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The Force of Custom

Law and the Ordering of Everyday Like in Kygyzstan

by Judith Beyer

Judith Beyer presents a finely textured ethnographic study that sheds new light on the legal and moral ordering of everyday life in northwestern Kyrgyzstan. Through her extensive fieldwork, Beyer captures the thoughts and voices of local people in two villages: Aral and Engels, and combines these with firsthand observations to create an original ethnography. Beyer shows how local Kyrgyz negotiate proper behavior and regulate disputes by invoking custom, known to the locals as salt. While salt is presented as age-old tradition, its invocation needs to be understood as a highly developed and flexible rhetorical strategy that people adapt to suit the political, legal, economic, and religious environments.Officially, codified state law should take precedence when it comes to dispute resolution, yet the unwritten laws of salt and the increasing importance of Islamic law provide the standards for ordering everyday life. As Beyer further reveals, interpretations of both Islamic and state law are also intrinsically linked to salt. By interweaving case studies on kinship, legal negotiations, festive events, mourning rituals, and political and business dealings, Beyer shows how salt is the binding element in rural Kyrgyz social life, used to explain and negotiate moral behavior and to postulate communal identity. In this way, salt provides a time-tested, sustainable source of authentication that defies changes in government and the tides of religious movements. Beyer’s ground-level analysis provides a broad base of knowledge that will be valuable for students and researchers of contemporary Central Asia.

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Government and Society in Afghanistan

The Reign of Amir ‘Abd al-Rahman Khan

By Hasan Kawun Kakar

This is an authoritative study of the administrative, social, and economic structure of Afghanistan during a decisive stage in its history.

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Hopeless but Optimistic

Journeying through America's Endless War in Afghanistan

Douglas A. Wissing

Award-winning journalist Douglas A. Wissing’s poignant and eye-opening journey across insurgency-wracked Afghanistan casts an unyielding spotlight on greed, dysfunction, and predictable disaster while celebrating the everyday courage and wisdom of frontline soldiers, idealistic humanitarians, and resilient Afghans. As Wissing hauls a hundred pounds of body armor and pack across the Afghan warzone in search of the ground truth, US officials frantically spin a spurious victory narrative, American soldiers try to keep their body parts together, and Afghans try to stay positive and strain to figure out their next move after the US eventually leaves. As one technocrat confided to Wissing, "I am hopeless—but optimistic."

Wissing is everywhere in Afghanistan, sharing an impressionistic view from little white taxis coursing across one of the world’s most mine-ridden places; a perilous view from outside the great walls surrounding America’s largest base, sequestered Bagram Air Field; and compelling inside views from within embattled frontline combat outposts, lumbering armored gun trucks and flitting helicopters, brain trauma clinics, and Kabul’s Oz-like American embassy. It’s Afghan life on the streets; the culture and institutions that anneal them; the poetry that enriches them. It includes the perspectives of cynical military lifers and frightened short-timers; true believers and amoral grabbers; Americans and Afghans trying to make sense of two countries surreally contorted by war-birthed extractive commerce.

Along with a deep inquiry into the 21st-century American way of war and an unforgettable glimpse of the enduring culture and legacy of Afghanistan, Hopeless but Optimistic includes the real stuff of life: the austere grandeur of Afghanistan and its remarkable people; warzone dining, defecation, and sex; as well as the remarkable shopping opportunities for men whose job is to kill.

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Islamic Central Asia

An Anthology of Historical Sources

Edited by Scott C. Levi and Ron Sela

Islamic Central Asia is the first English-language anthology of primary documents for the study of Central Asian history. Scott C. Levi and Ron Sela draw from a vast array of historical sources to illustrate important aspects of the social, cultural, political, and economic history of Islamic Central Asia. These documents—many newly translated and most not readily available for study—cover the period from the 7th-century Arab conquests to the 19th-century Russian colonial era and provide new insights into the history and significance of the region.

