June 2007

The scene is of a couple score of Muslim men marching through the street carrying automatic rifles and shouting “Allahu Akbar.” And when my students watched this scene they viewed it with complete sympathy. “What!,” you might exclaim, were you in a Muslim country?” No, in Jacksonville, which is sufficiently far north to be firmly in the Bible Belt; enough so that it is often called “The Capital of South Georgia.” “Were the students stoned?” someone might ask. Again, a reasonable question, I suppose, but the answer is still no. Believe it or not, this scene was found in a cinematic film.

Anthropologist Rosemary Sayigh has recently uploaded an online book with audio interviews of Palestinian women. This is called Palestinian Women Narrate Displacement.

In this digital book you can hear the voices of around 70 Palestinian women, as well as a few men, currently living in Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem and Israel. They were recorded between 1998 and 2000 telling about their different experiences of displacement. You can see many of their faces as well as their surroundings. There are accompanying texts and bibliographies intended for interested lay-readers as well as students and scholars.

Is this madrasah in Indonesia or Thailand?

Throughout the Islamic world there are traditional educational institutions which, at a minimum, teach religious subjects including Quranic memorization, Quranic interpretation, the traditions of the Prophet (hadith) and Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh). In many parts of the world, these schools are called madrasah, although the term in Modern Arabic can refer to any kind of school. In Southeast Asia they are called variously, pondok, pondok pesantren, and pesantren. Typically, these schools center around a charismatic headmaster and are residential in nature. I will use the term pondok to refer to all Southeast Asian madrasah-type schools because in certain places in the region the term madrasah means a completely different kind of educational institution. Although it is reasonable to presume that pondok between different countries and areas in the region started out virtually indistinguishable in form and function, local and national histories have shaped them differently. Of particular interest are the curriculum debates and changes that arise.

Suicide bombers, al-Qaida, blown apart mosques, Palestinian civil war, targeted assassinations, nuclear reactors: the Middle East is awash with political news, as it has been since Adam and Eve exited an idyllic Eden. Realists turn to the daily news and most people just tune out. Artists provide a different angle, allowing us to cope with the unrelenting pain even when it does not directly interrupt our lives. For example, Iranian Maryam Amouie, whose “Through the Cracks” (December, 2006) is featured above.

[Note: Arthur John Byng Wavell (1882-1916) was a British soldier and adventurer who traveled in disguise to Mecca in 1908 and went on to Yemen in 1911 to witness fighting between the Zaydi imam’s troops and the Ottoman Turks. This account was originally published in 1912.]

Among all the pilgrims of different races daily pouring in [to Mecca on the hajj], I was most struck by the Javanese. In appearance and manners they seem not unlike the Japanese. They have the same acquisitive and imitative temperament, are intensely curious regarding everything new to them, and quick to adopt any fresh idea that may seem to them an improvement on what has gone before. In this they stand in strong contrast to the Arabs, and in fact to most Eastern peoples, whose extreme conservatism is what really hinders their progress. But while the Japanese have seemingly agreed to take England as their model, the Javanese endeavor to turn themselves into Arabs. The first thing they do on arriving is to attire themselves in the local costume – which, by the way, does not suit them at all. I am told that there are so many people wearing Arab dress in Java that a stranger might fancy himself in the Hedjaz. (more…)

By Jane Dammen McAuliffe
Dean of Arts and Sciences, Georgetown University
Professor, Department of Arabic and History

Mohammed Arkoun is the most honored French Islamicist alive today and continues to receive lecture invitations from around the world. His first language was Berber, and he learned Arabic and studied Islamic sources in French-speaking schools, first in Algeria and then in Paris (Gunther:127-131). Arkoun’s life-long project has been the sustained analysis of Islamic reason from the perspective of the contemporary epistemologies, both philosophical and social scientific. He is well-schooled in the successive forms of critical theory that have occupied humanistic scholarship for the last generation, particularly structural linguistics and semiotics. (more…)

Sir Salman’s long journey

Priyamvada Gopal
Monday June 18, 2007
The Guardian

From Indianness to Englishness, speculates the narrator of The Satanic Verses, is an immeasurable distance. For Sir Salman Rushdie, “humbled to receive this great honour” from the monarch of a nation he once compared to “a peculiar-tasting smoked fish full of spikes and bones”, that journey has culminated in a knighthood. There’ll be carping and predictably impassioned defences. It will be recalled that Benjamin Zephaniah turned down the OBE, refusing to join “the oppressor’s club”, while Granta literati will rush to extol the humane virtues of English literature and empire.

This is not, ultimately, about one man’s oddly bathetic “gratitude” or even the meaning of being knighted in this day and age. Recognition from on high is probably thrilling to even the most jaded among us. More interesting is the question of why this “honour” comes now and what Rushdie’s alacrity in accepting it tell us about politics and letters in our times, the very stuff of his greatest fiction. (more…)

[Left: latest cover of Prospect; right, Tariq Ramadan]

My colleague and friend Dr. Philip G. Ziegler directed my attention to a recent debate which has started between Tariq Ramadan and the Editor of Prospect, David Goodhart. The diatribe started when The Guardian published a letter by Prof. Ramadan. It is important to say that Prof. Ramadan has been at the centre of a controversial debate himself. Some consider him a progressive and moderate Muslim scholar, while others suggest that he is a cunning, insidious, and double-tongued extremist. Much of this allegation and subsequent debate took off when Prof. Ramadan accepted in February 2004 the tenured position of Luce Professor of Religion at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA. After first granting permission, the US State Department later revoked his visa in late July 2004, forcing him to resign his position. The State Department stated that Prof. Ramadan had connections with and supported extremist organizations. In reality, behind these allegations there were neo-con advisors and right-wing Israel supporters. The main voice against the appointment of Prof. Tariq Ramadan was Daniel Pipes, who despite his attacks and speculations never wished to be accredited with the result of his campaign. In other words, Pipes, somebody whom, rightly, condemns the boycott of Israeli scholars, even if some of them may be controversial, was actively wrongly boycotting a European one. No surprise, since Pipes is quite famous for his “selective partiality”. Even when Ramadan’s visa controversy was resolved in favour of the Swiss professor, allegations that he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing remained open. (more…)

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