“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

Academic research across borders faces hurdles when it comes to Iran, Syria, Sudan, and Cuba

by Tara García Mathewson for EducationDIVE on MAY 26, 2015: 

The United States names only four countries on its State Sponsors of Terrorism List — Iran, Syria, Sudan, and Cuba, though the latter is expected to come off that list in the coming weeks. The government has determined these countries have “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism,” according to the State Department’s website, and has responded with a set of sanctions based on that activity.

While scholarly pursuits generally rise above political disagreements, the nation’s colleges and universities are affected by U.S. sanctions. In February, the University of Massachusetts Amherst made its policy of restricting access by Iranian students to certain science and engineering programs public. Administrators said the policy conflicted with the institution’s values, but they didn’t believe they had a choice in its implementation because of federal sanctions aiming to prevent Iranian students from taking nuclear concepts back to Iran.

After a week of intense criticism, and clarification from the State Department, the university backtracked on its policy. KEEP READING



bookcover-1“Many Palestinians see the Israelis as aggressive colonizers of Palestinian land and resources or as jailers; many Israelis see the Palestinians as irrational, violent and a ticking demographic time bomb that endangers a Jewish-majority state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. One thing is sure: Palestinian and Israeli youth are the hope for a resolution of the differences; their elders seem unable to get that job done.” — University of Michigan History professor Juan Cole

Column » ‘By the Book’ with Joseph Preville

by *JOSEPH RICHARD PREVILLE and JULIE POUCHER HARBIN for ISLAMiCommentary on August 4, 2014:

Juan Cole is one of the most astute and knowledgeable observers of the Middle East. His keen understanding of the Middle East was shaped by graduate study at the American University in Cairo and decades of research and travel in the region. Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. He is the author of many books, including Engaging the Muslim World (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), Napoleon’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), and Sacred Space and Holy War: The Politics, Culture and History of Shi’ite Islam (I.B. Tauris, 2002).

In The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East (Simon and Schuster, 2014), Cole takes a detailed look inside the recent revolutions by Arab youth in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. Cole salutes their courage and states that “this generation of New Arabs has shaken a complacent, stagnant, and corrupt status quo and forever changed the world.”

In this interview Juan Cole discusses his new book, the challenges Middle Eastern youth face in this time of “violent experimentation,” “wrenching transformations,” and “new forms of politics,” and his hopefulness for their future.



9780199372003Column » ‘By the Book’ with Joseph Preville

by *JOSEPH RICHARD PREVILLE and JULIE POUCHER HARBIN for ISLAMiCommentary on August 4, 2014:

Muslims have a long and rich history in Greater Detroit, Michigan, but it has not been thoroughly documented – until now. Sally Howell brings this history to life in her new book out next month — Old Islam in Detroit: Rediscovering the Muslim American Past (Oxford University Press, 2014). In her book she intends to “lay groundwork for a new interpretation of the Muslim American past that makes sense of the tactical amnesias, persistent discontinuities, and narrative breaks that have kept crucial aspects of the history of Islam in America from being remembered and effectively understood.”

Sally Howell is Assistant Professor of History and Arab American Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Howell is an editor of Arab Detroit 9/11: Life in the Terror Decade (Wayne State University Press, 2011) and Citizenship and Crisis: Arab Detroit after 9/11 (Russell Sage Foundation Press, 2009). She is also a contributor to The Cambridge Companion to American Islam (Cambridge University Press, 2013), edited by Omid Safi and Juliane Hammer. Sally Howell discusses her new book in the exclusive interview.


compiled by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, TIRN on APRIL 29, 2014:  

The following are the intros to Joseph Richard Preville’s seven latest “By the Book” Q & As; published from January 2014  through April 2014 on ISLAMiCommentary. Happy Reading! 

Column » ‘By the Book’ with Joseph Preville

bookcover.religionoutloudQ & A With Isaac Weiner on “Religion Out Loud: Religious Sound, Public Space, and American Pluralism” (NYU Press, 2014)

The free exercise of religion is enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But, what happens when religion becomes noisy or offensive to the ear? What happens when religion sounds “out of place”? Isaac Weiner explores these issues in his splendid new book, Religion Out Loud: Religious Sound, Public Space, and American Pluralism (NYU Press, 2014). Weiner’s objective is to analyze “the politics of religious pluralism in the United States by attending to disputes about religious sound in the public realm.” He states that his book “listens to Americans complain about religion as noise.”