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The Kirghiz and Wakhi of Afghanistan

Adaptation to Closed Frontiers and War

By M. Nazif Shahrani

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Laboratory of Socialist Development

Cold War Politics and Decolonization in Soviet Tajikistan

Artemy M. Kalinovsky

Artemy Kalinovsky’s Laboratory of Socialist Development investigates the Soviet effort to make promises of decolonization a reality by looking at the politics and practices of economic development in central Asia between World War II and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Focusing on the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic, Kalinovsky places the Soviet development of central Asia in a global context.

Connecting high politics and intellectual debates with the life histories and experiences of peasants, workers, scholars, and engineers, Laboratory of Socialist Development shows how these men and women negotiated Soviet economic and cultural projects in the decades following Stalin’s death. Kalinovsky’s book investigates how people experienced new cities, the transformation of rural life, and the building of the world’s tallest dam. Kalinovsky connects these local and individual moments to the broader context of the Cold War, shedding new light on how paradigms of development change over time. Throughout the book, he offers comparisons with experiences in countries such as India, Iran, and Afghanistan, and considers the role of intermediaries who went to those countries as part of the Soviet effort to spread its vision of modernity to the postcolonial world.

Laboratory of Socialist Development offers a new way to think about the post-war Soviet Union, the relationship between Moscow and its internal periphery, and the interaction between Cold War politics and domestic development. Kalinovsky’s innovative research pushes readers to consider the similarities between socialist development and its more familiar capitalist version.

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The Lama Question

Violence, Sovereignty, and Exception in Early Socialist Mongolia

Christopher Kaplonski

Before becoming the second socialist country in the world (after the Soviet Union) in 1921, Mongolia had been a Buddhist feudal theocracy. Combatting the influence of the dominant Buddhist establishment to win the hearts and minds of the Mongolian people was one of the most important challenges faced by the new socialist government. It would take almost a decade and a half to resolve the “lama question,” and it would be answered with brutality, destruction, and mass killings. Chris Kaplonski examines this critical, violent time in the development of Mongolia as a nation-state and its ongoing struggle for independence and recognition in the twentieth century. Kaplonski draws on a decade of research and archival resources to investigate the problematic relationships between religion and politics and geopolitics and biopolitics in early socialist Mongolia, as well as the multitude of state actions that preceded state brutality.

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A Military History of Afghanistan

From the Great Game to the Global War on Terror

The first comprehensive history of over two centuries of warfare and international conflict in Afghanistan, including the Anglo-Afghan wars of the nineteenth century, the early twentieth century struggles over modernization, the fall of the last monarchy, the Soviet-Afghan War, and the twenty-first century US Global War on Terror.

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The Muslim Question and Russian Imperial Governance

Elena I. Campbell

From the time of the Crimean War through the fall of the Tsar, the question of what to do about the Russian empire's large Muslim population was a highly contested issue among educated Russians both inside and outside the government. As formulated in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Muslim Question comprised a complex set of ideas and concerns that centered on the problems of reimagining and governing the tremendously diverse Russian empire in the face of the challenges presented by the modernizing world. Basing her analysis on extensive research in archival and primary sources, Elena I. Campbell reconstructs the issues, debates, and personalities that shaped the development of Russian policies toward the empire's Muslims and the impact of the Muslim Question on the modernizing path that Russia would follow.

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Nomads as Agents of Cultural Change

The Mongols and Their Eurasian Predecessors

Edited by Reuvan Amitai and Michael Biran

Nomads As Agents of Cultural Change illuminates and complicates nomadic roles as active promoters of cultural exchange within a vast and varied region. It makes available important original scholarship on the new turn in the study of the Mongol empire and on relations between the nomadic and sedentary worlds. By bringing together a distinguished group of scholars from different disciplines, this book explores the role of nomads in both east and west Asia through ancient and early medieval times. With focus given to the far flung Mongol empire of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, this comparative process provides a clearer understanding of the key role that Eurasian pastoral nomads played in the history of the Old World and the complex cultural dynamic that existed between nomads and their agricultural and urban neighbors.

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