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Archive for the 'Middle East Studies' Category

Friday, February 21st, 2014

Shifting Sands After the Arab Spring

Shifting Sands

This week our featured book is Shifting Sands: The United States in the Middle East by Joel S. Migdal. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. On the final day of our feature on Shifting Sands, we have Joel Migdal’s afterword, in which he looks back at his book through the lens of the events of the Arab Spring.

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Shifting Sands!

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

The Yom Kippur War and the Changing Calculus of U.S. Foreign Policy

Shifting Sands

This week our featured book is Shifting Sands: The United States in the Middle East by Joel S. Migdal. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. Today we have an excerpt from the fifth chapter of Shifting Sands, in which Migdal discusses the ramifications of the Yom Kippur War on U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Shifting Sands!

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Tiptoeing Through Minefields

Shifting Sands

This week our featured book is Shifting Sands: The United States in the Middle East by Joel S. Migdal. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. In today’s guest post, Joel Migdal discusses John Kerry’s surprisingly active tenure as Secretary of State.

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Shifting Sands!

Tiptoeing through Minefields
Joel S. Migdal

John Kerry has taken on as activist a foreign policy agenda as any secretary of state in recent memory. In the year or so that he has been in office, he has dived into thickets of crises on every continent and on a wide array of issues. Most recently, he derided climate-change deniers as akin to believers in a flat earth. He made his remarks in Indonesia on the heels of the first U.S. environmental agreement with China, with hints that more agreements with other countries were on the horizon. His assault on climate change—and those who do not take it seriously—came during an Asia tour in which he also directed tough words at North Korea, defending U.S. joint military exercises with South Korea. And, at the same time, he leaned hard on South Korea and Japan to repair their frayed ties.

Nowhere has Kerry been more aggressive than in the turbulent Middle East. He has been out front simultaneously on three sets of talks—to end the brutal war in Syria, move Iran away from the development of nuclear weapons, and solve the seemingly interminable Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Any one of these negotiations would have provided him with a full plate. When he came into office a year ago, no one would have bet that any of these initiatives could succeed and, even now, few would bank on more than one of these actually showing results. But Kerry has not been shy about tilting at windmills.
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Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

The Middle East in the Eye of the Global Storm, by Joel Migdal

Shifting Sands

This week our featured book is Shifting Sands: The United States in the Middle East by Joel S. Migdal. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. Today, we have an excerpt from Migdal’s first chapter, “The Middle East in the Eye of the Global Storm.”

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Shifting Sands!

Monday, February 17th, 2014

Book Giveaway! Shifting Sands: The United States in the Middle East, by Joel S. Migdal

Shifting Sands

This week our featured book is Shifting Sands: The United States in the Middle East by Joel S. Migdal. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Shifting Sands. To enter our Book Giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on Friday, February 21st at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Monday, February 10th, 2014

Marianne Hirsch on the MLA’s Resolution on Israel and Palestine

“When it comes to the topic of Israel and Palestine, discussion is curtailed before it begins. In a debate that is structured to allow only two clear-cut sides, words lose their meaning.”—Marianne Hirsch

Recent resolutions from the American Studies Association and the Modern Language Association have generated a lot of controversy as well as a lot of misunderstanding. In a recent essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Marianne Hirsch, author of The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture After the Holocaust clarifies not only the terms of the debate but what’s at stake.

In her essay, “The Sound of Silencing in American Academe,” Hirsch points out that the MLA’s recent resolution has been mischaracterized and was not a call for a boycott as some have suggested but rather “concerned restrictions on the freedom of travel for American students and faculty members of Palestinian descent to universities in the West Bank. Those restrictions are documented on the U.S. State Department website, and the resolution asked the MLA to urge the State Department to ‘contest’ them.”

Even before the discussion on the resolution at the recent MLA conference, Hirsch, who is the organization’s president, was subject to intimidation and received several e-mails and messages from American Jewish groups and others who (incorrectly) framed the MLA resolution as a boycott of Israel. These critics accused the MLA of being anti-Semitic and anti-Israel, even going so far as to evoke the Nazis in their criticism of the organization. As Hirsch points out, this kind of hyperbole, which comes from both supporters and critics of Israel’s policy on Palestine, does little to advance the debate. Hirsch writes:

When it comes to the topic of Israel and Palestine, discussion is curtailed before it begins. In a debate that is structured to allow only two clear-cut sides, words lose their meaning.