Isaac Weiner is Assistant Professor of Religion and Culture in the Department of Comparative Studies at the Ohio State University. He was educated at Yale University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Religion Out Loud is Weiner’s first book. His scholarly work has appeared in Anthropological Quarterly, Religion Compass and Material Religion.

In Religion Out Loud, Weiner takes a detailed look at three major disputes regarding religious sound and noise: 1) Harrison v. St. Mark’s Church, Philadelphia (1877), involving the ringing of church bells at a Protestant Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; 2) Saia v. New York (1948) on the use of loudspeakers by Jehovah’s Witnesses to broadcast religious lectures in Lockport, New York, and 3) the petition of al-Islah Islamic Center to the city council of Hamtramck, Michigan (2004) for permission to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer. Weiner states that these three case studies “make evident how central sound has been to the ongoing project of demarcating religion’s proper place in American society.”

Isaac Weiner discusses his new book in this exclusive interview. READ INTERVIEW Continue reading


This revolution is a beginning
Like a migration, like a birth
This revolution is a bismillah,
Come on, finish the aya,
See how it improves on every reading
How each verse runs to the next
Passing the torch, without pause
So that tomorrow our lives will be the story of those
Who went to bed barefoot and woke up lords
(- Tamim Barghouti)

poster image: "Queen Nefertiti" by El Zeft, photo by Mia Gröndahl
poster image: “Queen Nefertiti” by El Zeft as photographed by Mia Gröndahl

A two-day event on the Arts of Revolution in the Middle East was held at Duke University on 28-29 March 2014. This Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies conference was opened by a benefit concert for Syrian children featuring pianist Malek Jandali, oud player and Duke Arabic instructor Azeddine Chergui, Duke cellist Jonathan Kramer and Duke student singers.

The conference explored the relationship between revolutionary politics and aesthetics, focusing on the democratic potential of popular forms of expression. Discussions revolved mainly around the Mediterranean uprisings that have been a site and source of new forms of expression, whether channeled through new media, written on walls, performed on bodies, or chanted in streets.

Art and activism came together with artists, as Moroccan political scientist Abdelhay Moudden aptly said, seeking to be the revolution. Art walked on the streets, inventing new histories. Resonances from each event reverberated around the region, creating a constellation of new social movements and globalizing the revolutionary repertoire. These movements removed several tyrants, but they have not yet changed the form of governance.

Hope, Egyptian academic and graphic designer Basma Hamdy told us, persists “like the passing torch,” despite the reversals, evasions and even mockery of the first sirens of freedom from praetorian rule.

University of Missouri-Columbia Arabic instructor and fiction writer Zaid Mahir’s description of the continued “evasive dissidence” Iraqi writers practice provided a sobering account of what happens when it is not the people but outsiders who topple the dictator.

Despite international attention, the role of social media in the revolutions was virtually absent from discussions.

Through presentations and performances, and during formal and informal discussions, participants from Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Morocco and Turkey charted regional expressions of spontaneous, eruptive freedom but also renewed repression.

They raised many questions:

  • In a region long accustomed to revolutions and their repression, are these events new or the return of the repressed?
  • Can the unprecedented utopian moments experienced during the early days of the revolutions be revived and become models for new forms of governance?
  • Is authoritarianism so entrenched in these cultures that new rulers may once again suppress new freedoms to protest, publish and speak across different sectors?
  • Have these movements created trans-regional networks or remained local?
  • Do Iraqi and Lebanese writers and artists provide guidance for how to deal with memories of national violence?
  • Does post-Soviet Russia teach lessons on how artists adapt to the lifting of control?
  • Can scholars avoid narratives of disaster before the outcomes of revolution have become clear?
  • Can scholars exploit the new possibilities that revolutionary artistic labor provides for opening up the public sphere?
  • How can scholars hold on to the optimism that Arab artists, writers and poets like Tamim Barghouti have expressed about their revolutions?

