At the end of August, Hungary extradited to Azerbaijan an Azeri military officer who had, while attending a NATO-sponsored training in Budapest in 2004, killed an Armenian participant with an axe and was sentenced to life in prison. Upon his arrival in Azerbaijan, the man, Ramil Safarov, was granted a presidential pardon and a promotion, and was feted as a national hero.
The reactions to this affair in Hungarian politics give an interesting snapshot of the state of culturalism in the country. Not-government-aligned media (there aren’t many of those left), which tend to criticise the government from liberal positions, largely attack the decision for selling out to “Oriental dictatorships” – not just Azerbaijan but also China and Saudi Arabia — in the hope that they will finance Hungary’s debt. Indeed, there is little doubt that there is a link between the extradition and an announcement that Azerbaijan would buy Hungarian debt, just as, during Chinese premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to Hungary last year, the police prevented Tibetans living in Hungary from demonstrating. Prime Minister Viktor Orban has repeatedly made clear that he wishes to shift from an exclusive Euro-Atlantic orientation to an Asian one, a shift he sees necessary for economic growth but in which he has also mused about the usefulness of non-democratic methods of governing. This summer, in a widely quoted, semi-joking speech, he said that Hungarians, as “half-Asian progeny,” sometimes only understand force. Yet, simultaneously, Orban frequently assumes the mantle of the defender of European values such as Christianity, the family, and democracy, which the EU has lost track of.
Although liberal media generally oppose Orban’s clericalism, in its criticism of the extradition there are frequent references to Armenia as “the first Christian state” with which “we,” therefore, share a lot more than with Azerbaijan. (In this respect, they agree with a communique issued by the government after the extradition that states that Hungary ”respects Christian Armenia.”)
Interestingly, the leader of Jobbik, the ultranationalist opposition party, which generally also operates with Christian symbolism but which is also drawn to that strand of Hungarian exceptionalism that emphasises the Asian roots of the nation, defended the alliance with Azerbaijan as “a key partner” on the basis that Azeris were a Turanic people — “Turanic” being a keyword in this self-Orientalising root mythology.
In the Master of Applied Anthropology course at Macquarie University that inspired us to start this blog, and in the book Seeing Culture Everywhere that later resulted from the course, Joana Breidenbach and I were particularly critical of intercultural communication (IC) both as academic discipline and as industry. We think mainstream IC perpetuates stereotypes and a “container model” of national cultures in a way that is remarkably similar to Huntington’s views on international relations.
We are now writing an entry on IC for the new edition of the International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioural Sciences. In the process of updating our overview on the field, I was surprised and please to discuver the work of Ingrid Piller, whose take on mainstream IC is very similar to ours, but whose critique comes from inside the discipline. She, too advocates a contextual approach and rejects a priori cultural categorizations.
The biggest surprise is that Piller is a professor of linguistics at Macquarie University, in the very department in whose applied linguistics courses one of our students was pressed to demonstrate a “typical Japanese greeting.” We used the incident, which made him very upset, as an example of IC stereotyping in our book.It is clear that Piller is equally critical of such approaches.
It seems that Piller joined Macquarie in 2008, just when I left, but I am surprised we haven’t discovered each other’s websites earlier!
When I was new to Australia I was struck by the vehemence with which locals differentiated between native and non-native animal species. “That’s a pest!” they would say, frowning at the Indian minah and reserving their affection for the slightly different aboriginal (i.e. also immigrant, but earlier) variety.
I am hapy to report that my homeland Hungary finally got the one-up on Australia. Parliament recently passed a law introducing a dog tax. The law stipulates that autochthonous Hungarian races, such as the vizsla, the puli or the komondor, are exempt. The idea is, of course, to promote the population growth of these natives at the expense of the immigrant varieties.
So these politics of the soil really do work across species, don’t they? Hungary was, after all, the first European country in the 20th century to cap the percentage of Jewish students at universities.
(By the way, I love vizslas, pulis, and komondors.)
