compiled by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on NOVEMBER 25, 2015: 

November 23, 2015 Statement by Middle East Studies Association

The Board of Directors of the Middle East Studies Association condemns the increasing frequency and intensity of violent acts against civilians taking place in countries around the world. We are also alarmed at the related rise in the stereotyping and vilification of people of Middle East or Muslim background.

We urge, therefore, those with responsibility for United States policy in the Middle East and the Islamic world to avail themselves of the insights of scholarship as they seek to understand the background of these violent acts and to frame responses to them.

We are deeply concerned that people who are or appear to be Muslim or of Middle Eastern background—citizens, residents and displaced persons seeking refuge—have been and continue to be the victims of discrimination in the US as well as other countries. This discrimination can occur in any area of public life, including employment, travel, access to accommodation and access to other goods, services and facilities. It can involve harassment, vilification and at times actual violence.

We deplore the reckless rhetoric of some public figures that is only increasing the likelihood of discrimination and the violation of the civil rights of people of Middle East and Muslim background. We commend the efforts of public officials to prevent acts of harassment and retaliation and encourage them to redouble their efforts in this direction.

Ignorance and misunderstanding of the Middle East and the Islamic world are rife in the US and other Western countries. This lack of accurate information must be addressed by the educational system at all levels. We call upon MESA members to actively share their expertise about the Middle East, Islam, and the Islamic world with the communities in which they live and work, and to make every effort as educators to communicate their invaluable knowledge and understanding to representatives of the media and policy makers.

We advocate tolerance, education, understanding, and thoughtfully planned measures to assure that these acts of violence are not followed by further senseless destruction or discrimination. Continue reading

Column » ‘By the Book’ with Joseph Preville

by JOSEPH RICHARD PREVILLE and JULIE POUCHER HARBIN  for ISLAMiCommentary on NOVEMBER 20, 2015:

How did Muslims and Jews create and inhabit shared spaces in post-World War I France?  Historian Ethan B. Katz examines the “triangular affair” between Muslims, France, and Jews in his new book, The Burdens of Brotherhood: Jews and Muslims from North Africa to France (Harvard University Press, Nov. 2015).  Katz states that “it is impossible to understand the history of Jewish-Muslim relations in France if we fail to place the French state at the heart of the story.”

He argues that Muslims and Jews “related to one another through their respective relationships to the French state and society and to definitions of French national and imperial belonging.”  Katz draws on a wealth of sources to show how Muslims and Jews interacted with each other in common and communal ways.  “To date,” he writes, “the lived interactions of ordinary Jews and Muslims in France have been almost entirely overlooked in both collective memory and scholarship.  A complex history of varied encounters risks being lost in the powerful current of contemporary events.”

Katz is Assistant Professor of History at University of Cincinnati.  He was educated at Amherst College and University of Wisconsin-Madison.  His scholarly work has appeared in Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, Journal of European Studies, Jewish Quarterly Review, and Journal of North African Studies.  He is a contributor to A History of Jewish-Muslim Relations: From the Origins to the Present Day (Princeton University Press, 2013), edited by Benjamin Stora and Abdelwahab Meddeb.

Ethan B. Katz discusses his new book in this interview.

Why do you think it is important to place Jews and Muslims “within a single story” to understand their history in France?

Even though historians have tended to study Jews and Muslims in France separately, the two groups’ fates have often been intertwined.  In addition, their respective histories in France can be better understood when the two groups are compared. In the late nineteenth century, France decided to give full French citizenship to Jews in Algeria but not to Muslims in Algeria.  Both advocates and policymakers defended the decision by actively contrasting Jews, as allegedly Western, modern, and civilized with the larger native Muslim population, depicted as barbaric, primitive, and disconnected from Western norms.

It’s also important to note that large numbers of Jews and Muslims from North Africa who came to France had much in common: language, food, dress, music, even certain rituals.  Therefore, their daily encounters often did not fit our contemporary assumptions – or those of French policymakers at the time – about sharp inter-group divisions. Continue reading

This article below, “How Muslim Students’ Knowledge of Christianity Is Related to Their Attitudes to Mainstream Australia and Australians: A National Survey” originally appeared in Social Sciences (ISSN 2076-0760), an international, open access journal with rapid peer-review, which publishes works from a wide range of fields, including anthropology, economics, law, linguistics, education, geography, history, political science, psychology and sociology. Social Sciences is published quarterly online by MDPI.

by ABE ATA for SOCIAL SCIENCES on SEPTEMBER 7, 2015:

Abstract: Outlined below are selected results of a 5-year long national survey which investigated the knowledge, values and attitudes of 430 Year 11 and 12 Muslim students in eight Muslim High schools towards the mainstream Australia and Australians society. The findings reflect a wide spectrum of responses with a strong implication that much work is needed to bring about an appropriate degree of adjustment. Providing awareness sessions to students and parents—both non-Muslims and Muslims—which address critical social, religious and cultural issues including stereotyping and inclusivity, is key.

Social media are abuzz with daily articles asking the same questions: Do Muslims find it harder than other migrants to integrate, or is the bigotry of some that perpetuates it? Is Islamophobia the flipside of inherent racism that some Australians lashed in stages against Aboriginals, Greeks, Italians, Chinese, Africans and Middle Easterners? Or perhaps it is the cultural and historical (and religious!) differences between the Christian and Muslim communities worldwide that are too wide to make a complete reconciliation? Why do religious minorities in Muslim countries have fewer rights than Muslims do in Western societies? Do Muslims need reform and reflection similar to those of Catholic Priests? Are Muslim and Australian identities compatible or are they mutually exclusive? And lastly, are the schools doing enough in fostering goodwill and inter-communal relationship!

