21-year-old university student and former Afghan refugee, Gulwali Passarlay,speaks to Duke undergrads. photo by Catherine Angst
21-year-old university student and former Afghan refugee, Gulwali Passarlay,speaks to Duke undergrads. photo by Catherine Angst

by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on FEBRUARY 29, 2016: 

51ffhcH8cRL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_“Before I died, I contemplated how drowning would feel. It was clear to me now; this was how I would go: away from my mother’s warmth, my father’s strength, and my family’s love. The white waves were going to devour me, swallow me whole in their terrifying jaws, and cast my young body aside to drift down into the cold black depths,” Gulwali Passarlay wrote in the prologue to “The Lightless Sky: A Twelve-Year-Old Refugee’s Harrowing Escape from Afghanistan and His Extraordinary Journey Across Half the World.” (HarperOne, 2016)

At the age of 12 Gulwali was sent away from his rural Afghanistan home by his mother who paid a smuggling agent at $8,000, in installments, to get him safely to Italy. “However bad it gets,” the mother told her son. “Don’t come back.” Ten months into his journey, he nearly drowned (described above) in an overcrowded boat on his way to Greece. He’s now a man in his third year at the University of Manchester in the UK — alive to tell the tale of his year-long 12,500-mile perilous journey, which he likened to “a game of Chutes and Ladders” through Pakistan; Iran (twice); Turkey (twice); Bulgaria; Greece; Italy; France (twice); Belgium, Germany, and finally the UK.

While the trip took place back in 2006-2007, his book, written with Nadene Ghouri, is an instructive lens through which to view the current refugee crisis and the complicated human smuggling and trafficking networks that have refugees and migrants using air, rail, cars, trucks, boats, and their own tired feet, across rivers and seas and over mountains — to get them to a better life.

Last month Gulwali spoke via Skype for nearly an hour with more than a dozen Duke University undergraduate students enrolled in the Refugee Lives: Violence, Culture and Identity class, co-taught by professors miriam cooke, Maha Houssami, and Nancy Kalow.

The 21-year-old politics and philosophy major answered questions and shared stories with his contemporaries about his experiences in safe-houses, prisons/detention centers and refugee camps; the dozens of unscrupulous (and a few kind) agents, smugglers, and guides he encountered; and the friends and enemies he made along the way. Continue reading

41wu8enracL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Column » ‘By the Book’ with Joseph Preville

by JOSEPH RICHARD PREVILLE and JULIE POUCHER HARBIN  for ISLAMiCommentary on FEBRUARY 8, 2016: 

Are Muslims embraced as part of the mosaic of Europe?  Or, are they considered and treated as outsiders, foreigners, and invaders?  Political Scientist Peter O’Brien deconstructs this issue in his new book, The Muslim Question in Europe: Political Controversies and Public Philosophies (Temple University Press, 2016).

“There exists,” he writes, “no great, let alone unbridgeable, gulf in outlook or lifestyle forever separating ‘Islamic’ from ‘Western’ civilization.”  He argues that there is not a “clash of civilizations,” but “clashes within Western civilization.”

O’Brien dissects the hotly-debated and contentious topics of headscarves, terrorism, and secularism (mosque-state relations) within the broad historical and political contexts of “intra-European tensions.” He argues that European Muslims should not be viewed “as a distinct group of political actors.” Rather, he states that European Muslims and non-Muslims both inhabit “a normative landscape in Europe dominated by the vying public philosophies of liberalism, nationalism, and postmodernism.”

O’Brien is Professor of Political Science at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.  He was educated at Kalamazoo College and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He has served as a Social Science Research Council Fellow at the Free University in Berlin and as a Fulbright Professor at Bogazici University in Istanbul and the Humboldt University in Berlin.  O’Brien is the author of Beyond the Swastika (Routledge, 1996) and European Perceptions of Islam and America from Saladin to George W. Bush (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

Peter O’Brien discusses his new book in this interview. 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

“The role of highly-skilled and educated young people in vulnerable communities is not often the focus of established humanitarian policies and programs. This neglect persists despite the fact that the stability of the Middle East-North Africa region, as well as the rebuilding of post-conflict Syria, depends on maintaining the human and intellectual capital these young people represent.” (“The War Follows Them: Syrian University Students & Scholars in Lebanon” – Keith Watenpaugh/Adrienne L. Fricke/James R. King/IIE / UC Davis)

compiled by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN on JUNE 1, 2015: 

Keith Watenpaugh (Director of the University of California Davis Human Rights Center), spoke in April at Duke University on “Syria’s Lost Generation.” His presentation took place as part of Duke University’s Middle East Refugees Awareness Week, April 8-17, 2015 and was based on research he and colleagues conducted about Syrian university students and scholars (refugees) in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.

“We know from some pre-war statistics which are shaky at best that about 18% of the Syrian population between the ages of 16 and 24 go to some kind of secondary training, (including) universities. More city people go to university than people from the countryside,” he said, leading off his talk.

As of the date of the talk in April there were about 4 million Syrian refugees. WATCH WATENPAUGH’S TALK ABOVE. Links and information about his research below. 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