Last year I posted about Latrobe Uni anthropologist Alberto Gomes and his use of a Bollywood flash mob in his first introduction to anthropology lecture. Given how much interest the last video generated, with over 400,000 hits on Youtube, I suppose it was inevitable that he would have another go at doing something out of the ordinary.
I really liked last year’s use of Bollywood to both introduce themes from the course and to engage students in that crucial first lecture. It was easy enough to see how it could be used to set up key issues to be dealt with throughout the course. This year’s effort is a little harder to parse. It brings together elements of different musical and performance traditions, a hip-hop anthem with a kind of feel-good, we-are-the-world sort of vibe. But it’s harder for me to see what the teaching points here are. Is it creating a spectacle for its own sake? Also, maybe it was the way the video was cut, but this time round all the students seemed to be in on the joke from the start, which spoils the “flash mob” dimension of the exercise.
Anyway, I don’t want to be too critical. I applaud the effort to play with the usual lecture mode of teaching and finding ways to make material more memorable. This year’s effort didn’t work so well for me. Maybe it would have helped to know how the performance was used to introduce themes for the course, and maybe these elements could have been included in, or with, the video to give it some context for us internet viewers.
Nearly 3 years ago, I posted here on Culture Matters about my attempts to get ethics approval for students to do research projects as part of the classes I was teaching. In that post, I linked to 4 different ethics applications I’d written for student research project, each of which used different research methods, from convenience sample street surveys of mobile phone users to participant observation in a virtual world to an oral history project of international students’ experiences at university to a commissioned observational study of how students use social space on campus.
Since then, I’ve gotten ethics approval for an additional 3 student research project that are used in 4 different anthropology classes at Macquarie:
- an illness narrative project being used in both a graduate and an undergraduate medical anthropology class (this was a collaborative effort with Dr Aaron Denham, who teaches one of those classes);
- an ethnographic writing project based on participant-observation in students’ everyday lives for an upper-level undergraduate research methods/ writing class; and
- a food social mapping project for one of our most popular undergraduate classes, Food Across Cultures.
I have posted the entire ethics applications (linked above) for others to use. These things take a surprising amount of time and effort to write, and it would make me feel better about the time I spent working on these ethics applications if I knew that they were making things a bit easier for other people! So please feel free to cut and paste: nothing in them is proprietary.
If you’re at Macquarie, then you’re really in luck, since you can just cut and paste into the most current ethics application form on the Research Office’s website. Unfortunately, most institutions have their own unique forms for everything, so teachers at other universities might find it a bit more work to translate from my ethics application to theirs — but the basic ideas are there, including:
- techniques for designing a participant observation research project that is unique for every student, that avoids any high-risk (and thus tricky to supervise when you have a whole classful of students) research areas (hint: no drugs, no illegal activity, including dumpster-diving), and that also navigates the tricky terrain of getting informed consent from people to write about them when their lives are inextricably intertwined with the students’;
- how to recruit friends and family members to participate in an illness narrative project without putting any implicit pressure on them to do so (i.e. no “Mom, I need to interview you about the time you had cancer so that I don’t fail this class”) and that describes how students will talk about their research projects in class without revealing their informants’ very personal information; and
- elaborate scripts that students can use when approaching a restaurant manager, for example, to get permission to write about their eating experience, and really straightforward and easy-to-understand informed consent forms.
If you end up using one of these as the model for one of your own student research projects, please let me know how it goes! In particular, I’m interested in knowing what ethics committees at different institutions do and don’t find acceptable in student research projects, so if you get hassles about a particular research method, participant population, or participant recruitment technique, shoot me an e-mail and tell me about it (lisa.wynn[at]mq.edu.au). I’d love to compare your experience with my own.
A small announcement. Dr Silvia Lanzetta, a former student in the Macquarie Applied Anthropology program, and who completed her PhD between Sociology at Macquarie and Philosophy at the University of Florence, has an interesting paper online connecting applied anthropology with the study of contemporary indigenous art. She is seeking comments on the current draft (PDF).The paper focuses on the Boomalli Aboriginal Artists‘ Co-op in Sydney and sets out to target “the mainstream art-critique in order to contribute to a change in the epistemological attitude towards the so-called Aboriginal urban art.”
