Jonah Blank

Photo of Jonah Blank
Senior Political Scientist
Washington Office

Education

Ph.D. in anthropology, Harvard University; M.A. in anthropology, Harvard University; B.A. in history, Yale University

Media Resources

This researcher is available for interviews.

To arrange an interview, contact the RAND Office of Media Relations at (310) 451-6913, or email media@rand.org.

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Overview

Jonah Blank is a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation. An anthropologist by training, he is author of the books Mullahs on the Mainframe: Islam & Modernity Among the Daudi Bohras, and Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God: Retracing the Ramayana through India. From 1999-2011, Blank served as Policy Director for South and Southeast Asia on the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Before entering government service, he served as senior editor and foreign correspondent for US News & World Report, where he reported from Indonesia, India, Nepal and Pakistan. In his life as an anthropologist, Blank was the first outside researcher to conduct ethnographic fieldwork among the Daudi Bohras, a Shi'a Muslim community with approximately one million adherents throughout South and Southeast Asia, East Africa, and other parts of the world; his research focused on how a traditionalist community used the tools of modernity to combat the threats posed by modernity. Blank began his career in Japan, as finance editor of Tokyo's Asahi Evening News. He has been a reporter for Fortune magazine, and has written for publications ranging from Foreign Affairs to the New Yorker to the Washington Post. Blank received his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University, and is a professorial lecturer at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Concurrent Non-RAND Positions

Professorial Lecturer, Johns Hopkins SAIS

Selected Publications

Jonah Blank, Mullahs on the Mainframe: Islam and Modernity Among the Daudi Bohras, University of Chicago Press, 2001

Jonah Blank, Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God: Retracing the Ramayana Through India, Grove Press, 2000

Recent Media Appearances

Commentary: CNN; Christian Science Monitor; Foreign Policy; Project Syndicate; Reuters; USA Today

Commentary

  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani

    Afghanistan's Best Bet

    On Sunday, Ashraf Ghani was declared the victor in a contest to determine Afghanistan's next president. The process has been infuriating but the end product of this mess was the best possible outcome: best for Afghanistan, best for the region, and best for the United States.

    Sep 24, 2014 | Foreign Affairs

  • A supporter of the 'Yes' campaign stands outside a polling station during the referendum on Scottish independence in Pitlochry, Scotland, September 18, 2014

    From Glasgow to Kashmir

    Scotland's vote could be a step toward disrupting the historical pattern of independence being won by force, not granted after a vote. This was the paradigm of the past, and it remains the paradigm of the present. But the vote in Scotland just might help set a new roadmap for the future.

    Sep 22, 2014 | ForeignPolicy.com

  • India's Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel march during a rehearsal for the Republic Day parade in New Delhi, January 4, 2013

    Let's Talk About Kashmir

    When U.S. combat troops have withdrawn from Afghanistan in December 2014, and training units follow two years later, the dynamics that once turned northern India's Kashmir into both a target and an incubator of global terrorism may return. This would threaten U.S. security, as well as that of the region.

    Sep 8, 2014 | Foreign Policy

  • Indonesia's presidential candidate Joko Widodo smiles during a speech in Serang, Indonesia, July 16, 2014

    Good Guy Gamble: What to Expect from Indonesia's Jokowi

    The preliminary verdict of Indonesia's presidential election suggests that nice guys can finish first. That could be good news for Indonesia, Southeast Asia, the United States, and the world. But that comes with two big caveats: The initial results must be confirmed by the final tally, and the losing candidate must accept that he has lost.

    Jul 17, 2014 | ForeignAffairs.com

  • Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah holds up his ink-stained finger as he casts his vote at a polling station in Kabul June 14, 2014

    Victory, Afghan Style

    A good outcome in Afghanistan seems less likely now than it did a few weeks ago, but there is still cause for guarded optimism: before this electoral season began, few observers would have guessed that the final showdown would be between a pair of level-headed pro-Western moderates rather than two foul, bloodstained warlords.

    Jun 23, 2014 | ForeignAffairs.com

  • A NATO helicopter flies overhead as smoke rises from the site of a suicide attack in Jalalabad province May 12, 2014. Taliban militants launched a wave of attacks across Afghanistan on Monday, the first day of their declared summer offensive

    Is There a Hidden Message in the Taliban's 2014 Fighting Season Plan?

    The Taliban announced 'Khaibar,' their plan for the operations they will be conducting this spring and summer. The reference to Khaibar — a conventional battle in which noncombatants were left unharmed — might actually hint at a strategy aimed at post-conflict reconciliation.

    May 31, 2014 | Foreign Policy

  •  Narendra Modi waves during a youth event organized by India's Citizens for Accountable Governance.

    A Milder Modi?

    Narendra Modi, India's most polarizing political figure in a generation, will become prime minister with a virtually unchecked mandate.

    May 19, 2014 | ForeignAffairs.com

  • Messages of support left for family members and passengers onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport

    The Flight 370 Mystery Gets Political

    Why might unnamed sources try to link Anwar to a potential hijacking of an aircraft carrying 239 passengers? Possibly to divert attention from the government's ineffective management of the search in the days since the plane's disappearance.