Hirsch argues that in such an environment, words like “boycott” become especially inflammatory and their meaning becomes distorted. It is just this type of distortion, Hirsch argues, in which an organization like the MLA can actually help to further such a political debate. In the conclusion to her essay, she explains:

Many people have questioned the MLA’s right to intervene in politics. But isn’t it precisely our linguistic expertise that could help sort out the irreconcilable meanings of words, their irresponsible deployment, and the practices of silencing that ensue?

To create the space for the difficult conversations we need to have now and in the future, we must get beyond the silences imposed in the name of academic freedom. We need our academic leaders, our university presidents, not to condemn our scholarly associations, but rather to protect our right to have and to sponsor those important conversations free from harassment campaigns and pre-emptive threats.

Friday, January 17th, 2014

Rashid Khalidi on Ariel Sharon

Rashidi Khalidi, author of Under Siege: PLO Decisionmaking During the 1982 War (now available in a revised edition with a new introduction), has recently been interviewed and asked to comment on Ariel Sharon’s legacy and his impact on the Middle East.

In a recent piece in Foreign Policy, Call Off the Sainthood of Ariel Sharon, Khalidi discusses the Israeli leader’s role in the 1982 Israeli war in Lebanon, a conflict that led to more than 50,000 casualties, including many Lebanese civilians.

Khalidi writes:

The Lebanon war that Sharon, then the defense minister, did more than anyone else to launch was an unmitigated catastrophe for the Palestinians, the Lebanese, and in the view of most Israelis at the time, Israel itself. Israel’s subsequent occupation of South Lebanon until 2000, the consequent intensification of the Lebanese civil war, the slaughter of untold numbers of innocents, and the deaths of hundreds of Israeli soldiers and thousands of other combatants should all be laid in large part at Sharon’s feet.

Sharon’s profound impact on the Middle East stretched far beyond Lebanon. If the creation of a truly sovereign, independent, contiguous, and viable Palestinian state is not possible today — as most sober observers believe — this is largely his achievement. From his appointment as agriculture minister in 1977 until his passing from the Israeli political scene after his stroke in 2006, he probably did more than any other Israeli leader to make Israel’s colonization of the occupied West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem an astonishing success.

Khalidi also recently discussed Sharon on Huffington Post Live as well as on Democracy Now, where he was joined by Noam Chomsky and Avi Shlaim

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

VIDEO: Frederic Wehrey on “Sectarian Politics in the Gulf”

In the following video, Frederic Wehrey discusses his new book Sectarian Politics in the Gulf: From the Iraq War to the Arab Uprisings.

Wehrey argues that sectarianism in the region has largely been the product of the institutional weaknesses of Gulf states, leading to excessive alarm by entrenched Sunni elites and calculated attempts by regimes to discredit Shiʿa political actors.

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

Judith Butler on Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism

In the following video, Judith Butler discusses some of the themes, arguments, and experiences that shape her book Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism (now available in paper).

Butler considers Israel’s policy in Palestine and the Jewish response to the occupation and state violence. A critic of Israel, who believes Israel’s occupation violates international law, Butler argues that her critique is not anti-Jewish. In the video, Butler also briefly addresses her own sense of Jewish identity and her family’s suffering during the Holocaust.

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

Middle East Studies Titles on Sale!

Middle East Studies Titles on SaleFrom the cinema of the Middle East to Al Qaeda’s strategy, we are offering 30% off on titles in Middle East Studies during our special sale.

We are offering a 30% discount on these titles. IMPORTANT: Be sure to enter the special promotion code MESA1314 in the space provided in the shopping cart order form. (Discounted amount will appear after you click “apply”).

Click here for a full list of titles on sale but here are some highlights:

Conflict, Conquest, and Conversion: Two Thousand Years of Christian Missions in the Middle East, by Eleanor H. Tejirian and Reeva Spector Simon

Contemporary Arab Thought: Cultural Critique in Comparative Perspective, by Elizabeth Suzanne Kassab

Decoding Al-Qaeda’s Strategy: The Deep Battle Against America, by Michael W. S. Ryan

Women in Iraq: Past Meets Present, by Noga Efrati

The Impossible State: Islam, Politics, and Modernity’s Moral Predicament, by Wael B. Hallaq

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Marc Lynch and Erica Chenoweth on U.S. Military Intervention in Syria

“But Obama has actually learned the real lessons of Iraq, the risks and costs, to America and to the world, of poorly conceived interventions abroad that never go quite as promised.”—Marc Lynch on possible U.S. military intervention in Syria

As talk about military intervention in Syria intensifies, Marc Lynch, author of Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, al-Jazeera, and Middle East Politics Today and Erica Chenoweth, author of Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict offer words of caution about U.S. involvement.