If you have any feedback on the paper, feel free to send it to Silvia at: silvialanzetta [at] libero.it or leave a comment on this post.
A Hindu temple in South India combines psychiatry and religion to treat people with mental ailments.
In 2001, a fire occurred at Erwadi dargah in south India, a highly popular Sufi Muslim shrine with reputed miraculous powers to heal people with mental ailments. The fire killed 25 people who had been chained up in the surrounding boarding houses. Sensational media reports portrayed healing shrines as ‘backward’, and revealed that psychiatric services were in a dismal state across most of the country. There were widespread calls for the modernisation of the mental health sector.
The Supreme Court issued suo moto intervention directives to address conditions at healing shrines and to reform mental health services and institutions. The chaining of people at shrines was banned, and the adjoining boarding houses were ordered to meet mental health licensing requirements or close down. State governments were directed to galvanise mental health workers to identify people with mental illness at shrines, and to move them into psychiatric homes. These interventions were justified by the various statutory agencies as a mode of defending the human rights of people with mental illness, and as protecting them from exploitation by the operators of shrines and unlicensed asylums.
Reputed healing shrines in India attract visitors with the common belief that mental ailments are caused by sorcery or bad spirits. This explanation is generally accepted and it avoids the negative stigma associated with mental illness. Attendance at a shrine allows the potent power of the shrine’s resident deity to overcome the evil spirit within the afflicted person. The denomination of the shrine does not matter—cure seekers of different religions will visit well-known Hindu, Sufi Muslim or Catholic healing shrines.
Many health seekers in India will also incorporate biomedicine into their religious healing approach. Even though psychiatric services are weak and very limited in many areas, many people suffering mental ailments will visit doctors and try psychiatric medication if it is accessible and affordable—particularly if they are diagnosed with serious mental illness.
In response to the Supreme Court directives, one Hindu temple in Tamil Nadu state has adapted its practices and now offers a combined ‘medicine and prayer’ model of healing. The Gunaseelam temple has a longstanding reputation for curing devotees who suffer “mind problems”, and it recently established a licensed rehabilitation centre in its grounds, where the healing is overseen by the temple priests and a psychiatrist from nearby Tiruchirapalli (Trichy) city.
At Gunaseelam, the aim has been to create a culturally relevant mental health care system where families can share the responsibilities of care. The rehabilitation centre accepts approximately 12 patients diagnosed with chronic schizophrenia at a time. They stay with their family members for a ritually significant period of 48 days and receive free biomedicine prescribed by the psychiatrist. The patients and families also attend five pujas (prayer rituals) a day in the temple. In two of these pujas, the priests splash holy water onto the faces of the devotees, which they believe drives out their bad spirits. This combination of “medicine and god” is largely believed by patients, families and priests to be a more efficacious method of healing than just undertaking one aspect.
While the patients generally worship local ‘small’ gods in their own villages, at Gunaseelam, they are required to worship the ‘big’ or Brahmanic god Venkatachalapatty, which belongs to an upper-caste model of religion. Concerns have been raised by activists that freedom of religious expression would be impinged upon by government intervention at religious sites, yet my research at Gunaseelam found no evidence to support this. The majority of people in India readily adapt to worshipping other deities for specific purposes, and the patients and carers at Gunaseelam did not believe their usual practices and beliefs were constrained. They expressed a willingness to worship Venkatachalapathy while at the temple, and deemed him to be a ‘powerful’ god, and firmly believed that he had more power to cure them than medicine.
