Saturday, January 4, 2014

Ethical Notions and Consideration in the Study of National Cinema, With Palestine as a Case Study

One of my major points of reflection is the notion of scholarly ethics in analyzing Palestinian and Israeli film in conjunction.  In my own perspective, based in anthropology and cinema studies, there is a notion of both exploitation and how to both negate and prevent it.  It is vital to respect and understand that the Palestinians, in the anthropological sense, are quantified as a vulnerable population by virtue of the situation they are placed in.  As such, notions of both primum nil nocere (First, Do No Harm) and Informed Consent play a role in how a scholar should approach interviews and field studies of the Palestinian cinema.  My own guide for such insights have recently been complimented by my mentor Dr. Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban and her text ETHICS AND ANTHROPOLOGY: IDEAS AND PRACTICE.  Here is an excerpt related to post-9/11 ethics in Anthropology related to torture and notions of 'Do No Harm'.

Research  Post September 11, 2001 and Do No Harm What does it mean in practice to ‘avoid harm or wrong’ in the context of the global war on terror?  Fear that anthropologists may have been a part of  ‘intensive interrogation” arose with  suspicions that they may have placed a role in the torture of suspected terrorists. Heated public debates followed, of right and wrong where American security interests were threatened.  The war in Iraq, launched in response to false accusations of weapons of mass destruction, and the arrest, detention and torture of  Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison were emotionally debated in the U.S. The revelation by Seymour Hersh that The Arab Mind, written by Israeli anthropologist Raphael Patai, was the source for cultural information in interrogation at Abu Ghraib caused some anthropologists to reflect upon the potential dire consequences of their research and publications. Documented acts of cultural humiliation, such as forcing detainees to wear women’s underwear or to simulate homosexual acts (Greenberg and Dratel, 2005), suggested a cultural menu drawn from sources like that of Patai where sexual honor and shame was a centerpiece of his analysis. It is a well-understood fact that anthropologists, along with every other social scientist or writer, has little to no control over how their writings are applied in social engineering or policy decisions. But in this case it was the journalists that took the lead—as was the case with the Darkness in El Dorado controversy. It was revelations by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker magazine (May 10, 2004) that The Arab Mind was a major source for cultural knowledge in the use of tactics and interrogation at Abu Ghraib (1), The AAA’s Anthropology News appropriately solicited commentators but those who responded focused on the general silence of the social science community. Floyd Rudmin (2005) argued that part of  the ‘do no harm’ admonition calls upon researchers to anticipate that their findings might be abused and take effective steps to prevent or stop the abuse. What those steps would be is unclear as published works are in the public domain and not subject control of their use. Rudmin further argued that professional codes of ethics over-ride demands of employers to perform unethical acts.  As it turned out, no direct anthropological connection was disclosed to the allegations of participation in torture.

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