by EMILIE ANNE-YVONNE LUSE for ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN on JANUARY 8, 2014: 

A 2009 poster combining the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah with the "Biggest Sushi Party in the City." Sao Paolo, Brazil
A 2009 poster combining the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah with the “Biggest Sushi Party in the City.” Sao Paolo, Brazil

The study of ethnic identity is a daunting endeavor, which, if treated too simply, fails to account for the richness and complexity of human existence.

In diasporic studies especially, the researcher faces heterogeneity and hybridity that escape tidy categorization and require constant re-assessment of the object of study itself. This was the consensus of a vivid and productive workshop “The Jewish & Muslim Diasporas in Latin America: New Comparative Perspectives,” held in early October 2013 at the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke University, with the goal of providing “new approaches to the comparative study of the Jewish and Muslim communities in Argentina and Brazil.”

The workshop was part of a project on “Jews & Muslims: Histories, Diasporas, and the Meaning of the European,” launched by the Duke Center for European Studies in the spring of 2013 and supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Duke University Office of the Provost.

New Approaches to the Study of Jews and Muslims in the Americas

The workshop began with a methodological presentation, “New Approaches to the Study of Jews and Muslims in the Americas,” given jointly by Jeffrey Lesser, Professor and Chair of History at Emory University, and Raanan Rein, Professor of Latin American and Spanish History and Rector of Tel Aviv University. Building on a theoretical paper the two published together in Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies, the two drew on years of experience researching Jews in Brazil and Argentina respectively to argue for a change in the way ethnic diasporas are studied.

Too often, they argued, scholars rely on sources and archives (community groups, religious organizations and umbrella groups) which privilege the ethnic or religious identity of the group without accounting for the variety of experiences, especially national experiences, within such groups. Alternately, study of the diaspora often focuses on how negative experiences, i.e. discrimination in the host country, shaped identity, and fails to account for the lived reality of diasporic subjects, who are just as likely to identify as nationals as they are to see themselves as part of their ethnic group.  Indeed, they might decide to stress certain parts of themselves in different contexts.”

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CIHRS-h2-1 copy(TIRN Editor’s Note: This annual report by CIHRS, which came out on May 16, 2013, recently came to my attention. Especially interesting to note is the report’s observations about human rights in Egypt. Written before the events of last week, the report notes the “repressive practices” of the regime, and that Egyptians “are paying a heavy price for their revolution as the chances for building national consensus around the transitional period dissipate.” Below is the press release for the report in English, which also covers Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Algeria, and the Palestinian Territories. Also, the introduction (in English) has been shared with TIRN, and permission given for publication on this site. The full report has only been released in Arabic. Find it here.) 

(Press Release)  Two years after the “Arab Spring” swept the Arab region and led within months to the ouster of the autocratic rulers in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen, the state of human rights in these countries remains dire and the chances for democratic transition face major challenges. The Arab countries which were less affected by the “Arab Spring” also continue to witness serious human rights violations which vary from one country to the next. Meanwhile, brutal crimes continue to be committed by the Syrian regime, even as the opposition has also been responsible for severe violations. These are some of the rights-related issues dealt with in the fifth annual report published by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies under the title of “Delivering Democracy: Repercussions of the ‘Arab Spring’ on Human Rights.” Continue reading


BritishMuslimConvertUniversityofCambridgeUKConverts have the potential to be a powerful and transformative influence on both the heritage Muslim community and wider British society – Yasir Suleiman

A ground-breaking report examining the experiences of nearly 50 British women of all ages, ethnicities, backgrounds and faiths (or no faith) – who have all converted to Islam – was launched in London yesterday by the University of Cambridge.

The report, produced by the University’s Centre of Islamic Studies (CIS), in association with the New Muslims Project, Markfield, is a fascinating dissection of the conversion experience of women in Britain in the 21st Century.

The first forum of its kind held in the UK, the study concludes with a series of recommendations for the convert, heritage Muslim, and wider British communities. The 129-page report also outlines the social, emotional and sometimes economic costs of conversion, and the context and reasons for women converting to Islam in a society with pervasive negative stereotypes about the faith. Continue reading