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

“The End of an Era”: A Genealogical Analysis of “Sectarianism” in Egypt and the Memory of Pope Shenouda III

  pope3_03262012Pope Shenouda III’s passing comes at a moment of political uncertainty for a new Egypt and its Coptic communities. In Western media, fears of “sectarian violence” and potential “religious discrimination” have been expressed in numerous articles focusing on his passing as the next stage of a timeless religious conflict that will erupt between the Muslim and Coptic communities in Egypt. But, is “sectarianism” in Egypt indeed timeless and inevitable?

“Sectarianism” in Egypt and the narrative associated with it has been normalized, naturalized, and constantly reified as something inevitable. This “sectarian” discourse and knowledge is perpetuated through the plethora of mainstream Western media stories addressing the passing of Pope Shenouda III and the “troubled” future of Coptic peoples. Continue reading “The End of an Era”: A Genealogical Analysis of “Sectarianism” in Egypt and the Memory of Pope Shenouda III

Ekalavya Retold

2011_79_Strm1The story of Ekalavya is one of the many stories in the epic Mahabharata about the Bharata dynasty, and Vyasa is regarded as its author. Vyasa told Ganesha that he had to take the time to understand everything before he wrote it. It is the longest Sanskrit epic and was completed around 4th century CE.

Ekalavya is the son of a tribal chief. He wants to be an archer and wishes to become a disciple of the guru (or teacher) Dronacharya (Drona). Drona is the royal teacher to the Pandava and Kaurava princes. He is a Brahman and Ekalavya is a shudra. Drona refuses to teach Ekalavya, because Ekalavya wasn’t a kshtriya (warrior). Ekalavya returns dejected to the forest. He makes a clay figure of Drona and practices alone in front of it. In time, with practice, he becomes an excellent archer.

One day, when he’s practicing in the forest, the incessant barking of a dog disturbs him. He shoots arrows into the mouth of the dog without injuring it. When Drona sees the dog with its mouth full of arrows, he is amazed at the skill of the archer. Along with his disciples, the Pandava and Kaurava princes, Drona looks around the forest for the archer. When they come across Ekalavya, Drona praises him and asks him how he learned the art of archery. Ekalavya tells Drona that he learned it from him. He explains that he practices in front of a clay figure of Drona and he considers him his teacher. Continue reading Ekalavya Retold

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?

Politics of Labeling and Marginalization: Deconstructing Islamic Feminist Discourse

plm_08022012According to Foucault, the production of discourse in every society is simultaneously controlled, organized, selected and redistributed according to particular procedures. These procedures are meant to “avert its [the discourse’s] power and its dangers, to cope with change events, and to evade its ponderous and awesome materiality.”I Islamic feminist discourse is no different. Just like any other discourse, it contains internal and external systems for the control and delimitation of its discourse. But does this process actually serve to safeguard the proliferation and utility of Islamic feminist scholarship, or does it fulfill a larger purpose?

Many studies of Islamic feminist discourse have failed to address the historical moment in which the discourse emerged. Specifically, they neglect the influences of global feminist paradigms. Female scholars, who theorize sexual and gender equality as part of a larger Islamist paradigm, have been constant outliers within the production of Islamic feminist discourse since its induction into academic discussion. Their work is repeatedly contrasted to the ‘canon’ of Islamic feminist scholarship. Due to its discursive link with global feminism, Islamic feminist scholarship is unwittingly embedded within a theorization of sexual equality that hinges on secular liberal modernity. This article strives to understand the implications of power located within the process of marginalization of Islamist women scholars. It will also examine the larger political ramifications of the disputed label, “Islamic feminism.”

Continue reading Politics of Labeling and Marginalization: Deconstructing Islamic Feminist Discourse

Libyan Media: In Chaos or Right Where it Should Be?

02152012_LibyaAfter 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.

Continue reading Libyan Media: In Chaos or Right Where it Should Be?