“Opinion leaders and policy-makers unfortunately have a tendency to equate Lebanese Shi‘ism with Hizbullah and to assume all Shi‘a are connected to Iran. My book documents very different dynamics. I do examine the spread of the Arab-Israeli conflict to Senegal, but this plays out differently in the diaspora than it does in Lebanon. I also illustrate the making of an indigenous African Shi‘ism that, while inspired by the Iranian revolution, does not aim to establish an Islamic government and overthrow Senegal’s secular state. It is important that policy-makers better understand the complexities of the dynamic – not static – Shi‘i Muslim world.” —– Mara Leichtman, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Michigan State University

by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary with MARA LEICHTMAN on MARCH 18, 2016: 

Mara Leichtman

This past Fall, Mara Leichtman, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Michigan State University, published her latest book — Shi‘i Cosmopolitanisms in Africa: Lebanese Migration and Religious Conversion in Senegal (Indiana University Press, 2015). It followed her 2009 edited volume (with Mamadou Diouf) New Perspectives on Islam in Senegal: Conversion, Migration, Wealth, Power, and Femininity (Palgrave Macmillan).

Educated at the University of Michigan, Johns Hopkins University, and Brown University, Leichtman has been a visiting fellow at Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin, the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World in Leiden, the Netherlands, and the Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies at George Mason University.

How did she come to be interested in the topic of Lebanese Shi‘a in Senegal?

Leichtman told ISLAMiCommentary that while earning her master’s degree in international relations from the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University a professor gave her an article about the Lebanese community in Ivory Coast — knowing of her interests in both Africa and the Middle East. It piqued her curiosity.

So when she started the doctoral program in sociocultural anthropology at Brown University, she decided to research the Lebanese community in Abidjan.

“This was in 1999, when there was a coup d’état in Ivory Coast, which is what led me to Senegal, as a more stable option,” she said in a written interview with ISLAMiCommentary.

As her research got underway, Lebanese in Senegal regularly asked her why she wanted to study their community. In response she said she drew upon her origins in Michigan — and its significant Lebanese (and particularly Lebanese Shi‘i) community.

“My mother happened to work at the time with a woman of Lebanese origin who was born in a village in Senegal,” she said. “Lebanese in Senegal were delighted to hear of this personal connection.”

While she set out to study the Shi‘i Lebanese community in West Africa, she didn’t know in advance that she would also find Senegalese Shi‘i converts.

Senegal is predominantly Sunni Muslim (94%) following the Maliki school of jurisprudence with Sufi influences. While Shi‘i Muslims make up only a small minority of the population, Leichtman said the number is growing as Senegalese convert. (Christians make up about 5% of the Senegalese population, and an even smaller demographic continues to practice what is referred to as “African traditional religion.”)

It was the first Lebanese shaykh in Senegal, Shaykh Abdul Mun‘am al-Zayn, who initially told Leichtman that Senegalese were converting to Shi‘i Islam. She was able to eventually connect with Senegalese Shi‘i leaders through Walfadjri, a media conglomerate that hosted a weekly radio show featuring Muslims of different denominations and regularly invited various Senegalese Shi‘a to participate.

In this interview, Leichtman introduces us to these communities and the importance of learning more about them. Continue reading

Posted in Anthropology, Arts & Culture, Books, Citizenship, Colonialism, Economics, International Studies, Islamic Theology & Practice, Middle East & North Africa, Migration, Political Science, Race and Ethnicity, Religion, Security & Civil Liberties, Sub-Saharan, East, and West Africa, urban development.

Column » ‘By the Book’ with Joseph Preville

by JOSEPH RICHARD PREVILLE and JULIE POUCHER HARBIN  for ISLAMiCommentary on FEBRUARY 8, 2016: 

Are Muslims embraced as part of the mosaic of Europe?  Or, are they considered and treated as outsiders, foreigners, and invaders?  Political Scientist Peter O’Brien deconstructs this issue in his new book, The Muslim Question in Europe: Political Controversies and Public Philosophies (Temple University Press, 2016).

