M. Jamil Hanifi: Questions for Military Anthropology

The following post was submitted by Dr. M. Jamil Hanifi:

I am sympathetic with Dr. Brian Selmeski’s guidelines for participation in the Military Anthropology Network. Anthropology is a way of thinking, an attitude, an outlook, and a demeanor least effected by the mere presence of anthropology courses on one’s college transcript. It is chiefly produced through systematic and cumulative absorption of the protocols and formalities of the discipline together with prolonged, intensive, competent, and dialogic interaction with cultures and societies other than one’s own. The stated anthropological mooring of the Military Anthropology Network requires, at least implicitly, the presence of an anthropological ballpark for the fielding of contributions by its members. Therefore, the borders of this park should be defined by conventional (conservative, if you prefer) as well as progressive anthropological theories, methodologies, and ideologies. The application of various academic concepts such as culture, society, politics, colonialism, imperialism, the military, war, warfare, etc. should be consistent with the principles and standards of our home academic discipline. For a light warm up, we could recall, review, or read the following: (Other suggestions are welcome)

Bohannan, Paul, 1967. Law and Warfare: Studies in the Anthropology of Conflict. New York: The Natural History Press.

Fried, Morton. Marvin Harris, and Robert Murphy (eds). 1967. War: The Anthropology of Armed Conflict and Aggression. New York: The Natural History Press.

Gusterson, Hugh, 2007. Anthropology and Militarism. In Annual Review of Anthropology. Paolo Alto: Annual Reviews. Pp. 155-175 (Includes a comprehensive bibliography of current anthropological literature).

Our discourse would benefit from familiarity with the current status of anthropological discussion and debate about our subject matter available in the various publications of the American Anthropological Association (American Anthropologist, American Ethnologist, Cultural Anthropology, Practicing Anthropology, Applied Anthropology, Newsletter of the AA, etc.—all available online in AnthroSource), and the Royal Anthropological Institute (Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Anthropology Today—available online]). The journals Current Anthropology and Anthropological Quarterly and mainland European anthropological publications are also useful sources.

Here are examples of issues and questions we could discuss in our anthropology ballpark:

Expose what is happening in Afghanistan and Iraq to the theoretical, methodological, and ethical standards of the discipline of anthropology. What are “war” and “warfare” in a comparative perspective? Analytically, is the United States really involved in a “war” in Afghanistan? What would an anthropological analysis of the usages of current political labels “war on terror”, “war hero” yield? How does the structure and operation of the “war on terror” serve the short and long term strategic and security interests of the United States and the global system?

Would not the cause of global peace and security be better served by launching a well planned multinational “Special Forces” police action in response to the elements that are destabilizing the region by resisting the Euro-American presence in Afghanistan than the deployment of more than 70 thousand American troops and the largely wasteful expenditure of one billion dollars every two days while the homeland is straining under 11 trillion dollars debt, decaying infrastructure, and declining institutions?

We could discuss the consequences of the “Special Forces” alternative for Afghanistan. Would not Afghanistan be better off under an explicit and comprehensive international receivership (e. g. a UN mandate)—no shams and pretenses of “president”, “parliament”, “political parties”, “elections”, etc—until the country is fully able to stand on its own political, economic, and security feet? What and how would/could anthropology contribute to the construction and implementation of this model? What could we distill from a bird’s-eye and a bug’s-eye view of Afghan (and regional) history, culture, society, recent and current political dynamics for the prospects of this alternative?


Dr. M. Jamil Hanifi is currently an independent scholar whose long standing research interests focus on the anthropology and history of Afghanistan. He is himself an Afghan, born in Sorkhab, Logar Province. He obtained his Ph.D in Anthropology from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, in 1969. He earned his M.A. in Political Science, from Michigan State University, in 1962. He graduated with a B.Sc. in Social Science, from Michigan State University, in 1960. Dr. Hanifi is also fluent in Farsi/Dari, and Paxtu. He also has reading ability in Arabic, Russian, Tajiki (in Cyrillic), and Urdu. He teaches part time in anthropology at Michigan State University and Lansing Community College. He was formerly a Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Northern Illinois University, from 1969 to 1982. Dr. Hanifi’s research has been partially supported by the United States National Academy of Sciences, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Institute for Afghanistan Studies, in the period from 1982 to 2006. He is also the author of the Historical and Cultural Dictionary of Afghanistan (1976) and numerous articles in journals and encyclopedias. You can read more about Dr. Hanifi here, here, and see his Anthropology of Afghanistan group page.

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