Correspondence with an Anthropologist

(Updated 9/17/2014)

Dr Maximilian Forte recently shared an article which he believes is very important. He shared Sophia Tesfamariam‘s recent blog on Zero Anthropology Facebook page with the following note:

“This article outlines and denounces the work of US anthropologists in Eritrea in US-funded campaigns backing political opposition in the country. The author of the piece [Sophia Tesfamariam] is a prominent Eritrean American activist. Those involved in the AAA [American Anthropological Association] should have a close look and perhaps consider further action.

He later posted an essay at ZeroAnthropology.net explaining why he considers her work very important:

…in light of the controversy that erupted with the publication of Sophia Tesfamariam’s outline and condemnation of western anthropologists working to support regime change in her native Eritrea…

Dr Maximilian Forte is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Concordia University, Canada.

Given these circumstances, I decided on a quick read of Sophia Tesfamariam’s publication. In her most recent post, Sophia uncovers information on the identity of funding agencies that support the work of several Western scholars that write on Eritrea. To the readers’ surprise she discovered that Western agencies are the major funding sources of Western scholars. Previously this information was only available by accessing the scholars’ academic CV or LinkedIn profile.

As an example, Sophia gives the names and brief outline of nine distinguished scholars: Tricia Redeker Hepner, Dan Connell, Frank Smyth, David Bozzini, Victoria Bernal, Maryan Van Reisen, Jennifer Riggan, Sara Dorman, Kjetil Tronvoll.

***

Dr. Maximilian C. Forte

Dr. Maximilian C. Forte

As a matter of principle I do not engage with government sympathizers. I believe that anyone unable to comprehend the suffering of Eritrean people until now probably does not deserve my time.

An exception to the rule, I decided to confront Dr Forte. Following is the “correspondence” that ensued in the comment section of his ZeroAnthropology.net posting and continued on Zero Anthropology Facebook page (switched to Facebook after my last comment on the website did not appear):

Me: Claiming a controversy erupting (of all, in academic circles) as a result of a blog publication by Sophia Tesfamariam simply gives legitimacy to work that does not deserve a serious consideration.

Sophia believes that those that disagree and oppose the government of her second citizenship are a collection of “pedophiles” and “rapists”, this by itself should indicate to anyone that Sophia’s blog publications are not worthy of an academic discussion (let alone a controversy).

If there is any controversy (which there isn’t) it is not in the interpretation of facts but in the facts themselves. Sophia’s side of the “controversy” only accepts government version of events, hence they deny all atrocities done by their government including that Eritrean conscription is indefinite (life time) and without pay (did you just compare that to Sweden).

Unless one is willing to entertain the idea that all non-Eritrean government sources are lies and part of a grand conspiracy, and the only source to be trusted is that of the government, Sophia’s arguments are nonsense.

*Switzerland not Sweden

Dr. Maximilian Forte: You have an “interesting” idea about what constitutes and what merits “academic discussion”. Sophia Tesfamariam is a member of the public and is a prominent political representative for her country–yes, an Eritrean who defends the Eritrean government. Any anthropologist who restricts discussion to fellow academics alone, and does not bother consulting people like Tesfamariam and the many others like her who are speaking up, is no anthropologist and therefore there would be no basis for an academic discussion. You seem to instead dedicate yourself to criticizing the critic in a tu quoque and ad hominem set of responses, that rather expose your own weaknesses. As for non-Eritrean sources, having had the experience of interacting with David Bozzini, I would recommend the strongest of caution, especially when concerning a state that is highlighted by the greatest military power on earth as an adversary. There is otherwise nothing at all in your comment that sways me; my only impression is that Tesfamariam makes you growl. So what?

“did you just compare that to Sweden [Switzerland]”

If you had read and understood this article, or even just the basic thrust of ZA, then surely you would not be asking such a question.

On a related issue: I find it curious that the Eritrean “regime” has distributed arms to the masses…something one normally would be ill-advised to do if you distrusted your people’s sentiments. So no, no comparison with either Sweden or Switzerland.

Me: 1. I critique Sophia Tesfamariam’s work based on “content”. Sophia Tesfamariam’s blogs (and other works) are not worthy of creating any academic controversy as you claimed because they are mere propaganda lacking credible facts worthy of an academic consideration.

