The myth that the Central Sahara is out of control and 'swarming' with terrorists is not only damaging the local economy, but could serve as a pretext to reopen old military conflicts, according to anthropologist Dr Jeremy Keenan, who will be addressing a prestigious ESRC conference at the University of East Anglia on June 22-24. Keenan is director of UEA's newly established Saharan Studies Programme, which was set up between the Schools of Development, Environment, World Art and Museology, and Medicine.
The conference, which is part of this year's ESRC Social Science Week, is believed to be the first of its kind. During the three-day conference, delegates from 25 Saharan countries and from all around the world will listen to 50 diverse presentations on the theme of 'The Sahara: Past, Present and Future.' Topics will range from new interpretations of prehistoric rock art to the responsibilities of oil companies and the tourist industry. In the final session, Professor George Joffé, Director of the Centre for International Studies, Cambridge University, will explain the wider implications of recent political developments in Libya.
Jeremy Keenan, who has been working with indigenous peoples in the region since the 1960s, will discuss the implications of America's 'New Imperialism' for Saharan people. He will tell the conference that peoples like the Tuareg are being incriminated by Western and local military intelligence services, who are fabricating incidents in the Central Sahara to justify a war on terrorism. Keenan claims that there is increasing evidence to show that military agencies, both US and local, have played a major role in fabricating alleged terrorists incidents. Even the kidnapping of 32 European tourists appears to have been aided and abetted by state military forces.
Although much media attention has recently been given to the death or capture of the terrorist leader known as 'El Para,' none of the states/countries concerned have been able to provide any substantiating evidence. "The peoples of this region rely on adventure tourism and visitors to rock art sites," Keenan explains. "When their names are bandied around in connection with so-called terrorist incidents their livelihoods - and potentially their lives - are put at risk."
Keenan will also warn delegates that old animosity to the Central Sahara by governments in the North and South of the region could be rekindled by reports of terrorism, which could be used as a pretext for reprisals against indigenous peoples. He will also be showing the new three-part TV series, 'Saharan Odyssey' in which he presents the cultural heritage, including the rock art of prehistoric civilisations, found in the Central Saharan regions of Ahaggar and the Tassili-n-Ajjer.
Other key issues to be covered at the conference include:
- The state of poverty and the situation of the Sahara's many refugee and marginalized populations;
- Disputed territory of the Western Sahara;
- Looting of the Sahara's cultural heritage;
- New scientific breakthroughs in the understanding of the Sahara's earlier climates and environments;
- New archaeological discoveries;
- The role of tourism – both negative and positive;
- Major developments in historical research.
Source: Eurekalert & othersLast reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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