Upcoming events - New York December 3rd
In the Middle East today, conflicts along religious and ethnic dimensions create situations in which minorities are in great danger. It is important to look at how constitutions and their supporting institutions can protect religious pluralism and toleration in mixed or divided societies. What are the constitutional arrangements that are the most successful in ensuring minority rights? How can constitutions deal with the tensions between individual and communal rights? What can we harness from local social, political and cultural traditions in various Middle East and North African cultures to aid the development of constitutions that promote pluralism? Top scholars have gathered at Columbia University (NY) on December 3rd, 2013, to discuss these questions.
Saudi authorities may reconsider the ban imposed on women drivers. Things have changed just one month after the October 26 protest that was expected to fill the streets of Riyadh with cars filled with black abayas, a protest that never happened due to threats received and fears they would be arrested. Two activists, Aziza al-Yusef and Hala al-Dosari, have reported to AFP of a meeting held with Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Saudi Arabia’s Interior Minister, via conference call in order to respect the rules regulating the separation between men and women.
After Gezi Park
A large green circle held by a human-shaped tree trunk with arms extending like branches laden with leaves and inside the circle the words “Gezi Partisi” is the symbol of the new Turkish political party. It was inspired by the June protests held in the name of individual and collective freedom, opposing the government’s authoritarianism and its economic policies, which caused Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to quake.
For the last two years, far from the eyes of the world, from the daily attacks and clashes being documented and filmed in Syria, untold tragedies and violations of human rights have been carried, out muffled within the silence of prison walls. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has launched a campaign to tell 21 stories of prisoners’ experiences collected through testimonials and pictures. The imprisoned are not only activists, but also doctors, lawyers and journalists who have tried to tell the story of two years of conflict in the country, to help and protect others.
A changing Middle East
To what extent does the Islamic past still affect the economies and institutions in North African and Middle Eastern countries? Timur Kuran, who has scientifically analysed the region’s past and present, says “a great deal. And one should be attentive to the fact that in the region, democracy is an absolute novelty while civil society remains weak.” Kuran is a scholar who has studied the “divergence” between the economies of Western Europe and the Middle East. A professor at Duke University in North Carolina, a New Yorker by birth and a Turkish-American, he is the author of The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East (Princeton University Press, 2011). His works weave economics with political science, legal studies, and historical studies. He is considered a great authority in the field of comparative global economics and is gaining attention in .in Arab countries, where his works are now appearing in translation. The historical backdrop of the “divergence” comes to mind when one now Turkey’s prime minister attack the excessive use of credit cards. One wonders whether profound difference exist even in Turkey, where the lengthy domination of Kemalist secular culture ignored the Islamic aversion towards interest.
Philosophy and Religion
“It is not secularization pushing us to think about coexistence. We already have enough material about it in our traditions”. On October 10th, this is how Professor Abdulaziz Sachedina introduced his efforts on the roots of pluralism and coexistence within Islam to his audience at Hartford Seminary, an institution whose motto is “Exploring Differences, Deepening Faith.” A clearly energetic, dynamic and charismatic man Abdulaziz Sachedina is a professor of Islamic Studies at Virginia’s George Mason University. Born in Tanzania, he may boast an international academic background having studied in India, Iraq, Iran and Canada. His main fields of interest are related to social and political ethics, interfaith relations and human rights in Islam.
Al Jazeera has started to show signs of weakness and this has taken place in the network’s own country where the channel expressed offence and amazement when a Doha newspaper dared publish data that did not suit the Emir’s network. According to the most recent report on “Media use in the Middle East” by the Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q), very few countries that experienced the Arab Spring consider Al Jazeera as a real source of information.
Turmoil in Turkey
Freedom, equality of opportunities, defense of collective goods: eventually Turkey found its ideals. With one strike, the country lying in between the western and eastern world experienced its own “Occupy” movement and “Spring” turmoil. Erdogan and ten years of controversial governance were at the core of the protest which put Istanbul and the whole country on fire. In the streets there was a whole generation: some call it generation “Y”. Umuth Turk, Turkish, 26 years old, just graduated from the University of Milan, Italy, and went back to his country to join the protest. He has lived in Italy for four years, between Milan and Pisa. He developed his own critical view about his country of origin, but also with respect to the neo-liberal policies born in the western world. We conducted an interview with him in order to better understand which political forces triggered the mobilization, the social context of Turkey and which goals have been achieved so far by the protest.
