This is a blog about the Western Sahara conflict, from the perspective of someone (that’s me, Nick Brooks) who works in, and visits, Western Sahara on a regular basis.
Western Sahara is a disputed, non-self governing territory claimed by both Morocco, which occupies the majority of the territory, and the indigenous Polisario independence movement, which controls the remainder. Click the map on the left to see the current status of Western Sahara under the 1991 UN-brokered ceasefire agreement, the division of the territory into different zones, and the de facto partition by the Moroccan-built “Berm” that runs through the territory. The map is from the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, the increasingly inappropriately named peacekeeping force; the holding of the long-promised referendum on self-determination for Western Sahara seems increasingly unlikely.
Since 2002 I have been directing a research project in the Polisario-controlled zone (known locally as the “Free Zone”). This project combines archaeology with studies of past environmental change, and aims to understand past social and cultural changes in the region within the context of the large changes in climate and environmental which have affected the Sahara in the past. In particular, the project focuses on understanding how people responded to the last period of desiccation in the Sahara between about 6000 and 4000 years ago (possibly occurring later in Western Sahara than in other Sahara regions). Further details of, and results from, this scientific work can be found on the Western Sahara Project website.
The purpose of this blog, which is not officially associated with the Western Sahara Project, is to discuss issues relating to the political conflict in Western Sahara, and to provide a context within which to do so that is separate from the scientific work. While the logistics of working in Western Sahara demand that one navigate the complex regional politics, politics is politics and science is science. Hence the deliberate separation of science and politics by presenting the former on the official Project website, and restricting the latter to the blog. This blog is a vehicle for my personal views on and observations of the conflict and related issues. It does not represent any unified stance of the Project or those involved in it, or reflect the views of any organisation linked with the Project or any of my other work.
If there is an official Project view on the political situation in Western Sahara, it is that the archaeology has nothing whatsoever to say about the current political situation, and that when archaeology is deployed in order to justify contemporary territorial claims, it ceases to be archaeology and becomes nothing more than pseudo-science and propaganda. Archaeology can tell us much about ourselves and our origins, but it cannot tell us who has a right to live in a particular land. The settlement of such arguments must be based on moral, ethical and legal considerations – they cannot be resolved “scientifically”. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a charlatan or an idiot, or both. If one of the consequences of our research is that more people become aware of the situation in Western Sahara that’s great and I’ll be absolutely delighted, but the focus of the work is strictly academic.
Nonetheless, it is my view that scientists are as entitled as anyone else to voice their political opinions, provided they keep in mind where science stops and politics starts. Being a scientist doesn’t mean you have to be amoral and blind to injustice. This is the spirit in which I blog about the conflict in Western Sahara.
Furthermore, while science is science and politics is politics, the conduct of research within the highly sensitive political context of the Western Sahara, the uses to which research results are put, and the impacts of research findings on the political and cultural landscape of the region, are also legitimate subjects of enquiry. These are not explicitly addressed by the Western Sahara Project, but are tackled here.
So, on this blog you will find material informed by my ethical stance, which is that Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara is illegal and unjust, as well as discussions of how archaeology relates to the wider regional context of conflict and competing territorial claims. Both of these themes are based on my experiences in the region.
Please post comments under the relevant blog entries – I’ve disabled comments on the “About” pages as these have been subject to rants in support of the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara. Such rants are very welcome, but please post them under the relevant blog entries – i.e. the ones that have moved you to post a comment in the first place.