July 2014

al-Qubba Husseiniya, a Shia shrine, being blown up in the city of Mosul.

Hollywood is known for creating absurd scenarios, especially with special effects of explosions and cars flying through the air. The real damage is done in war with bombs ripping apart buildings and bodies. And then there is the wanton destruction of buildings out of sheer hatred. The would-be caliphate that has taken nominal control of a large swathe of Syria and Iraq is an affront to everyone, including fellow Muslims in Syria and Iraq. There will be no new caliphate created out of such callous regard for human life and eventually the rebel leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi will follow Saddam Hussein to the netherworld. But the destruction in the meantime is mean indeed. In addition to the men gunned down in Mosul and elsewhere, bulldozers and bombs are destroying some of the splendid Iraqi shrines from the real caliphates. It is a sad day (far too many sad days, weeks, months and years) for Syria, Iraq, Muslims worldwide and the entire world. But the leader of ISIS cannot erase history, no matter how many shrines and mosques he blows up.

By Sheila Carapico, Middle East Research and Information Project, July 14

* This memo was prepared as part of the “Ethics and Research in the Middle East” symposium

American political scientists studying the Middle East face ethical dilemmas not shared by most of our disciplinary colleagues. Sometimes – perhaps unexpectedly – our presence in countries or communities experiencing repression and/or political violence puts our local colleagues, hosts, or contacts at risk by association. The massive U.S. military footprint and widespread mistrust of U.S. policies and motives multiplies the risks to our interlocutors.

The trademark methodology of American Arabists is fieldwork, meaning, in political science, in-depth interviews, participant observation, data collection, document-gathering, opinion polling, political mapping, and recording events. As sojourners but not permanent residents, we rely heavily on the wisdom, networks, and goodwill of counterparts “on the ground,” particularly other intellectuals.

In any environment where agencies of national, neighboring, and U.S. governments are all known to be gathering intelligence, our research projects may look and sound like old-fashioned espionage. Even under the very best of circumstances (which are rather scarce) a lot of people are wary or suspicious of all Americans, including or sometimes especially Arabic speakers who ask a lot of questions and take notes. Immediate acquaintances probably grasp and trust our inquiries. Their neighbors or nearby security personnel may not. It is common knowledge that at least some spies and spooks come in academic disguise and that some U.S.-based scholars sell their expertise to the CIA or the Pentagon. Instead of treating whispered gossip as the product of mere paranoia or conspiracy theories, we need to recognize its objective and sociological underpinnings. (more…)

Misapprehending Muslims and the Media’s Misinformation

by Hasan Azad, Huffington Post. November 17, 2012

My friend Sim is a strapping young man in his 20s. He is fitter than I could ever dream of becoming. Sim has run in the New York marathon for two years in a row, and hopes to run in many more to come. When you meet Sim you’re immediately struck by the warmth of his smile. Opinions are unanimous, Sim has a heart of gold — and the good looks to go with it!

Sim was recently flying back to New York from visiting with his parents in Texas, when the chipper middle-aged Texan lady sitting next to him asked in the most disarmingly matter-of-fact manner that only Texans are capable of, “You’re not a Muslim are you?” A question possibly prompted by Sim’s full-length beard and turban. When he responded, “No, I’m Sikh,” the woman was visibly relieved, so much so she hugged Sim (short for Simran, in case you’re wondering), adding “I’m so glad you’re not a Muslim. They want to take over America with ‘Siran’!” Simran, being the gentleman that he is, smiled politely, but later revealed to me that he had no idea how to respond to the exchange. And it’s true, it wasn’t a “simple” exchange that had occurred, which could or should be explained away as another example (and aren’t there so many?) of unwitting Texan folk who can’t tell the difference between a Sikh and a Muslim. (more…)

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