Tag Archives: Muslims

Mishal & Goldberg, “Understanding Shiite Leadership: The Art of the Middle Ground in Iran and Lebanon”

Next month, Cambridge University Press will publish Understanding Shiite Leadership: 9781107046382The Art of the Middle Ground in Iran and Lebanon, by Shaul Mishal (Tel-Aviv University) and Ori Goldberg (Tel-Aviv University). The publisher’s description follows.

In this book, Shaul Mishal and Ori Goldberg explore the ways in which Shiite leaderships in Iran and Lebanon approach themselves and their world. Contrary to the violent and radical image of religious leaderships in the Islamic Republic of Iran and Lebanese Hizballah, the political vision and practice of these leaderships view the world as a middle ground, shying away from absolutist and extremist tendencies. The political leadership assumed by Shiite religious scholars in Iran and Lebanon has transformed Shiite Islam from a marginalized minority to a highly politicized avant garde of Muslim presence, revitalized the practice and causes of political Islam in its struggle for legitimacy and authority, and reshaped the politics of the Middle East and the globe in its image. Utilizing approaches from social theory, history, theology, and literary criticism, the book presents these leaderships as pragmatic, interpretative entities with the potential to form fruitful relationships between Shiite leadership and the non-Shiite world.

Cohen, “Becoming Ottomans: Sephardi Jews and Imperial Citizenship in the Modern Era”

This month, Oxford published Becoming Ottomans: Sephardi Jews and Imperial 9780199340408Citizenship in the Modern Era, by Julia Phillips Cohen (Vanderbilt University). The publisher’s description follows.

The Ottoman-Jewish story has long been told as a romance between Jews and the empire. The prevailing view is that Ottoman Jews were protected and privileged by imperial policies and in return offered their unflagging devotion to the imperial government over many centuries. In this book, Julia Phillips Cohen offers a corrective, arguing that Jewish leaders who promoted this vision were doing so in response to a series of reforms enacted by the nineteenth-century Ottoman state: the new equality they gained came with a new set of expectations. Ottoman subjects were suddenly to become imperial citizens, to consider their neighbors as brothers and their empire as a homeland.

Becoming Ottomans is the first book to tell the story of Jewish political integration into a modern Islamic empire. It begins with the process set in motion by the imperial state reforms known as the Tanzimat, which spanned the years 1839-1876 and legally emancipated the non-Muslims of the empire. Four decades later the situation was difficult to recognize. By the close of the nineteenth century, Ottoman Muslims and Jews alike regularly referred to Jews as a model community, or millet-as a group whose leaders and members knew how to serve their state and were deeply engaged in Ottoman politics. The struggles of different Jewish individuals and groups to define the public face of their communities is underscored in their responses to a series of important historical events.

Charting the dramatic reversal of Jews in the empire over a half-century, Becoming Ottomans offers new perspectives for understanding Jewish encounters with modernity and citizenship in a centralizing, modernizing Islamic state in an imperial, multi-faith landscape.

Fredette, “Constructing Muslims in France: Discourse, Public Identity, and the Politics of Citizenship”

Next month, Temple University will publish 2272_regConstructing Muslims in France: Discourse, Public Identity, and the Politics of Citizenship, by Jennifer Fredette (San Diego State University). The publisher’s description follows.

The standing of French Muslims is undercut by a predominant and persistent elite public discourse that frames Muslims as failed and incomplete French citizens. This situation fosters the very separations, exclusions, and hierarchies it claims to deplore as Muslims face discrimination in education, housing, and employment.

In Constructing Muslims in France, Jennifer Fredette provides a deft empirical analysis to show the political diversity and complicated identity politics of this relatively new population. She examines the public identity of French Muslims and evaluates images in popular media to show how stereotyped notions of racial and religious differences pervade French public discourse. While rights may be a sine qua non for fighting legal and political inequality, Fredette shows that additional tools such as media access are needed to combat social inequality, particularly when it comes in the form of unfavorable discursive frames and public disrespect.

