If Truth Be Told: The Politics of Public Ethnography
Didier Fassin is James Wolfensohn Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, a Director of Studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, and the author and editor of many books, most recently, Prison Worlds: An Ethnography of the Carceral Condition.
As an expert witness Jonathan Benthall was confronted with a radical impasse of public ethnography. Having studied Islamic charities in the West Bank, he was called to testify in a U.S. court case in which the defendant was accused of using humanitarian assistance for terrorist activities. Not only was his testimony obsessively scrutinized in the hope of discrediting it, but the court demanded confidentiality. Thus his ethnography was prevented from publicization. Two related cases are finally presented: one in which Benthall produced an expert affidavit in a U.S. lawsuit in favor of Tariq Ramadan, whose visa had been denied allegedly because of his small donations to a Swiss charity funding Palestinian aid committees; the other a trial in which a distinguished U.S. judge and part-time political blogger seems to have prejudged an important issue.