by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on DECEMBER 21, 2015:

Rashid Khalidi talked with Shai Ginsburg about the role of the historian, his take on violence in the Middle East and his new book project on the hundred year war in Palestine — in this an interview recorded in October 2015 during Khalidi’s visit to Duke. Sponsored by the Duke University Middle East Studies Center, Khalidi’s visit also included a public lecture (Watch Here) and a faculty symposium (see Ginsburg’s remarks here) on his work.

Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies in the Department of History at Columbia University. Shai Ginsburg is an Associate Professor in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University and affiliated faculty with the Duke Islamic Studies Center. Continue reading

Column » ‘By the Book’ with Joseph Preville

by JOSEPH RICHARD PREVILLE and JULIE POUCHER HARBIN  for ISLAMiCommentary on DECEMBER 4, 2015:

Is there a more tragic country in the world today than Syria ?  How did it descend into chaos, conflict, and crisis?

John McHugo offers some answers in Syria: A History of the Last Hundred Years (The New Press, 2015).

McHugo is a historian, international lawyer, and Arabic linguist.  Born in Croydon, England, he was educated at Oxford University and The American University in Cairo. McHugo is the author of A Concise History of the Arabs (Saqi Books, 2013; republished by The New Press, 2014) and the forthcoming book “The Forked Scimitar: A Concise History of Sunnis and Shi’is” (Saqi Books, 2017). He is also an adviser to Tim Farron, the leader of the British Liberal Democrat Party, on peace in the Middle East.

The long story of Syria is marked by centuries of conquest. McHugo states that Syria “has constantly been ruled and occupied (and sometimes partitioned) by strong rulers who came from elsewhere.” In the last hundred years, Syria’s fate was determined by Western powers and the regional turmoil they created.

“It is not an exaggeration,” he writes, “to say that the actions of the great powers in the aftermath of the Great War and over the following decades deprived the people of Syria of any chance of a normal development to nationhood.”

John McHugo reviews Syria’s complex history and offers insight into its future in this timely interview. Continue reading


by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on DECEMBER 2, 2015: 

From October 22-23, Columbia University Arab Studies professor Rashid Khalidi gave a public lecture on “The Hundred Year War in Palestine” and convened a public forum with Duke faculty on the same topic. This two-day “Borders of the Middle East” symposium was co-sponsored by the Duke Middle East Studies Center, the Franklin Humanities Institute, Forum for Scholars and Publics, Duke University Department of History, Duke Department of Political Science, UNC-Chapel Hill history department, and the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies.

The period since the Balfour Declaration of 1917 has witnessed what amounts to a hundred years of war against the Palestinian people,” said Khalidi, previewing the theme of his talk. “This war had a unique nature: formally sanctioned and authorized by the great powers, but largely waged by others. Against these heavy odds, the Palestinians have resisted what amounts to one of the last ongoing attempts at colonial subjugation in the modern world.”

He began his talk with this observation: “It’s an understatement to say that most portrayals of Palestinians do not feature the perspectives of Palestinians.. They’ve been elided from the historical narrative.” In fact he said that “it’s an article of faith from many of their opponents that Palestinians do not exist.” Continue reading


by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on SEPTEMBER 14, 2015: 

Earlier this month, the Duke Middle East Studies Center, in partnership with the Duke Center for Jewish Studies and the Duke University Program in Arts of the Moving Image,  screened Sajil Ana Arabi (“Write Down, I am an Arab”) — the 2014 documentary film about “one of the most influential writers of the Arab world” Mahmoud Darwish. It’s the ninth film of award-winning Israeli director Ibtisam Mara’ana-Menuhin.

As written in the official description of the film:

“Write Down, I am an Arab” tells the story of Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian national poet and one of the most influential writers of the Arab world. His writing shaped Palestinian identity and helped galvanize generations of Palestinians to their cause. Born in the Galilee, Darwish’s family fled during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and returned a few years later to a ruined homeland. These early experiences would provide the foundation for a writing career that would come to define an entire nation. 

Like other Palestinian citizens of Israel at the time, Mahmoud Darwish grew up under military law that prevented freedom of movement. In 1964 his defiant poem, “Write Down, I am an Arab”, lands him in prison and turns him into an icon of the Arab world. At the same time, he meets and falls in love with Tamar Ben-Ami, a young Jewish-Israeli. He sends her intimate love letters in Hebrew which she keeps secret for decades. The affair ends when Tamar joins the army. 

Darwish leaves Israel in the 1970s, moving to Beirut just before the outbreak of the civil war, where he connects with the PLO leadership and becomes speech writer and confidant to Yasir Arafat. He returns to Palestine in 1995 after years of exile and continues to be the biting and powerful voice of the Palestinian people until his death in 2008. 

“Write Down, I am Arab” is a personal and social portrait of the poet and national myth, Mahmoud Darwish. Through his poetry, secret love letters, and exclusive archival materials, we unearth the story behind the man who became the mouthpiece of the Palestinian people.

Following the documentary screening, Shai Ginsburg (an associate professor of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies and Arts of the Moving Image at Duke University who researches Hebrew literature, Israeli Cinema, and critical theory) engaged the audience in a free-flowing discussion about the life of the famed writer and the literature and politics that informed his work, as well as the state of the Israeli film industry today.

ISLAMiCommentary conducted a written Q & A (below) with Ginsburg to elaborate on these themes and also spoke with miriam cooke (Braxton Craven Distinguished Professor of Arab Cultures at Duke University) about Darwish. Iraq-native Abdul Sattar Jawad (professor of comparative literature and Middle East studies at Duke University) traveled in some of the same Arab writer’s circles as Darwish from the ‘70s through to 2003. He got to know the writer personally, and has also added some of his reflections to the Q & A. 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