Sectarianization: Steven Heydemann & Joshua Landis on the Trajectory of the Syrian Nightmare

October 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to interview two of the leading Syria experts in the world, Steven Heydemann and Joshua Landis, about the “big picture” of the Syrian conflict and the wider crisis engulfing the Middle East today, as part of the CMES Conversations series produced by the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver. Landis, while best known as a blogger and commentator on Syria, is an historian. Heydemann is a political scientist who has written an influential study of Syrian politics covering the years 1946-1970.

The two interviews offer contrasting perspectives, but both take us several steps back from the news cycle and place the events unfolding in the region today in a wider historical, comparative and global lens. This was the focus of the forum that brought them to Denver, “Sectarianization: ISIS, the Syrian Conflict & the Future of the Middle East”. Sectarianization will be a central focus of our  in the coming months, and is the theme of the book my colleague Nader Hashemi and I are currently co-editing (our last book being The Syria Dilemma).

Steven Heydemann is Vice President of Applied Research on Conflict at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). He’s the author of Authoritarianism in Syria: Institutions and Social Conflict, 1946-1970, the editor of War, Institutions and Social Change in the Middle East and co-editor of Middle East Authoritarianisms: Governance, Contestation, and Regime Resilience in Syria and Iran.

Our interview revolves largely around Heydemann’s far-reaching report “Syria’s Uprising: sectarianism, regionalisation, and state order in the Levant”, published by the European think tank FRIDE. Have a look:

Joshua Landis is Associate Professor in the College of International Studies at the University of Oklahoma, where he is also Director of the Center for Middle East Studies. Widely regarded as one of the leading Syria experts in the world, he is the former President of the Syrian Studies Association. He writes and edits the widely-read blog Syria Comment.

Our interview revolves principally around two of his recent articles: “The Great Sorting Out: Ethnicity & the Future of the Levant” and “Why Syria is the Gordian knot of Obama’s anti-ISIL campaign”. Have a look:

PRESS RELEASE from Free Kashmiri Political Prisoners Campaign

February 3, 2014 § Leave a comment

Indian Occupied Kashmir

Indian Occupied Kashmir

Free Kashmiri Political Prisoners, an online campaign for the release of Kashmiri political prisoners from various Indian jails, has attracted endorsement and support from academics, intellectuals and filmmakers from around the world. Eminent intellectuals and scholars like Judith Butler (Hannah Arendt Chair at the European Graduate School and Maxine Elliot Professor in the Departments of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature, University of California at Berkeley), Hamid Dabashi (Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature, Columbia University), Ayesha Jalal (Mary Richardson Professor of History, Professor at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Director of Center for South Asian and Indian Ocean Studies, Tufts University), Lisa Duggan (Professor, American Studies and Gender and Sexuality Studies, Department of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University (NYU), President-Elect American Studies Association (ASA), USA), Tariq Modood (Professor of Sociology, Politics and Public Policy, Director of the University Research Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship, University of Bristol), Lisa Hajjar (Professor of Sociology, University of California at Santa Barbara), Chandra Talpade Mohanty (Distinguished Professor, Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, Dean’s Professor of the Humanities, Syracuse University), Abdul R. JanMohamed (Professor, English Department, Emory University, University of California at Berkeley), Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi (Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies/Race and Resistance Studies, Senior Scholar, Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative (AMED), San Francisco State University), Suvir Kaul (A. M. Rosenthal Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania), Ania Loomba (Catherine Bryson Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania), Joel Beinin (Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History, Professor of Middle East History, Department of History, Stanford University), Sherene Razack (Professor, Department of Humanities, Social Sciences and Social Justice Education and Department of Comparative, International and Development Education,  OISE, University of Toronto), Ruth Wilson Gilmore (Professor of Earth & Environmental Sciences, and American Studies, Director of Center for Place, Culture, and Politics, Graduate Center, City University of New York), Ibrahim Abdurrahmani Farajajé (Provost and Professor of Cultural Studies and Islamic Studies, Starr King School, Graduate Theological Union (GTU), Berkeley), Neferti Tadiar (Professor and Chair of Women’s Studies, Barnard College, Columbia University), Kamala Visweswaran (Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin), Piya Chatterjee (Dorothy Cruickshank Backstrand Chair of Gender and Women’s Studies, Scripps College), and Joseph Massad (Associate Professor, Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies, Columbia University) are amongst the prominent signatories. « Read the rest of this entry »

Free Kashmiri Political Prisoners, End the Occupation of Kashmir

February 3, 2014 § 2 Comments

Indian Occupation Forces and their 'Fearsome' Targets: Young Kashmiri Boys

Indian Occupation Forces and their ‘Fearsome’ Targets: Young Kashmiri Boys

Greetings,

We send you this request in hopes of garnering your crucial and valuable support for the letter attached below. This letter is a response to the dire conditions of thousands of Kashmiri political prisoners, both adults and minors, under the Indian Occupation.  Your support will help bring global attention to this critical and urgent issue.

