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Newsletter on Middle East Studies – March 2013


Ithaca Press Newsletter aims to bring together the latest news relating to Middle East Studies. Here you will find the most important news on developments in Middle East Studies, the latest research, latest books, opinion pieces, and the latest jobs and grants in Middle East Studies. We sincerely hope you enjoy it and we are eagerly waiting to receive your feedback. If you wish your research, opinion or books to be presented to your colleagues, we are more than happy to receive your contribution.

You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or our Blog.

If you wish to contribute, please contact us here.

Kind regards,

Ithaca Press


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Writing approaches for scholars of Middle East and North Africa to enlighten the Western reader


Richard Peres

My three years of living in Turkey, researching and writing Headscarf: The Day Turkey Stood Still, [*] was a transformative experience. With each passing month my preconceived notions of the Middle East and generalities about Islam were shed, replaced by a more complex and nuanced reality of cultural practices, religion and politics. Each day I involuntarily compared and contrasted America and Turkey, discovering stark differences and strong commonalities at every turn. These insights were helpful in my writing and research, as I tried to enlighten Western readers via a recent event in Turkish politics relating to Islam and religious freedom.

However, during my visits home the opposite occurred. A mere half-day trip on Turkish Airlines immersed me in a different world coloured in broad powerful strokes by the entertainment media. Zero Dark Thirty grossed more than $100 million and received many film industry awards; similarly, the television series Homeland garnered many plaudits from critics and was highly popular. Both works seemed to personify Huntington’s Clash of Civilization thesis of twenty years ago in which he noted that the fundamental problem for the West was Islam. Since 9/11 the ‘thesis’ is exacerbated in a context where the mainstream media in the West typically employs language rife with negative connotations and misnomers, particularly relating to Islam when reporting on the MENA region.

How can we as students, teachers and contributors to the field of Middle Eastern Studies counteract this trend that is fueled by a flood of communication? If I limit myself to the communication world only, for one thing, relevant academic writing in the field of Middle Eastern Studies should also benefit and influence a world that is for the most part clearly non-academic. Put another way, academics are not going to help the world much if they mainly talk to each other and do not interact effectively with the rest of the world, a world that is rife with religious prejudice and political conflicts along the secular-religious divide.

I also suggest that MENA scholars, in extending their sphere of influence in their academic lives making their works accessible to non-scholars in language and writing style, should take part in activities, conferences, presentations, and publications that go beyond the academic world. Garnet does that also by its multiple imprints. We have our differences, for sure, but the cultural–religious–political conflicts that exist in the world are far greater and more dangerous.

The challenge seems overwhelming because the CNN commentator who fuels post-9/11 prejudices with sloppy descriptors when reporting on an uprising in Egypt, for example, reaches more people in a few minutes than a hundred or perhaps thousand academic lifetimes.

Another communication approach is to consider the human component in research and writing regardless of the extent to which one’s work is based on data collection and analysis. In Headscarf: The Day Turkey Stood Still I increasingly focused on humanizing and personalizing the experience of Merve Kavakci, the first headscarved woman elected to the Turkish Parliament, because I was struck by the vast gap between her vilified public persona on the part of secularists and Kemalists in Turkey, and the kind, educated and sympathetic person I knew. Not unlike Islamaphobic people in the West, they viewed her as a fundamentalist, radical Islamist and agent provocateur when, in fact, she only wanted to take the seat to which she was duly elected. Would this approach negate her venomous image among half of the Turkish population? While it’s difficult to counter simple notions with complexity, I adhered to my approach. Even when I got the chance to explain my book in person to those who disliked her, I was pressed hard to overcome their skepticism.

A further approach for MENA scholars is a simple but oft-forgotten one: always define your terms. I think the most misused terms regarding the MENA region is ‘Islamist’, i.e. a devotee of ‘Islamism’, meaning political Islam. In Wikipedia there are 17 definitions of Islamism and, in fact, dozens of other variations based on different degrees of incorporating Islam in the political sphere and support for a myriad of Islamic philosophers and political leaders over the ages. The Prime Minister of Israel refers to the Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey and his party as Islamist and yet Erdogan advocated a secular government during a recent visit to Egypt, which was greeted with jeering from the crowd, and during his ten-year rule has not implemented any aspect of so-called Sharia law. The term without further definition and explication has the same meaninglessness as ‘Christianist’ when referring to the Democratic Party in the US or the Labor Party in England.