As an ethnographer, it is not possible to assess the progress of patients in terms of biomedically acceptable parameters. However, the majority of the patients’ carers believed that their ailing family member got better at Gunaseelam. World Health Organisation (WHO) studies acknowledge that there are better recovery rates for serious mental illnesses in ‘developing’ countries than in ‘developed’ countries.1 They all acknowledge wide use of non-Western therapies at developing country research sites. Yet the studies fail to investigate medical pluralism as a factor in differential outcome. This issue needs further research.
However, it is questionable whether the perceived improvements in patients at Gunaseelam are long-lasting. Patients’ narratives indicate that their illnesses often recur when they return home and can no longer access free medication. This supports other studies demonstrating that a significant proportion of patients in India abandon orthodox psychiatric treatment or stop medication. It must also be acknowledged that Gunaseelam offers a level of care and proximity to a powerful deity that is considered healing, and when patients leave the place of care, the cure diminishes. This acknowledgement in patients and carers is often what drives repeat visits to religious healing sites.
The relative ‘success’ story of Gunaseelam, from a governmental intervention point of view, lies in the fact that its new model continues to survive at all. Throughout India, there has been a variety of reactions from shrines to the intervention, but few have reconfigured in any substantial way. Attempts to introduce psychiatry services at healing shrines have often not been sustained, and many shrines continue to allow the practice of chaining people. This may not be emphatic resistance to laws on the part of shrines, but rather suggests that the state itself is not particularly uniformly effective in a large and diverse country like India. In practice, a number of intervention initiatives into temple practices quite simply dissolve over time, due to lack of will, lack of coordination, geographical issues and the difficulties of implementation, rather than because of any explicit resistance.
The notion of ‘lack of will’ and associated concepts of apathy and corruption are commonly used in India to explain the non-delivery of services and the failure of certain initiatives. But the lack of follow-through of the Supreme Court directives could possibly be better explained as a fundamental mismatch between the worldviews of the paradigms of psychiatry and religion in India. There has long been an uneasy dialogue between culture and psychiatry, where the relative credibility and ‘truth claims’ of scientific models such as psychiatry are pitted against the ‘folk models’ held by patients, and their rather different notions of cure. It is also important to acknowledge the difficulty of incorporating notions of spirit possession and exorcism into the same paradigm of illness that antipsychotic drugs claim to treat.
Although the notion of integrating the two paradigms is plausible only in a rudimentary fashion, Gunaseelam appears to be a practical and relatively successful marriage. The head priest and psychiatrist do not overwhelmingly endorse each other’s methods, but can see the benefits of co-treating patients. From a psychiatric point of view, patients can be treated within a framework that is cheaper and more community-based than a hospital. From a priestly point of view, the benefits of the rituals are assisted by medication that helps control symptoms, and the consistent patient recovery rates reinforce the temple’s long-standing reputation as a healing site.
Gunaseelam has also been a favourable site for intervention for other reasons. Unlike many temples, it does not have large commercial interests to protect, such as those gained from healing services or shops. There was also an already-established relationship between the temple and the psychiatrist before the intervention – and therefore a degree of recognition of each other’s paradigm. Additionally, the local culture supports such pluralistic measures, and the model of healing on offer is acceptable to a wide range of people. Gunaseelam is therefore one of the few examples of the intervention in India that sustains an interface between the paradigms of medicine and religion.
The fact that very little has changed in the way that most healing shrines operate indicates that the new technologies of rule do not always achieve their stated effects. Ironically, it is the very looseness of the Supreme Court directives, and their lack of benchmarks, models or clear objectives that not only allows shrines to sidestep governmental intervention, but also enables them to respond with new models of mental health healing that are sensitive to the local context and capacities.
Gunaseelam seems to be a rare case of a collaborative effort where the paradigms of psychiatry and religion have combined harmoniously to meet local needs with a culturally relevant model of healing. Such projects are generally driven by committed people who have utilised the uncertain space offered by the mismatch and the lack of detailed directives, to develop appropriate initiatives that are responsive to the needs of people with mental illness. The scope for NGOs to utilise the fluid terrain to further develop innovative new collaborative models of mental healing is large, yet very few NGOs in India work in this area.
