Multiple attacks on Sufi religious and historical sites last week highlight two threats to Libya’s democratic transition: Islamic extremism and the failure of the government to take action. On 25 August, Salafist extremists destroyed a Sufi shrine and library in Zlitan. The following day, Salafist extremists attacked the Sha’ab Mosque in Tripoli, which contained the graves of revered Sufi figures. In response, Libyan activists, local civil society groups, and international organizations, such as UNESCO, have protested these attacks, calling on the government to protect historical Sufi sites.
The global wave of protests presently underway has ushered in a new crisis in the interdisciplinary field of area studies. The Arab Spring in particular has sounded an alarming wake-up call, leading many to challenge the relevance of modalities and methods currently employed within area studies. There is an existentialist quality underpinning this crisis, as scholars question how their personal subjectivities and academic training may be employed in a more constructive, responsible manner.
Although it is a relatively new field, this is not area studies’ first moment of crisis. As the United States rose to superpower status in the aftermath of World War II, area studies began to emerge as a field through which the government could cultivate regional “experts” to perform military and intelligence missions in areas deemed critical to Washington’s interests. Throughout the Cold War, dubious ties of many leading area studies scholars and departments with governmental and military agencies (ranging from the Central Intelligence Agency to the Department of Defense) were exposed. Many resulting issues of transparency and ethics, in terms of the often-ambiguous relationship between politics and academics, remain unresolved today. Continue reading Global Unrest Ushers in New Crises of Representation: Assessing the Present and Future of Area Studies
Coverage of the conflict that brought the end of Gaddafi’s 42-year regime over Libya exposed some of the weakest points in the ways we conceive of geographical categories. Rebel forces accused Gaddafi of using “African mercenaries,” painting a racial tint to the civil conflict. In many respects, the conflict showed the limits of Libya’s Africanness — which Gaddafi emphasized in his later years — while aggravating the very real historical tensions between Arabs and other ethnic groups in Africa. Nevertheless, the positioning of Libya as an African nation has resonated with many Africans on the continent and throughout its diaspora.
How can we account for Libya’s occupation of both Arab and African fields of identity? Continue reading Crossing the Border: Afrabia and Alternative Cosmopolitanisms
After 42 years under the tight grip of Muammar al-Gaddafi, Libya is not only experiencing a political revolution but also a media revolution. The tightly controlled state-run media of the Gaddafi regime allowed no room for free expression or criticism. As the revolution which began in February of 2011 spread across Libya, numerous media outlets emerged including more than 300 dailies and weeklies according to the news website Magharebia. During a trip to Libya late last year, I noticed new newspapers with their first editions on sale at news stands on a weekly basis.