by M. Jamil Hanafi

[This is a paper that was originally published under the title of “Anthropology and the Representation of Recent Migrations from Afghanistan,” as it appeared in Rethinking Refuge and Displacement: Selected Papers on Refugees and Immigrants, Volume VIII, 2000. Arlington, VA: American Anthropological Association. Eds. E. M. Godziak and D. J. Shandy. Pp. 291-321. Given the intense interest in Afghanistan today, this article is made available on this site in the interest of wider accessibility. Copyright remains with the author.]

The April 1978 revolution in Afghanistan and the subsequent armed intervention in the country by the Soviet Union in December 1979 prompted millions of Afghans to migrate to Iran and Pakistan. About 200,000 of these migrants were resettled in Europe, the United States, Canada, and Australia. Thousands of others have moved to the Gulf States, India, Russia, and Turkey. This paper provides a critical analysis of selected writings by anthropologists regarding these Afghan migrants. With minor exceptions, these writings are passionately political, narrow in scope, anti-Russian, and designed to embarrass the USSR and the Revolutionary Government of Afghanistan. The author argues, however, that the vast majority of Afghans who left Afghanistan were economic migrants and suggests that the anthropological analysis of recent migrations from the country needs to be framed in historical processes, global capitalism, and the Cold-War competition between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Anthropologists often bemoan their perceived lack of impact on public policy and discourse. In the case of Afghanistan, as I will demonstrate, the opposite is true. Anthropologists are products of the ideological environments in which they live; the writings on recent migrations from Afghanistan by anthropologists are framed by passionate politicized discourse.

Ethnography can be seen as a means by which anthropology, or the systematic study and understanding of the human condition, is achieved.1 Ethnographic writings on Afghan migrants have tended to fall into two categories: macro-and micro-specialist writings. Both forms, I propose, are framed by political opposition to the Soviet Union and the post-1978 revolutionary government of Afghanistan. (more…)

The author of Candide knew that this was not the best of all possible worlds. But Voltaire has sound advice about the importance of tolerance, written over two and half centuries ago…

It does not require great art, or magnificently trained eloquence, to prove that Christians should tolerate each other. I, however, am going further: I say that we should regard all men as our brothers. What? The Turk my brother? The Chinaman my brother? The Jew? The Siam? Yes, without doubt; are we not all children of the same father and creatures of the same God?

But these people despise us; they treat us as idolaters! Very well! I will tell them that they are grievously wrong. It seems to me that I would at least astonish the proud, dogmatic Islam imam or Buddhist priest, if I spoke to them as follows:

“This little globe, which is but a point, rolls through space, as do many other globes; we are lost in the immensity of the universe. Man, only five feet high, is assuredly only a small thing in creation. One of these imperceptible beings says to another one of his neighbors, in Arabia or South Africa: ‘Listen to me, because God of all these worlds has enlightened me: there are nine hundred million little ants like us on the earth, but my ant-hole is the only one dear to God; all the other are cast off by Him for eternity; mine alone will be happy, and all the others will be eternally damned.”


Welcome to the Abou Naddara Collection website!

This website offers the complete newspapers published by the Egyptian nationalist James Sanua (يعقوب صنوع, 1839-1912) from 1878 to 1910. In addition, formerly unpublished manuscripts by the same author, articles from newspapers of the period about the journalist and his oeuvre, as well as the decorations he received are also available. Most of the material was directly scanned from the originals published at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, and therefore contains an ample variety of magnificent and colorful lithographs.

It was financed by the Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context” of Heidelberg University and realized in a collaboration of Project B1 “Gauging Cultural Asymmetries: Asian Satire and the Search for Identity in the Era of Colonialism and Imperialism” and the Visual Resources Team of the Cluster’s Heidelberg Research Architecture.

In case you were wondering what kinds of books Bin Laden was reading, at least in his Pakistan compound before his demise, the U.S. Government has provided a list. This is at Some 75 of over 400 items listed were publicly available U.S. Government reports; it seem he could have written a thesis in International Relations while in hiding. It is an odd collection, from current political accounts to the bizarre. I am sure that finding Bloodlines of the Illuminati by Fritz Springmeier will spring several new conspiracy theories. I just wonder how far Bin Laden read into a book of 624 pages…

We moderns devour news as if it were a staple food. Gone are the days when one sat down for coffee in the morning with a daily newspaper. There are still newspapers of every flavor, but news is now the product of digital media. And the news cycle grows shorter all the time. During the American Civil War it might take weeks for reports of battles to be reported in the papers. The telegraph and telephone made the news flow a bit faster, but until digital formats news was always at least a day old, if not more. Now many events are instantaneous. Mobile videos of police brutality go viral in minutes. And the sheer number of news and social media sites could easily fill up surfing all 24 hours of the day.

In the old days newspapers were selective in publishing letters to the editor. Really nasty retorts and profanity rarely made it into print. But most sites today leave space for comments from anyone. The results are pathetic. Rational discussion of issues raised is almost non-existent. Curses and lunatic projections are common. I was reading an Al Jazeera article entitled “How is ISIL expanding?” Al Jazeera disclaims all liability for anything posted as comments and well they should.

Below are some of the comments posted (apart from the spam that have nothing to do with the article). The mentality of some of the individuals matches their inability to write in English. Prejudice über alles in cyberspace:

Start cooking the popcorn as sunni and Shia showdown  looms on the horizon. ……All muslime countries  need to be destabilised and turned  into flea infested wastelands. CIA, MOSSAD  and RAW collaboration achieving excellent results.  (more…)

Commercial giants are playing fast and loose with the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. These days it can be a big juicy Ramadan deal, wherever you live, when you go out after avoiding food and water all day long. Fast food chains are especially eager to break your fast. Somehow I suspect that if the Prophet Muhammad were alive today, he would not order pizza and a coke for iftar. If fasting is only about denying yourself for half a day and then living it up for the other half, it loses all spiritual meaning. There are a number of hadiths recording what the Prophet Muhammad said about the holy month of Ramadan. One of these is related as follows: “When Ramadan enters, the gates of Paradise are opened, the gates of Hellfire are closed and the devils are chained” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim). Modern day businesses are more interested in opening the gates of their franchises and leaving the gates of Hellfire ajar, while quite a few devils seem to have no problem breaking their chains.

Just as Christmas is now about putting presents under a tree and Easter is searching for colored eggs, so Ramadan has become a time to buy rather than contemplate. Capitalism captures religion whenever there is a profit to be made out of a prophet. Restaurants offer special iftar meals, usually with elaborate spreads, and hours are reduced in most Muslim countries so workers can go home and take a nap. Religiosity shines while acting on the ethical principles of the faith takes second place to making sure iftar is exactly at the adhan and not a nanosecond before. This may be the letter of the law, but it misses the whole reason for fasting in the first place.

Then there are the promotions that show the hypocrisy of the appeal. Tsk, tsk British Tesco for inviting Muslims to partake of a Ramadan special like bacon-flavored Pringles. The artificial and the superficial combine to make Ramadan just another shopping holiday.

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