Dr. Rat: Defender of the Rat People

dr ratIt may be necessary for me to file a legal change of name, to Dr. Max Rat, which oddly enough has a pleasant ring to it, and nice symmetry. Before I misrepresent anyone, especially rats and haters of rats, let me say that this is a name I have given myself as a result of a recent exchange on this blog, one of too many that have occurred as a result of the attack on, and then death, of Paula Loyd, an American army reservist and anthropologist who was employed with the Human Terrain System in Afghanistan. She was set alight by Abdul Salam on November 4, 2008, and died on January 7, 2009, in Texas, as a result of her injuries. Salam was executed while in detention, at the hands of a mercenary, Don Ayala, who has since pleaded to “voluntary manslaughter” (manslaughter, you can hear a man’s laughter in this) and will likely get a light sentence this coming May.

The story refuses to die, and many commentators want to persist in raising it with me, time and again, until — it seems — I can learn to grieve like them, to grieve like an American for an American. little2sayGiven my own general fed-up-itude with the discussion, which was almost always conducted with great acrimony and on a personal level, arguing with people who barely spent a moment trying to understand anything I said, I closed the comment function on each of the Paula Loyd stories after a while. This is not a Paula Loyd blog, this is not the place for a soap opera to be played out concerning her life. Nonetheless, the latest exchange, and the reaction it provoked, was interesting to me and I decided to replay it here, on the front of the blog, with a couple of additional notes at the bottom. The exchange occurred today, between a certain “Satchel” and myself. (That’s right, a rat got into an argument with a bag, a rat who collaborates with a seagull — that’s the Internet for you.) Satchel posted his/her comments on my “About the Blogger” page, probably because there was nowhere else to post it (although the report of Don Ayala’s plea in court is still open to comments). Satchel, I have problems with your message, not with you (especially since I do not know who you are). You should feel welcome to come back and post a rebuttal, and I guarantee you will have the final word.

ratere publicity

[Previous posts dealing with issues arising from the attack on Paula Loyd are:

  1. “Civilian Contractor” Pleads Guilty to Voluntary Manslaughter of Afghan Detainee
  2. John Stanton: Hamas’ IT Tops Human Terrain System IT in Internet Capability, Savvy (2.1)
  3. Gassing Puppies, Burning Women, and Playing Tennis
  4. The Unreported Death of Staff Sgt. Paula Loyd of the Human Terrain System: Third Researcher to Die
  5. Human Terrain System: Murder, Espionage, Paranoia
  6. On the conduct of military “contractors” in Afghanistan: In the words of Paula Loyd (1.7)
  7. Me Today … You Tomorrow
  8. Selectively Outraged, Half Humane, All American (1.7)
  9. HTS “Contractor” Who Murdered Afghan, Now in Custody, Awaiting Trial (plus Stanton’s sixth article on the Human Terrain System)
  10. Is the Human Terrain System Imploding? (Let’s hope so.) — John Stanton’s fifth article on HTS
  11. Updated: Human Terrain Researcher Set on Fire in Afghanistan; plus new Articles on the Human Terrain System]


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Submitted on 2009/02/12 at 9:31am

“[Salam] … lit his jug on fire and engulfed the 36-year-old Loyd in flames

The attack on [Paula] Loyd, who died in a Texas hospital on Jan. 7 after a two-month struggle for her life, has reverberated from the Wellesley campus, where people grieve for the energetic scholar who seemed to be a natural peacemaker, to national academic circles, where anthropologists carry on a heated debate over whether social scientists should be working for the military, to the Afghan mountains, where soldiers vow to give meaning to her death by fighting on.

Then in a twist of events out of the Wild West, upon seeing the extent of her injuries, “…her fellow researcher shot and killed the man [Salam]…”

Yet you write:
“Salam got murdered in his own country by foreign occupiers,” Maximilian C. Forte, assistant professor of anthropology at Concordia University in Quebec, wrote on his website, Open Anthropology. “Try, just as an experiment, to see things from that angle for a moment.”

