EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006


Europe and the War on Terror

Location Wills 3.32
Date and Start Time 21 Sep, 2006 at 11:30


Pat Caplan (Goldsmiths College, University of London) email
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Short Abstract

How may anthropologists analyse the War on Terror? What concepts or methods can be deployed? This workshop will discuss these questions and compare responses to the War on Terror by various European nations.

Long Abstract

How may anthropologists analyse and understand a major issue of our time like the War on Terror, including its construction and consequences? Can well-honed topics such as risk, discourse, social control, witchcraft, xenophobia, violence, the state, global capitalism, human rights, evil, the body, the politicisation of religion and religious fundamentalism provide any useful guides? What about terrorism's theatrical or performance elements or the role of the media? Is comparison a useful technique to deploy, for example the different responses to the global War on Terror by various European nations and responses to these by people in and/or from others parts of the world, or the comparison of Europe with the USA? Can we compare the post 9/11 events with earlier forms of anti-terrorism? How may research on these questions be carried out, given that standard anthropological techniques may be inappropriate? And, given that we cannot escape the personal ramifications of the War on Terror, where does anthropological reflexivity lie? This panel will seek to discuss some of the above questions, but is by no means confined to them. Papers in either French or English are encouraged from a geographically and theoretically wide range of participants.

Chair: Cris Shore
Discussant: Pat Caplan


Legal anthropological perspective on human rights and the war on terror

Author: Reetta Toivanen (University of Helsinki)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper discusses the War on Terror from a legal anthropological perspective. The study of war on terror and its consequences for the fulfilment of human rights obligations poses many challenges for anthropological research. In order to gain access to the theme which is enclosed by hegemonic knowledge on security at least two main areas have to be studied. The first area consists of the examination of the praxis of decision-makers in producing authoritative knowledge around security issues and on the topic of "balancing". The paper addresses the consequences of the production of such power positions for a democratic societal order. Both European and non-European states have overstepped human rights treaties in the course of the development of strategies to combat terrorism. How much have the states actually derogated from human rights in their territories? Who benefits from the authoritative knowledge on anti-terrorism measures and from the ignorance / violation of people's fundamental human rights? The second area consists of the study of the human rights activists and non-governmental organisations. How well are human rights activists informed about the newly created / used loop-holes in the legislations of their countries? Which issues do they address as the most relevant and severe violations of human rights? How / with which methods do they try to challenge the authoritative knowledge? The paper aims at engaging in the on-going debate of the legitimacy of anti-terrorism strategies and to contribute to this discussion an essential grass-roots perspective. At the same time, questions will be asked about the limits of an anthropological approach on this field

Basque social movements on trial: on the slippery line between civil disobedience and terrorism.

Author: Jacqueline Urla (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper proposes to examine the "macro-trial" currently underway in Spain against Basque civil disobedience organizations for insights into some of the consequences that can be engendered by the war on Terror. This macro trial, popularly known as 18/98, is an unprecedented development in the Spanish state's war on Basque political violence. Under the auspices of a wide ranging investigation initiated by Spain's National Tribunal, over two hundred people, many of whom are well-known scholars, teachers, lawyers, and journalists, have been arrested since 1999 and accused of belonging to the infrastructure of the terrorist organization, ETA. This paper will examine the rationale that has guided these arrests, some of the ways in which the trial has unfolded, and some of the protests that have formed against the trial. I draw on the analysis of anti-terrorist discourse offered by Zulaika and Douglass (Terror and Taboo) to explore some of the key conflations that have made the line between legitimate political dissent and terrorism increasingly fuzzy. Discourse analysis is one potent tool for not only analyzing but intervening upon the war on terror. Another key anthropological tool is ethnographic knowledge of processes and perspectives that are ignored in the mainstream media. As scholars we can help to broaden the range of perspectives available on these complex political conflicts. My analysis broadens out from this specific case to synthesize what some of the anthropological work on Basque political violence-- Zulaika and Aretxaga in particular -- has contributed methodologically to the study of terrorism and what some of the risks that this study can pose for anthropologists.

From Edgware Road to Brixton on 7/7: anthropological observations on the discourse of 'madness' in relation to 'the war on terror'

Author: John Curran (7bn)  email
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Long Abstract

Michel Foucault stated, when writing on the birth of modern psychiatry in the 18th Century, that "madness is childhood". In other words, to care for the insane was the equivalent of caring for a child. Like a child, the insane lacked rationality and maturity leaving them in need of moral authoritarian guidance in the hope of reforming them back into socially acceptable individuals. This paper will argue that a common discourse used to understand the "war on terror" since 9/11 within politics, the media, the arts, academia and the everyday, is based on this concept of "madness". The concept allows for the 'other' to appear as irrational and therefore a threat to the stability of a moral consciousness, be it on an individual, group, national or global scale. The ease with which this discourse is used allows it to be appropriated by individuals and groups of both the 'pro-war' and 'anti-war' dispositions. Therefore, it transcends boundaries of opinion.

This paper will explore whether a discourse of "madness" goes further than one group dehumanizing the other group, by discussing whether it is also located within ourselves on an unconscious level. I will illustrate this point by presenting an ethnographic description of my walk home after the July 7th bombings in London. The walk started in Edgware Road and ended in Brixton. It illustrated a key point that normality in the immediate post-bombing environment becomes abnormal. Many everyday activities such as eating lunch in a restaurant or exercising in Hyde Park were deemed "mad" by those I chatted to while walking: normality therefore becomes irrational. On a broader scale, the day led me to question whether experiencing "terror" in my own back yard allowed individuals the "privilege" of claiming membership to a club of authenticity; in other words, to be bombed makes me belong.