Zero Anthropology: Top Articles for 2013 That You Probably Missed and Shouldn’t Have

Posted on December 30, 2013 by


This was a year of giant losses, especially with the passing of monumental figures such as Hugo Chávez (March 5) and then Nelson Mandela exactly nine months later (December 5). While Chávez’s successor seems to have rebounded successfully, lengthening his electoral lead in what is already the second election victory for Venezuela’s ruling PSUV since the death of Chávez, Mandela’s legacy is at best much more mixed. We wrote a lot about the legacy of Hugo Chávez, and what could have been said about Mandela and another giant taken from the landscape, was instead said elsewhere. Passing with much less notice, or certainly far less popular grief, was the iron lady of neoliberal authoritarianism, Margaret Thatcher, who died on April 8. The few things that are memorable of her death, and that contrast sharply with those of Mandela (whom she reviled), and Chávez (her antithesis), were: the absence of throngs of millions coming to see her off; the loud jeers, boos, and denunciations shouted at her coffin as it was driven through London; and, the popular “witch is dead” party in London’s Trafalgar Square. The popular verdict came in, and it was one of the few things worth celebrating in 2013.

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On April 13, 2013,at the “Witch is Dead” party held in Trafalgar Square, London, an epitaph for Margaret Thatcher is held aloft, and reads: “Margaret Thatcher, 1925-2013. Blood-sucking vampire, war monger. Destroyer of British industry. Architect of casino-capitalism and welfare for bankers. May you rot in hell!” (photograph by Simon Murphy, Flickr commons).

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On March 7, 2013, by way of contrast, among the millions that came out into the streets in an outpouring of grief at the death of President Hugo Chávez, tens of thousands attended a ceremony at the National Military Academy in his honour (photograph by Eduardo Santillán Trujillo, Presidencia de la República de Ecuador, Flickr commons).

Otherwise, with respect to this site now, it’s no secret, so let me confirm the obvious. Zero Anthropology is no longer a blog–we just use the architecture of one. Since 2011, this site has effectively ceased to function as a “blog,” opting instead for longer, more fully developed articles and research reports, when time is available to produce them, or when we feel there is a pressing need. Otherwise, you will not find us doing daily musings on whatever little topic drifts past our eyes during morning coffee (for that we have Twitter and Facebook…and often not even then). It is therefore not difficult to list our top ten articles published in 2013, when the total number is relatively small: 62. Thus we are establishing our credentials as “slow publishers,” yet often resembling “no publishers”. In fact, we can even say that the next time you will hear from us will be in another year. We cannot say in advance what we will have to offer, since our work is very much contextual, but it is certain there will be a little surprise/gift coming soon.

The Top Ten

Below are some of our most frequently visited articles that were published in 2013, in descending order:

  1. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, or the “Top Thinker” in the World Scouting for the Empire in Afghanistan
    A definite hit with thousands of readers in Afghanistan, this article investigates in minute detail the construction of the public persona of an Afghan contender for power in post-Karzai Afghanistan, one who is also known as an anthropologist, Ashraf Ghani.
  2. The Bad University Department
    A “how to” guide to help you as you go about creating, or maintaining, a bad university department.
  3. The End of Debates About the Human Terrain System?
    What did we really learn from our many debates about HTS? This comes from someone who just by himself authored more than 330 essays on HTS.
  4. Obama is a War Criminal: Clare Daly Speaks for All of Us
    Perfectly stated, this deserved the mass circulation that it received.
  5. Documents: Investigations into the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System
    End of debates, you say? Relating to #3 above, this is a review and summary of the results of key investigations into HTS, with the original reports provided here as well.
  6. The “Arab Spring” and the Seduction of the Western Left
    How large swathes of the so-called “left” in the global north got the “Arab Spring” so wrong, and not more so than with Libya.
  7. Libya: The Second Anniversary of a Bloody Coup
    Libyans have won. What? Libyans have won the right to live in fear, as they have won the freedom to be ruled by countless armed despots each engaged in torture, abductions, and persecution of minorities.
  8. A Pope for a New World: On the Significance of the Choice of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Pope Francis
    Papist much? In what earned some widespread scorn, some of it merited, ironically this article turned out to be significantly valuable for correctly discerning the outlines of what was to come but which many refused to see/believe, some for very understandable reasons. More on this below, as part of a “you see, I was right after all” roundup.
  9. The Great Nothingness of Libya, Two Years After Muammar Gaddafi
    What does “Libya” even mean now?
  10. Colonial Feminism, Liberal “Progress,” and the Weakness of the Left
    Part of a growing, critical literature, and much needed: this article examines the relationship between liberalism, colonial feminism, and NATO’s attempt to provide justification for its continued presence in Afghanistan.