Salam murdered a woman by setting her on fire. Why do you defend this rat person? His type also kill girls going to school in Afghanistan. Remove the borders consider us all citizens of the world. Salam still deserved to die.

Or keep the borders in place, and consider that I should torch an Illegal Immigrant Occupier here in the US? Will you bring your PhD and come defend me?

Some people need to be made dead. Salam was one of those. Don’t let your cerebral existence in the ivory towers of academia, and your political leanings whatever they are, prevent you from seeing that.


DR. RAT (aka Max Forte):

Submitted on 2009/02/12 at 1:25pm

If this is an ivory tower, and I am here, then note that you are also here with me. Please drop the petty jealousies and the smug anti-intellectualism, and then maybe we can have a respectful conversation. I don’t know what your job is, and I promise not to class your thinking as that of a dental assistant if that is what you do.

Your intervention here is wrong on so many levels that I don’t know where to begin, or why I should have to explain once more what I have already written about at great length many times already.

Your comparison of foreign military occupiers who have killed thousands of locals, and Mexican tomato pickers in the US, is foolish and extreme beyond repair, and the fact that it represents such a desperate reach indicates to me, and to you too, that you know your argument is shaky, to be polite.

“Salam murdered a woman.” That’s how you choose to present it, and it’s not the only way that it can be presented. It serves your purposes, and that vulgarized feminism that serves imperial purposes, to present this as a gender issue. I say “Salam murdered a foreign occupier.” I am not incorrect, and I absolutely do not, and will not retract what is a statement of fact.

Do I like Salam? I don’t know the man. You don’t know the man. We will never hear from him. His story remains a mystery. But, that doesn’t stop you from charging in with your assumptions that he belongs to a “type” that “kills girls”. Remove the borders and consider us all citizens of the world? How very convenient for you! Then in that case let’s see the Taliban given full and free rights to carry out their campaigns in shopping malls in Los Angeles, and in the countryside of Wisconsin, in a world without borders.

Let me submit to you that you could not give a shit about a world without borders, your aim is instead a world without opposition, where your movement alone remains unimpeded.

So why shouldn’t I defend the “rat person” who fights to resist foreign occupation, who does nothing worse than your countless high altitude bombings and white phosphorous bombings have done to his people, and to the people of Iraq, where your cluster munitions have wiped out whole families…why shouldn’t I? It’s clear why, because you would prefer that I defend “rat persons” like…yourself, and the other fools who stomp around Afghanistan as if it was their personal, private real estate.

If you don’t like it, then stay the fuck out of Afghanistan, and you won’t get killed.

Now, was that too “Ivory Tower” for you, or were you actually able to follow this time?

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There are three things that I should add.

One has to do with what I admit is an attractive, compellingly humanistic appeal to a world without borders, as Satchel tried to do above. In such a world, only two things matter: Paula Loyd was a human. Wait, that’s just one thing. In such a world, Abdul Salam is also a human being, not a rat. We thus have a story of two humans, no states, no borders, no flags, no “local” and no “foreign.” When I constantly make reference to Salam as a local fighting against foreign domination, I am using and reinforcing the language of nation-states, sovereignty, borders, etc.

Or am I? After all, this is not a world with just humans, and just inter-personal interactions. Loyd was where she was thanks to the workings of geopolitics, state power, and a rebordering of the world being effected by her home government. You can remove the borders from your mind, but you cannot get away with decontextualizing an analysis of things as they are. And what you cannot do, as a good cosmopolitan humanist, is elevate one side to humanity, and degrade the other side as rats. That’s another border, not an anti-border.