Until our academic publications regularly become ‘best-selling movies’, we can play a significant role making this a more peaceful world by fine-tuning our approach to communications.


[*] To be published in paperback this summer by Garnet Publications

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Newsletter on Middle East Studies – February 2013


Ithaca Press Newsletter aims to bring together the latest news relating to Middle East Studies. Here you will find the most important news on developments in Middle East Studies, the latest research, latest books, opinion pieces, and the latest jobs and grants in Middle East Studies. We sincerely hope you enjoy it and we are eagerly waiting to receive your feedback. If you wish your research, opinion or books to be presented to your colleagues, we are more than happy to receive your contribution.

You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or our Blog.

If you wish to contribute, please contact us here.

Kind regards,

Ithaca Press


Content

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Transnational Media, Regional Politics and State Security: Saudi Arabia between Tradition and Modernity


Mohamed Zayani
British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies
Vol. 39, Iss. 3, 2012

Saudi Arabia is a crucially important media player in the Middle East, commanding modern, sophisticated and far-reaching media systems. Driving the Saudi media hegemony is what may be loosely termed ‘a security imperative’ which is tightly connected to internal dynamics, geopolitical considerations and regional rivalries. Empowered with its oil wealth, Saudi Arabia pursued a dual media strategy, operating state-controlled and circumscribed domestic media systems which insulate the population from undesired external influences and uphold the religious sensibility of the kingdom while developing decentralized, open and modern transnational media systems abroad capable of safeguarding the kingdom’s interests and promoting its foreign policy. Instrumental as it may be in the kingdom’s comprehensive security approach, though, the media have proven to be an inordinately complex asset. Although remarkable in many respects, the liberalization of Saudi media engendered a number of conflictual dynamics which are potentially consequential.

[Read More]

The Memory Keeper: Gender, Nation, and Remembering in Syria


Faedah M. Totah
Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies
Volume 9, Number 1, Winter 2013

The public visibility and political activity of women remain contentious social issues in the Middle East. Where women are encouraged by the state to be politically active, their ensuing visibility is perceived as threatening to the local male-dominated social order, which in turn hampers their efficacy as political agents. In this article I explore political commemoration in Syria as a socially sanctioned venue for apolitical political activity that allows women nonthreatening public visibility. I focus on the work of Dr. Nadia Khost in commemorative practices in Damascus to illustrate how gender can be utilized effectively to negotiate local power hierarchies and social norms. I conclude with a discussion of the ways in which the public visibility and political activity of women are sanctioned when perceived as reinforcing rather than challenging the local sociopolitical order.

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The Druze: Lifting the shroud of secrecy


Ithaca Press is pleased to announce the acquisition of the world rights to The Druze by Abbas el Halabi.

Unlike traditional Islam, Druze doctrine has a mystical character that makes its truths openly available only to a select few wise initiates. This has led to their reputation as being secretive, ritualistic and mystical, which in turn has lead to misunderstanding and persecution throughout their history.

In this book, Abbas el Halabi attempts to shed light on the historical, religious, cultural and social heritage of the Druze, in order to present an accurate picture of them to the world. In the author’s words, he has sought to ‘lift the shroud of secrecy, refute the exaggerated fables and restore the truth by presenting a contemporary cultural approach’.

The Druze examines various aspects of the life of the Lebanese Druze community. In Lebanon, Druzes’ commitment to their religious identity has always been accompanied by a powerful historic and patriotic awareness of their status as Lebanese. The esoteric aspect of their faith and the Esprit de Corps that has bonded them in the face of threats to their identity, land or culture, have made them a fascinating case study on the survival of religious minorities in the Middle East.

