compiled by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN on MAY 13, 2015: 

Michael Reynolds, an Associate Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, presented on “Global Norms, Geopolitics, and the Evolution of Minority Politics in Turkey” at the March 19, 2015 workshop “Turkish Reasonable Accommodations: From Multiculturalism to Secular Nationalism and Back.”

“Often in analyses of Turkey’s policies towards minorities… there’s this  assumption that there’s something peculiarly wrong, some kind of defect with Turkish culture, and I want to push back a bit on that,” Reynolds led off his talk. “What I want to show is there are clearly identifiable, historical reasons that explain this sort of troubled relationship with minorities. The Turkish Republic as I see it is nothing if it is not a response to the problem of Ottoman decline.” Continue reading

compiled by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary/TIRN on MAY 6, 2015: 

Nora Fisher Onar is a Research Associate of the Centre for International Studies of the University of Oxford and a Transatlantic Fellow of the German Marshall Fund in Washington DC. Fisher Onar presented “The Cosmo-Politics of Nostalgia: Istanbul, Identity, and Difference” at the March 19, 2015 workshop “Turkish Reasonable Accommodations: From Multiculturalism to Secular Nationalism and Back.”

“Istanbul is I think a fascinating site of analysis. We’ve heard about how it’s been an imperial capitol for almost three millennia and so it’s brought together groups of different ethnic, sectarian, religious, civilizational orientations,” said Fisher Onar, beginning her presentation. “In Orhan Pamuk’s words Istanbul is just emerging perhaps from a century of being a backwater. It’s never been as provincial for the past 2,000 years as it has been for the past 100 or 85 or so (years).”

She then argued: “I think we can make the claim that although Istanbul became a backwater, although it became homogenized along with the general process of the homogenizing nation-building that took place from the 1920s onwards, there was still a persistence, there as a certain sort of post-imperial cosmopolitan persistence in Istanbul and that we can access in various traces left upon the city.” Continue reading


Erdag Goknar discusses the ramifications of the post WWI-partition of the Middle East. (Photo by Julie Harbin)
Erdag Goknar discusses the ramifications of the post WWI-partition of the Middle East. (Photo by Julie Harbin)

DURHAM, NC - At the end of World War I, the defeated capital of the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul, was “a city of poverty and refugees” with a multi-ethnic population of 1 million, with 100,000 refugees including Balkan Muslims, Russians, Crimean and Caucasian Muslims, Jews, Armenians and Turks.

“Multiple ethnicities and languages mixed and mingled. Each brought with it a separate ideology and vision,” said Duke Associate Professor of Turkish & Middle Eastern Studies Erdağ Göknar, speaking last week as part of the provost office’s Thomas Langford Lectureship.

When the British, French, Italians and Greeks arrived to occupy the city in 1918, they ignored the cosmopolitan space of the city, focusing instead on nationalities. The logic of emphasizing national groups was informed by Wilsonian principles of national self-determination. This was the same logic that led to the greater partition of Ottoman territory that Göknar said reconstituted the Middle East and whose violent consequences can be seen throughout the region today.

There were parts of the city that protested the occupation (mostly Muslims) and parts of the city that celebrated it (the minority populations). The occupation prefigured a human tragedy, what some scholars call the “unmixing” of people (“a euphemism for religious or ethnic cleansing”), as Göknar said. Continue reading


A March 24 conversation on contemporary Arabic fiction — between short-story writers Hassan Blasim and Hisham Bustani, editors Jennifer Acker and John Siciliano, scholar Mohamed El Sawi Hassan, and publisher Michel Moushabeck — is now online:

Photos from Amherst College.

Although Bustani loomed over the other conversants on a screen, he was originally meant to participate in the Amherst College-based talk in person. However, because his US visa went in for “additional scrutiny,”  he instead joined the talk, called “Contemporary Arabic Fiction: A Conversation,” via Skype. Continue reading

“Caste Consciousness Among Muslims in North India and Pakistan” with Sara Singha from ACMCU on Vimeo.


The caste system is the Indian hierarchical classification of people into ranked groups called varnas. There are four varnas in the caste system, Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras that are organized by occupation and maintained through endogamy. While discussions of caste are primarily rooted within a Hindu framework, ‘caste consciousness’ is also noticeable among Indian Muslims. There are three distinct Muslim castes in India: the Ashraf (the noble), the Ajlaf (the lowly), and the Arzal (Dalit). While the Ashraf claim Arab or Persian ancestry, the Ajlaf and Arzal are largely low-caste and Dalit converts to Islam. Relationships between the Ashraf and Dalit Muslims are strained through endogamy and punctuated by commensal segregation. These ‘caste’ divisions create multiple theological, social, and political fissures in the Indian Muslim community as the Ashraf consider Dalit Muslims inherently inferior and ‘polluted.’

While caste is often considered an Indian phenomenon, it has also seeped across the border to Pakistan where it manifests in multiple ways. Though not as pronounced as in India, ‘caste consciousness’ in Pakistan is observable through an awareness of purity and pollution (pak and na-pak) and through endogamy within a particular biradari (brotherhood). Such occurrences of ‘caste consciousness’ in Pakistan highlight intra-Muslim divisions that are exacerbated by ethnic, linguistic, and tribal distinctions. Continue reading