May 26, 2008
Michael Vinay Bhatia ’99 died May 7 in Afghanistan, where he was working as a social scientist in consultation with the US military.
In addition to graduating magna cum laude in international relations from Brown University, Michael was a visiting fellow at the Watson Institute from July 2006 to June 2007. At the Institute, he was involved in a research project on Cultural Awareness in the Military, writing his PhD dissertation, and teaching a senior seminar on "The US Military: Global Supremacy, Democracy and Citizenship."
Over several years, Michael’s research and humanitarian work took him to such conflict zones as Sahrawi refugee camps, East Timor, and Kosovo, in addition to Afghanistan.
Of his work in Afghanistan, 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 had recently published some of his research on Afghanistan.
His co-authored book on 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 on 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.
In August, his personal three-part photo essay, “Shooting Afghanistan: Beyond the Conflict,” was published by theGlobalist. In it, he wrote:
“Afghanistan will soon reach a desperate milestone – the thirtieth anniversary of ongoing conflict. … 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 it. 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.”
His love of photography is revealing. In theGlobalist piece, he also wrote:
“Building on Robert Capa’s statement that 'If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough,' James Nachtwey, the preeminent photo-realist and conflict photographer, once indicated that the primary characteristic of a good war photographer was proximity, closeness and involvement.”
Michael was a doctoral candidate in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford. He was awarded a George C. Marshall Scholarship in 2001 and a Scoville Peace Fellowship in 2000, supporting residence at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, DC.
He was working on his dissertation, titled “The Mujahideen: A Study of Combatant Motives in Afghanistan, 1978-2005,” based on 350 interviews with combatants throughout Afghanistan, as well as archival and media research. 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.
Before his fellowship at the Institute, he was a sessional lecturer on the causes of war in the Department of Political Science at Carleton University in Ottawa.
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. He received his MSc in international relations research from the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford.
“It's a terrible loss of someone so young, who had already accomplished a great deal, but had so much more to contribute,” said Institute Professor Thomas J. Biersteker, who advised Michael in his studies over the years.
Michael's funeral Mass was held on Friday, May 16, at 10am at St. Joseph’s Church, 151 Village St. in Medway, Massachusetts. Donations in Michael’s memory may be made to the Michael V. Bhatia Memorial Fund c/o Rockland Trust Company, 288 Union St., Rockland, MA 02370.
Colleagues gathered at the Watson Institute for a quiet reflection on Michael’s life on Monday, May 19. The University, together with the Class of ’98, also held a vigil and tree planting in the Institute's garden on Saturday, May 24. A small exhibition of Michael’s photography from Afghanistan will be open from 5pm, on the Institute's second floor.