On the other hand, listening to and understanding Sophia Tesfamariam (and other pro-government viewpoints) is a worthwhile and necessary exercise to understanding current Eritrea.

2. You recommended “strongest of caution on non-Eritrean [government] sources,” saying this is significantly different from completely and arbitrarily discounting all non-Eritrean-government sources as lies and part of a grand conspiracy (as I claimed Sophia Tesfamariam and similar pro-Eritrean-government people routinely do).

3. In reference to Eritrean government distributing arms to its citizens (creating a “civilian-militia”). I am surprised you brought this fact to show the popular support Eritrean government enjoys. Arms distribution to population hardly qualifies as an index of popular support. Part of the argument with “indefinite conscription” in Eritrea is that citizens (of age) are armed, adding the elderly and few remaining “civilians” in cities to the conscription list only increases the severity of “indefinite conscription”. Perhaps a better index of popular support would be if the approximately 4,000 refugees fleeing Eritrea every month were to decide NOT to flee Eritrea.

Dr. Maximilian Forte: 1. “they are mere propaganda lacking credible facts worthy of an academic consideration”–and yet, this sounds exactly like mere propaganda, and since you do not appear to be an academic, you are presuming a lot in instructing us on what we should consider.

2. “You recommended “strongest of caution on non-Eritrean [government] sources,” saying this is significantly different from…”–I know what I said, why are you repeating it?

3. You have not proven any of the “facts” here, you merely assert them, along with the dubious label of “indefinite conscription,” which makes utterly no sense at all unless you are implying that the whole population is in a barracks and nobody is growing food or going to school.

There is “no grand conspiracy”–that is very loose and foolish talk, usually employed by the ignorant, by those in denial, and by reactionaries.

The point is that I linked to that article to begin with, so that others could study it further. In the case of Bozzini, as I learned on my own, Tesfamariam could have added even more. This represents the start of a research process, and not the end of it. Otherwise, I am really not interested in these time-wasting affairs where one throws around terms like “propaganda” and “conspiracy” in such a lazy manner. So don’t expect any further discussion if this how you intend to continue.

3 thoughts on “Correspondence with an Anthropologist

  1. Your thorough analysis as a fair and honest researcher/Anthropologist has truly impressed the many followers you have including myself. Eritrea has a lot of enemies, especially since the 1998 border war but in return it has more proud children that stand up for the truth and will never allow ant-Eritrea elements to penetrate the psyche of it’s existence as a nation. In order to understand the development of Eritrean nationalism as a separate identity, that encompasses a range of linguistic, cultural, religious and ethnic diversities one has to be very aware of it’s rich history including the EPLF and you sir seem to have done your homework well. As far the conspiracies against Eritrea I can say that it was even worse while our struggle for independence going on so it should come as no surprise that the enemies of Eritrea through, press freedom, religious freedom, human rights and other modern day tactics to enslave Africans will attempt to defame and mis-characterize this great nation. Using sellout Eritreans is the biggest tool that they have so the continued attack will go on, but a majority of Eritreans including the silent ones are very much aware of what is going on. That is why Eritrea continues to develop and as the 2015 MDG is approaching us it is one of the few developing nations that will meet it’s goals. The rest is history and I hope that you can continue to engage the people, the leaders and institutions of Eritrea and come to your own conclusions.

    Thank you sir,
    Eritrean American.

    Like

    • Dear Eritrean American,
      Press freedom, religious freedom, human rights, etc. are fundamental rights that citizens should enjoy. Human rights are not Western imports that Africans should shy away from.

      The Millennium Development Goals country progress reports are ‘self-reported’, i.e. it is not the U.N. but the government of Eritrea that is evaluating progress of Eritrea towards meeting the MDG.

      The Eritrean government does not allow any researchers or journalists into the country, not even a special UN human rights team (http://www.un.org/News/briefings/docs/2013/131024_Eritrea.doc.htm).

      Like

  2. Dr Forte is a shame to his profession – off-handly throwing away academic integrity (and other peers) in pursuit of justifying a long-failed, notorious regime

    Liked by 1 person

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