News of anthropologists in the military starts circulating on Muslim website
A few days ago, Pal Nyiri forwarded to me another article on anthropologists in the military. I was taken aback to find that it was published on one of the websites I am already following for a little project of mine (on cyberfatwas on new reproductive health technologies), www.IslamOnLine.net.
There is little info about IslamOnLine in its “about us” section, but according to Gary Bunt (author of Islam in the Digital Age: E-Jihad, Online Fatwas and Cyber Islamic Environments), IslamOnLine.net is a Doha, Qatar-registered website in Arabic and English that is guided by Qatar-based Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi and staffed by some 100 people based in Cairo, including graduates of al-Azhar University. It has a lively “Ask the Scholar” section in which websites users can pose a question and receive a personalized fatwa (i.e. a nonbinding opinion by an expert in Islamic jurisprudence) on any number of issues, ranging from the extraordinarily mundane to the peculiar but still extraordinarily mundane (which is a nice counter to the ideas about what a ‘fatwa’ is that circulate in Western pop culture, where it seems to be synonymous with controversial death sentences). It also has a news section with info about and commentary on contemporary issues affecting Muslims, including of course the Global War of Terror.
It is in this news section that the item about anthropologists in the U.S. military appeared on October 18th. The article, in English, starts out reading like a near-verbatim version of original NY Times article about anthropologists in the military, and it covers the Network of Concerned Anthropologists, but goes on to pair the regurgitated NY Times coverage with some quotes from Professor Donald Abdallah Cole about anthropologists and the military. Cole is an American anthropologist and convert to Islam who did his original dissertation research in Saudi Arabia and now is a senior faculty member at the American University in Cairo. Here are the last three lines of the article:
“Dr. Cole believes Arabs and Muslims should be wary of western anthropologists.
‘But we should be wary of everything that is written about us, whether by local people or by foreigners. To be wary does not mean to reject. We need to read what anthropologists say about people in the developing world and what they say about Islam and Muslims,’ he explained.
‘We can expect to trust the reliability of professional academic anthropologists who are subject to peer review and evaluation. But for others who are not fully professional, we need to be more careful.'”
I scoured the site carefully for a version of this story in Arabic, but so far I haven’t found one. I’ll be sure to post if I do. However, this puts us on notice that the story about anthropologists in the U.S. military has started to circulate in the Muslim cyberspace.
I’ll be going to Cairo in a few months and I’m simultaneously looking forward to and dreading finding out what people are saying about anthropologists. I admit that I worry that it will make it that much harder to work as an anthropologist in the Arab world. Half of my Egyptian friends and informants already suspect that I’m really working for the CIA, and this will fuel their suspicions. No, wait, maybe it doesn’t matter since they already reckon I’m either working for the U.S. government directly or being used by it indirectly.
It’s great to have a spokesperson like Cole who can temper the skepticism about anthropological ethics in such a climate, but you’ll note that his thoughtful comment, about the professional ethics guiding different kinds of anthropology and the fact that every representation deserves careful scrutiny, was rendered into a simplistic “Arabs and Muslims should be wary of Western anthropologists.”