particularly provocative, given that it was written in 1939, on the eve of World War II, a time when accusations of treason could have deadly implications. Yet for Forster personal bonds of love and friendship were to take priority over the demands of state and nation. At a personal level, Forster’s claim should almost certainly be read in terms of the criminalization...

  4. Chapter 1 Xiconhoca: Mozambiqueʹs Ubiquitous Post-Independence Traitor
    (pp. 24-47)
    Lars Buur

    In 2005, a few months after Mozambican president Armando Guebuza had been elected, I met “João” in Mavago, in Niassa Province.¹ Visibly nervous and unsettled, João was on his way back to Maputo after spending more than twenty years in Mavago. In 1983, he had been forcibly rounded up during Operation Production for not having all the required identity papers or official confirmation of employment. Within twenty-four hours, he had been sent to a work camp outside Mavago—in the direction of the Tanzanian border, close to Msiwise and Base Central, where the Liberation Front of Mozambique’s (Frelimo, from its...

  5. Chapter 2 Denunciatory Practices and the Constitutive Role of Collaboration in the Bangladesh War
    (pp. 48-67)
    Nayanika Mookherjee

    This brief extract from my fieldwork diary relives the celebration of Victory Day in Dhaka on 16 December 1997. Victory Day commemorates the formation of Bangladesh after nine months of a liberation war against Pakistan. To mark the occasion, the National Museum in Dhaka was screening for free the film Orunodoyer Ognishakhi, one of the first films made in 1972 after the war. Because it was a national holiday, the auditorium was packed with people and was constituted mainly of Dhaka University students, poor and lower-middle-class families, their children, and garment workers who had a day off, a very different...

  6. Chapter 3 Intimacy, Loyalty, and State Formation: The Specter of the ʺAnti-Nationalʺ
    (pp. 68-88)
    Richard W. Whitecross

    On 19 April 1998, the Tiger’s Nest temple, in Taktshang, near Paro in western Bhutan, caught fire and was substantially destroyed. The destruction of this major Buddhist pilgrimage site was attributed, though never publicly established, to be the work of “anti-nationals” or “traitors.” Commencing fieldwork the following summer, I found the so-called anti-national was an ever-present entity. Each evening, I would watch as Senge made offerings to placate those spirits that cause illness, and for a long time, the anti-national felt equally intangible. Conversations would touch on their presence in the community, and I was advised on several occasions about...

  7. Chapter 4 Traitors, Terror, and Regime Consolidation on the Two Sides of the Taiwan Straits: ʺRevolutionariesʺ and ʺReactionariesʺ from 1949 to 1956
    (pp. 89-109)
    Julia C. Strauss

    In the post-Cold War twenty-first century, it is all too easy to forget that coercion, both real and implied, lies at the heart of the state. When we turn our gaze back to the early stages of the Cold War, particularly to the divided nations on opposite sides of that conflict (Germany, Korea, and China) in the late 1940s and early 1950s, we can see that the coercive core at the heart of the state lay close to the surface in a way that is hard to recapture today. Here was a situation in which the countries concerned had all...

  8. Chapter 5 Betraying Trust and the Elusive Nature of Ethnicity in Burundi
    (pp. 110-126)
    Simon Turner

    In the African Great Lakes region, Hutu and Tutsi for the most part live peacefully side by side, while at times they have committed genocide and other atrocities in the name of ethnicity. On the one hand, ethnicity is strong enough to mobilize hundreds of thousands of ordinary Hutu peasants in Rwanda to kill, maim, and molest their Tutsi neighbors and to have the Tutsi-dominated army in Burundi systematically and brutally kill more that 100 000 Hutu civilians. On the other hand, they have so much in common that it is strongly debated and heavily disputed whether one can in...

