Book Review: “Define and Rule: Native as Political Identity” by Mahmood Mamdani

400000000000000901827_s4In many cases in Africa today, political conflicts are debated through language of citizenship  and language of culture; the former defending equal rights of “settlers” and the latter defending traditions of the “natives”; both contesting access to land, resources, and power. In “Define and Rule,” Mamdani questions the very definition of “native” by exposing the theory of “nativism” as a creation of intellectuals of Empire in crisis. Mamdani argues that “native” as political identity was produced by the theorists of British colonialism who were faced with the crisis of the 1857 uprising in India.

It is generally held that the roots of current political conflicts in Africa are traced back to colonial policies. Nonetheless, these policies are commonly expressed with the phrase “divide and rule” denoting that colonialists created divisions as a strategy to debilitate resistance within their colonies. However, from “Define and Rule” we comprehend that defining subjects first and foremost was in the core of dividing them. Mamdani historicizes the political legacy of colonialism and discusses the historical dynamics that produced indirect rule and, more importantly, the intellectual endeavors that justified it. Indirect rule’s goal was to stabilize colonialism through fragmenting colonial subjects in administrative units. Mamdani maintains that the shift from direct to indirect rule represents a shift from an assimilationist colonial scheme that focused on the elites of the colonized to a project of shaping and managing differences in both society and polity focusing on the conquered masses.

Continue reading Book Review: “Define and Rule: Native as Political Identity” by Mahmood Mamdani

Decolonizing the Digital

PCC Banner_01172013




On February 28th and March 1st 2013, the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University will be hosting its annual graduate conference. Titled “Paradigmatic Conflict and Crisis,” the conference seeks to showcase the work of emerging scholars whose research is concerned with the spaces between conflicting, emerging, and established paradigms, and with new possibilities for our understanding of paradigm as both a discursive formation and a set of practices.

Continue reading Decolonizing the Digital

Recording: A Public Conversation between Professor Hamid Dabashi and Professor Ashis Nandy

The recording is now available for the public conversation between Prof. Hamid Dabashi and Prof. Ashis Nandy.

The two eminent scholars raised crucial questions revolving around the theme of “state, culture, and human imagination.”  Professor Dabashi and Professor Nandy brought to this discussion their respective conceptions of these central ideas.  Of particular interest was the nature of the modern state and its viability within the context of changing epistemological, discursive, and temporal spaces.  Professor Nandy suggests that the advent of the modern state has wreaked devastation upon societies by imposing the necessity of a cultural homogenization project.  Building upon this idea, Professor Dabashi questions the viability of the modern state, in the Weberian sense, suggesting that the amorphous state has a greater tolerance for critical thinking than a totalitarian nation-state. The public conversation between Professor Dabashi and Professor Nandy is crucial to Baraza’s own work, which seeks to imagine – and create – a space that not only facilitates engagement within the geographic and disciplinary boundaries of Area Studies. It also encourages the production of new discursive modes around which these engagements can be centered.

Continue reading Recording: A Public Conversation between Professor Hamid Dabashi and Professor Ashis Nandy

The Good Fight: Combating Misconceptions of Islamic Studies

islamic_04042012A recent feature article published in the McGill Daily–my alma mater’s independent newspaper–recounted the detainment of Islamic Studies PhD student Pascal Abidor during a trip home to New York from Montreal via Amtrak. Abidor presented his passport to the border patrol officers as the train entered the United States, and when asked where he lived and why, Abidor explained that he was a PhD candidate in Islamic Studies at McGill University.

This was enough to arouse the suspicion of the officers, who then looked through files on his laptop and found images of Hamas and Hezbollah rallies. Abidor explained these were a part of his research on Shiism in contemporary Lebanon. Abidor was then removed from the train, handcuffed, detained, and interrogated.

Continue reading The Good Fight: Combating Misconceptions of Islamic Studies

The Problem with Campus Watch


During my final year as an undergraduate student in Canada, I took a class taught by a professor whose monograph–which was required reading–argued that conflict, partisanship, and oppression in the Middle East were fundamentally attributed to tribalism. One lecture focused on honor killings as distinct from, and worse than, other kinds of domestic homicide because they were symptomatic of a violent (Arab/Islamic) culture. At another point in the semester, the professor suggested that Arab states should be thankful that they are in such close proximity to a democracy like Israel. It was in the context of conducting research for this class that I discovered Campus Watch, a project associated with the Middle East Forum that provides critiques of the discipline of Middle East studies in North American universities. Campus Watch highlights five main problems plaguing the discipline today: “analytical failures, the mixing of politics with scholarship, intolerance of alternative views, apologetics, and the abuse of power over students.” Initially thinking that I had stumbled upon a project that sought to combat the kind of offensive and deeply essentialist views that were being espoused in this classroom, I soon realized that this professor might have been just the kind of academic that Campus Watch lauded.

Continue reading The Problem with Campus Watch

Israel and the Question of Apartheid

c889234799e865bbe90cee71f6cd2e53_MIsraeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is upon us again, and while Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine (C-SJP) sets up on College Walk, pro-Israeli organizations ranging from Hillel to LionPAC, and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs are launching their responses to begin damage control.

IAW’s detractors are quick to argue that using the term “apartheid” in the context of Israeli occupation diminishes the suffering of South African victims of the Apartheid regime and exaggerates the current situation in Israel and Palestine. Time and again, pro-Palestinian groups, like C-SJP, are told that equating Israeli occupation with apartheid is a sensationalist, divisive tactic that, as Columbia Hillel’s Ariel Brinkman posits, represents a “perverse paradigm of prejudice against the Jewish state.” Continue reading Israel and the Question of Apartheid

Is the Most Influential African Intellectual in MESAAS?

African_Intellectual_03032012Professor Mahmood Mamdani the good folks over at Africa is a Country (If you don’t know it, click this link now!) are running an unabashedly inconclusive poll of who might be named the most influential African intellectual alive. One name most of us probably know all too well, Mahmoud Mamdani, is leading the pack so far. With a few days remaining to vote, that may or may not change.

They’ve put together an interesting mix of names, all deserving a word or three. Here’s a brief rundown of the other front runners:

Samir Amin — Trained as an economist and best known for his southern-centered analysis of underdevelopment, de-linking theories of development, and engaged militant activism, this Egyptian intellectual has called Senegal home since the 1980’s. His prolific intellectual output on key political and economic issues is impressive and certainly warrants your attention. Check one of his recent review essays and his vision of the The World We Wish to See.

Continue reading Is the Most Influential African Intellectual in MESAAS?