Secondly, what I resent most, and this now overlaps with my debates with self-described Zionists both here and in Twitter, is this notion that only one side, only one party to a conflict, only the citizens of certain states possess the property we call “humanity”– “coincidentally,” the citizens of the states with all the wealth and the most firepower. The rest are … rats. The choice of that particular term is loaded with history, Nazi history in fact. What was used against Jews, is now used against Muslims, against “brown” people. Anti-semitism is bad (if directed against Jews, not the other Semites), but Islamophobia and Arab-bashing is alright, because it is the accepted norm. I do not need to obey nor conform to the new Nazi order. I willingly, and gladly defend all rat people, including myself as a rat person.

But what I gather some people wanted to hear most, is this: that I think that Paula Loyd’s death was gruesome, ghastly, tragic and deeply sad. I absolutely do think that. I would not wish her death on the worst enemy, and she was not my worst enemy. I also think that her family, and fiance/husband (I do not know the details here), were grievously injured and traumatized. Her mother was apparently at her side every single day she was in hospital. As someone who has suffered loss, and brutal loss at that, I know that her mother in particular is another victim here, deeply marked for the rest of her life. Paula Loyd’s family did not start the war in Afghanistan, they are not to be held responsible for it, and they are largely innocent bystanders in all of this, who nonetheless have suffered permanent loss. Paula Loyd was her mother’s baby, and her mother had to watch her baby come back to her burned. It’s really unspeakable. Paula’s mother knows that never again in this life, never again on this earth, will she have the pleasure to see her daughter, hear her voice, or hold her. That is gone, and gone for good (or until the next life depending on your beliefs).

Of course I know these things. And having said them now…what has this achieved?


Having said the above, I personally think that Loyd’s family is making a serious error of judgment in considering involving itself in Afghanistan by supporting Afghan girls going to study at Wellesley (source1, source2). They could be exposing those girls or their families to violent retribution, and should the Taliban succeed in regaining power (a possibility that I think is likely), such a program is almost certain to be torn to shreds. In addition, her family members have also called for a lenient sentence to be handed to Don Ayala, dubbed “her avenger” in one newspaper headline.

Given the heightened concern for, and interest in, issues of women’s rights that this story seems to have provoked, I will say what I said before: there is much work to be done at home, in the U.S. without having to involve oneself in Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch, for example, has recently reported “soaring rates of rape and violence against women” in the U.S. The concern with Afghan men, as “animals” who abuse women, seems more than just a little misplaced, and hypocritical.

Understanding the grief of those who knew Loyd, does not explain or excuse the tendency to act as if Afghanistan is their personal real estate, that everything should be made comfortable for them as they engage in adventures abroad, and that they should be able to go to war and yet not have to die. These ideas are simply irrational, and I make no apologies for exposing them as such.

It seems that the most fitting conclusion to this story is that the program for which Paula Loyd work, is effectively being terminated, by her own government.

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12 thoughts on “Dr. Rat: Defender of the Rat People

  1. Maximilian Forte

    I suspected there was a reason for yet another spike in interest in the story surrounding Paula Loyd. I could not figure out the source of Satchel’s quote, which sounded like something I wrote, but with some added details that are incorrect.

    Satchel’s quote comes from a story in today’s Boston Globe:

    Anthropologist’s war death reverberates

    Just for the record, I am not an Assistant Professor. I have tenure, and I am an Associate Professor. My departmental website has not been updated in many ages. The article above is in error on this point.

    The funny irony with the Boston Globe piece is that they also link to my YouTube video of Paula Loyd. While some of the comments rant about my quote (amusing stuff!), what happens when they go to the video? They see me staring right back at them, and a video that serves as a virtual memorial for Loyd, all of the comments having been approved by me, without challenge. The simpler minds will boggle.

    Thanks for the comment above. I was hoping Satchel would return and take me up on my offer of having the last word.

  2. Sandra

    interesting and well-explained counter argument to Satchel’s points. Something that struck me, and maybe you’ve covered it in another post – You mention how the US culture highlights the gender in this tragedy. What is the cultural significance for the Afgan, in choosing a female target?

