Interview: sectarianization as a process

Sectarianization-book-coverNader Hashemi and I recently gave the following interview to Jadaliyya about our new co-edited book Sectarianization: Mapping the New Politics of the Middle East, followed by an excerpt from our co-authored introduction to the volume.

Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel, eds. Sectarianization: Mapping the New Politics of the Middle East (Oxford University Press and Hurst, 2017).

Jadaliyya (J): What made you write this book?

Danny Postel and Nader Hashemi (DP and NH): Over the last several years, a narrative has taken root in Western media and policy circles that attributes the turmoil and violence engulfing the Middle East to supposedly ancient sectarian hatreds. “Sectarianism” has become a catchall explanation for virtually all of the region’s problems. Thomas Friedman, for instance, claims that in Yemen today “the main issue is the seventh century struggle over who is the rightful heir to the Prophet Muhammad — Shiites or Sunnis.” Barack Obama has been one the biggest proponents of this thesis. On several occasions, he has invoked “ancient sectarian differences” to explain the turmoil in the region. In his final State of the Union address, he asserted that the issues plaguing the Middle East today are “rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.” A more vulgar version of this view prevails among right-wing commentators. But in one form or another, this new sectarian essentialism, which is lazy and convenient — and deeply Orientalist — has become the new conventional wisdom in the West.

Our book forcefully challenges this narrative and offers an alternative set of explanations for the rise in sectarian conflict in the Middle East in recent years. Continue reading “Interview: sectarianization as a process”

Advertisements

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

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:

Spirituality, Stanley Jordan, and BDS

Update: On January 6, Stanley Jordan has cancelled his collaboration with the Red Sea Jazz Festival, joining a long line of artists combining their ethics, politics, and spirituality. Joy Harjo, still has not made a public statement rethinking her stance on the issue.

Note: Stanley Jordan is scheduled to perform in the Red Sea Jazz Festival between 17-19 of January. Although, after much deep soul searching, he has written a statement that he intends to continue as scheduled (below), in our political reality, we don’t give up until the Jazzist plucks the first guitar string in front of a segregated audience.
For your convenience, the rest of the international artists performing in the festival are listed at the end of this article.
To be, or not to be Stanley Jordan?
To be, or not to be Stanley Jordan?

I’m a Spiritual Atheist. I never knew you could capitalize that phrase, but thank DOG, the internet is a wondrous place:

SPIRITUAL ATHEISTS are people who are:
1) ATHEISTS
Spiritual Atheists do not believe in the existence of an entity external to the universe that supposedly created and rules the universe… Spiritual Atheists generally recognize the word “God” as a personal name that has been given to the collective personality of the infinite and eternal universe… Even so, many Spiritual Atheists are extremely reluctant to make use of the word “God”, due to the extreme desecration it has suffered by traditional Theists and Atheists alike.

2) SPIRITUAL
Spiritual Atheists believe that the entire universe is, in some way, connected; even if only by the mysterious flow of cause and effect at every scale. Therefore, Spiritual Atheists generally feel that as they go about their lives striving to be personally healthy and happy, they should also be striving to help the world around them be healthy and happy! (“Wholistic Ethics”)

There are many people in the world like me. Some are atheists, some are theists. I respect all’s choices and love me a good theological debate, but to me, the most important piece of information in the above quote is “generally feel that as they go about their lives striving to be personally healthy and happy, they should also be striving to help the world around them be healthy and happy!”. This is also the first time I’ve heard the phrase “Wholistic Ethics”, I have my critique of it (and also have a critique of trying to unite atheists who define themselves as spiritual), but that would derail the conversation from what I really want to talk about: What does spirituality have to do with politics? Continue reading “Spirituality, Stanley Jordan, and BDS”

Why Is the Military Spending Millions on Christian Contractors Bent on Evangelizing US Soldiers?