“There exists,” he writes, “no great, let alone unbridgeable, gulf in outlook or lifestyle forever separating ‘Islamic’ from ‘Western’ civilization.”  He argues that there is not a “clash of civilizations,” but “clashes within Western civilization.”

O’Brien dissects the hotly-debated and contentious topics of headscarves, terrorism, and secularism (mosque-state relations) within the broad historical and political contexts of “intra-European tensions.” He argues that European Muslims should not be viewed “as a distinct group of political actors.” Rather, he states that European Muslims and non-Muslims both inhabit “a normative landscape in Europe dominated by the vying public philosophies of liberalism, nationalism, and postmodernism.”

O’Brien is Professor of Political Science at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.  He was educated at Kalamazoo College and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He has served as a Social Science Research Council Fellow at the Free University in Berlin and as a Fulbright Professor at Bogazici University in Istanbul and the Humboldt University in Berlin.  O’Brien is the author of Beyond the Swastika (Routledge, 1996) and European Perceptions of Islam and America from Saladin to George W. Bush (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

Peter O’Brien discusses his new book in this interview. Continue reading

Posted in Americas, Books, Europe, History, Middle East & North Africa, Muslim Life, Political Science, Religion, Security & Civil Liberties.

Chris Bail, assistant professor of sociology at Duke University shared the abstract to his latest article: “The Public Life of Secrets: Deception, Disclosure and Discursive Framing in the Policy Process.” See below for link to the full article. 

by CHRIS BAIL for SOCIOLOGICAL THEORY (June 2015 vol. 33no. 2 97-124): 

Chris Bail

ARTICLE ABSTRACT: While secrecy enables policy makers to escape public scrutiny, leaks of classified information reveal the social construction of reality by the state. I develop a theory that explains how leaks shape the discursive frames states create to communicate the causes of social problems to the public and corresponding solutions to redress them. Synthesizing cultural sociology, symbolic interactionism, and ethnomethodology, I argue that leaks enable non–state actors to amplify contradictions between the public and secret behavior of the state. States respond by “ad hoc–ing” new frames that normalize their secret transgressions as logical extensions of other policy agendas. While these syncretic responses resolve contradictions exposed by leaks, they gradually detach discursive frames from reality and therefore increase states’ need for secrecy—as well as the probability of future leaks—in turn. I illustrate this downward spiral of deception and disclosure via a case study of the British government’s discourse about terrorism between 2000 and 2008.

READ ARTICLE

 

Christopher A. Bail is assistant professor of sociology at Duke University. By developing new methods for the analysis of large text-based datasets, he examines how political actors and non-profit organizations create cultural change. He is the author of “Terrified: How Anti-Muslim Fringe Organizations Became Mainstream” (2015) as well as articles in American Sociological Review, Theory and Society, and Sociological Methods and Research.

 

Continue reading

Posted in Europe, Political Science, Published Paper, Security & Civil Liberties, Sociology.

Academic research across borders faces hurdles when it comes to Iran, Syria, Sudan, and Cuba

by Tara García Mathewson for EducationDIVE on MAY 26, 2015: 

The United States names only four countries on its State Sponsors of Terrorism List — Iran, Syria, Sudan, and Cuba, though the latter is expected to come off that list in the coming weeks. The government has determined these countries have “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism,” according to the State Department’s website, and has responded with a set of sanctions based on that activity.

While scholarly pursuits generally rise above political disagreements, the nation’s colleges and universities are affected by U.S. sanctions. In February, the University of Massachusetts Amherst made its policy of restricting access by Iranian students to certain science and engineering programs public. Administrators said the policy conflicted with the institution’s values, but they didn’t believe they had a choice in its implementation because of federal sanctions aiming to prevent Iranian students from taking nuclear concepts back to Iran.

After a week of intense criticism, and clarification from the State Department, the university backtracked on its policy. KEEP READING

 

Posted in Education, Islamic Studies & Academia, Political Science.