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Conferences & lectures

Collateral Damages: Living with Unknowing in the Aftermath of the Iraq War

Date & time

Friday, September 18, 2020
3 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.


Nadia El-Shaarawi


This event is free


Sociology and Anthropology


Chris Hurl



Sociology & Anthropology Speakers Series

Register via Zoom.

In its common usage, “collateral damage” is a military euphemism that renders civilian injuries and deaths agentless and blameless when they are judged to be a byproduct of military necessity.

In this talk, Nadia El-Shaarawi will subvert the concept by returning to the root meaning of collateral, which literally means “together with,” to trace Iraqis’ multiple and enduring relationships with the U.S. empire before, during and after the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq.

In doing so, El-Shaarawi will seek to tell a different kind of war story (Nordstrom 1997), one which posits the lived experiences of Iraqis as central to the politics of conflict and exile. She will argue that the war and humanitarian responses to the resulting “Iraqi refugee crisis” were characterized by a politics of unknowing that sought to obscure or erase Iraqis’ own experiences in many ways.

El-Shaarawi will draw on ethnographic fieldwork and testimony-based research with Iraqis living in urban exile in Cairo, Egypt to illustrate the lived effects of unknowing as a technique of war and empire.

About the speaker

Nadia El-Shaarawi is an assistant professor of global studies at Colby College. She is a cultural and medical anthropologist who specializes in transnational forced migration, humanitarian intervention and mental health in the Middle East and North Africa.

Her current book project, Collateral Damages, analyzes how, in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion, Iraqi refugees in Cairo negotiated uncertain conditions of protracted urban exile and how interactions with global and international institutions and policies, especially refugee resettlement, had implications for mental health and well-being.

In collaboration with Maple Razsa, El-Shaarawi is also working on Insurgent Mobilities, a collaborative ethnography of the Balkan Route that refugees travel to reach Europe. In contrast to narratives that present the route as either a humanitarian or border “crisis,” Insurgent Mobilities explores what’s revealed by viewing the route from the point of view of refugees and solidarity activists as they struggle for freedom of movement.

Prior to joining Colby, El-Shaarawi was the Global Migration Postdoctoral Fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University, where her work included research and teaching on the health and social effects of displacement and resettlement.

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