This struck me the first time that I read the Department of Defense’s “Broad Agency Announcement,” soliciting project proposals for the new Minerva Research Initiative. One of the areas of research for which applications are invited is titled the “Iraqi Perspectives Project.” Part of the description of the background of this research field reads as follows:
In the course of Operation Iraqi Freedom, a vast number of documents and other media came into the possession of the Department of Defense. The materials have already been transferred to electronic media and organized. Yet these comprise only a small part of the growing declassified archive and its potential, combined with the open literature. This continuing collection offers a unique opportunity for multidisciplinary scholarship combined with research in methods and technologies for assisting scholarship in automated analysis, organization, retrieval, translation, and collaboration.
“Came into the possession” of the DoD appears to be a way of passively saying that these are documents deliberately taken from Iraq by invading American forces, at roughly the same time as vast amounts of Iraqi national treasures were being looted or destroyed (Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously said at the time, in his cavalier manner, “freedom looks messy”). The Chronicle of Higher Education in an article on July 1, 2008, titled “Controversy Continues to Dog the Deal to Move Iraqi Archives to Hoover Institution” speaks of seven million documents being moved to Stanford University, to a conservative think tank housed there (the Hoover Institution). This has been done over and against the protests of the Director of the Iraqi National Library and Archive.
Given how the current American regime repeats that Iraq is “free and sovereign,” even while occupied and dictated to, perhaps one should not be surprised that Iraqis are also being robbed of their history, as if only Americans can do the job of understanding them for them and the rest of us, as if Iraqi history is only safe when penned by American hands. This is classic colonialism, of the victor writing the history of the vanquished, done in a particularly brazen, public, manner without any room for question, discussion, or even a token apology or promise to one day return the documents.
While the government may choose to “respect” Iraqi “freedom and sovereignty” in this manner…should scholars?
Given some recent, confusing, announcements about a memorandum of understanding having been signed between the DoD and the National Science Foundation, one has to wonder how scholars, in good conscience, could participate in such a program that includes components such as the one above, based on conquest and expropriation. There is a notion that by involving the NSF, researchers will not need to accept “Pentagon money” and will be on a separate track.
Not so fast.
This notion seems to have sprung from confusion, of the kind we find in The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s article, “Minerva Takes Flesh: Pentagon and Science Foundation Sign Social-Science Deal,” wherein we read the following:
But today’s agreement is broader than Minerva: It also creates a mechanism through which the Department of Defense can help to finance other national-security-related proposals submitted to the NSF. In such cases, scholars will have the option to decline the Pentagon’s money.
In case I am mistaken, perhaps a reader can explain how the two statements, in bold above, are not contradictory. On the one hand, the article clearly states that the money will come from DoD, then “DoD” is dropped and replaced with the word “Pentagon,” and we are told that somehow a successful project proposal, awarded DoD money, can allow a researcher to refuse “Pentagon money” (!?) That means the researcher is declining the award, period.
[Update: For the sake of clarity, especially since the lack of it is at the root of the complaint here, I should have added: the article assumes that there will be a separate source of financing for NSF-reviewed national security research proposals. There has been no announcement, no indication that NSF’s coffers would be boosted so it can run a parallel program, and boosted by some agency other than the DoD. The article above leads one to believe that the DoD will supplement NSF funding, and a researcher can refuse that supplement. Again, there is nothing to substantiate that claim.]
As indicated by the NSF in a comment that appears under that article, it is still neither clear nor settled what kind of collaboration will exist between the NSF and the DoD. The collaboration might consist of as little as joint workshops.
But hopefully, if the NSF has any say whatsoever, it should prohibit any projects that involve the illegal use of stolen Iraqi documents, which must be repatriated to Iraq.