“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

41j8PRILBzL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_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)
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 NICK CHEESMAN for NEW BOOKS IN ISLAMIC STUDIES on SEPTEMBER 15, 2015: 

Christopher R. Duncan
Christopher R. Duncan

Researching the communal killings that occurred in North Maluku, Indonesia during 1999 and 2000, Christopher Duncan was struck by how participants “experienced the violence as a religious conflict and continue to remember it that way”, yet outsiders–among them academics, journalists, and NGO workers–have tended to dismiss or downplay its religious features. Agreeing that we need to move beyond essentialist explanations, Duncan nevertheless insists that the challenge for scholars “is to explain the role of religion in the violence without essentializing it.”

In Violence and Vengeance: Religious Conflict and Its Aftermath in Eastern Indonesia (Cornell University Press, 2013) he takes up the challenge. Drawing on over a decade of research in North Maluku, and informed by time spent in the region prior to the conflict, Duncan speaks with impressive authority about the before, during and after of the bloodshed. Utilizing work by scholars of political violence and the management of memory like Stanley Tambiah and Steve Stern, he shows how participants themselves produced and reproduced master narratives of holy warfare. In the process, he critiques scholarship that overstates elite agendas and machinations, remaining too focused on the causes of violence and losing sight of how, in the words of Gerry Van Klinken, “a runaway war can become decoupled from its initial conditions”. Continue reading

by GALYM ZHUSSIPBEK for ISLAMiCommentary on SEPTEMBER 18, 2015:

Galym Zhussipbek
Galym Zhussipbek

It can be argued that all radical Muslims who claim to act in the name of Islam, in reality, quite ironically, do not properly understand the very basic pillar of the Islamic creed — Oneness of God (Tawheed) — which they pretend to defend or restore. But the proper belief in Tawheed signifies the utmost humility and an acceptance of diversity and respect for human-kind.

This is currently one of the most-contested principles in Islam, though an Islamic world-view centered around Oneness of God (Tawheed) necessitates the genuine acceptance of pluralism.

There are some powerful calls for a reformation of Islam — propelled by gross human rights violations of human rights perpetrated by some Muslims or by people acting in the name of Islam who have zero tolerance for pluralism and the diversity of human-kind.

Many people, including Muslims themselves may wonder what connects Islamic creed (aqeedah) and this preference for peace and acceptance of pluralism. Continue reading

by SHERALI TAREEN for NEW BOOKS IN ISLAMIC STUDIES on AUGUST 10, 2015: 

Bruce Lawrence
Bruce Lawrence

In his lyrical and brilliant new book Who is Allah? (UNC Press, 2015), the legendary scholar of Islam Bruce B. Lawrence, Professor Emeritus of Religion at Duke University, wrestles with the question of Who is Allah? through a dazzling range of textual, aesthetic, and performative registers.

41J+Gw-Y0NL._SL160_Who is Allah? treats readers to a delectable buffet of the breadth and depth of Muslim spirituality. How do Muslims invoke, remember, define, and debate Allah, while seeking to live a life that accords with His norms and template of piety? That is the central question addressed in this book as Lawrence introduces readers to major facets of Muslim ritual life and intellectual traditions-both past and present. In our conversation, we talked about the idea of “performing Allah,” the intellectual history of the idea of Allah, Allah in the thought of the Muslim mystics Ibn ‘Arabi and Bawa Muhaiyuddin, the mobilization of Allah by Sayyid Qutb and Usama bin Laden, Allah online, and the Indian artist M.F Husain. Who is Allah? is a fascinating page turner that will make a great gift to family, friends, acquaintances and indeed strangers, and that should work splendidly in the context of classroom discussions on Muslim theology, Sufism, ritual practice, performance studies, and the fine arts.

LISTEN TO INTERVIEW WITH LAWRENCE

 
In September 2014 the Duke Islamic Studies Center (which manages the Transcultural Islam Project of which TIRN and ISLAMiCommentary is a part), announced its official institutional affiliation with New Books in Islamic Studies — a bi-weekly audio podcast featuring hour long conversations with authors of exciting new research. For an archive see HERE.

by SHERALI TAREEN for NEW BOOKS IN ISLAMIC STUDIES on AUGUST 1, 2015: 

Venkat Dhulipala
Venkat Dhulipala

In the historiography on South Asian Islam, the creation of Pakistan is often approached as the manifestation of a vague loosely formulated idea that accidentally emerged as a nation-state in 1947.

51MuVgYdVVL._SL160_In his magisterial new book Creating a New Medina: State Power, Islam, and the Quest for Pakistan in Late Colonial North India (Cambridge University Press, 2015), Venkat Dhulipala, Associate Professor of History at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, thoroughly and convincingly debunks such a narrative. Creating a New Medina is an encyclopedic masterpiece. Through a careful reading of a range of sources, including the religious writings of important 20th-century Muslim scholars, Dhulipala shows ways in which Pakistan was crafted and imagined as “The New Medina” that was to represent the leader and protector of the global Muslim community. What emerges from this thorough examination is a nuanced and complicated picture of the interaction of nationalism, religion, and politics in modern South Asian Islam. In our conversation, we talked about a range of issues including the rise of Muslim nationalism in late colonial India, the contribution of B.R. Ambedkar to the public discussions and debates on Pakistan, ‘Ulama’ discourses and debates on Pakistan, and the partition and its afterlives. This wonderfully written and painstakingly researched book will be of tremendous interest to students and scholars of Muslim politics, nationalism and religion, and South Asian Islam.

LISTEN TO INTERVIEW WITH DHULIPALA

In September 2014 the Duke Islamic Studies Center (which manages the Transcultural Islam Project of which TIRN and ISLAMiCommentary is a part), announced its official institutional affiliation with New Books in Islamic Studies — a bi-weekly audio podcast featuring hour long conversations with authors of exciting new research. For an archive see HERE.