Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: The Political
Secondary Theme: Inequality
How are religious ethics and politics intertwined in the contemporary Middle East? What are the new forms in which disaster relief and Islamic charity intersect? How are Islamic principles of giving structured by and how do they in turn structure social and political life in the region? Discussions about the politicization of aid in the Muslim world have been informed by the post-9/11 paradigm. While policymakers and Western media outlets trumpeted the alleged link between Islamic charity and the financing of terror, anthropologists spilled much critical ink against the criminalization of aid in the Middle East and beyond (Benthall and Bellion-Jourdan 2003, Kaag 2008, Petersen 2015). Building on this anthropological literature, yet carrying the discussion beyond the post-9/11 paradigm to address humanitarianism and development (Atia 2013, Elyachar 2005, Fassin 2012, Feldman and Ticktin 2010; Ferguson 2015, etc.), this panel seeks to address the various ways in which aid and charity are politicized across the region.
The politics of giving is already saturated with a hierarchical relationship. The Hadith "the upper (giving) hand is better than the lower (receiving) hand,” fundamental to the Islamic Charity Industrial Complex, is only indicative of this. In examining the national and transnational
power dynamics that frame aid and charity in the Middle East, the papers in this panel offer a new look at the nexus of power, culture, and politics. Participants analyze Middle Eastern countries as both donors and recipients of foreign aid, thereby situating these financial inflows and outflows within the context of national, regional and global politics. Moving geographically across Kuwait, Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Jordan, these papers explore how Islamic mobilization and neoliberalization, market forces and moral values, ethics and politics are articulated in different contexts (Muehlebach 2012). Focusing on forms of giving as diverse as official development assistance, food aid, medical humanitarianism, and animal welfare, these case studies together enhance our understanding of the complex relations between state, civil society and the international market in the contemporary Middle East.
Finally, anthropological approaches to studying the politics of giving can reveal when and where these practices become hegemonic and counter-hegemonic. Whereas social aid can be used by governments and pro-government NGOs to buy off and silence opposition, aid practices by grassroots organizations can also turn into a form of social resistance. Development funds and charitable giving can thus play a role in national and international resilience, helping communities in need in the name of humanitarianism and compassion. Furthermore, the relationship between Islam and human and animal welfare is not as antithetical to Western liberal-secular ideas as policymakers focused on counter-terrorism once assumed. Similarly, by paying attention to how international conventions of aid are simultaneously adapted to local contexts while facing resistance from certain populations, anthropological perspectives bring political contingencies to light.