In his article for Foreign Policy, Restraining Order, Lynch argues that Obama’s caution about military intervention in Syria reflects his understanding of the lessons of Iraq. Unlike some of his opponents who have faulted Obama for showing a lack of leadership, the President realizes that poorly conceived interventions, even those limited in scope, rarely go as planned and, more often than not, lead the United States into a wider conflict it cannot easily extricate itself from. Lynch writes:

Obama is routinely lambasted for a failure to lead on Syria. In fact, he has been leading … just not in the direction his critics would like to go. Washington remains wired for war, always eager to talk itself into another battle in the same basic ways: invocations of leadership, warnings of lost credibility, stark sketches based on worst-case scenarios of inaction and the best case scenarios for low-cost, high-reward action. Most presidents — including a John McCain, Hillary Clinton, or Mitt Romney — would likely have long ago leapt to play the assigned role; the United States would already be hip deep in the Syrian civil war. But Obama has actually learned the real lessons of Iraq, the risks and costs, to America and to the world, of poorly conceived interventions abroad that never go quite as promised.

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Friday, July 26th, 2013

Frederick Cooper: How Global Do We Want Our Intellectual History to Be?

Global Intellectual History

This week our featured book is Global Intellectual History, edited by Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori. Today, the final day of this week’s feature, we have an excerpt from Frederick Cooper’s chapter in Global Intellectual History: “How Global Do We Want Our Intellectual History to Be?” Cooper argues that “the concepts of ‘global’ and ‘modern’ are two-edged swords when it comes to understanding the world.”

Be sure to enter our book giveaway for Global Intellectual History!

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Cemil Aydin: Globalizing the Intellectual History of the Idea of the “Muslim World”

Global Intellectual History

This week our featured book is Global Intellectual History, edited by Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori. Today, we have an excerpt from Cemil Aydin’s chapter in Global Intellectual History: “Globalizing the Intellectual History of the Idea of the ‘Muslim World.’” In his essay, Aydin “revisit[s] the period from the 1880s to the 1920s that was retrospectively characterized as the high age of both global Westernization and Muslim intellectual modernism and Pan-Islamic nationalism, to discuss global ideas and values, such as the caliphate, that did not originate in Europe.”

Be sure to enter our book giveaway for Global Intellectual History!

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

Marc Lynch: What’s Missing from the Iraq Debate

Mark Kukis, Voices from Iraq

“On the 10th anniversary of the invasion, we should be hearing a lot more from them — and a lot less from the former American officials and pundits who got it wrong the first time.”—Marc Lynch

Amid the many discussion about the tenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Marc Lynch author of Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, al-Jazeera, and Middle East Politics Today, argues that:

one surprising detail about the flood of retrospectives: They have almost exclusively been written by Americans, talking about Americans, for Americans. Indeed, many Iraqis fail to see the point of commemorating the disastrous war for the benefit of the American media.

In What’s Missing from the Iraq Debate, written for his blog on Foreign Policy, Lynch cites some exceptions, including Mark Kukis’s Voices from Iraq: A People’s History, 2003-2009 but argues that books and commentary on the invasion have been very American-centric. American discussions about Iraq have focused on U.S. strategy, often ignoring Iraqi politics and public opinion. Lynch discusses the implications of this:

Myopia has consequences. Failing to listen to those Iraqi voices meant getting important things badly wrong. Most profoundly, the American filter tends to minimize the human costs and existential realities of military occupation and a brutal, nasty war. The savage civil war caused mass displacement and sectarian slaughter that will be remembered for generations. The U.S. occupation also involved massive abuses and shameful episodes, from torture at Abu Ghraib Prison to a massacre of unarmed Iraqis in the city of Haditha. The moral and ethical imperative to incorporate Iraqi perspectives should be obvious.

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Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Mark Kukis on Voices from Iraq and the Nation’s Future

“The experience of the U.S. invasion and occupation scarred the country much more deeply than even I as a correspondent there imagined.”—Mark Kukis

Mark Kukis

Upon the tenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, we are re-posting an earlier interview with Mark Kukis about his book Voices from Iraq: A People’s History, 2003-2009 and the current situation in Iraq and future prospects for the country.

