Column » ‘By the Book’ with Joseph Preville


KatzBookHow did Muslims and Jews create and inhabit shared spaces in post-World War I France?  Historian Ethan B. Katz examines the “triangular affair” between Muslims, France, and Jews in his new book, The Burdens of Brotherhood: Jews and Muslims from North Africa to France (Harvard University Press, Nov. 2015).  Katz states that “it is impossible to understand the history of Jewish-Muslim relations in France if we fail to place the French state at the heart of the story.”

He argues that Muslims and Jews “related to one another through their respective relationships to the French state and society and to definitions of French national and imperial belonging.”  Katz draws on a wealth of sources to show how Muslims and Jews interacted with each other in common and communal ways.  “To date,” he writes, “the lived interactions of ordinary Jews and Muslims in France have been almost entirely overlooked in both collective memory and scholarship.  A complex history of varied encounters risks being lost in the powerful current of contemporary events.”

Katz is Assistant Professor of History at University of Cincinnati.  He was educated at Amherst College and University of Wisconsin-Madison.  His scholarly work has appeared in Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, Journal of European Studies, Jewish Quarterly Review, and Journal of North African Studies.  He is a contributor to A History of Jewish-Muslim Relations: From the Origins to the Present Day (Princeton University Press, 2013), edited by Benjamin Stora and Abdelwahab Meddeb.

Ethan B. Katz discusses his new book in this interview.

Why do you think it is important to place Jews and Muslims “within a single story” to understand their history in France?

Even though historians have tended to study Jews and Muslims in France separately, the two groups’ fates have often been intertwined.  In addition, their respective histories in France can be better understood when the two groups are compared. In the late nineteenth century, France decided to give full French citizenship to Jews in Algeria but not to Muslims in Algeria.  Both advocates and policymakers defended the decision by actively contrasting Jews, as allegedly Western, modern, and civilized with the larger native Muslim population, depicted as barbaric, primitive, and disconnected from Western norms.

It’s also important to note that large numbers of Jews and Muslims from North Africa who came to France had much in common: language, food, dress, music, even certain rituals.  Therefore, their daily encounters often did not fit our contemporary assumptions – or those of French policymakers at the time – about sharp inter-group divisions. Continue reading

“The overall consensus seems to be that the assimilationist policies of the tsarist state in late imperial Russia lay at the foundation of the bitterness that characterized the tsarist central state establishment’s relations with the Volga-Ural Muslims, and especially their elites… Hasty attempts to forge a nation-state out of a multiconfessional, multilingual, and multiethnic empire cost Russia its existing and functional imperial model.” – Mustafa Tuna, speaking on the theme of his manuscript “Imperial Russia’s Muslims: Islam, Empire and European Modernity, 1788-1914” (Cambridge University Press, June 2015) at a Mellon-grant supported workshop on Muslim and Jewish diasporas, held at Duke University.


UnknownWith the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I last year and the 100th anniversary of the hashing out and signing of the Sykes-Picot agreement beginning this Fall, historians have been getting a lot of attention. They are being asked to explain, for example, how the conditions of that period — including the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the re-drawing of borders, and the displacement of people — shaped the modern Middle East with all its current challenges and conflicts.

The treatment and “management” of minorities during that period is instructive and essential to understanding the geopolitics of a very wide region today.

In his new book “Imperial Russia’s Muslims: Empire, Islam, and European Modernity 1788-1914” (Cambridge University Press, June 2015), Andrew W. Mellon Assistant Professor of Russian and Central Eurasian History and Culture at Duke Mustafa Tuna explores how another empire, tsarist Russia, sought to “manage” its minorities — specifically the Muslim communities of the Volga-Ural region. Looking at the period from the late 18th century through to the outbreak of World War I — a slightly earlier period — he “reveals how the Russian state sought to manage Muslim communities, the ways in which the state and Muslim society were transformed by European modernity, and the extent to which the long nineteenth century either fused Russia’s Muslims and the tsarist state or drew them apart.”

His book “ raises questions about imperial governance, diversity, minorities, and Islamic reform and in doing so proposes a new theoretical model for the study of imperial situations.”

In this interview, Tuna carries his insights about the opportunity costs of Islamophobia for imperial Russia to a broader and contemporary context. Continue reading

compiled by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN on MAY 25, 2015: 

Dawn Chatty, director of the Oxford Refugee Studies Center, spoke last month at Duke University on “Dispossession and Forced migration in the Arab Middle East.” Her presentation took place as part of Duke University’s Middle East Refugees Awareness Week, April 8-17, 2015 and was based on a book she published in 2010 of the same title, the research of which grew out of “trying to understand the multiplicity of minority groups in the Middle East… specifically in the Levant or the former Ottoman Empire in the 19th century.”

Citing modern-day statistics — 16 million refugees, including Palestinian refugees, recognized by the UN system —she also sought to show “how forced migration has become the defining feature of the 21st Century.” Continue reading


Professor Erdağ Göknar sits down with Professors Cemal Kafadar and Cemil Aydin  to discuss the various versions and “revisions” of Istanbul through the ages.

Göknar is an Associate Professor of Turkish and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University. Kafadar is a Professor of Turkish Studies at Harvard University. Aydin is a Associate Professor in the History Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

This conversation was made possible by the Rethinking Global Cities project, a Duke University project funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s “Partnership in a Global Age.”



How the Occupation of Istanbul Shaped the Modern Middle East (on Goknar’s recent Langford lecture, by Julie Poucher Harbin for Duke Today)