    Mar 19, 2014 | U.S. News & World Report

  • Devyani Khobragade attends the India Studies Stony Brook University fundraiser event in Long Island, New York, December 8, 2013

    U.S.-India Dispute: A Diplomat and a Double-Standard Laid Bare

    From the perspective of India, not to mention Pakistan and many other nations, the United States expects privileges that it does not grant to others. If the U.S. subjects foreign visitors (particularly diplomats) to the strictest possible interpretation its own laws, it had better be prepared for other nations to do the same.

    Jan 9, 2014 | Reuters

  • U.S. Marines help displaced Philippine nationals from the back of a KC-130J Super Hercules at Vilamor Air Base, Manila, Republic of the Philippines

    How Philippines Typhoon Aid Helps USA

    In the wake of Haiyan there is no substitute for the capabilities of the U.S. military. At the level of national interest, however, does the case for tasking the U.S. military to international natural disasters hold up — particularly in a time when the Pentagon has seen its budget slashed?

    Nov 12, 2013 | USA Today

  • A man clears debris from the mosque that was burnt down in Myanmar's Rakhine state

    Who's Bombing Myanmar?

    After a half-century of hermetic authoritarianism, Myanmar's re-entry into the world community has been one of the biggest (and most optimistic) stories in Asia. Yet an upswing in ethnic and religious conflict could put Myanmar's progress at risk.

    Oct 30, 2013 | CNN

  • People pay their respects in front of a portrait of General Vo Nguyen Giap at his house in Hanoi October 6, 2013

    The Passing of Vietnam Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap

    The passing of Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap marks the end of an era for Vietnam — and for giants of the twentieth-century anti-colonial movement throughout the world. As commander of the Viet Minh and the Vietnam People's Army, his strategies led to successes against France and the U.S. that were regarded as among communism's finest military moments.

    Oct 8, 2013 | The RAND Blog

  • Syrian Americans rally in support of the Bashar al-Assad regime and against proposed U.S. military action against Syria

    A Smarter Way to Stop Syria WMD Attacks

    President Obama made a strong case that the U.S. should take the lead in punishing the Syrian regime for its use of chemical weapons and actively enforce the near-global ban on these weapons. Now, the possibility of a diplomatic solution to this problem offers an opportunity to improve the request for the authorization of force currently before Congress.

    Sep 19, 2013 | CNN

  • President Thein Sein of Myanmar (Burma) shakes hands with President Barack Obama

    Obama's Burmese Gamble

    A year ago, the United States and Myanmar (Burma) did not even have ambassadors in each other's capitals. In May, President Thein Sein became the first leader from Myanmar to visit the White House in nearly a half-century. Has Obama's administration been too quick to embrace what was one of the world's most repressive regimes?

    Jul 11, 2013 | Project Syndicate

  • Pakistani community leaders from its Federally Administered Tribal Areas

    A Frontier on Low Boil

    Dozens of people were killed in a series of bomb blasts across Pakistan Sunday, just a week after 10 foreign mountain climbers and their Pakistani guide were shot and killed in Northern Pakistan. The attacks again demonstrated the Pakistan government's inability to prevent terrorist violence in certain areas.

    Jul 1, 2013 | The RAND Blog

  • Ambassador Munter Attends Pashtun Tribal Jirga in Quetta in 2011

    How to Negotiate Like a Pashtun

    Fortunately, the rules by which Afghans (and particularly Pashtuns) forge durable pacts may be difficult to master, but they are quite comprehensible, writes Jonah Blank.

    Jun 4, 2013 | Foreign Policy

  • Garments factory in Bangladesh

    What Bangladesh — and US Retailers — Must Do to Prevent Man-Made Tragedies

    Perhaps most tragic of all are the disasters that are wholly preventable: the deaths, maimings, and crushed livelihoods that result from human callousness or indifference, writes Jonah Blank.

    May 17, 2013 | Christian Science Monitor

  • Washington soldiers train with Thai military in counter-insurgency exchange

    Is Asia's Forgotten Revolt About to Explode?

    This is why teachers are so often the targets of attack. In the rebels' view, schools aren’t neutral places for children to receive an education. They are seen as government-run indoctrination centers, propagating an exclusionary history and an alien language, writes Jonah Blank.

    Feb 25, 2013 | CNN

  • President Obama greets Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize winning pro-democracy activist, in Rangoon, Burma, Nov. 19, 2012

    Obama and Myanmar (Burma): Four Points About Conflict There

    We can expect to see continued jockeying for scarce resources among vulnerable populations around the globe, attempts by majority communities to disenfranchise powerless minority groups, and episodes of extreme weather to blow away any notion that disasters—whether natural, man-made, or both—can't happen here, writes Jonah Blank.

    Nov 20, 2012 | Christian Science Monitor

  • a U.S. Army Soldier and Afghan National Policemen

    Difficult Questions on Afghanistan and Pakistan

    In Afghanistan, the U.S. military has been fighting the longest war in the nation’s history--and many Americans don't understand why. The final presidential debate on Monday affords President Obama and Governor Romney an excellent opportunity to provide answers, writes Jonah Blank.

    Oct 17, 2012 | RAND.org

  • Victims of Terrorism-by-Mistaken-Identity

    Perpetrators of hate-crimes against Sikhs often think they're attacking Muslims. This may not make the slaughter any more or less heinous, but it's another example of hatred flowing from ignorance, writes Jonah Blank.

    Aug 8, 2012 | RAND.org and GlobalSecurity.org

Publications

Multimedia