- WHO. Report of the International Pilot Study of Schizophrenia, Volume I. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 1973. WHO. Schizophrenia: An International Follow-up Study. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons; 1979.
Lesley Branagan received a Prime Minister’s Australia Asia Endeavour Award to undertake fieldwork in India. This fieldwork was utilised in a thesis for her Master degree in Applied Anthropology at Macquarie University (in affiliation with Delhi University).
The Dutch are a lowland people but they love mountains. The Netherland’s highest hill of 322.7 meters is called a mountain: Mount Vaals or Vaalserberg. The native pop group The Nits hit the European charts in 1987 with the song In the Dutch Mountains. And there is of course Alpe d’Huez which is often called the Dutch Mountain by Tour de France lovers for whom this ski resort at 1,860 to 3,330 meters in the Central French Alps has become a pilgrimage site. Alpe d’Huez has been a stage finish almost every year since 1976 and is part of the alpine climbs where Le Tour is won. Alpe d’Huez is the ‘Dutch Mountain’ because a Dutchman won eight of the first 14 finishes.
But why not have a proper mountain in the Netherlands? Well there is actually a plan for a real Dutch Mountain in the Dutch campagne. Alpe d’Almere will be the Dutch’s own and first real mountain. With an altitude of 2000 meter it will be, if realized, a prominent feature in a very flat countryside. And the designers have produced a funky presentation.
My good friend and Holland’s best radio reporter Jan Maarten Deurvorst has produced a radio documentary (in Dutch) on Alpe d’Almere. It will be available here after the broadcast on Sunday 30 October. For those who do not read Dutch I have translated the text on the website:
The Netherlands is world famous for large infrastructure projects such as the Delta Works and the dam that closes the Zuiderzee. The Dutch Mountain will however put all previous ones in its shadow, a mountain of 2000 meters in the Flevoland polder. 77 billion cubic meters of sand will be needed for the highest and largest structure ever made. In comparison, the tallest building in the world is in Dubai and is 828 meters high. Yet engineers, architects and sports people are sure: “The mountain will come.”
The idea of the Dutch Mountain comes from ex-cyclist-cum-columnist Thijs Zonneveld who is keen to eliminate Holland’s geographical disadvantage in sport. At least for three months a year, the Dutch will have a mountain covered in thick snow suitable for skiing and snowboarding. Zonneveld also wants to build a high-altitude skate track to ensure that world records skating can again be set on Dutch soil.
But resistance is fierce. Earth Sciences professor Klaas van Egmond is furious that engineers, politicians and media take this “hedonistic preoccupation with stimulating the senses” seriously. He calls the project extremely decadent, especially in the current crisis which does not even allow money for the purchase of a small parcel in Flevoland for the benefit of the National Ecological Network. “The Dutch Mountain indicates the end of civilization.” Also most of the people in Almere are not very pleased with a two thousand meters high mountain in their backyard.
Dutch anthropologist and philosopher Ton Lemaire wrote a book entitled Filosofie van het Landschap (The Philosophy of the Landscape) in 1970 (the ninth edition appeared in 2009). One of the theses in that book is that every nation gets the landscape it deserves. The Dutch landscape is a reflection of an affluent society and dense population. In particular over the last few decades people struggle with the tensions between prosperity and well being, between work and leisure, between economy and ecology, and between comfort and beauty.
Over the last couple of hundred years man has left no single inch of the landscape untouched. All of Holland’s landscape is manmade, mostly because of some utilitarian need but also sometimes following aesthetic considerations and the need for recreation. The Dutch landscape reflects the tensions above.
On top of that all the previous big infrastructure projects were all built during times of social and economic crisis. They stimulated economic growth and they have generated expertise on dike building and land reclamation that has gained worldwide acclaim. This has greatly helped Dutch companies to obtain contracts for such projects as Hong Kong’s airport and The Palm Islands in Dubai. Likely the investors now interested in the Alpe d’Almere envision mountain-building adventures in Arabia after they have finished the job in Flevoland in 2018.
