Tariq Ramadan’s Burden

Tariq Ramadan faces off claims of Arab colonialism in Africa. Source: Seneweb.com

During a recent debate on the Senegalese television channel TFM about the ongoing violence in Palestine, Tariq Ramadan accused one of his interlocutors Bakary Sambe of the most offensive crime for an African intellectual: having a colonized mind.

Sambe, a professor at Senegal’s Gaston Berger University and coordinator of the Observatory of Radicalisms and Religious Conflicts in Africa, had been asked about American leadership in peace talks when his response solicited Ramadan’s comments. In a clear departure from the flow of the conversation, Sambe offered his reflections on the Islamist threat of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood while staring directly at Ramadan. Observing that Sambe’s comments had “nothing to do with” the conversation, Ramadan asked Sambe if he was speaking live from Washington or London. Humorously, Sambe slips and says that he is speaking from Washington, before correcting himself by saying that he was speaking from here (here being Dakar). Ramadan then gives a dismissive gesture while Sambe appears clearly flustered and at a lost for words.

Continue reading Tariq Ramadan’s Burden

Never-Ending Story: The American Press Fails on Iran

ahmadinejad_iran-nuclear-The big, bad Iran nuclear threat is one of the American news media’s favorite evergreen stories. Year after year, it picks up where it left off: Enrichment, sanctions, red lines, the usual.

In November, the media circus on Iran exploded. From Foreign Affairs’ catastrophe “Time to attack Iran,” to The New York Times Magazine’s seemingly-million-word “Will Israel attack Iran?” (Conclusion: Yes, this year), to The Atlantic’s new “Iran War Clock” (It’s 10 minutes to midnight, by the way), the blockbuster stories that paint broad strokes of fear, panic, and war keep rolling out. Continue reading Never-Ending Story: The American Press Fails on Iran

Liberation Square

liberation_03292012Ashraf Khalil’s Liberation Square offers a gritty and engrossing account of the events that took place in Egypt in 2011, using the voices of both Egypt’s most prominent political observers and the activists who risked everything in pursuit of an ever-elusive dream. Khalil, who has covered regional politics from Cairo, Jerusalem, and Iraq for a variety of publications over the past 15 years, adds his perspective to the narrative, allocating praise and blame in careful doses. An Egyptian-American raised in the States, Khalil’s personal stake in the outcome of this upheaval makes him a unique interlocutor. As such, Liberation Square is not simply a catalogue of Egypt’s revolution; rather, Khalil, who is not afraid of colorful metaphor or bawdy language, calls for systemic change. Delving into the psychology of the uprising, Liberation Square illuminates both how corrupt Mubarak’s regime had become, and how improbable the success of the uprising to oust it was. Continue reading Liberation Square

Global Unrest Ushers in New Crises of Representation: Assessing the Present and Future of Area Studies

tunis_03292012_2The 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

Conflict Heats Up Across the Sahara


A month ago, few would have suspected that Mali’s government was in line to have its power usurped by its 7,500-man army. President Amadou Toumani Touré, whose present whereabouts are unknown, has been lauded for his democratic governance and was a likely candidate for the ever elusive Mo Ibrahim prize for African leaders who voluntarily cede power. Next month’s elections were to seal the deal for the political career of a man who has played by the rules, since he first took power in a coup in 1991 that earned him the title “soldier of democracy.”

But alas, as many analysts have argued, the series of revolutions that swept the Arab world last year, have officially started to make their presence known on the other side of the Sahara by destabilizing the countries further south. Continue reading Conflict Heats Up Across the Sahara

Walid Jumblatt: Can He Have His Baklawa and Eat it Too?

jumblatt_03232012In March 2010, he left a national dialogue session with other Lebanese politicians, because he was “sleepy and hungry.

In December 2010, responding to alleged statements attributed to him by Wikileaks, he proposed the use of “carrier pigeons or horseback mail, which is more secure.

I have wanted to write something focusing on Walid Jumblatt for quite sometime. He is by far my favorite Lebanese politician–mainly for his odd charm and refreshingly frank statements (see above). However, he also possesses a unique ability to maneuver through Lebanese politics enabling the Druze community that he represents–and his Progressive Socialist party–to punch above its demographic weight.

BBC describes him as “the country’s political weathervane—consistently emerging on the winning side through the twists and turns of the 1975-90 civil war and its troubled aftermath.”

Continue reading Walid Jumblatt: Can He Have His Baklawa and Eat it Too?

Sanskrit 2012

sanskrit_03232012This January, roughly 2,300 years after the composition of Pāṇini’s definitive Sanskrit grammar, scholars congregated in New Delhi to present papers on the massive and enduring cultural system represented by the language. The World Sanskrit Conference, a triennial event that brings together two worlds: one in which Sanskrit serves as the language of imagining truth, beauty and power, and one in which Sanskrit is an object of study and fascination. It confirms that these two worlds are less discontinuous, historically and geographically, than they might seem. Continue reading Sanskrit 2012

Elections and Empowerment: India’s Legislative Assembly Elections and What We Can Learn From Them

kids_congress_flag_20090409The first round of the 2012 elections has taken place in India. Of the seven legislative assemblies whose tenures expire in 2012, five states (Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand) held elections from late January to early March. The results of these elections are important for several reasons: they are indicators of the general election results due in 2014. Moreover, the results provide a snapshot of the changing trends among voters in the world’s largest democracy.

The results have been disappointing for India’s two major parties. The Indian National Congress (the ruling party at the centre) fared rather poorly in this cycle. Among the five state contests the Congress has only won a single state outright: Manipur, a state in the nation’s poor northeast region. While it managed to remain ahead of its national rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.) in Uttarakhand, it did so with only a one seat lead in the assembly. A loss for its incumbent government in Goa and a poor performance in Punjab has placed the Congress in a tough race in the 2014 elections. Continue reading Elections and Empowerment: India’s Legislative Assembly Elections and What We Can Learn From Them