On the ground, in Kashmir and elsewhere, we have a concurrent month-long campaign, the “Fast for Freedom,” first initiated via Facebook, which involves optional fasting, sit-ins, protests, lectures, and film-screenings.  This will culminate in civil protests, fasts and sit-ins by various organizations – including the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons(APDP) – and campus events in Srinagar, Delhi, and Berkeley et al, from 9th to 11th February 2014.  It is an opportunity not just for Kashmiris but for all people of conscience to show solidarity with an oppressed people, to protest an illegal military occupation, the illegal detention and torture of thousands of Kashmiri political prisoners, and incessant human rights abuse, including mass graves, fake encounters, forced disappearances, mass and gang-rapes, and daily humiliation under the ongoing military occupation.  (Please see the linked report Alleged Perpetrators for more details.)

Your endorsement of the attached letter will help bring urgently needed political attention to this long-festering issue, as well as help to generate intellectual energy to begin necessary conversations on military occupations with regard to power and privilege, coloniality and postcolonialism, sexual assault as a weapon of war, imperial and decolonial feminisms, the colonial politics of prisons and capital punishment, post/colonial tourism, the construction of the “terrorist,” Islamophobia and other forms of racialization in the context of Kashmir.   « Read the rest of this entry »

More on “Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir”: India and Zubin Mehta’s Psyop Concert in Indian Occupied Kashmir

September 6, 2013 § Leave a comment

Live Aid, Live Ammo: India and Zubin Mehta's Psyop Concert in Kashmir

Live Aid, Live Ammo: India and Zubin Mehta’s Psyop Concert in Indian Occupied Kashmir

Organizing Committee, Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir

Press release, 5 September 2013

On 22 August 2013, the German Embassy, New Delhi, issued a press release that Zubin Mehta would be conducting an orchestra on 7 September 2013, at the Mughal Garden, Shalimar Bagh, in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir. On 26 August 2013, civil society members of Jammu and Kashmir – from lawyers and businessmen to poets and scholars – registered a strong protest against the proposed concert and concerns were communicated to the German Embassy and the people of Germany – from political representatives to artists and activists.

The people of Jammu and Kashmir take immense pride in our rich history of resisting oppression. We also have historically cultivated a sublime tradition in, and love for, music. Music – which appeals to the higher values of love, justice, dignity, and peace; which genuinely acknowledges the long-suffering, yet bravely resisting, Kashmiris; and which is performed for the actual public – is wholeheartedly welcome.

However, legitimizing an occupation via a musical concert is completely unacceptable. Art as propaganda, as abundantly documented in history, is put to horrific use across the world. Art as propaganda in Jammu and Kashmir is unacceptable. The Zubin Mehta concert is organized and controlled by Government of India and the German Embassy, with extensive corporate sponsorship. It serves to build on the State narrative that seeks to dilute the reality of Jammu and Kashmir and peoples’ aspirations. It seeks to promote an image of a “peaceful” and “normal” Jammu and Kashmir. The pain, suffering, courage and bravery of the resistance will find no place in this concert. Indian State operations that seek to support the occupation must be resisted. To build this Statist narrative of Jammu and Kashmir, an estimated Rs.100 crores [INR 10 billion or USD 16 million] is reported to being spent, and invitations have been sent to corporate India (Tatas, Birlas, Ambanis, Bajajs, CII, FICCI..), the film world (Amitabh Bachchan, Rajinikanth, Katrina Kaif…) and sportsmen (Sachin Tendulkar, Boris Becker…). It is most condemnable that the Government of Germany has chosen to be party to the Indian States’ continued political machinations in Jammu and Kashmir. So far Indian army and various Indian institutions have been organizing psychological operations which are termed by Indian military as Sadbhavana Operation. We protest German government’s joining the efforts of Indian army. It appears an attempt by the Indian State to outsource its military psychological operations to the international community. « Read the rest of this entry »

Of Occupation, Resistance and Music: An Appeal

September 2, 2013 § 3 Comments

"Zubin Mehta, Indian Army, and Kashmir" by Mir Suhail Qadiri

“Zubin Mehta, Indian Army, and Kashmir” by Mir Suhail Qadiri

September 2, 2013
To                                                                                                       
The People of Germany
(Political Representatives, Civil Society, Artists, Activists and Citizens)
 
