Cynthia Mahmood is associate professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame and a great colleague of mine. She is also now a star on YouTube. Here Cynthia explains how she approaches understanding political violence as an anthropologist:
About six minutes in, Cynthia discusses the present case of Pakistan, and expounds further in a press release accompanying the video, U.S. must help calm nuclear-armed Pakistan.
“Right now, we’re finally seeing that the heartland of the region’s instability, in fact, is in Pakistan, and that the problem President Obama is having to deal with is not just what to do about Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, but what to do about the very serious and urgent danger that a nuclear-armed nation is on the verge of either collapse or takeover by radical Islamists.”
Obama spoke about Pakistan’s instability and its nuclear arms at his press conference this week. The latest news is that the US is viewing Pakistan as a distinct problem from Afghanistan even as heavy fighting with the Taliban is going on inside Pakistan.
All the more important, then, to listen more closely to Cynthia’s words. As she wrote last summer in Times Higher Education on Islam’s Unheard Voices:
[T]he United States has created a dangerous myth of “the Islamo-fascist” that bears little resemblance to real activists now carrying the banner of al-Qaeda and other organisations in the Muslim world. They are deeply committed, there is no sign that they will give up any time soon, and a real leader of the United States or any other Western country should have the courage to face who they really are rather than ramping up rhetoric that does more harm than good.
For more on Cynthia Keppley Mahmood, visit her Notre Dame website and see this very good Peacebuilder Profile of her her and life from Beyond Intractability. Cynthia is also editor of the book series Ethnographies of Political Violence from University of Pennsylvania Press. Her own books include Sea of Orange, which covers her work on Sikhs and India, and Fighting for Faith and Nation, which began her work dialoguing with Sikh militants.
You can also get a pdf of her 2001 paper, Terrorism, Myth and the Power of Ethnographic Praxis. Most recently she wrote a powerful piece on her own life, Anthropology from the Bones: A Memoir of Fieldwork, Survival, and Commitment.