September 09, 2005

Required Reading

For me, not for you. Your reading of it is strictly voluntary, but I found it interesting.

It's an article on anthropology and counterinsurgency. It's a bit lengthy, so I want to include a quote from the end of the piece which I thought was notable:

Regardless of whether anthropologists decide to enter the national-security arena, cultural information will inevitably be used as the basis of military operations and public policy. And, if anthropologists refuse to contribute, how reliable will that information be? The result of using incomplete "bad" anthropology is, invariably, tailed operations and failed policy. In a May 2004 New Yorker article, "The Gray Zone: How a Secret Pentagon Program Came to Abu Ghraib," Seymour Hersh notes that Raphael Patai's 1973 study of Arab culture and psychology, The Arab Mind, was the basis of the military's understanding of the psychological vulnerabilities of Arabs, particularly to sexual shame and humiliation.61

Patai says: "The segregation of the sexes, the veiling of the women . . . , and all the other minute rules that govern and restrict contact between men and women, have the effect of making sex a prime mental preoccupation in the Arab world." Apparently, the goal of photographing the sexual humiliation was to blackmail Iraqi victims into becoming informants against the insurgency. To prevent the dissemination of photos to family and friends, it was believed Iraqi men would do almost anything.62

As Bernard Brodie said of the French Army in 1914, "This was neither the first nor the last time that bad anthropology contributed to bad strategy." Using sexual humiliation to blackmail Iraqi men into becoming informants could never have worked as a strategy since it only destroys honor, and for Iraqis, lost honor requires its restoration through the appeasement of blood. This concept is well developed in Iraqi culture, and there is even a specific Arabic word for it: al-sharaf, upholding one's manly honor. The alleged use of Patai's book as the basis of the psychological torment at Abu Ghraib, devoid of any understanding of the broader context of Iraqi culture, demonstrates the folly of using decontextualized culture as the basis of policy.63

I have to write a reaction paper on the whole thing and how it relates to the ethics of anthropology, by the way.

Posted by Jennifer at September 9, 2005 12:16 PM | TrackBack


Sounds like common sense to me: Don't try to use the enemy against himself if you don't understand the enemy.

Posted by: shank at September 9, 2005 02:33 PM

Are you going to share your thoughts? /TJ

Posted by: TJ at September 14, 2005 09:43 AM