October 2014

By Timothy Daniels, Guest Contributor, New Mandala, October 6, 2014

There appears to be no end to the war between several western powers—leaders in the global capitalist world order—and Muslim militants. Both sides are spiralling into some form of mutually assured destruction. Fragile “modern” nation-states, formed under the influence of European colonial forces in the early twentieth century, are crumbling and revealing their inability to deliver the promised fruits of secular modernity. Millions of Muslims are being killed, thousands are fleeing for their lives, and centuries old sites of Islamic civilisations are being decimated, while war-stressed western economies are declining into the shadows of China’s great industrial leap forward.

In the face of the current phase of this violent confrontation ushered in by the emergence and establishment of a militant-led Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq, many officials of western governments and Muslim leaders are making public statements that include the positive representation of Islam as a “religion of peace.” Linguistic anthropologists or any other social scientists seeking to provide a serious scholarly analysis of such discourse would examine the context and what the speakers are trying to do. Here, some of the social meanings of these statements may include efforts to reinforce the peace-loving posture of the majority of Muslims and to calm the fears of non-Muslims, many of whom have already begun to resort to acts of violence against fellow citizens perceived to be Muslims. However, this scholarly tack is not the approach Clive Kessler chose.

Clive Kessler, a Columbia University trained Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of New South Wales, chose to interrogate the truth value of discourse expressing the positive representation of Islam “as a religion of peace.” In the article, “The Islamic State and ‘Religion of Peace,’” published online in the Quadrant on September 26, 2014, Kessler tells us that he finds this description of Islam to be “bland, disingenuous, intellectually lazy, delusional, politically evasive, and altogether simplistic.” He wants us to have a clear idea of what we’re confronted with in order to devise an “effective response.”

Istanbul, where minarets share space with commercial signs

Having spent a short eid vacation in Istanbul, I had the opportunity to walk around the Sultan Ahmet and Eminönü areas. The main streets near the Sultan Ahmet mosque and Topkapi were full to overflowing with tourists from just about everywhere. The lines to enter the major sites stretched for hour-long waits, so I decided it was more prudent to simply walk the back streets with no particular goal in mind. On the way to the Spice Suq, where many of the shops remained open to satisfy the crowds of tourists and merchants’ pockets, I saw the iconic duality of modern Turkey in full force. On one building is a commanding mural of Ataturk, but across the street rises a conservative Islamic center. Down the road from an Ottoman religious shrine there will be a Starbucks or Burger King. Outside a fashion store is a giant image of a vivacious woman in Victoria’s Secret-like underwear, as a woman in niqab walks by. East and West, Ottoman vs. Republic, liberal and conservative: contemporary Turkey is where academically unfashionable binaries rule the streets, if not the hearts and minds of many Turks.

Of course this is the touristic center of Istanbul, complete with the tram stop that always seems to have a crowd outside. There must be a hundred or more small hotels and just as many restaurants and cafes. Kebab (or Kebap, if you prefer) is cuisine’s sultan here today. We stayed in the delightful and relatively inexpensive World Heritage Hotel, where the hospitality and ambiance are superb, and only a short walk from the Sultan Ahmet mosque, whose majestic minarets we could see from our breakfast table. Of the many restaurants nearby, my favorite was Amedros, which offers a wide range of dishes beyond the ubiquitous kebab fare. For authentic Ottoman cuisine, be sure to visit Asitane, which is near the Kariye Camii and Chora Church Museum. Of course, the joy of being in Istanbul is the constant discovery of something you will enjoy. If you have never walked these streets and alleys, you are missing a jewel outside the museums, splendid as they are.

/© Muhammad Hamed / Reuters/REUTERS

Al Jazeera has a series of photographs of this year’s hajj to Mecca.

Statement by Jewish Studies Professors in North America Regarding the Amcha Initiative

Forward, October 1, 2014

We the undersigned are professors of Jewish studies at North American universities.
Several of us have also headed programs and centers in Jewish studies. Many of us have worked hard to nurture serious, sustained study of Israeli politics and culture on our home campuses and elsewhere.

It is in this latter regard that we call attention to the activities of an organization called the AMCHA Initiative whose mission is “investigating, educating about, and combatting antisemitism at institutions of higher learning in America.” Most recently, AMCHA has undertaken to monitor centers for Middle Eastern studies on American campuses including producing a lengthy report on UCLA’s in which that center is accused of antisemitism.

AMCHA has also circulated a list of more than 200 Middle Eastern studies faculty whom it urges Jewish students and others to avoid because, it asserts, they espouse anti-Zionist andeven antisemitic viewpoints in their classrooms.

It goes without saying that we, as students of antisemitism, are unequivocally opposed to any and all traces of this scourge. That said, we find the actions of AMCHA deplorable.

Its technique of monitoring lectures, symposia and conferences strains the basic principle of academic freedom on which the American university is built. Moreover, its definition of antisemitism is so undiscriminating as to be meaningless. Instead of encouraging openness through its efforts, AMCHA’s approach closes off all but the most narrow intellectual directions and has a chilling effect on research and teaching. AMCHA’s methods lend little support to Israel, whose very survival depends on free, open, and vigorous debate about its future. (more…)

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