SUMMARY:As the US-led global “War on Terror” enters its twentieth year, the physical and epistemological violence it has wrought continues to shape lives and landscapes in Afghanistan and Iraq. A generation of scholars in the field of Middle Eastern Studies have found themselves grappling with the entanglements of the rhetoric and practices of this global war and its effect on terminologies, epistemologies, and ethics in our related disciplines. In its discursive framing, its material roots in colonial realities, its impact on resource and capital extraction, and its effects on mobility, temporality, and space, the “War on Terror” has forced anthropologists, human geographers, historians, and political scientists to push the boundaries of ethnographic and theoretical enquiry. The aim of this roundtable is to take a timely stock of the theoretical insights gained and problematics that persist in scholarly work on Iraq and Afghanistan across the social sciences. Researchers working on these countries rarely find the opportunity to reflect with one another on how the global assemblage of international military intervention and the creation of a shifting target of terrorism has narrowed the focus of our work, yoked these two places together in often violent and superficial ways, and prevented deeper analysis of similarities and divergences.
Though focusing on these two geographic spaces, this discussion is relevant to the wider field of scholars whose work falls under the umbrella of “areas studies”. Two decades of war and its related rhetoric of intervention have shaped the whole of scholarly output in the realm of Middle Eastern Studies, particularly when it comes to the categories of gender, Islam, mobility, and violence. We will dialogue about the many ways scholars have critically engaged these categories, as we pose the following questions: Methodologically, how have historians and anthropologists challenged spatial and temporal boundaries in exploring the genealogy and persistence of this “everywhere war” with no end in sight? How do we account for the scholarly entanglements between knowledge production and intervention? What major theoretical observations have resulted from this work? How might looking at the past as it relates to the present expose contingencies and destabilize categories we treat as fixed, from the state to the tribe to the very definitions of war, insurgency, and terror? Finally, in focusing on the tropes related to intervention, how do we move beyond reinforcing their centrality to generate new avenues of inquiry?