Furthermore…

On Pope Francis, some of the stories that seemed to rescue if not vindicate what was first presented in #8 above, include the prominent news story of a new papal encyclical in which the pope condemns “the new tyranny” of unfettered capitalism–”The message on poverty sets Pope Francis on a collision course with neo-liberal Catholic thought, especially in the United States”. Pope Francis also led over 100,000 people in a vigil that denounced U.S. plans for military aggression against Syria. Those who expected this pope to be a right-wing reactionary, who would further persecute Liberation theologians, would be proven wrong very quickly, as when the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Gerhard Ludwig Müller, paid tribute to the Liberation Theology movement honouring his long friendship with Peruvian theologian Gutiérrez, or, when one of the most prominent Liberation theologians, Leonardo Boff proclaimed, “With this pope, a Jesuit and a pope from the Third World, we can breathe happiness” and the article points out that within days of becoming pope, Francis put Salvadoran Archbishop Romero back on track for canonization as a saint. Meanwhile, the government of Venezuela sent solidarity greetings to the pope. Then the pope also spoke out in defense of Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon on a visit to Brazil. Of the eight prelates that form part of his advisory group, there are representatives from Chile, India, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Honduras. At least to this point the evidence thus far is that, what was discerned early on, from the very message from the Vatican read at Chávez’s funeral, some were far too quick to jump to conclusions that did not see the election of a new pope as a breakthrough event. You heard it first on ZA.

As for the Human Terrain System, far from a total end to debate, we saw a steady stream of news reporting coming out over the course of the year, but much of it not offering anything substantively new. Toward the end of the year, John Stanton published a heavy roundup of what HTS had “achieved” that is quite striking when you see the very disturbing facts all concentrated in one place. We also learned of the spread of human terrain mapping, to Australia‘s Defence Forces and coming back home to serve police surveillance in Los Angeles, just as it has done in New York, and thus coming back full circle to its origins in inner city policing, vindicating one of Roberto González’s key theses on HTS. Remember, when presented with news of this application alone, the social science director of HTS himself called it “scary and troubling”. We also learned that CGI, the octopus-like security and defence contractor headquartered in Montreal, and responsible for recruiting for HTS, was also behind the badly botched “Obamacare” websitevalue for money. We also heard news of a HTS team going to Mexico–presumably the thinking here is that if you are going to fail miserably again, then best do it as close to home as possible. More documents, and further news reports, show that some army leaders had warned of fraud, waste and abuse in HTS. Counterinsurgency theory, dying if not already dead, got a further push into the grave with the new publication of Gian Gentile’s Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency. Gentile also took aim at HTS specifically in an article published online earlier this year. Numerous articles in the US also featured the new book by Vanessa Gezari, which I have not read and thus cannot offer any comment at this time. That book, Tender Soldier, is related to the troubles surrounding HTS and the story of the humanitarian-militarist, Paula Loyd, which has been abundantly discussed on this site four years ago.

Almost Among the Top Ten

Not the top 10, but you might also have missed these, and should not have. These are also ranked in descending order in terms of received visits on this site:

  1. A Russian Lesson on the Anthropology of International Relations
    This is a perspective in international diplomacy that Western mainstream media rarely, if ever, transmit (and in fact this does not come from such media, or what I prefer to call the private information contractors of the imperial state): an anthropological perspective on international relations that challenges Western pretense to civilizational superiority, a posture that aims to standardize and homogenize the world according to the hypocritical mandates of an elitist liberalism in decline.
  2. American Educated Afghans and the Destruction of Afghanistan by the United States: The Case of Zal Khalizad
    If the U.S. and NATO occupation forces work on flawed premises and ignorance of the complexities of Afghanistan, Jamil Hanifi argues that it is thanks in large part to the role of an “American-educated Kabul-centered elite who have participated in the American-led destabilization” of the country. As Hanifi puts it, “Kabul is their Afghanistan”: recruited by the U.S. in the years following the 1978 revolution and now “scouting for and counseling the occupation machinery about Afghan ‘culture,’ the Kabuli blinders of these experts have shaped the structure of American policies and operations aimed at the cultural, social, and physical slaughter of the people of Afghanistan”.
  3. Decolonize Human Rights
    While not one of our own articles–this one was republished from Ajamu Baraka’s website–it was almost as heavily visited as those in the “top 10″ above, deservedly so. Here Baraka develops, as part of an extended project, a critique of Western liberal humanitarianism, and especially its expression in the guise of “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P), as being in dire need of immediate decolonization so that it will not continue to mislead and misinform the public with its simplistic binaries and masked self-interest.
  4. Book Review: Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya – Lessons for Africa in the Forging of African Unity, by Horace Campbell
    We hope to do more in terms of publishing more book reviews on this site, but this was one of the first dealing with a range of books that have come out and that were critical of NATO’s intervention in Libya (and we hope to review more of these in 2014). The conclusion, from Horace Campbell’s own text, is striking given his overall criticisms of Gaddafi that we otherwise do not share–“It is now clearer that the decision to execute Muammar Gaddafi was made to silence one voice for anti-imperialism. Far from humiliating and silencing Africans, there is now a realization that the work for the freedom and unity of Africa must be engaged with even more clarity. The execution had the opposite effect, and the work of expelling foreign military forces from Africa will now be more intense”.
  5. Encircling Empire: Report #20—The Chávez Years
    This report’s focus is on Hugo Chávez Frías, featuring appreciations and understandings of his political work, the accomplishments achieved during his time in government, archival documents and archived speeches and writings by President Chávez, videos, and news reports. Emphasis is placed here on items that are freely available on the Internet, rather than books and journal articles (which are usually even more informative and comprehensive).

