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 JULIE POUCHER HARBIN for DUKE TODAY on SEPTEMBER 30, 2015:

Arabic instructor Abdel Razzaq Ben Tarif inside the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies.
Arabic instructor Abdel Razzaq Ben Tarif inside the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies.

Jordan native Abdel Razzaq Ben Tarif shares a favorite quote from the Dalai Lama: “Share your knowledge; it’s a way to achieve immortality.”

This fall, he’s following that command but teaching Arabic at Duke, joining the university’s team of Arabic instructors. He has six years of experience teaching Arabic in a classroom setting, a master’s of arts teaching Arabic for speakers of other language (2009), and a master’s in American studies (2014) from the University of Jordan.

“Ben Tarif was highly recommended by Duke students who studied with him in Jordan through the Kenan refugee program in Amman led by Suzanne Shanahan,” said Mbaye Lo, assistant professor of the practice and Arabic Language Program Coordinator at Duke. “So, he is somewhat familiar with the Duke culture; and with him, we hope to secure a diverse, and yet highly talented Arabic faculty to serve our students.”

Below, Ben Tarif talks with Julie Harbin, communications specialist for the Duke Islamic Studies Center.

QUESTION: You’re an award winning Arabic instructor who’s had a variety of experiences teaching Arabic, teaching UN employees, diplomats, defense department officials and U.S. soldiers and university students. How can you compare these experiences?

BEN TARIF: I think teaching Arabic for different groups is challenging, because

you are dealing with many people from many backgrounds, and each have their own goal to study the language. When we talk about diplomats, soldiers and defense department officials, going back to school again to learn a language can be frustrating to them. You have to create your own curriculum that meets their needs to learn the language, and this is fun.

QUESTION: Why is it so important for people to learn Arabic? What should people know about learning Arabic?

BEN TARIF: Arabic is the fifth most commonly spoken native language in the world and the official language in in more than 20 countries. There are more than 300 million native speakers of the language. The Arab-speaking world has a rich cultural heritage with its own unique art, music, literature, cuisine, and way of life. Also there are financial incentives for learning Arabic. The US government has designated Arabic as a language of strategic importance. Continue reading

by AMARNATH AMARASINGAM for NEW BOOKS IN GLOBAL CONFLICT on NOVEMBER 5, 2014: 

Michael Cook
Michael Cook

[Cross-posted from New Books in Global Conflict] Michael Cook, a widely-respected historian and scholar of Islam begins his book with a question that everyone seems to be asking these days: is Islam uniquely violent or uniquely political? Why does Islam seem to play a larger role in contemporary politics than other religions? The answers that are provided for these questions, particularly in the media, range from the ludicrous to the islamophobic. Cook, on the other hand, embarks on a much more nuanced and learned attempt at answering the question.

His book, Ancient Religions, Modern Politics: The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective (Princeton University Press, 2014), rightly begins with the assumption that if there is something unique about Islam in this regard, the uniqueness of it can only be understood through comparative study of other religions and their engagement with politics. Cook looks at Hinduism and Christianity’s involvement in modern political life and places them alongside Islam, delving deeper into issues of political identity, warfare, and social values. What he finds is interesting, and goes to the heart of almost every debate taking place in a wide variety of fields like religious studies and the sociology of religion. Listen as we talk with him about his book, about contemporary global politics, ISIS and Al-Qaeda, as well as fascinating future projects.

LISTEN TO INTERVIEW

by DAVID SCHANZER and COURSERA, JULY 2013:  

David Schanzer
David Schanzer

A seven-week course — 9/11 and Its Aftermath — Part I — by Associate Professor of the Practice of Public Policy David Schanzer will be offered free of charge to everyone on the Coursera platform. The course begins on September 9, 2013 and requires a 3-4 hour weekly commitment. SIGN UP

The course will explore the forces that led to the 9/11 attacks and the policies the United States adopted in response and will examine the phenomenon of modern terrorism, the development of the al Qai’da ideology, and the process by which individuals radicalize towards violence. Continue reading