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Kabir Tambar – Declarations of Friendship: Nonviolence and the Concept of the Political in the Middle East

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The resumption of warfare between the Turkish state and the pro-Kurdish PKK has led, again, to calls for ceasefire and nonviolent resolutions to entrenched political problems. What ethical imaginaries underlie these calls for nonviolence? In what ways are the ethical horizons developed in these calls concordant with or discomfiting for a liberal understanding of human rights? In this paper I build on scholarship that has critiqued the anti-political effects of liberalism, but I question whether that critique suffices for understanding the demands of nonviolence today. I then turn to what I term “declarations of friendship”: efforts by populations who are targeted as enemies of the state to proclaim their historical fidelity to the state’s foundation and preservation. While such declarations of friendship re-inscribe the rigid and often violently statist narrative of politics, I examine how their mode of address also enables creative and novel ethical possibilities.


Kabir Tambar is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University.  He is a sociocultural anthropologist, working at the intersections of political anthropology and the anthropology of religion. His first book, The Reckoning of Pluralism: Political Belonging and the Demands of History in Turkey, is a study of the politics of pluralism in contemporary Turkey, focusing on the ways that Alevi religious history is staged for public display. More generally, the book investigates how secular states govern religious differences through practices of cultural and aesthetic regulation. Tambar is currently working on a new project that examines the politics and ethics of nonviolence in Turkey.

This event is co-sponsored by the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life; the Department of Anthropology, the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies; and the Middle East Institute at Columbia University.