Kukis wrote the book to give Iraqis a voice as a way to counteract their under-representation in the U.S. media. He discovered that most Iraqis were genuinely glad to be rid of Saddam Hussein but fault the United States for many policies enacted during the occupation, particularly its disbanding of the Iraqi army.

Iraqis, Kukis believes now see many of the problems confronting the country as the responsibility of the Iraqi government even if they are a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation. Here are some excerpts from the interview in which Kukis considers how Iraqis view their future:

What does Iraq’s near-term future look like to them? Do you agree?

The near-term future looks rather bleak to many Iraqis, mainly because of the persistently high violence. No nation can think of itself as normal or stable when bombs kill and maim hundreds each year in the biggest urban areas. I believe Iraq will grow economically in the coming years and return to its status as one of the most developed and wealthiest nations in the Middle East. You can have economic growth and high violence at the same time.

But most Iraqis I suspect will find little solace in economic gains so long as violence endures at the current levels, and there is little to suggest it will be easing. So, yes, I tend to join those in Iraq with a fairly dim view of the future given the violence.

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Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Paul Pillar: Still Peddling Iraq War Myths, Ten Years Later

Paul Pillar

We continue our week long feature on the tenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq with a look at a recent essay by Paul Pillar, author of Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform.

In the essay Still Peddling Iraq War Myths, Ten Years Later, published on Pillar’s excellent blog for The National Interest, argues that:

[T]he anniversary retrospectives also give renewed exposure to those who promoted the war and have a large stake in still promoting the idea that they were not responsible for foisting on the nation an expedition that was so hugely damaging to American interests.

Pillar’s article was in part inspired by a recent event he participated in with former Bush administration figures the then-deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley and Douglas Feith, who as an undersecretary of defense was one of the most rabid supporters of the invasion of Iraq. Still maintaining that the war needed to be fought to protect the United States, Hadley and Feith suggest that if any mistake was made in deciding to go to war it was following bad intelligence. The lesson to learn is that administrations need to ask tougher questions about intelligence.

As Pillar shows, in what amounts to a devastating critique of the fallacy of Hadley and Feith’s position, bad intelligence had little to do with the Bush administration’s choice to go to invade Iraq. Bush and his neoconservative advisers wanted to get rid of Saddam and saw the post 9-11 atmosphere as giving them an opening. The administration backed intelligence when it supported their case (as with WMD’s) and discredited it when it challenged it (as with the lack of a connection between Saddam and al-Qaeda).

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Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Voices from Iraq: What the U.S. Invasion Felt Like to Iraqis

Mark Kukis, Voices from Iraq

Mark Kukis author Voices from Iraq: A People’s History, 2003-2009 recently discussed the stories of some of the people he interviewed for the book on Juan Cole’s blog Informed Comment.

In particular, Kukis shares some of the reactions of a range of Iraqis to the early days of the invasion. This initial period, from the invasion in 2003 to the outbreak of sectarian disease, is referred to as “the collapse” by Iraqis. It was a period that Kukis describes for Iraqis in which, “Anger mingled with joy. Relief came with dread. Hopefulness flowed with rage.”

Kukis cites varied Iraqi reactions to the looting, the U.S. bombing, and seeing U.S. troops patrolling Iraqi streets. While some spoke with a kind of awe about U.S. soldiers. Omar Yousef Hussein, who became a part of the insurgent movement, reveals a more conflicted view of the troops. In the following, he describes his first operation:

We made our way to the road. There were some shepherds there with sheep. They saw us planting the bomb but said nothing. It all seemed like a game, honestly. A game you might play as a child. We ran a wire from the bomb through the fields off the road and found a hiding place where the leaves and grass kept us from view. From there we watched. We did not have to wait long. It was a busy road. The Americans used it a lot. After about an hour we saw a Humvee. This was in the early days, when Humvees were often seen alone, not always in armored convoys like later. The Humvee approached, and at the right moment we detonated. The explosion flipped the Humvee onto its side, and after a moment a crowd gathered. We eased out of our hiding spot and joined the group on the street. I don’t know if the Americans in the Humvee were dead or not. I just saw them being carried away on stretchers. No one walked away as far as I could tell. I can’t say how the others felt at that moment, but I was in tears. I didn’t know whether I was crying out of sadness or fear or happiness. Maybe all those reasons. For me, that first operation was like breaking free from a whole life of oppression. I had grown up under Saddam Hussein. I had spent nearly a decade of my youth in his jails. I had seen my country invaded by a foreign army. All my life I felt beaten down by one hand or another. And now, finally, for the first time I was hitting back.