Abbas el Halabi, himself a member of a prominent Lebanese Druze family and closely involved in Druze public affairs in Lebanon, attempts to separate facts from misconceptions, to elaborate on their political role in the history of the region, and consequently to evaluate their chances of survival going forward, in an era where religious tolerance and political democracy are still at a nascent stage.

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A Brave New World of Middle East Politics


Ithaca Press is pleased to announce the acquisition of The Changing nature of Shia Politics in the Contemporary Middle East, by Anoushiravan Ehteshami  and Mahjoob Zweiri.

This highly topical book provides a thorough and dispassionate study and account of Shia politics in modern times, and is based on the premise that Shia politics matters more to the Middle East now than at any time since the demise of the Ottoman Empire. It also chronicles the complexity and diversity of the challenges posed by sectarian divisions within the Muslim world.

Although Shia communities have always played a crucial role in the Middle East, they have traditionally suffered from being marginalized in comparison to Sunni Islam. However, the Shia’s role has developed and increased due to recent events, and has become more prominent in both Western and Arab Agendas in consequence.

The Changing Nature of Shia Politics in the Contemporary Middle East by Anoushiravan Ehteshami Imprint: Ithaca Press Authors: Anoushiravan Ehteshami , Mahjoob The Iranian Revolution of 1979 saw the emergence of Shia politics as a national and regional force, as the process of centralizing Islam led to an increase in Shia activity in the region. This was further enhanced following the Iraq war of 2003, which lead to the rapid empowerment of Shia forces to replace the Ba’athist regime, and out of which came a growing perception of the Shia as a key component in the building of a new Middle East. Shi’ite Hizbollah’s military prowess in defending the Arabs against Israeli aggression during the 34 day war in Lebanon in 2006 was a further factor in the emergence of Shia as a central player in the politics of the Middle East. All of these events have enabled the rise of Shia as opposed to Sunni, but have nevertheless presented a negative perception of Shia politics in the West.

The impact of 9/11 on the changing fortunes of the Shia, and particularly on the changed perceptions of it in the West, cannot be underestimated; the fact that all of the attackers were Sunni Muslims meant that Sunni Islam became ‘demonized’; the Shia took the opportunity to present themselves as the good guys of the Muslim world, who could be trusted by the West to combat radicalism and fundamentalism in the Middle East.

Most recently, the authors argue, the Arab Spring uprisings have had a dramatic effect on the politics of the Arab world, providing new space for Muslim political forces to influence the radical changes taking place. The book has a chapter devoted to the future role of Shia in the political process during this extraordinary period of rapid and turbulent change.

The book also examines the relationship between Sunni and Shia Islam, and discusses the various attempts which have taken place since 1945 to unite Sunni and Shia against secular forces in the Middle East, as part of a shared objective to establish Islam politically in the region. Following on from this, there is also a chapter which examines internal contradictions in Shiism, which could lead to instability, and one which provides an analysis of the changing relationship between external actors and the Shia in the Middle East, as the Shia has gradually become a more trusted force.

[Read More Here]

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Newsletter on Middle East Studies – January 2013


Ithaca Press Newsletter aims to bring together the latest news relating to Middle East Studies. Here you will find the most important news on developments in Middle East Studies, the latest research, latest books, opinion pieces, and the latest jobs and grants in Middle East Studies. We sincerely hope you enjoy it and we are eagerly waiting to receive your feedback. If you wish your research, opinion or books to be presented to your colleagues, we are more than happy to receive your contribution.

You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or our Blog.

If you wish to contribute, please contact us here.

