2001 Marshall Scholar Michael Bhatia
Michael with 2002 Marshall Scholar Ken Wainwright in Afghanistan
Michael Vinay Bhatia, a 2001 Marshall Scholar, died on May 7 in Afghanistan, where he was working as a social scientist in consultation with the US Defense Department. Michael was a doctoral candidate in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford. His dissertation, which was titled The Mujahideen: A Study of Combatant Motives in Afghanistan, 1978-2005, was based on 350 interviews with combatants throughout Afghanistan, as well as archival and media research.
Michael was a great advocate for the poor and disenfranchised in conflict zones around the world. In addition to his extensive work in Afghanistan, Michael's research and humanitarian work took him to such conflict zones as Sahrawi refugee camps, East Timor, and Kosovo. Michael cared deeply about improving the lives of those living in the conflict zones he visited. Michael wrote in November: "The program has a real chance of reducing both the Afghan and American lives lost, as well as ensuring that the US/NATO/ISAF strategy becomes better attuned to the population's concerns, views, criticisms and interests and better supports the Government of Afghanistan."
Michael's experiences in Afghanistan are perhaps best reflected through his personal photo essay, "Shooting Afghanistan: Beyond the Conflict," which was published by The Globalist in August 2007. The essay can be found online at: http://www.theglobalist.com/StoryId.aspx?StoryId=6416
In his essay, Michael reflects his love for Afghanistan:"...though I have spent the majority of my time there researching the wars and those involved in it, conflict is not my primary memory and way of knowing that country.... I am compelled to write about experiences and ideas that cannot be placed into analytical paradigms, which do not speak to theories of war or peace, to destruction or to reconstruction, but instead to daily interactions that occurred in the course of research.... I feature photographs that are not placed on the front pages of newspapers or books -- but which reflect the pace and constitution of daily life."
Michael had a distinguished academic career beyond his work as a Marshall Scholar at St Antony's College, Oxford. He graduated magna cum laude in International Relations from Brown University in 1999. After leaving Brown, he received a Scoville Peace Fellowship in 2000 supporting residence at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, DC. After time at Oxford, Michael returned to Brown as a Visiting Fellow at the Watson Institute from July 2006 to June 2007, where he was involved in a research project on Cultural Awareness in the Military, continued to write his doctoral dissertation, and taught a senior seminar on "The US Military: Global Supremacy, Democracy and Citizenship." He has also conducted research in Afghanistan for the Overseas Development Institute, the Small Arms Survey, the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, the UK Department for International Development (via the International Policy Institute, King's College, London), and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
His co-authored book, Afghanistan, Arms and Conflict: Armed Groups, Disarmament and Security in a Post-War Society, was just released by Routledge in April. It assesses small arms and security-related issues in post-9/11 Afghanistan. His edited book, Terrorism and the Politics of Naming, was published by Routledge last September. Stating that names are not objective, the book seeks the truth behind those assigned in such cases as the US hunt for al-Qaeda, Russia's demonization of the Chechens, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is the author of War and Intervention: Issues for Contemporary Peace Operations (Kumarian Press, 2003); and of articles in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Global Governance, Review of African Political Economy, The International Journal of Refugee Law, International Peacekeeping, and Middle East Policy. He was the guest editor of The Third World Quarterly Special Issue: "The Politics of Naming: Rebels, Terrorists, Criminals, Bandits and Subversives," which was then released as a book by Routledge.
Michael took inspiration from the renowned war photographer Robert Capa, who was killed in the early years of the war in Vietnam, quoting, "If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough."
Michael, who was as much at home in Afghanistan as in his native Boston, was always close enough.
Michael's fellow 2001 Marshall Scholars are establishing a Scholarship Fund in his name to fund undergraduates at Brown to undertake independent study travel of the sort that was so important to Michael's life. To donate to this fund, please contact Alan Trammell. For details of services in the US, please contact Jason Wasfy. For details of services in the UK, please contact Paul Domjan. They can all be reached through the Marshall Commission: MACC@acu.ac.uk
Paul Domjan, 2001 Marshall Scholar