Presenting the conflicting views of French national identity, Fredette shows how Muslims strive to gain recognition of their diverse views and backgrounds and find full equality as French citizens.

Ullah, “Vying for Allah’s Vote: Understanding Islamic Parties, Political Violence, and Extremism in Pakistan”

Next month, Georgetown will publish Vying for Allah’s Vote: Understanding9781626160156 Islamic Parties, Political Violence, and Extremism in Pakistan, by Haroon K. Ullah (U.S. State Department). The publisher’s description follows.

What is driving political extremism in Pakistan? In early 2011, the prominent Pakistani politician Salmaan Taseer was assassinated by a member of his own security team for insulting Islam by expressing views in support of the rights of women and religious minorities. Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister, was killed by gunfire and explosive devices as she left a campaign event in December 2007; strong evidence links members of extremist organizations to her slaying.

These murders underscore the fact that religion, politics, and policy are inextricably linked in Pakistan. In this book, Haroon K. Ullah analyzes the origins, ideologies, bases of support, and electoral successes of the largest and most influential Islamic parties in Pakistan. Based on his extensive field work in Pakistan, he develops a new typology for understanding and comparing the discourses put forth by these parties in order to assess what drives them and what separates the moderate from the extreme. A better understanding of the range of parties is critical for knowing how the US and other Western nations can engage states where Islamic political parties hold both political and moral authority.

Pakistan’s current democratic transition will hinge on how well Islamic parties contribute to civilian rule, shun violence, and mobilize support for political reform. Ullah’s political-party typology may also shed light on the politics of other majority-Muslim democracies, such as Egypt and Tunisia, where Islamist political parties have recently won elections.

Arkin, “Rhinestones, Religion, and the Republic: Fashioning Jewishness in France”

Next month, Stanford University will publish Rhinestones, Religion, and the 0804786003Republic: Fashioning Jewishness in France, by Kimberly A. Arkin (Boston University). The publisher’s description follows.

During the course of her fieldwork in Paris, anthropologist Kimberly Arkin heard what she thought was a surprising admission. A French-born, North African Jewish (Sephardi) teenage girl laughingly told Arkin she was a racist. When asked what she meant by that, the girl responded, “It means I hate Arabs.”

This girl was not unique. She and other Sephardi youth in Paris insisted, again and again, that they were not French, though born in France, and that they could not imagine their Jewish future in France. Fueled by her candid and compelling informants, Arkin’s analysis delves into the connections and disjunctures between Jews and Muslims, religion and secular Republicanism, race and national community, and identity and culture in post-colonial France. Rhinestones argues that Sephardi youth, as both “Arabs” and “Jews,” fall between categories of class, religion, and culture. Many reacted to this liminality by going beyond religion and culture to categorize their Jewishness as race, distinguishing Sephardi Jews from “Arab” Muslims, regardless of similarities they shared, while linking them to “European” Jews (Ashkenazim), regardless of their differences. But while racializing Jewishness might have made Sephardi Frenchness possible, it produced the opposite result: it re-grounded national community in religion-as-race, thereby making pluri-religious community appear threatening. Rhinestones thus sheds light on the production of race, alienation, and intolerance within marginalized French and European populations.

Norton, “On the Muslim Question”

Earlier this year, Princeton University Press published On the Muslim Question, by Annek9951 Norton (University of Pennsylvania). The publisher’s description follows.

In the post-9/11 West, there is no shortage of strident voices telling us that Islam is a threat to the security, values, way of life, and even existence of the United States and Europe. For better or worse, “the Muslim question” has become the great question of our time. It is a question bound up with others–about freedom of speech, terror, violence, human rights, women’s dress, and sexuality. Above all, it is tied to the possibility of democracy. In this fearless, original, and surprising book, Anne Norton demolishes the notion that there is a “clash of civilizations” between the West and Islam. What is really in question, she argues, is the West’s commitment to its own ideals: to democracy and the Enlightenment trinity of liberty, equality, and fraternity. In the most fundamental sense, the Muslim question is about the values not of Islamic, but of Western, civilization.