In many respects, the Dutch Mountain fits into an established approach to landscaping and I hardly see any decadency. I think that the mountain should be build so that it becomes a memorable example of Dutch people’s eccentric relationship with the landscape. And I can’t wait to climb it one day with my Dutch cycle friends.
The 2004 Crisis Group Report on the situation of Palestinian citizens of Israel states that
social attitudes mirror the invisible geographic lines that separate the two communities [Jew/Arab]. Intermarriage is highly unusual and frowned upon by vast majorities in both
The debate in Israeli civil society is if “institutionaliz[ing] a religion is going to disempower the members of the other faiths” (Bisharat 2010). As there are no official statistics or academic research about Arab/Jewish intermarriage in Israel, my fieldwork for my Master of Applied Anthropology study was a unique opportunity to collect information and relate with people who experienced this type of relationship.
One of the few studies citing the phenomenon of mixed marriages between Arabs and Jews was conducted by the Tel Aviv Geocartography Institute. The results found that over half the Jewish population in Israel believes that the marriage of a Jewish woman to an Arab man is equal to “national treason” (Nahmias 2007). As the Palestinian – Israeli journalist Sayed Kashua expressed in one of his editorials: “Simply by being an Arab who carries an Israeli citizenship, one is accused of being a traitor. The accusation comes from both Jews and Arabs” (Kashua in Hochberg 2010).
Such descriptions were also expressed by my informants, showing the extent to which the apparently personal act of marriage is widely regarded by both Israelis and Palestinians as being highly politically charged.
The perceived danger posed by intermarriage constitutes the framework within which the main research question of my thesis was formulated. The main problem being debated in Israeli civil society is whether civil marriages, by increasing inter-faith marriages and inter-ethnic marriages, would divide the character of the Jewish State, as stated in the Declaration of Establishment of the State of Israel.
My thesis aimed to demonstrate that the maintenance of the state’s Jewishness, which is defined in the constitution, provides a strong basis for the control of social boundaries within Israeli society. The maintenance of these boundaries provides the framework into which intermarriages are regulated and openly discouraged. Therefore an ideal endogamy is regulated and maintained by the state itself.
Describing the situation of the “Arab minority” in Israel, Abu-Saad (2006) correctly underlines that Palestinians in Israel are considered as “outsiders” and an illegitimate presence in the Jewish-Israeli state. Palestinian citizens of Israel hold an Israeli passport that states their ethnic group as “Arab” (older passports also stated the holder’s religion). Since the Oslo Agreement the status of Israeli-Palestinians, who comprise 20% of the overall population (Central Bureau of Statistics, Israel, CBS, 2010), has been addressed as an “internal issue”. They are referred to as the “Arab minority in Israel” (Khalil 2007:36). The division between ethnic identity (Palestinian) and citizenship (Israeli) is clearly expressed through anti-assimilation policies, discriminatory practices in every-day life and urban segregation. For this reason, the “issue” of the Israeli “Arab minority” is pivotal for constructive and practical improvements in the development and long-term stability of the country.
Although all citizens are allowed the freedom of practicing their own religion, the government maintains control over the authorities who can provide certain religious services (i.e. marriage, divorce) and imposes certain limitations (i.e. a prohibition against inter-faith marriages) (Abu-Saab 2006:1087). Nevertheless, it should be clarified that intermarriage is not “prohibited”, as it is not illegal under Israeli law. The state of Israel only officially recognizes “religious unions” and makes no provision for the registration of civil marriages – and therefore secular marriages – within Israel. However, civil marriages entered into abroad are recognized. In short, limitations on inter-faith marriage do exist, but legislative provisions do not forbid inter-faith marriage or consider it illegal in Israeli law. Rather, a “cultural ban” on Arab/Jew intermarriage is enforced and perpetuated throughout Israeli society via anti-assimilation organizations that coercively discourage relationships with “the Arab minority”. Furthermore, this cultural ban is highly gendered, focusing almost exclusively on averting relationships and marriages between Israeli-Jewish women and Palestinian-Israeli men.