I will not pretend to have set theories or clinical remedies to these questions. I will, however, address the government’s key question. What kinds of programs and initiatives are needed to identify, and eventually modify falsehoods and incorrect information that precipitates attitudes to mainstream Australia?

Continue reading

“The communities I write about in the book — South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh immigrants — are “othered” and scapegoated today in our country. But at the same time, they are finding the strength, courage and purpose to reshape America by telling their own narratives, building community power, and changing policy.” — Deepa Iyer 

Column » ‘By the Book’ with Joseph Preville

by JOSEPH RICHARD PREVILLE and JULIE POUCHER HARBIN  for ISLAMiCommentary on SEPTEMBER 29, 2015:

A vibrant multiracial America is emerging right before our eyes.  According to a new report by the Pew Research Center, “Multiracial Americans are at the cutting edge of social and demographic change in the U.S.—young, proud, tolerant and growing at a rate three times as fast as the population as a whole.” (“Multiracial in America,” June 11, 2015).

Deepa Iyer takes a looks at the struggles behind this momentous change in the United States and the challenges ahead in We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future (The New Press, November 2015).  She writes that America “has yet to fully confront the scope and effects of racial anxiety, Islamophobia, and xenophobia that have permeated our national narratives and policies in the years since 9/11.  We must change this legal, cultural, and political climate of hostility and suspicion, especially as communities perceived as ‘others’ change American cities, schools, and neighborhoods due to population increases and migration patterns.”

A native of Kerala, India, Deepa Iyer immigrated to the United States at the age of 12 with her parents and brother to Louisville, Kentucky.  In a 2014 interview, she reflected on her early experiences as an immigrant to America: “It did not take long to find out I was on the margins, that I was not mainstream. In the mid-80s in Kentucky, people were used to a black or white racial paradigm.  People like me fit neither.  I definitely had my share of experiencing some bullying and harassment at school, which shaped my sense of being different.”

Iyer, currently a Senior Fellow at Center for Social Inclusion, is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and University of Notre Dame Law School.  An activist, writer and lawyer, she has served as a Trial Attorney for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice and as Executive Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT). 

Her work on immigrant and civil rights issues began at the Asian American Justice Center in the late 1990s. While at SAALT for nearly a decade, she shaped the formation of the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations (NCSO), a network of local South Asian groups, and served as Chair of the National Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA). Iyer’s essays on immigration, the post 9/11 backlash, and racism have appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, USA Today, Al-Jazeera and the Nation.

With contentious national debates on race, religion, and immigration making the news every day, We Too Sing America is a fresh voice in the conversation.

Deepa Iyer discusses her new book in this exclusive interview.

Deepa Iyer (credit: Les Talusan Photography)

Why did you choose to take the title of your book from a Langston Hughes poem?  Does the poem have special meaning for you as an activist for social justice?

Almost ninety years ago, Langston Hughes wrote a poem about how Black people, though they were marginalized and rejected in all aspects of American society, grew stronger and wiser. He wrote that they too “sing America.” The communities I write about in the book — South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh immigrants — are “othered” and scapegoated today in our country. But at the same time, they are finding the strength, courage and purpose to reshape America by telling their own narratives, building community power, and changing policy. That is why the poem resonated with me. Continue reading

by IMAN SULTAN for ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN on AUGUST 24, 2015:

Iman Sultan

Granada is renowned as the last stronghold of Andalusian Muslims before the shadow of the Spanish Inquisition descended on the entire peninsula and drove them out. It is the inspiration of teary poets reminiscing of the bygone Golden Age of the Muslim ummah, and the site of political nostalgia among Muslim nationalists. Recently, it has also become a center of epistemic resistance among people from around the world and across different faith groups, nationalities and academic disciplines.

A program called Critical Muslim Studies (CMS), an intensive two-week summer school, convened there in early June with activists, intellectuals and professors who specialize in liberation theology and believe in utilizing religion and spirituality to achieve political justice. Roberto Hernandez — a Latino professor and activist, who had been involved in the Berkeley student strike of 1999 when students took to the streets because the university was disbanding the Ethnic Studies department — was the director of this program.

The Critical Muslim Studies program took place in the old Arab neighborhood of Al-Baizin in Spain. (photo by Iman Sultan)

The location proved key. Ramon Grosfoguel, an ethnic studies professor and critical scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, explained why we were in Granada. The historical city was not only the last outpost of Muslim civilization in Spain, it was the first victim of colonial modernity that was about to sweep the world, and which the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella were forging.  The same tactics used in the Inquisition, he explained, were used in the conquest of the Americas and and in the genocide of indigenous and African peoples. Current-day Granada is fraught with this history and divisive consciousness. Near Plaza Nueva, a public square filled with restaurants and shops, a gigantic statue of Columbus kneeling at Isabella’s feet and giving her his plans for conquest rises into the sky with the beacon of the Alhambra gleaming on the horizon.

Grosfoguel postulated that the Muslim conquest of Iberia was in fact not a conquest, but a liberation. In the 8th century, Spain did not exist as we know it today, but constituted different languages and peoples. The Iberian people were primarily Unitarian Christians and Jews, suffering under the boot of foreign Visigothic rule. An army of 8,000 Muslims (at the most) defeated an army of 150,000 Visigoths in only three years, a seemingly impossible feat. What enabled the Muslims to triumph? The answer lay in the people. The inhabitants of Iberia had not only joined the incoming Muslim armies in liberating themselves, they had also appealed to Morocco several times for help. What resulted? Interfaith relations flourished and there was unity amongst these Mediterranean peoples. The invisible line in the Mediterranean Sea between Europe and Africa, West and East, did not exist at the time, but only appeared with The Inquisition and the advent of colonialism.

Continue reading