Moving between the United States and Europe, Norton provides a fresh perspective on iconic controversies, from the Danish cartoon of Muhammad to the murder of Theo van Gogh. She examines the arguments of a wide range of thinkers–from John Rawls to Slavoj Žižek. And she describes vivid everyday examples of ordinary Muslims and non-Muslims who have accepted each other and built a common life together. Ultimately, Norton provides a new vision of a richer and more diverse democratic life in the West, one that makes room for Muslims rather than scapegoating them for the West’s own anxieties.

Rienzi on the Abercrombie & Fitch Case

At the Becket Fund’s blog, Mark Rienzi has an interesting analysis of the Abercrombie & Fitch case I discussed last week:

The decision is important for two reasons.  First, it is a reminder that, in a religiously diverse country, people of different faiths will have different needs.  Some workers need to wear headscarves, some need Saturdays off, some cannot assist with abortions or capital punishment.  The sensible response to most of these differences is to accommodate them—to recognize that our society is filled with wonderful differences, and to find ways to work around those differences without kicking people out of their jobs.

The case is also important for arguments the Administration chose not to make.  It did not argue that Ms. Khan had forfeited her religious freedom rights when she voluntarily went to work for a profit-making company.  It did not say that she would only have religious liberty if she cabined her job search to Muslim religious organizations.  It did not say that because she was earning money in the commercial marketplace she had somehow forfeited her right to conduct herself in accordance with her religion.

Read the whole thing.

Abu-Lughod, “Do Muslim Women Need Saving?”

do muslimNext month, Harvard University Press will publish Do Muslim Women Need Saving by Lila Abu-Lughod (Columbia University).  The publisher’s description follows.

Frequent reports of honor killings, disfigurement, and sensational abuse have given rise to a consensus in the West, a message propagated by human rights groups and the media: Muslim women need to be rescued. Lila Abu-Lughod boldly challenges this conclusion. An anthropologist who has been writing about Arab women for thirty years, she delves into the predicaments of Muslim women today, questioning whether generalizations about Islamic culture can explain the hardships these women face and asking what motivates particular individuals and institutions to promote their rights.

In recent years Abu-Lughod has struggled to reconcile the popular image of women victimized by Islam with the complex women she has known through her research in various communities in the Muslim world. Here, she renders that divide vivid by presenting detailed vignettes of the lives of ordinary Muslim women, and showing that the problem of gender inequality cannot be laid at the feet of religion alone. Poverty and authoritarianism–conditions not unique to the Islamic world, and produced out of global interconnections that implicate the West–are often more decisive. The standard Western vocabulary of oppression, choice, and freedom is too blunt to describe these women’s lives.

Do Muslim Women Need Saving? is an indictment of a mindset that has justified all manner of foreign interference, including military invasion, in the name of rescuing women from Islam–as well as a moving portrait of women’s actual experiences, and of the contingencies with which they live.

The Abercrombie Look

Staff at Abercrombie & Fitch Store, London (BBC)

Here’s an interesting case that reveals much about the way American mass marketers view religion and “diversity.” This week, a federal district court in California ruled in favor of Umme-Hani Khan, a Muslim teenager who sued her employer, the retailer Abercrombie & Fitch, for religious discrimination. A&F fired Khan, whose job required her to restock clothes on the sales floor of an A&F store in San Mateo, because she insisted on wearing a Muslim headscarf, or hijab, on the job. The headscarf, A&F told her, was inconsistent with the firm’s “Look Policy,” a set of grooming and clothing requirements for employees.

The Look Policy is meant to project a consistent A&F identity to consumers who favor the brand–mostly kids between 18-22. You can see an illustration in the photo above, from A&F’s London store. Head coverings are out; shirts, apparently, are optional. A&F occasionally grants exemptions from the policy to employees who wish to wear religious garb or symbols, but only if the garb or symbols are not visible to others. Just judging by the outfits in the photo, that can’t be the case very often.