In the current debate between East and West, and, in that between Islamists and secular people, the emphasis on Islam raises a fundamental question: Can Islam tolerate equality between sexes and can it accept female citizenship? Answers to this question frequently give rise to ancestral fears and delirious spectres. At times the clash between Islam and female citizenship appears to be very marked. Like all religious traditions, Islam perceives itself as carrying a message of freedom and brotherhood in the name of a God conferring inalienable dignity to every human being. At the same time, however, the entire Islamic Sharia contributes to male preeminence.
Middle East Turmoil
Many Egyptian artists consider the June 30th revolution “theirs” and they are not wrong. The civil and political commitment of hundreds of poets, painters, photographers, musicians, singers and dancers from all over Egypt resulted in numerous ‘occupations’, the starting point for a joyful and determined peoples’ protest. According to Morsi’s supporters, one of the former president’s greatest merits was his campaign against corruption, blasphemy, the West’s influence and all that is haraam; hence impure and forbidden by God. In line with this objective, the Minister for Culture, Alaa Abdel-Aziz, appointed on May 7th, had started to replace those responsible for the Egyptian cultural scenario, making new appointments based on strictly political-religious assessments. The project soon alarmed the lively Egyptian cultural world, worried about seeing its independence being subjected to a new obscurantism of Islamist origin.
Europe and the veil
The debate on full veils – burqas and niqabs – in British courts and British schools was always bound to happen. The issue flared up a few years ago following some remarks by Jack Straw but it had not yet turned into a discussion over the possibility of a French style umbrella ban. Politicians such as Phillip Hollobone, Jeremy Browne and Nick Clegg seem to propose something along these lines. Yet, I believe, this country will not eventually generate a law similar to the French one in force since 2011. If it did, it would not be beneficial, but it is still important that we have this discussion.
Thomas Friedman wrote on New York Times on 07 September 2013 a piece entitled “Same War, Different Country”, in which he justifies the US (coming) intervention in Syria after the Assad army has been accused of using chemical weapons against civilians on 21 August 2013. While Assad’s brutal force has clearly caused terrible damage to the country and its people since 2011, I seize the occasion to make few notes about Friedman’s reasoning for going into a war for that matter. Some earlier solution could have been found, any time before August 2013. A military intervention does not seem the right solution, and the reasoning that fuels it seems the most inadequate and unreasonable.
Seminar magazine September issue
Reset-Dialogues on Civilizations is pleased to present the special September issue of the Indian magazine Seminar, with contributions by leading international scholars who gathered in Venice for the 2012 edition of our Venice-Delhi Seminars.
Protests in Taksim Square
In recent days the AKP, the Islamic-conservative party led by Prime Minister Erdogan, celebrated its tenth anniversary in government while unprecedented protests were being held in a number of Turkish cities. The epicentre for these protests is Istanbul and more specifically Taksim Square, which the government intends to subject to greatly opposed construction plans, involving a reduction of the Gezi Park, the building of a shopping mall and a large mosque. The police’s brutal reaction to peaceful protests has resulted in thousands more taking to the streets. There protests against Prime Minister Erdogan are extremely harsh and have at times been interpreted as secular Turkey’s reaction to Islamist repression imposing strict religious provisions through laws such as the one forbidding alcohol sales in shops after 10 p.m..
From Dissent's Blog
Many people have been criticizing President Obama for dithering over what to do in Syria. Not me; dithering seems an entirely rational response to what’s going on there. The difficulty is that we don’t really know what we want to happen—I mean we don’t know which among the likely possibilities would be the least awful. Of course, readers of Dissent would be happy to see the victory of Syrians who have been studying John Stuart Mill or who take their cue from Swedish social democracy. But nothing like that lies anywhere on (or near) the horizon. Read on Dissent magazine's blog