Kind regards,

Ithaca Press

Content


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Two articles analysing the story of the Prophet Muhammad’s ascention to Heaven


The Familiar and the Fantastic in Narratives of Mu[hdot]ammad’s Ascension to the Heavenly Spheres

Peter Webb, Middle Eastern Literatures: incorporating Edebiyat, Volume 15, Issue 3, 2012

The story of Mu[hdot]ammad’s Night Journey and Ascension to the Heavenly Spheres is perhaps the most fantastic episode in the Prophet’s biography, and its fantastic aspects became widely accepted as historical facts notwithstanding the misgivings of early Muslim scholars. This paper investigates the narrative function of the fantastic in Ibn Kathīr’s extensive accounts of the story within a comparative framework. By examining his version of Mu[hdot]ammad’s Journey against narratives of utopia in western literature, it is possible to see the striking similarity in their narratives’ patterns, always beginning with the ‘familiar’ departure, then moving into the ‘remarkable’ journey, and ending in the ‘fantastic’ arrival, where the traveller comes into contact with the source of special knowledge. This paper proposes that Muslim al-Isrā’ wa-l-Mi‘rāj and western narratives of utopia follow a fairly universal structure, what I would call ‘utopian travel rubric’, which blends the ‘familiar’, ‘remarkable’ and ‘fantastic’ to engender a sense of plausibility for both the Heavenly and Utopian journeys.

Read the rest of the article here

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The Space Between Here and There: The Prophet’s Night Journey as an Allegory of Islamic Ritual Prayer

Simon O’Meara, Middle Eastern Literatures: incorporating Edebiyat, Volume 15, Issue 3, 2012

This paper commences with an analysis of Qur’an 17:1, the Prophet’s alleged night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, which it interprets as an allegory of Islamic ritual prayer. By way of this interpretation, the paper subsequently reviews Islam as a particularly spatially oriented religion and proposes a spatial reading of the word ‘Islam’ itself.

Read the rest of the article here

Excerpt: Nation-Building, State and the Genderframing of Women’s Rights in the United Arab Emirates (1971–2009)


Nation-Building, State and the Genderframing of Women’s Rights in the United Arab Emirates (1971–2009) by Vânia Carvalho PintoNATION-BUILDING, STATE AND THE GENDERFRAMING OF WOMEN’S RIGHTS IN THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, (1971–2009)

VÂNIA CARVALHO PINTO

Published by Ithaca Press

www.ithacapress.co.uk

ISBN: 978086372432

Contents

List of Tables vii

Note on Transliteration [Read for Free]

Acknowledgements [Read for Free]

Introduction [Read for Free]

1 Genderframing as a State Strategy: Historical Background and Theoretical Framework

1.1. Historical background [Read for Free]

1.2. The genderframing perspective 4

2 Definition of the Problem: Building a New Nation – How and Why to Include Women (1971–Early 1980s) 15

2.1. Fostering loyalty and overcoming localism: the overall tasks for the emerging state 15

2.2. Assessment of the situation of women: traditional attitudes and their socio-economic status 19

2.3. Why women? 22

2.4. The improvement of women’s status as a symbol of national progress 25

2.5. Summary 29

3 The Making and Promotion of the Genderframe (1971–Early 1980s) 35

3.1. Envisaged solutions to the problem of including women 35

3.2. Sponsoring female education 40

3.3. Becoming working women for the sake of the nation 44

3.4. Channelling the genderframe into society: the role of the UAE women’s associations 50

3.5. Summary 55

4 Re-signifying Religion and Culture: The Changed Environment (Late 1970s–2009) 61

4.1. Islamization, cultural anxieties, and the Emirati society’s self-questioning 61

4.2. Cultural anxieties I: tradition and UAE women’s roles 65

4.3. Cultural anxieties II: raising true citizens 69

4.4. Cultural anxieties III: UAE women and the Emiratization policy 72

4.5. Summary 77

5 Culture Re-signified: Contemporary Challenges (Late 1990s–2009)

5.1. Pursuing new meanings I: UAE women and leadership

5.2. Pursuing new meanings II: the road to political and decision-making positions

5.3. Pursuing new meanings III: UAE women as political officials

5.4. Whither genderframe and the challenges for the next generation?

5.5. Summary

6 A Genderframe Transformation? Concluding Remarks

Bibliography

Books

Articles from newspapers and magazines

official documents

Grey literature: miscellaneous

Index

Tables

Table 1: The Genderframing Criteria

Table 2: Employment of Emirati Women in Government Ministries

[Read more and order the book here]