Deserved Another Chance

A range of other articles were, we think, of especial importance and probably did not get as much notice as they deserved, given their relevance, the subjects discussed, and the ideas that were offered. These include, in no particular order:

  • Getting It Right: Hugo Chávez and the “Arab Spring”
    An examination of criticisms from pretend supporters of Chávez, and his detractors, on how he supposedly lost friends in “the Arab world,” by backing Libya and Syria–we argue why he was right to do so, why his critics have little to stand on, and why outcomes have validated his reading of the so-called “Arab Spring”.
  • Africa, Liberal Humanitarianism, and NATO’s Anthropology
    Dan Glazebrook’s exhaustive review of Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa.
  • When Did Today Begin?
    Another book review of Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa, as powerful as Glazebrook’s.
  • Thoughtful, Respectful, and Progressive: Regarding the “Responsibility to Protect”
    Next to Ireland’s Clare Daly (see the top 10), this was one of the most striking denunciations of Western humanitarian imperialism, and the lies spun about Libya and Syria, to come from a sitting European parliamentarian. We thus showcased the speech of Laurent Louis, and then took apart some of the contentions of a leading Canadian “human rights” advocate on Libya.
  • Encircling Empire: Report #23—Obama’s Scramble for Africa
    This report provides detail on a relatively comprehensive pattern of recent events which, taken together, paint a portrait of what the new scramble for Africa means for the U.S. It is sometimes a very disturbing portrait, at other times comical for the excessive insincerity of the speakers, and in some instances quite underwhelming when the true structural weaknesses of U.S. empire come into view.
  • Never to be a Colony Again: Dignity, Defiance, and Self-Determination
    Zimbabwe is for Zimbabweans. Get used to it. Regards, Robert Mugabe.
  • A Massacre for a Moral Martyr: ‘Person’ versus ‘Population’ in Humanitarianized Afghanistan
    A story about a “U.S. civilian adviser” killed in Afghanistan, abundantly profiled and humanized by our private information contractors, juxtaposed with the many victims of a NATO massacre carried out in revenge for her killing. Next to the case of Paula Loyd, this was possibly one of the more obscenely hypocritical attempts to train media consumers into a life lived at the cost of others, where we are meant to be taught of the super special value of militarists and humanitarian adventurers.
  • Slouching Towards Washington
    How can siding with U.S. empire ever be “moderate”? A critical review of imperial taxonomy and the practices of U.S. dominance over supposed “friends”.
  • Encircling Empire: Report #19—Militainment
    This report’s focus is on militainment, the marriage of the media and the Pentagon in producing various offspring in the form of movies and of gushing media coverage of the military. Given the layers of distraction, veneration, and celebrity-gawking surrounding the “Petraeus scandal,” that story continues to make an appearance here. In particular, this report focuses on some of the major national security movies produced by Hollywood boosters in 2012, spotlighting Argo, Battleship, and Zero Dark Thirty.
  • Thirty Years After the U.S. Invasion of Grenada, the First Neoliberal War
    Why the U.S. invasion of Grenada still matters, 30 years later.

Here We Are, Still

2013 also witnessed some important changes among the writers for ZA. John Allison, former HTS insider, posted his two final articles (here, and here). Later I was joined by two great writers, Brendan Stone, who along with myself is also in Canada, and Donnchadh Mac an Ghoill, in Ireland. Jamil Hanifi, Afghan anthropologist based in the US, remains with us, and we look forward to further dissections of the failed occupation of Afghanistan as it begins its retreat, under way already, and will quicken in 2014.