by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on DECEMBER 17, 2015: 

We at the Duke Islamic Studies Center are pleased to announce that the work of the Carnegie Corporation of New York-supported Transcultural Islam Project (ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN) has been highlighted in a new report by the Social Science Research Council — “Religion, Media and the Digital Turn.” The report surveyed 160 digital projects and documents the effects that digital modes of research and publication have on the study of religion.

“While our primary goal is to chronicle emerging forms of intellectual production shaping the study of religion, we hope that a greater awareness of this new work will generate more recognition of the high quality and innovative work that already exists,” report authors Chris Cantwell (University of Missouri) and Hussein Rashid (New York University) write, explaining that “the most innovative digital projects are often those that creatively combine a number of these models or genres.”

ISLAMiCommentary was mentioned at the top of several subsections, for this reason, and a lengthy case study of ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN has been included in the report (in Appendix 1) because, as the report authors told us, they find the project “exemplary.” Other projects highlighted with lengthy case studies (in Appendix 1) include the Center for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion (MAVCOR) at Yale, the Jesuit Libraries Provenance Project at the University of Loyola; and Mapping Ararat — a project of York University, the University of Toronto and Emerson College.

Appendix 2 lists the 160 projects surveyed.

The report can be downloaded HERE.

by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN on JULY 20, 2015:

“One of the most visible public faces of the 2011 revolution in Egypt was Asmaʾ Mahfouz, a young woman who posted a video blog on Facebook calling for the January 25 protest in Tahrir Square “so that maybe we the country can become free, can become a country with justice, a country with dignity, a country in which a human can be truly human, not living like an animal.” 

She describes a stark imbalance of power: a lone girl standing against the security apparatus of the state. When she initially went out to demonstrate, only three other people came to join her. They were met with vans full of security forces, “tens of thugs” (balṭagiyyīn) that menaced the small band of protesters. Talking about her fear (ruʿb), she epitomizes the voice of righteous indignation against the Goliath of an abusive military regime.

“I am a girl,” she says, “and I went down.” The skinny, small, pale girl bundled up in her winter scarf and sweater speaks clearly and forcefully, despite a slight speech impediment, rallying a political community to action against tyrannical rule.

Mahfouz’s vlog is not necessarily famous for actually sparking the revolution, as some have claimed in the revolution’s aftermath. Rather, she visually embodies and vocally advocates what the Islamic activist Heba Raouf Ezzat calls “soft force,”al-­quwwa­ al-n­āʿima.” Raouf Ezzat uses the term to refer to nonviolent protest, or what she calls “women’s jihad,” wielded against “tyrannical government.” — beginning of the Introduction to “Soft Force: Women in Egypt’s Islamic Awakening” (Princeton University Press, May 2015)  by Ellen Anne McLarney

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In Soft Force: Women in Egypt’s Islamic Awakening Duke University professor Ellen McLarney argues against the misconception of Muslim women as “oppressed by Islam,” with her “in depth, nuanced, and careful” examination of the lives and activism of women who write about Islam as liberating them from sexual and political oppression, ignorance, exploitation, and dominance.

Focusing on writings spanning the last six decades in Egypt — and especially Egypt’s Islamic awakening — McLarney charts a genealogy of women’s writings on gender relationships in Islam. These popular religious texts have circulated widely in Egypt and reached audiences as far away as Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, and France through republication and translation.

These writers include scholars like Heba Raouf Ezzat and Bint al-Shati, preachers like Niʿmat Sidqi, television personalities like Kariman Hamza, actresses like Shams al-Barudi, activists like Zaynab al-Ghazali, cultural critics like Safinaz Kazim, and journalists like Iman Mustafa. Continue reading

by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary  — Q & A with REBECCA STEIN — for ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN on MAY 18, 2015:

Digital Militarism: Israel’s Occupation in the Social Media Age (Stanford University Press, April 2015), by scholars Adi Kunstman and Rebecca Stein, has been called “a pioneering book, showing how information and communication technologies have turned into wartime arsenals, and the Internet and social networks into digital battlefields” and described as “a riveting guide to contemporary media strategies, improvisations, and accidents in the theatre of Israeli militarism.”

Kuntsman is a lecturer in information and communications at Manchester Metropolitan University whose work lies at the intersection of cybercultures/digital and social media; anti-colonial and feminist scholarship; queer theory; and social research on war, nationalism and colonialism.

Stein is an associate professor of cultural anthropology at Duke University who studies linkages between cultural and political processes in Israel in relation to its military occupation and the history of Palestinian dispossession.

ISLAMiCommentary connected with Stein for this Q & A about their new book.

What is digital militarism and who named the trend?

This phrase — our own coinage — refers to the ways that social media tools, technologies, and practices can be employed in the service of militant projects by both state and everyday civilian users. Of course, digital militarism is a broad and flexible concept, with wide global applicability.

In this book, we consider the ways it has emerged in the context of Israel’s occupation. We are chiefly interested in everyday Jewish Israeli users, and the ways that social media functions as a toolbox for militarized politics – this within a society that has moved progressively rightward over the course of the last two decades. Digital militarism takes shape at the intersection of militant nationalism — now widespread in Israel — and very conventional, globalized modes of networked engagement: like liking and sharing, participating in meme culture, and posting a selfie. This interplay between nationalist violence and the social media everyday is at the core of our study.

When we began this study, digital militarism existed on the margins of social media — both in the Israeli and global contexts. Today, of course, it has become commonplace. We have become are accustomed to the integration of social networking into military arsenals, to calls for war issued en masse on social media platforms, to the presence of smartphones in military zones and battlefields, to social networking from scenes of atrocity.

In the Israeli context, we are now accustomed to damning Instagram images from soldiers, or to YouTube videos of violent confrontation between Israelis soldiers and Palestinians in the territories. Once, such events and media exposure surprised Israeli and international publics. Today, we have come to expect them. Digital Militarism is a chronicle of the emergence and naturalization of digital militarism as a social form. Continue reading

“One of the most important outcomes of these movements has been the return of politics to the public sphere and the return of the square as the place for it” — Nezar AlSayyad, professor of architecture, planning, urban design and urban history at the University of California at Berkeley 

by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on APRIL 1, 2015: 

In the postscript to his 2011 book Cairo: Histories of a City (reproduced by The New York Times as an op-ed), and in lectures and articles since, UC Berkeley architecture professor Nezar AlSayyad has argued that Tahrir (“Liberation”) Square, finally lived up to his name with the 2011 Egyptian uprising. Four years later, however, there are questions about whether Egypt really has been “liberated.”

While AlSayyad said it may be “too early to tell” if the 2011 Egyptian uprising can ultimately be deemed a failure, and though “many wish the Arab Spring had never come” — “Are we more comfortable with our dictators?” he wondered aloud —  he seems convinced that what happened in Tahrir Square and in other public squares in the Middle East did indeed have a positive impact.

“People of all classes are now more politically active and politically aware,” he said. Continue reading

This video was produced by Julie Poucher Harbin of ISLAMiCommentary and Catherine Angst of the John Hope Franklin Center as part of the ISLAMiCommentary Field Reports series.

by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on MARCH 20, 2015: 

I interviewed Maytha Alhassen, a University of Southern California (USC) Provost Ph.D. Fellow in American Studies and Ethnicity last month, just ahead of a national conference held at Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill (2/20-2/21/15) on “The Legacy of Malcolm X: Afro-American Visionary, Muslim Activist.”

In this video she talks about her previous work on the Malcolm X Project, and how Malcolm’s pro-Palestinian activism inspired her in her own activism in the Middle East and in social movements here in the United States. Continue reading