Religious orthodox organizations, such as Yad l’Achim, are actively involved in discouraging Israeli-Jewish girls from dating and marrying Arab men. In 2008, Ha’aretz, one of the main Israeli newspapers, published an article about Yad l’Achim, a Jewish-orthodox organisation working to prevent intermarriages, particularly between Bedouin men and Israeli-Jewish women in the city of Kiryat Gat, Southern Israel (Ha’aretz 2008). Supported by the police and the municipality, this program teaches Israeli Jewish women that Bedouin-Arab men do not suit “Jewish values” (ibid.). Young girls are shown a video called “Sleeping with the enemy”, featuring a police officer and a woman from the Anti-Assimilation Department of Yad l’Achim warning:
the affair begins as superficial love which appears to be authentic. Many times the girl doesn’t even know she’s going with someone who is a minority. […] The [Jewish] girls, in their innocence, hook up with Bedouin Arabs who exploit them. She sleeps with the enemy without realizing it (Silverstein 2008).
The organization’s PR campaign advocates similar concepts, as shown in this advertisement:
Translation: (Top) One day he will break your heart.
(Bottom) Your life will be ruined.
The organization has an “Anti-Assimilation Department” which actively focuses on “protecting” Israeli-Jewish girls from inter-ethnic relationships (Yad l’Achim, 2010); as their website explains:
this [anti-assimilation] department deals with women and teenage girls who have become involved with Arab men. In most cases, these relationships lead to marriage, which then deteriorate into violence. Among the many serious problems that result from such relationships is the identity of the children. They are Jews, but are raised as Arabs. Thus, entire generations are being lost to the Jewish people (Yad l’Achim, 2010).
The presence and social activities at a community level are important strengths of the organisation, translating into projects and educational programs. One of the education videos, cited at the beginning of the chapter, warned young girls in these terms:
like they warn you to be careful while driving or when they warn you to be careful when swimming in the sea and there’s a black flag and a red flag–when it’s allowed and when it’s forbidden–the same thing we’re doing to warn girls of this unnatural phenomenon (Silverstein 2008).
The politically charged importance of mixed relationships was clearly expressed by a chief rabbi from the area: “seducing” Jewish girls was “another form of war in the larger Israeli-Arab conflict” (Cook 2009).
According to Yad l’Achim’s website, the organization receives more than 100 calls a month about Jewish women living with Arab men, both in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) (Cook 2009). Yad l’Achim carries out “rescue operations” in cooperation with the Israeli army, the internal security forces and the police (i.e. see the documented rescue operation: “Mother, Eight Children rescued from Muslim quarter”, Yad l’Achim 2008). Recently, more invasive practices have been created: vigilante patrol groups roam Pisgat Ze’ev, a Jewish settlement outside of East Jerusalem, every night. The group, linked to Yad l’Achim, patrols the streets looking for mixed Arab-Jewish couples (Cook 2009; Frenkel 2009). Other groups are also active in bigger cities, such as Beersheva and Haifa (Frenkel 2009).
Similar “educational” programs are actively supported by other municipalities. For instance, at the beginning of 2010 in the South of Tel Aviv the municipality sanctioned a project between the municipality of Tel Aviv – Jaffa, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Ministry of Immigrant Absorption (which pays 75% of it). The purpose of the program, which involves 120 girls up to 22 years of age, is to “prevent relationships between Jewish girls and minorities” (Reider 2010). Clearly the government publicly supports its anti-assimilation policies and the efforts of the organization for “preserving Jewish values” and intermarriages are actively discouraged because they are portrayed as a strong symbol of assimilation and consequently an incorporation of / adaptation to the “other” group.
