Jihadi Anthropology

Over at Savage Minds, there’s an interesting post on the merits of anthropologists hanging in the field with jihadists. It quotes Roxanne Varzi wondering how to contextualize jihadi videos:

These strike me as a rich source of information about a culture that is otherwise inaccessible to anthropologists: jihadi martyrs. How would you go about developing a critical anthropological methodology to reading these video texts?

Varzi then says, apparently, that she wouldn’t do it without an ethnographic component. Which makes Adam Fish wonder:

Let me get this right. I gotta hang out, like, deeply, with jihadi terrorists? As an anthropologist I cannot make a statement about jihadi video production practices without having first squeezed my way into their schedule and shared a few meetings over tea with my local jihadist? I’d love to, frankly, but I doubt I can network into their cliques.

Two relevant questions seem to be missing from this discussion.  Wouldn’t the Human Terrain program make this a wee bit more problematic and dangerous (methinks jihadists probably know about it). And secondly, even if no Human Terrain anthropologists were working in a war zone, there would still be a huge risk factor. It’s not insurmountable–journalists find a way to talk to jihadists–but it’s there, which Fish seems to ignore.

3 Responses to “Jihadi Anthropology”

  1. Adam says:

    I certainly don’t ignore it. I note the Frontline documentary where a journalist does just that. I just doubt anthropologists of a certain ilk have the guts to do hang tight with jihadists.

  2. Keith Kloor says:

    Sorry, I read your post twice more and I don’t see any evidence of you recognizing the high personal risk. The Frontline documentary you reference is pretty indirect, certainly not an explicit acknowledgment.

    BTW, just your name alone is enough to get your head handed to you–literally–should a jihadist want to make a video of it. I’m sure the jihadist would note the irony, too.

  3. Chris G. says:

    Yeah I also saw that Frontline documentary and it should be noted that the journalist was from the region and was familiar with the languages.  Even then, he came VERY close to having his head cut off and had to get out of there quickly at the end before the incoming foreign fighters decided to take his head.  For a non-Native it is next to impossible to join them.  Even Western wanna-be mujahadeen Muslims have an extremely hard time getting into training camps due to the amount of spies that also want to get in. 
    So for a non-Muslim of European decent, it would be insanely hard to get anywhere near them without getting killed. It should be noted that alot of white non-Muslim journalists tried doing exactly this and died trying to do it in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.  
    I’ve only seen a small handful of successful interviews with Muslim extremists done by Western jounralists.  

    For that reason in my own research on extremists, I only do it through the internet.  It’s just way too dangerous to do it otherwise.

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