We anticipate continuing conversations at Rabat in a sequel conference “Arab Spring: Memory or Event?” at Muhammad V University 28-30 May 2014.

To facilitate those conversations here is an overview of major issues:

1] Artistic Production

What is the relationship between art and revolution? What are the similarities and differences between the uprisings in North Africa and Western Asia on the one hand and the parallel uprisings in Greece and Spain on the other? The first were called Intifadas, Arab Spring and Revolutions; the second “Los/as indignadas/os” and not revolutions. Why did the Greek and Spanish uprisings not generate the kind of artistic responses witnessed in the south and west of the Mediterranean? What does it mean for some arts of revolution to be recognized as important and lucrative?

2] Colonial Legacies

Independence struggles did not produce free nations but rather dictatorships and persistent racism. The recent events in the Mediterranean revolved around the struggle for material wellbeing, but importantly also for human dignity stolen under foreign rule and not restored under local rulers.

3] Neo-liberalism

Artist-activists around the Mediterranean were united in their rejection of neo-liberal policies: the “indignado/as” in South Europe took to the streets to protest the consequences of financialization; the Arab and Turkish demonstrators protested privatization/ gentrification, a first stage in neo-liberal designs. The spectacle of the Gezi uprisings marked a moment of tension within globalization: the new critical space may not have changed the state but it did change the culture.

4] Definitions

a) Revolution

What does “revolution” mean? Does the term appropriately describe the social movements around the Mediterranean? Or, does it falsely appropriate liberation struggles, serving to erase from our memories the reality of African and Asian struggles for decolonization? Those struggles do not fit into the history of Western Revolutions in America, France and Russia. How can the unprecedented utopian moments in the heart of the events be revived? Do such moments delineate the outlines of new political forms to replace the exhausted idea of democracy? How to track the appropriation of key words in uprisings, protests, and revolutions? To use “revolution” to name the Mediterranean events connects with the American and Haitian Revolutions that launched decolonial projects. French-Algerian political philosopher Frantz Fanon described revolutionary struggle as ultimately uncertain and unstable: “Everything used to be so simple before: the bad people were on one side, and the good on the other.”

b) “Arts of Revolution”

What does “art” in the expression “arts of revolution” mean? Artistic responses to the uprisings against dictators and neoliberal policies have turned artists into agents of change. Some resorted to deep histories, including Pharaonic and Phoenician, to represent the recent events. Others adapted internationally legible art forms. Notably, they deployed graffiti and rap with their roots in Black American protest movements to perform their anger and rejection of authoritarian rule. How does NC State University sociologist Shea McManus’ analysis of the Lebanese toilet installation reflect and differ from iconic European classics like French-American conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp’s pissoir?

5] Overarching Issues

a) Art vs. Scholarship of Revolution

What connects “art of revolution” and “scholarship of revolution”? What kinds of collaborations between scholars and artists of revolution are possible? Does Turkish filmmaker Halil Altindere‘s intention in producing “Wonderland”  matter? How can scholars make artistic inquiry and emotion relevant to the humanities and the social sciences?

b) Crisis of Democracy

University of Michigan-Ann Arbor professor and Libyan poet Khaled Mattawa called for a new social contract in the new hybrid states of the Mediterranean. Yet, the social contract is a crucial metaphor for Nation-State governance. Eighteenth century Swiss political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau imagined social contracts among individuals who were European, male, Christian and white. British feminist and political theorist Carole Paterman has countered Rousseau’s social contract with “the sexual contract” and American philosopher Charles Mills further introduced “the racial contract” in his book of the same name. Indigenous scholars and activists in the South American Andes also demand – for themselves and their society - a “communal contract.” Democracy is today in a crisis that affects both Western and post-independence nations where the nation-state was a tool of coloniality. Can a re-imagined social contract include racial, sexual and communal contracts?

c) Gender

The ubiquity of aesthetic tropes laced with political meanings is evident; such as the images of the woman in the red dress in Gezi being doused with tear gas by a soldier  (mentioned by Turkish writer and activist Surayya Evren in his talk on Gezi resistance).

d) Memory

Walls have become lieux de memoire where artists paint martyrs with angel wings. Initially, ephemeral (sometimes guerrilla) memorializations can become the basis of national public memory. Historical parallels are critical in order to endow new protests with new meanings.

e) Disorientation

As police states begin to crack, local artists come to terms with the freedom to speak directly — without subterfuge. Parallel trends evolve: new individuals express themselves in rap, graffiti and street performances, while longtime underground artists and political organizers can express themselves freely. Do we hear echoes of the Prague Spring, of other 1989 revolutions, of counter-revolutions that constrain artists after the euphoria has passed?

