Feeling Ineffective … Needing the “Haqqani network”

One of the things I dislike most about being in academia is the feeling of creeping complacency. I don’t feel it very often – that’s why it’s ‘creeping’ – but when I do it’s painful and soul-frustrating. Working for the military was where I felt least complacent (despite the numerous other downsides), so perhaps it’s not surprising that the things that make me feel most complacent typically have to do with the military and irregular warfare. The current situation in Afghanistan should be enough in itself to make anyone stop and think whether such a situation is really necessary and whether there isn’t anything that could be done about it. 326 members of the international coalition have died in Afghanistan so far this year; 3,021 Afghan civilians died in 2011; suicides among US troops have been averaging one a day in 2012; the Dept. of Veteran Affairs estimates 18 veterans are committing suicide every day. All this is an ongoing and overlooked tragedy. But it’s not the overall tragedy that makes me feel complacent. For me and for most people it’s about as outside the bounds of being influenced as is the weather. No, what makes me stop and feel terribly complacent are the errors in thinking about social phenomena in Afghanistan that policy-makers and military analysts continue to make, and that social scientists seem incapable of helping correct (…perhaps because we’re often not so immune to them ourselves). Continue reading


“Why Should We Believe You?” Anthropology and Public Interest

This month’s “From-the-Editor” article in American Anthropologist makes a commendable argument for moving AAA publications to a Gold open-access system. Public access and understanding seem to be key themes in anthropology communities recently. The editor puts it this way: “My first concern is that there is a fundamental contradiction between the oft-repeated goal of making anthropology more public and relevant on the one hand, and the lack of open access on the other.” “Public understanding” was what replaced “anthropology as science” in the AAA statement of purpose change in 2010 – a change that inspired extensive controversy. And while removing science stirred up a lot of criticism and disagreement, I don’t think there was very much concern with the addition of “public understanding”. Continue reading

Invisible Threats, …invisible evidence, invisible analysis

Here’s the thing. If you want to make the case that the world and the nature of security are changing so much that the “very concept of state sovereignty” has to be reimagined, surely you don’t start based on a scenario that sounds like a b-rate Hollywood thriller. Right? Surely.

Or maybe you do. In this paper on emerging threats, here’s the scenario that’s used: Continue reading

Dying Like the Enemy

The rise of suicides within the US military has been one of the most tragic and noteworthy aspects (among many) of US efforts in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) in Iraq and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan. OIF and OEF have also been marked by the extensive use of suicide-attacks by insurgents. In the respective areas of medical/psychological and military/conflict-studies research these two types of phenomena have been rigorously documented and analyzed, but they also seem to have remained almost entirely separate and disconnected. As far as I’m aware, no published research has considered the possibility of a relationship between the two. While there are certainly reasons to consider suicide-attacks and military suicides as unrelated and distant phenomena, a connection between the two is also worth considering. Continue reading