SFS Professor and Students Explore Soldiers' Views of Iraqi Culture
As a cultural anthropologist of the Arab World, CCAS Assistant Professor Rochelle Davis is following with great interest American perceptions of Iraqis following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. In an effort to better understand the U.S. military's concept of Iraqi culture as well as the experiences of U.S. military personnel in Iraq, Davis and her research group made up of MAAS and BSFS students have sought out active and reserve U.S. military personnel for interviews. The second stage of the project--interviews with Iraqis focusing on their experiences with American troops--is also now underway.
Nearly 50 interviews have been conducted so far which Davis describes as "conversations that allow us to understand from the perspectives of the Soldiers and Marines how they were trained to think about Iraqi culture and society and the ways they independently developed to understand and interact with Iraqis." From these interviews two scholarly articles, authored with the assistance of the student researchers, have been submitted for publication. The project to date has found that the majority of American personnel interviewed believed that the most useful knowledge they possessed about Iraqis and Iraqi culture was acquired not through the cultural training they received in the military, but once in Iraq from other military personnel or civilian Iraqis and translators.
What the interviewees suggested was that knowing something about Iraqis and Iraq—such as the ancient history of Iraq, how they had suffered under Saddam, or the names of famous Iraqi soccer players¬—was important for creating some sort of connection or relationship with Iraqis that allowed the U.S. servicemen and women to understand the situations they were in, allay Iraqi suspicions, and show respect for Iraqis, all of which, in theory, they felt allowed them to better do their jobs."We gain from their experience knowledge of some of the larger issues surrounding military culture and the U.S. occupation of Iraq," reflected Professor Davis. "We have a window into how, in the context of a complicated war, troops conceive of and interact with the people who they came to liberate and who are also the enemy they are fighting."
Professor Davis received a BA in art history from the University of California at Davis and an MA/PhD in modern Arabic literature and anthropology from the University of Michigan. She also studied at the American University in Cairo, the University of Jordan, and Yarmouk University. Davis joined the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at SFS in the fall of 2005 as an assistant professor of Arab culture and society. Her other research explores contemporary Palestinian histories of their social and cultural life prior to 1948.