Chris Rodda writes at AlterNet:

When the average American thinks of military spending on religion, they probably think only of the money spent on chaplains and chapels. And, yes, the Department of Defense (DoD) does spend a hell of a lot of money on these basic religious accommodations to provide our troops with the opportunity to exercise their religion while serving our country. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the DoD’s funding of religion. Also paid for with taxpayer dollars are a plethora of events, programs, and schemes that violate not only the Constitution, but, in many cases, the regulations on federal government contractors, specifically the regulation prohibiting federal government contractors receiving over $10,000 in contracts a year from discriminating based on religion in their hiring practices.

About a year ago, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) began an investigation into just how much money the DoD spends on promoting religion to military personnel and their families. What prompted this interest in DoD spending on religion was finding out what the DoD was spending on certain individual events and programs, such as the $125 million spent on the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program and its controversial “Spiritual Fitness” test, a mandatory test that must be taken by all soldiers. The Army insists that this test is not religious, but the countless complaints from soldiers who have failed this “fitness” test tell a different story. The experience of one group of soldiers who weren’t “spiritual” enough for the Army can be read here. But the term “Spiritual Fitness is not limited to this one test. The military began using this term to describe a variety of initiatives and events towards the end of 2006, and this `code phrase’ for promoting religion was heavily in use by all branches of the military by 2007.

Continue reading “Why Is the Military Spending Millions on Christian Contractors Bent on Evangelizing US Soldiers?”

Rick Perry’s Army of God

Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman recently interviewed Forrest Wilder, author of an exposé in the Texas Observer revealing the close ties between radical Christian evangelicals and U.S. presidential hopeful Rick Perry, the Republican governor of Texas.

A particularly eye-opening interlude occurs around minute 6.40 of the interview and stars self-declared prophet Cindy Jacobs, who explains that the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy may be the cause of mass bird deaths in Arkansas.

Dressing Like a Terrorist

Like many others, I was dismayed to learn of the two imams wearing traditional Muslim garb who were forcibly removed from an airplane that was to carry them to a conference on Islamophobia.  The passengers who were removed from a Delta/ASA flight in Memphis, Masudur Rahman and Mohamed Zaghloul, apparently frightened other passengers and upset one of the pilots, who refused to fly with them on board.  Not everybody was dismayed, however.  The Delta/ASA pilot and the frightened passengers have received support from numerous voices among the American commentariat.

The situation was a clear-cut case of ethnic profiling.  On this everybody should agree.  Some of those who support the pilot’s action want to disclaim their support of profiling, but such a desire is dishonest.  People need to accept the realities of the positions they express, even if those positions attach to descriptors that have negative connotations.  If you support the pilot, you are supporting an instance of ethnic profiling.  Either accept that fact or develop a different opinion.

I have been reading commentaries about the case with much interest.  One argument in particular keeps arising:  the notion that Rahman and Zaghloul deserve what happened to them because they dressed like terrorists.  The reasoning goes like this:  Muslims commit terrorism; Muslims look a certain way; a certain look thus portends the possibility of terrorism.  In short, those who appear to be Muslim are worthy of extra scrutiny because they are more likely to be terrorists than other people.

Continue reading “Dressing Like a Terrorist”

Of Niqabs, Monsters, and Decolonial Feminisms

By Huma Dar

A woman in niqab being arrested in Paris, April 12, 2011, copyright EPA

Of Civilities and Dignities

On 22 June 2009, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, asserted that burqas (or the burqa-clad?) are “not welcome” in France, adding that “[i]n our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity” and that “the veils reduced dignity.” France’s Muslim minority is Western Europe’s largest Muslim minority, estimated at six-million-strong.  And this is just an approximation, as the French Republic implicitly claims to be post-race and post-religion via a prohibition on any census that would take into account the race or religion of its citizens. (This anxiety mirrors the brouhaha in Indian media àpropos the much-contested enumeration of OBCs or Other Backward Castes in the Indian census surveys of 2011, or the urgency to declare some spaces post-caste, post-feminist, and post-racist while casteism, patriarchy and racism continue unabated.)

Continue reading “Of Niqabs, Monsters, and Decolonial Feminisms”