The analysis of Yad l’Achim’s activities acquires particular significance due to cultural and gender characteristics as they seem to address only women. Jewish-Israeli men were portrayed as more responsible in the face of “danger”, while Jewish girls are not able to care for themselves and need to be assisted. He tended to describe the “victims” of intermarriages as “Israeli-Jewish girls” and their “predators” as “Arab men”. The terminology that he used implied a dichotomy between the victims represented as young girls; and the predators indicated as adult men:
they go out hunting for girls … we’re talking about local Arabs and Arabs from villages coming to Tel Aviv for work (Reider 2010, italics added).
The depiction of Jewish women as “victims” (or “survivors” once the organisation rescues them) acquires major political implications. As expressed by Rav Lipschitz, the founder of Yad l’Achim:
These girls are in distress. […] They feel that if they can’t defeat us in war, they can wipe us out this way. We must fight this threat as well; it’s a matter of national security (Yad l’Achim 2010).
Citizenship and gender
Marriage and divorce codes are crucial in the construction of identity boundaries, and regulate who does and who does not belong to the “imagined” community (Anderson, 1991; Yuval-Davis 1997:48-49).
As declared by the Law of Return, citizenship is hereditary and the only conceivable way for an “outsider” to join the national collectivity is by intermarriage – conversion to Judaism does not give the automatic right to become an Israeli citizen – (ibid.: 27). Therefore, social endogamy regulated by religious and cultural codes are “crucial in constructing boundaries” (ibid. p. 49); as a result, some authors prefer to replace the term intermarriage with “out-marriage”, underlining the characteristic of “marriage outside of the group” (Bachi 1976:51 cited in Kanaaneh 2002:44, italics added). In this light, intermarriage has also being described as an act of “ex-patriation” (Tabili 2005:801), shifting from one homeland to another.
Within this framework women bear the responsibility of a Jewish collective identity (Yuval-Davis 1997:45). Women play a key role in the biological and cultural reproduction of collective Jewishness through customary and religious laws of matrilineality (ibid.: 26-27). State-controlled sexuality assures the preservation of ethnic boundaries and quasi-cultural eugenicist control of marriages and, consequently, of births. The fact that miscegenation (unfortunate term from the Latin: “to mix + kind” or “to mingle + race”) and intermarriage are controlled by state legislation and discouraged by religious propaganda demonstrates that women’s sexuality is controlled and young women are being taught the “appropriate behaviour” [staying away from Arab men], while “exerting control” and supervision “over other women who might be constructed as deviants” [social cases], reporting them to specific authorities, or contacting the organization itself (ibid.: 37).
In the case of the Jewish Israeli state, women’s major role in the “making of the nation” is amplified by the biological and cultural reproduction of its Jewish citizens. Israeli women carry the “burden of representation” because they are constructed as “bearers of the [Jewish-Israeli] collectivity’s identity” and citizenship (ibid.: 45).
In an interview issued for Hadarim, Mahmud Darwish, the leading Palestinian poet, stated that: “it is impossible to ignore the place of the Israeli in my identity […] Israelis have changed the Palestinians and vice versa. The Israelis are not the same as they were when they came, and the Palestinians are not the same people either. Each dwells inside the other […] The other is a responsibility and a test […] Will a third emerge out of the two? This is the test” (Darwish, cited in Brenner 2001:91, italics added).
As my MA thesis aimed to show, intermarriage is one of the “tests” Israeli society is facing and will continue to face in view of cultural/social pluralistic attainments. The cultural opposition and segregation that intermarried couples are facing demonstrates the resistance to a new formulation of Palestinian/Israeli identity. Arabs/Jews intermarried couples have a very important role to play in the formulation of a “third identity”, and in the development of a sustainable cultural change, creating an increasingly pluralistic society. In light of such difficulties, the formulation of a “third” mixed identity may be a first step towards a more pluralistic Israeli society (ibid.). This solution will involve the abandonment of nationalistic agendas (Palestinian and Jewish-Israeli) and the reformulation of social norms within Israeli society.
Abu Saad I., 2006, “State-Controlled Education and Identity Formation Among the Palestinian Arab Minority in Israel”, American Behavioural Scientist, 49:1085-1100
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