Watch this space for more video clips from the conference. Here’s a link to the full conference on iTunes University. Check back daily as this collection continues to be updated and added to. 

miriam cooke is Braxton Craven Distinguished Professor of Arab Cultures at Duke University. She is author of several books, most recently “Tribal Modern: Branding New Nations in the Arab Gulf” (University of California Press, January 21, 2014). Other books include “Dissident Syria: Making Oppositional Arts Official” (Duke, 2007) and “Nazira Zeineddine: Biography of an Islamic Feminist Pioneer” (Oneworld, 2010). She is also a regular contributor to ISLAMiCommentary.

Erdağ Göknar is Associate Professor of Turkish & Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University and core faculty member of the Duke Islamic Studies Center. Göknar teaches the popular “Geopolitics & Culture from Bosnia to Afghanistan” course in the fall and co-leads the Duke in Turkey undergraduate summer program. Orhan Pamuk, Secularism and Blasphemy: The Politics of the Turkish Novel (Routledge, 2013) is his latest book. He is also a regular contributor to ISLAMiCommentary.

Charles Kurzman (in opening remarks in video at top) is a Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of “The Missing Martyrs: Why There Are So Few Muslim Terrorists” (Oxford University Press, 2011). He is also co-director of UNC Chapel Hill’s Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations and a regular contributor to ISLAMiCommentary.

Claudia Koonz is Professor of History, emeritus, at Duke University. Koonz’s interests are in 20th Century German History, Women’s History, and genocide. She is currently writing a transnational study of the debates about the Muslim headscarf in France, Britain, and Germany. 

Bruce Lawrence served as the Nancy and Jeffrey Marcus Humanities Professor of the Humanities at Duke University and is currently Professor Emeritus of Religion at Duke University. His research ranges from institutional Islam to Indo-Persian Sufism and also encompasses the comparative study of religious movements. He was founding director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center and currently serves on the DISC Advisory Board. He was a Carnegie Scholar of Islam from 2008-2010. His recent books have included On Violence – A Reader (with Aisha Karim); Messages to the World, The Statements of Osama Bin Laden; The Quran, A Biography; and, with his spouse, miriam cooke, Muslim Networks from Hajj to Hip Hop. His forthcoming book will be “Who is Allah?” (UNC Press, 2015).

Ellen McLarney (in opening remarks in video at top) is an Assistant Professor of Arabic Literature and Culture, and core faculty with the Duke Islamic Studies Center. Her forthcoming book “Writing Revival: Women in Egypt’s Islamic Awakening” is about Islamist women in Egypt who write about women’s liberation, freedom, equality, and rights in the context of Islam. 

Walter D. Mignolo is an Argentine semiotician (École des Hautes Études) and professor at Duke University, who has published extensively on semiotics and literary theory, and worked on different aspects of the modern and colonial world, exploring concepts such as global coloniality, the geopolitics of knowledge, transmodernity, border thinking, and pluriversality. 


Abstracts and full bios of most of the conference participants can be found here. A Storify of the conference can be found here. 


The 2014 annual conference of the Duke-UNC Middle East Studies Consortium “Arts of Revolution” was co-sponsored by the Duke Middle East Studies Center; the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations (UNC-Chapel Hill); the Duke Islamic Studies Center; and the Duke Asian & Middle Eastern Studies Department. This even was also part of the Arts of Revolution series, a “Humanities Writ Large” project funded by the Mellon Foundation. 

This article was made possible by the Transcultural Islam Project, an initiative launched in 2011 by the Duke Islamic Studies Center —in partnership with the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations and the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies— aimed at deepening understanding of Islam and Muslim communities. See www.islamicommentary.org/about and www.tirnscholars.org/about for more information. The Transcultural Islam Project is funded by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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