Column » ‘By the Book’ with Joseph Preville

syriaby JOSEPH RICHARD PREVILLE and JULIE POUCHER HARBIN  for ISLAMiCommentary on DECEMBER 4, 2015:

Is there a more tragic country in the world today than Syria ?  How did it descend into chaos, conflict, and crisis?

John McHugo offers some answers in Syria: A History of the Last Hundred Years (The New Press, 2015).

McHugo is a historian, international lawyer, and Arabic linguist.  Born in Croydon, England, he was educated at Oxford University and The American University in Cairo. McHugo is the author of A Concise History of the Arabs (Saqi Books, 2013; republished by The New Press, 2014) and the forthcoming book “The Forked Scimitar: A Concise History of Sunnis and Shi’is” (Saqi Books, 2017). He is also an adviser to Tim Farron, the leader of the British Liberal Democrat Party, on peace in the Middle East.

The long story of Syria is marked by centuries of conquest. McHugo states that Syria “has constantly been ruled and occupied (and sometimes partitioned) by strong rulers who came from elsewhere.” In the last hundred years, Syria’s fate was determined by Western powers and the regional turmoil they created.

“It is not an exaggeration,” he writes, “to say that the actions of the great powers in the aftermath of the Great War and over the following decades deprived the people of Syria of any chance of a normal development to nationhood.”

John McHugo reviews Syria’s complex history and offers insight into its future in this timely interview. Continue reading

by BANAFSHEH MADANINEJAD for NEW BOOKS IN ISLAMIC STUDIES on NOVEMBER 18, 2015:

Naser Ghobadzadeh
Naser Ghobadzadeh

41MG0wLQszL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_While “fundamentalism” and “authoritarian secularism” are commonly perceived as the two mutually exclusive paradigms available to Muslim majority countries Naser Ghobadzadeh‘s new book Religious Secularity: A Theological Challenge to the Islamic State (Oxford UP, 2014) highlights the recent political developments that challenge this binary perception.

Ghobadzadeh examines the case of Iran which has been subject to both authoritarian secularization and authoritarian Islamization over the last nine decades. While politico-religious discourse in Iran is articulated in response to the Islamic state, it also bears signs of a third discourse. Ghobadzadeh conceptualizes this politico-religious discourse as religious secularity. He uses this apparent oxymoronic term to describe the Islamic quest for a democratic secular state. Continue reading


by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on DECEMBER 2, 2015: 

From October 22-23, Columbia University Arab Studies professor Rashid Khalidi gave a public lecture on “The Hundred Year War in Palestine” and convened a public forum with Duke faculty on the same topic. This two-day “Borders of the Middle East” symposium was co-sponsored by the Duke Middle East Studies Center, the Franklin Humanities Institute, Forum for Scholars and Publics, Duke University Department of History, Duke Department of Political Science, UNC-Chapel Hill history department, and the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies.

The period since the Balfour Declaration of 1917 has witnessed what amounts to a hundred years of war against the Palestinian people,” said Khalidi, previewing the theme of his talk. “This war had a unique nature: formally sanctioned and authorized by the great powers, but largely waged by others. Against these heavy odds, the Palestinians have resisted what amounts to one of the last ongoing attempts at colonial subjugation in the modern world.”

He began his talk with this observation: “It’s an understatement to say that most portrayals of Palestinians do not feature the perspectives of Palestinians.. They’ve been elided from the historical narrative.” In fact he said that “it’s an article of faith from many of their opponents that Palestinians do not exist.” Continue reading

by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on NOVEMBER 23, 2015 *updated on Nov. 25: 

ISLAMiCommentary attended the annual Middle East Studies Association meeting this year (Nov. 21-24) — where hundreds of scholars from all over the world have gathered. See @ISLAMiComment on Twitter and also follow #MESA2015Denver and #MESA2015 for insightful tweets by scholars and other participants in this conference on a multitude of Middle East-related topics.

Continue reading

compiled by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on NOVEMBER 25, 2015: 

November 23, 2015 Statement by Middle East Studies Association

The Board of Directors of the Middle East Studies Association condemns the increasing frequency and intensity of violent acts against civilians taking place in countries around the world. We are also alarmed at the related rise in the stereotyping and vilification of people of Middle East or Muslim background.

We urge, therefore, those with responsibility for United States policy in the Middle East and the Islamic world to avail themselves of the insights of scholarship as they seek to understand the background of these violent acts and to frame responses to them.

We are deeply concerned that people who are or appear to be Muslim or of Middle Eastern background—citizens, residents and displaced persons seeking refuge—have been and continue to be the victims of discrimination in the US as well as other countries. This discrimination can occur in any area of public life, including employment, travel, access to accommodation and access to other goods, services and facilities. It can involve harassment, vilification and at times actual violence.

We deplore the reckless rhetoric of some public figures that is only increasing the likelihood of discrimination and the violation of the civil rights of people of Middle East and Muslim background. We commend the efforts of public officials to prevent acts of harassment and retaliation and encourage them to redouble their efforts in this direction.

Ignorance and misunderstanding of the Middle East and the Islamic world are rife in the US and other Western countries. This lack of accurate information must be addressed by the educational system at all levels. We call upon MESA members to actively share their expertise about the Middle East, Islam, and the Islamic world with the communities in which they live and work, and to make every effort as educators to communicate their invaluable knowledge and understanding to representatives of the media and policy makers.

We advocate tolerance, education, understanding, and thoughtfully planned measures to assure that these acts of violence are not followed by further senseless destruction or discrimination. Continue reading