Of Occupation, Resistance and Music: An Appeal
 
1.      On 22 August 2013, the German Embassy, New Delhi, issued a press release that Zubin Mehta would be conducting an orchestra on 7 September 2013, at the Mughal Garden, Shalimar Bagh, in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir.  The press release stated that the concert was “a wonderful cultural tribute to Kashmir,” and intended “to reach the hearts of the Kashmiris with a message of hope and encouragement.”  “The ‘Kashmir Concert’ is part of a broader engagement,” it further stated.
2.      On 26 August 2013, civil society members of Jammu and Kashmir – from lawyers and businessmen to poets and scholars – registered a strong protest against the proposed concert. To date, the German Embassy has failed to respond – privately or publicly – to this letter of protest.  Faced with this unforeseen and complete apathy from the German embassy, we believe it is incumbent upon us to reach out to the people of Germany to express our serious concerns with a concert that seeks not to entertain, but to subtly control the political message from Jammu and Kashmir, i.e. manipulate it into a message of “peace” and “normalcy” that ignores ground realities. For example, even as we write this appeal, Jammu and Kashmir Police are conducting door to door searches and identification exercises at the homes of the residents in and around the Shalimar neighborhood, the proposed venue of the concert.  Surely this exposes the rot at the core of the much-touted “peace” and “normalcy.”  
3.      The people of Jammu and Kashmir take immense pride in our rich history of resisting oppression. We also have historically cultivated a sublime tradition in, and love for, music. Music – which appeals to the higher truths of love, justice, dignity, and peace; which genuinely acknowledges the long-suffering, yet bravely resisting, Kashmiris; and which is performed for the actual public – is wholeheartedly welcome.
4.      However, legitimizing an occupation via a musical concert is completely unacceptable. Art as propaganda, as abundantly documented in history, is put to horrific use across the world. We are sure you will understand that we cannot welcome anything even remotely analogous in Jammu and Kashmir.  In a state of affairs where the poets and musicians of Jammu and Kashmir, such as Ghulam Nabi Sheikh, well-known Kashmiri national singer, Inayatullah Bhat, a guitar/harmonium player, and Ali Mohammad Shahbaz, a poet from Handwara, have themselves been victims of the violence of the Indian State, it is but obvious that there needs to be a political understanding of the uses and abuses of art.  Given this sordid context, which cannot be naïvely wished away, we must then ask this crucial question of the people of Germany, and the world citizenry at large: Should we, as people of conscience, support art which not only does not highlight the sufferings of an oppressed people, leave alone which offers balm to its pain, but instead which, through its setting within the particular landscape of power, actively serves to silence and obfuscate our appeals to the rest of humanity, and thus furthers oppression« Read the rest of this entry »

10 Reasons for an Academic Boycott of Israel

June 23, 2013 § 6 Comments

My article for the “10 Reasons for a Cultural Boycott of Israel” campaign has prompted requests for a similar article about the academic boycott.  So without further ado: 10 reasons for an academic boycott of Israel. 
« Read the rest of this entry »

Pedagogy of the Connected

September 20, 2012 § 4 Comments

This was published in the August issue of Learning Curve (India) and republished at Bella Caledonia. (Art: Computer Chaos by Joana Coccarelli)

In Amusing Ourselves to Death, a prophetic work on the impact of television on culture, the late media scholar Neil Postman compared two dystopias. One was George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four, a world of strict thought control and surveillance where dissent was drowned under screams of torture. The other was Aldous Huxley’sBrave New World, a culture of permanent distraction, immobilized by entertainment and diminished by superficiality. One society was watched by Big Brother; the other entertained by it.

Postman found Orwell’s vision irrelevant to western democracies. Modern society, he said, was less a prison than a burlesque. Like Huxley’s nightmare vision, culture was being impoverished by distraction and trivia, and thought devalued. The problem wasn’t so much entertainment as the habit of mind that resulted from being permanently stimulated and amused, leaving little space for reflection.

The case against television may have been overstated. It was after all a passive medium and individuals were free to walk away. Internet too in its first incarnation had limited claim on our lives. But things have changed dramatically with Web 2.0. We no longer just consume information; we also create it. Barriers to entry are lower and technical skills are no longer necessary. Combined with smart phones and wireless technology, we are in the midst of an epochal change. We are dependent on technology in a way we have never been before.

« Read the rest of this entry »

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