Monday, March 18th, 2013

Book Giveaway: Voices from Iraq

Voices from Iraq,

This week marks the tenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. During the week, we will be featuring books and authors’ perspectives on Iraq. In particular, the extraordinary work by Mark Kukis, Voices from Iraq: A People’s History, 2003-2009 by Mark Kukis.

Kukis’s book features the testimony of close to seventy Iraqis from all backgrounds and occupations—from onetime Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to insurgents speaking on the condition of anonymity.

In addition to our blog, we will also feature the book on Twitter feed, and on our Facebook page. We are also offering a FREE copy of the book to the winner of our Book Giveaway.

To enter our Book Giveaway, simply e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on Friday at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Monday, February 11th, 2013

Judith Butler, BDS, and Threats to Academic Freedom

Judith Butler, Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of ZionismJudith Butler’s appearance last week at an event at Brooklyn College with Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement campaigner Omar Barghouti elicited controversy regarding both Israeli policies and the limits or threats to academic freedom.

In her recently published book Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism, Butler engages a Jewish philosophical positions to articulate a critique of political Zionism. Butler has also been a supporter of the BDS movement and the event drew protestations from Alan Dershowitz, several New York City Council members, the New York Daily News , and a variety of Pro-Israel groups, who called for the event to be cancelled. Going further, several Council members threatened funding to Brooklyn College if the event was held.

This in turn led a diverse group of people and institutions, ranging from Mayor Bloomberg to the MLA, who supported Brooklyn College’s right to hold the event. To not hold it, they argued, would be a threat to academic freedom.

The Nation has published Butler’s remarks at Brooklyn College in full. In the following excerpt, Butler comments on the controversy:

The arguments made against this very meeting took several forms, and they were not always easy for me to parse. One argument was that BDS is a form of hate speech, and it spawned a set of variations: it is hate speech directed against either the State of Israel or Israeli Jews, or all Jewish people. If BDS is hate speech, then it is surely not protected speech, and it would surely not be appropriate for any institution of higher learning to sponsor or make room for such speech. Yet another objection, sometimes uttered by the same people who made the first, is that BDS does qualify as a viewpoint, but as such, ought to be presented only in a context in which the opposing viewpoint can be heard as well. There was yet a qualification to this last position, namely, that no one can have a conversation on this issue in the US that does not include a certain Harvard professor, but that spectacular argument was so self-inflationary and self-indicting, that I could only respond with astonishment.

So in the first case, it is not a viewpoint (and so not protected as extra-mural speech), but in the second instance, it is a viewpoint, presumably singular, but cannot be allowed to be heard without an immediate refutation. The contradiction is clear, but when people engage in a quick succession of contradictory claims such as these, it is usually because they are looking for whatever artillery they have at their disposal to stop something from happening. They don’t much care about consistency or plausibility.

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Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Jonathan Lyons – Islam, Violence, and the West: It’s Not the Video, Stupid

“But to focus on the short clip, posted online, that portrays the Prophet Muhammad as a womanizer, pedophile, and general sex fiend, is largely to miss the point. The true animating cause behind the protests is power, that is, Western power to define the Islamic world in ways that undermine its values, aspirations, identity, and, ultimately, its autonomy and means of self-determination.” — Jonathan Lyons

Islam Through Western EyesOver the last couple weeks, there have been protests against the US throughout the Muslim world, ostensibly in response to the short film The Innocence of Muslims.

In today’s post, however, Jonathan Lyons, author of Islam Through Western Eyes: From the Crusades to the War on Terrorism argues that the motivation for the protests goes much deeper than an offensive film.

Islam, Violence, and the West: It’s not the Video, Stupid
By Jonathan Lyons

It may be tempting to watch the unrest unfolding in parts of the Muslim world and wonder what real harm could there be in a cheesy “desert saga,” replete with glue-on beards, stilted dialogue, and an over-the-top touch of melodrama? Or perhaps to take some refuge in an absolutist notion of free speech.

But to focus on the short clip, posted online, that portrays the Prophet Muhammad as a womanizer, pedophile, and general sex fiend, is largely to miss the point. The true animating cause behind the protests is power, that is, Western power to define the Islamic world in ways that undermine its values, aspirations, identity, and, ultimately, its autonomy and means of self-determination.
(more…)