    1. Maximilian Forte

      With respect to what Salam chose and why, none of us know anything because he was killed and therefore no one could discover an answer to the kind of question you are asking. What we do know is that Loyd’s work in Afghanistan was known to many, or at least anyone with Internet access, that Loyd was working for the Human Terrain System, and that the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. Michael Bhatia was also killed in Afghanistan, and as you guessed, he was male. All we know is that Salam did in fact choose a target, and this target was not just any female, but one who worked as part of the U.S. military occupation aiding counterinsurgency efforts against people like Salam.

      I am wondering if you could answer this question for me in turn: What do you think is the cultural significance in the U.S. that, while other crimes are decreasing, the rate of rapes and domestic violence against women is soaring? See:


  3. Sandra

    Two things pop immediately to mind after reading the article you linked to:

    1 – The statistics gathering changed so there is no way to know whether violence against women increased between the two test dates.

    2 – Women have never been a priority in this country, or even on equal footing to men. So culturally, The violence is allowed to happen.

    Okay, and one more thing pops to mind, perhaps the point of your counterquestion is to make me consider the similarities between US and Afgan society with regard to women.

  4. Maximilian Forte

    Hello Sandra,

    I could not find the same problem you spoke of regarding rape and domestic assault rates. The focus was a two-year period, and over that two-year period in which they gathered the statistics there was a very large increase.

    Back to the original question you raised, since it raises what most other commentators have missed completely/conveniently.

    Paula Loyd was supposedly a cultural specialist when it came to Afghanistan. She also had a degree in anthropology, not an advanced one, but a degree nonetheless. She had spent several years in Afghanistan. According to Paula Loyd herself, she was not subject to the same rules and standards as Afghan women:

    ”Sometimes I’ll be talking to the men in a village and they’ll turn to the interpreter and say, ‘Is that a man or a woman?’ But I haven’t had any problems with them. They’ve all been very nice,” Loyd said….Loyd said Afghans do not expect their societal norms to apply to her because she is not from their culture. ”So the fact that I’m a woman doesn’t mean I need to be in a burka and they can’t deal with me. They take me for who I am, they accept me for who I am. And they’re willing to work with me,” she said.

    She apparently reflected this very thinking in speaking to Abdul Salam. Whatever Afghan norms may be regarding professional women and so forth, Loyd says they were not applied to her. This attack, therefore, cannot be understood as “another example” of how Afghan men treat women, and therefore the focus of so many American commentators is entirely misplaced to begin with — that is, if we believe Loyd.

    If we do not believe Loyd, and most of her online mourners do not realize that they in fact undermine her credibility and her knowledge, then there are only two options available: Loyd was ignorant, and really did not understand Afghan culture, or, she did, she would have expected such an attack, and she was just stupid. Either way, her supposed mourners and sympathizers put her in this position, not me. Keep in mind, none of her teammates apparently thought anything was unusual about a local man speaking to Loyd, since none intervened immediately sensing possible danger.

    Now, what do the many online American critics of Salam like to say repeatedly? The attack on Loyd is representative of their culture, which does not discriminate between local and foreign females, and all independent and professional females are to be targeted for murder. So they know better than Loyd.

    Moreover, they use the opportunity of her death to stereotype and malign a culture. Then why are Americans there? To “civilize” these people, with gun shots to the head?

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  7. Cobalt

    As someone currently deeply ambivalent about an occupation of Afghanistan (since I’m wavering between feeling that international intervention for the sake of safety or human rights can be acceptable contrasted with the deep conviction that setting up puppet governments is a real inexcusable douche move no matter the reason/excuse), I really really appreciate what you’ve been writing here. I’ve found your perspective on this extremely helpful, and I hope you continue getting that perspective out there.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Thanks so much Cobalt, your visits and comments are always appreciated. This is especially true given that in revising a previous post of a few months back, I somehow managed to delete all the comments that went with it, including yours, so that the post itself is now a lot less interesting.

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