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Jihadi Anthropology

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorMarch 16, 2010 5:57 PM


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Over at Savage Minds, there's an interesting post on the merits of anthropologists hanging in the field with jihadists. It quotes Roxanne Varzi wondering how to contextualize jihadi videos:

These strike me as a rich source of information about a culture that is otherwise inaccessible to anthropologists: jihadi martyrs. How would you go about developing a critical anthropological methodology to reading these video texts?

Varzi then says, apparently, that she wouldn't do it without an ethnographic component. Which makes Adam Fish wonder:

Let me get this right. I gotta hang out, like, deeply, with jihadi terrorists? As an anthropologist I cannot make a statement about jihadi video production practices without having first squeezed my way into their schedule and shared a few meetings over tea with my local jihadist? I'd love to, frankly, but I doubt I can network into their cliques.

Two relevant questions seem to be missing from this discussion. Wouldn't the Human Terrain program make this a wee bit more problematic and dangerous (methinks jihadists probably know about it). And secondly, even if no Human Terrain anthropologists were working in a war zone, there would still be a huge risk factor. It's not insurmountable--journalists find a way to talk to jihadists--but it's there, which Fish seems to ignore.

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