  9. Chapter 6 In Praise of Traitors: Intimacy, Betrayal, and the Sri Lankan Tamil Community
    (pp. 127-149)
    Sharika Thiranagama

    In a 2006 Canadian Sri Lankan Tamil pamphlet called Thurohi (Traitor), the author tells his diasporic audience, “many of us fled and came to this country. Why? Our life’s duty is to survive. But what is our historical duty? To be traitors” (Jeeva 2006, 3; emphasis added).¹ The war between the Sri Lankan state and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) drew in Sri Lanka’s three largest ethnic groups: the majority Sinhalese, the minority Sri Lankan Tamils, and Sri Lankan Muslims; the latter, while war-affected, were not active in the conflict. The primary battlefields and areas of LTTE...

  10. Chapter 7 Treason and Contested Moralities in a Coloured Township, Cape Town
    (pp. 150-168)
    Steffen Jensen

    In a newspaper interview from 2006, influential South African columnist, writer, and anti-apartheid activist Fred Khumalo suggested that to reduce crime all South Africans should become impimpis. The impimpi was the despised traitor of the struggle against apartheid, those who informed against his or her comrades to the security forces or collaborated with the regime. Through his or her actions, the impipi had forfeited all rights of life and could be killed. Impipi killings became emblematic of the struggle against apartheid during the late 1980s. The logic behind Khumalo’s statement was that only by leaving behind mistaken loyalties toward those...

  11. Chapter 8 In a Treacherous State: The Fear of Collaboration Among West Bank Palestinians
    (pp. 169-187)
    Tobias Kelly

    Khalil was one of the largest building contractors in the West Bank Palestinian village of Bayt Hajjar. I had just spent the day with him, visiting one of his projects, where he was providing laborers to help build a new suburb in the rapidly expanding settlement of Halamish. For many Palestinians, the presence of Israeli settlements is the major obstacle to a just and lasting peace. The fact that it is often Palestinians who work and build the settlements is, therefore, highly controversial. Although I knew from other people that Khalil worked in the settlements, I had expected him to...

  12. Chapter 9 The Glass Agency: Iranian War Veterans as Heroes or Traitors?
    (pp. 188-199)
    Kamran Rastegar

    The profile of the traitor is a fluid one, reflecting changing circumstances and anxieties around the social value of certain kinds of ideological commitment. Wartime is the condition where the traitor’s features are most sharply defined, even if the criteria for what constitutes traitorous action are contested in the period of active conflict. However, the period following the cessation of a war may often be marked by deep ambivalence, where the unavoidable traumas of war bring to the fore questions about the ideological commitments that had been mobilized in support of the war. In any postwar environment, the reversion of...

  13. Chapter 10 The Man in the White Raincoat: Betrayal and the Historianʹs Task
    (pp. 200-226)
    István Rév

    In the late morning of 30 October 1956, revolutionaries attacked the headquarters of the Budapest Party committee, next to the City Opera in the eighth district of the city. Most probably, it was not a well-planned, premeditated siege; the attack was triggered by unsubstantiated and never-confirmed rumors about the existence of underground prisons and torture chambers with hundreds of prisoners, women and children among them. The Ministry of Defense sent six tanks to assist the communist defenders, but the head of the unit and the driver of the leading tank were both unfamiliar with that part of the city. The...

  14. Afterword: Questions of Judgment
    (pp. 227-240)
    Stephan Feuchtwang

    In their Introduction, Tobias Kelly and Sharika Thiranagama draw two themes from the chapters of this book. One is the intimacy of accusations of treachery. The other is what is performed by accusations of treachery, the re-creation of the boundaries of an object of greater loyalty: a people and its sovereignty.

    Most of the chapters that follow dwell on the construction of figures of treason and betrayal and their realization in the persecution of actual populations. They focus on the intimacy of these greater loyalties and betrayals. But beside them, equally as figures in media and mind, and realized in...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 241-252)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 253-266)
  17. List of Contributors
    (pp. 267-268)
  18. Index
    (pp. 269-272)
  19. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 273-273)