But back to Ms. Khan. A&F obviously fired Khan because of her attempt to exercise her religion. Under federal and state employment laws, though, a firm can fire an employee if accommodating the employee’s religious practice would create an undue burden for the firm. Here, A&F argued, allowing Khan to wear her headscarf would create such a burden. Allowing departures from the Look Policy would confuse customers and detract from their in-store experience. And consumer confusion would injure A&F’s brand identity and detract from sales. Simply put, allowing Khan to wear the headscarf would cost A&F money.

The problem was that A&F didn’t show that it had lost any sales because of Khan’s hijab. A&F speculated that consumers would be confused or irritated by the sight of Khan in a headscarf, but could point to no actual incidents. Nor did A&F offer convincing evidence about the negative effect employee headscarves had on sales at other clothing firms. On the record presented, the court ruled, there was no reason to believe that allowing Khan to wear her headscarf would pose an undue hardship for A&F . So Khan prevailed on her claim.

All this is straightforward employment discrimination law. What makes the case interesting is what it reveals about the mindset of mass-market retailers like A&F. Like many such retailers, A&F makes a big deal about its commitment to “diversity,” including religious diversity. According to its website, A&F recognizes the “25 different dimensions of diversity that make up who we are” (only 25?), such as “race, gender, family, sexual orientation, work experience, physical ability, and religion.” So it’s a little strange that A&F would fire a teenage stocking clerk who did nothing more offensive than wear a headscarf to work for religious reasons, and compound the PR mistake by litigating the case in federal court. What gives?

I can think of three possibilities. First, the people at A&F are clueless. Other recent PR disasters for A&F–like the suggestion that the firm doesn’t want heavy women wearing its clothes–render this explanation somewhat plausible, but I doubt it. You don’t become a successful retailer by being clueless. Second, the people at A&F are hypocrites. They talk a good game about tolerance and diversity, but are secretly bigots. This explanation is more plausible than the first, but still unsatisfying. I expect the people at A&F, especially the marketers steeped in our media culture, have internalized the diversity imperative. They really do wish to be “inclusive” and would be shocked to find out they’re not.

So here’s a third explanation. In our mass-market culture, “diversity” means something very specific: the right to purchase and wear (but principally purchase) the same products as everybody else. Wherever you come from, whoever your parents are, whichever God you pray to–whatever the precise mixture of those “25 different dimensions of diversity” that make you who you are–you have a right to the Abercrombie Look. To hold that diversity means something more than that, that it might require people to tolerate religious garb and symbols in the workplace, could be divisive and bad for business. And who knows where it would lead? Someone might actually try to wear a visible cross to work.  

The case is Khan v. Abercrombie & Fitch, 2013 WL 4726137 (N.D.Cal. 2013)).

Duncan, “Violence and Vengeance: Religious Conflict and Its Aftermath in Eastern Indonesia”

This October, Cornell University Press will publish Violence and Vengeance: Violenve and VengeanceReligious Conflict and Its Aftermath in Eastern Indonesia by Christopher R. Duncan (Arizona State University).  The publisher’s description follows.

Between 1999 and 2000, sectarian fighting fanned across the eastern Indonesian province of North Maluku, leaving thousands dead and hundreds of thousands displaced. What began as local conflicts between migrants and indigenous people over administrative boundaries spiraled into a religious war pitting Muslims against Christians and continues to influence communal relationships more than a decade after the fighting stopped. Christopher R. Duncan spent several years conducting fieldwork in North Maluku, and in Violence and Vengeance, he examines how the individuals actually taking part in the fighting understood and experienced the conflict.

Rather than dismiss religion as a facade for the political and economic motivations of the regional elite, Duncan explores how and why participants came to perceive the conflict as one of religious difference. He examines how these perceptions of religious violence altered the conflict, leading to large-scale massacres in houses of worship, forced conversions of entire communities, and other acts of violence that stressed religious identities. Duncan’s analysis extends beyond the period of violent conflict and explores how local understandings of the violence have complicated the return of forced migrants, efforts at conflict resolution and reconciliation.