Making Revolution Islamic Again: Protest and Rebellion from ’79 Iran to the Arab Spring

The Islamic essentialism that’s taken over public discourse on the Middle East is striking and disturbing. Driven by regimes, think thanks and the broader rejection in academia of secular nationalism as a framework for understanding cultural blocs, the theory of Islamic essentialism reinvents and reformats the Muslim through imposing a historical narrative of decline-revival and a standard of belief and practice that is in fact alien to many if not most of the world’s Muslims. If you read Shadi Hamid’s Islamic Exceptionalism, you’ll find that you’re meant to be obsessed with the end of the Ottoman caliphate in 1924 too. That’ll be news to many.

Making Revolution Islamic Again

Does Zionism explain the success of Israel?

Does Zionism explain the success of Israel? It might seem an odd question but it was raised by Israel Studies scholar Derek Penslar in a talk in Oxford this week which analysed the fates of several settler colonial movements. In a tour d’horizon he looked at the New England Puritans, the French in Algeria, and South Africa and apartheid. Each one was similar to Israel and yet different in crucial respects, which led to the failure of one and the dismantling of a system of racial supremacy and subjugation in another. Continue reading Does Zionism explain the success of Israel?

Not Time To Declare ‘Sykes-Picot’ Dead Just Yet

The words ‘Sykes-Picot’ must have been bandied around more than at any time since 1916 over the past few months. The sense that the region is in the midst of a reshaping of borders, identities, nationalities has been evolving since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the blatant appeal to sectarianism by the occupying powers. That shouldn’t be a surprise because foreign powers, anywhere, have always played the policy of divide-and-rule. That’s what Sykes-Picot, with its spheres of British and French interests – was all about. The Middle East subsequently featured areas of British and American influence in the Gulf, Russian interest in a range of states including Syria, Egypt, Algeria, Iraq et al. with varying degrees of longevity, and the establishment of a Jewish settler state in Palestine. None of that was part-and-parcel of the Sykes-Picot arrangement per se, but it still accorded with the general principles. Continue reading Not Time To Declare ‘Sykes-Picot’ Dead Just Yet

Empire Wants What’s Best for the Arabs

The fear among international players with a stake in the Arab world that more instability threatens the political systems in place was palpable at the Doha Forum I attended last week. This even extended to the Gulf, purportedly the most stable part of the region, despite its having survived the first wave of the Arab uprisings that began in 2011. What was also striking was the idea among foreign powers that change among the Arabs can only happen through their coaching and supervision. Continue reading Empire Wants What’s Best for the Arabs

Was Hagarism Racist?

hagarismWhen Patricia Crone and Michael Cook’s Hagarism was first published in 1977 it was immediately controversial. Hagarism argued that the problems with the historical material of Islamic tradition were so severe that it was worthwhile looking at what source material there is from outside the Islamic tradition and reconstructing the history of the religion and Arab-Islamic civilization’s formation on that basis; or as they famously and breezily put it, “the only way out of the dilemma is thus to step outside the Islamic tradition altogether and start again”.

What followed was the depiction of a messianic movement in constant search of an identity, which in time evolved into something that we would recognize today as ‘Islam’. The shifting elements in this reconfiguration of the Semitic monotheistic tradition would include the concept of the caliphate, which Crone went on to argue with Martin Hinds in God’s Caliph: Religious Authority in the First Centuries of Islam was originally a ‘Shi’ite’ institution whereby the caliphs claimed direct authority from God as His representative; the idea of Sunna, or exemplary emulative behaviour, which they and others have argued originally included the caliphs and which only in Abbasid Baghdad, with the growing influence of the ulama, came to be conceived of as exclusively the preserve of Muhammad as The Prophet; the role of the class of ulama, who developed into a restraining force on the original absolutism of the caliph. Continue reading Was Hagarism Racist?

Film reveals Paris crackdown of 1961 Algeria protest

By Andrew Hammond

DUBAI | Fri Dec 16, 2011 8:24pm EST

(Reuters) – When Yasmina Adi got access to archives documenting the 1961 repression of Algerian protesters in Paris, she was shocked to uncover a trove of material relating to gaps in the story of one of the most contested events in recent French history.

As Algeria’s battle for independence spilled into France, Paris police chief Maurice Papon ordered police to crack down on thousands of Algerian protesters who defied a curfew on October 17 1961. Dozens of bodies were later pulled from the River Seine.

Papon, who died in 2007, was the only French Nazi official to be convicted for his role in the deportation of Jews during World War Two. France has acknowledged the deaths of 40 people in the 1961 incident, but Adi says her research suggests it was much worse.

“This period remains a blank page. France doesn’t recognize October 17 in school history books, it is not mentioned. Nothing you saw is in textbooks,” Adi, who is of Algerian origin, said after “Here We Drown Algerians – October 17, 1961” aired at the Dubai International Film Festival this week.

“The people you saw are getting old, so this is an attempt to maintain the historical memory.”

The documentary is narrated through the testimony of Algerians dragged off the streets by police and uses archive footage showing haunting images of thousands held in detention centers, transported in buses and sitting in planes during deportation.

A media campaign branded the protesters as Muslim terrorists, Adi’s film says.

Some, such as Hadda Khalfi, one of the main interviewees who explains how her husband disappeared never to return, have never received an apology or compensation from the state.

“I managed to (access) the archives of the police department and state archives, which even some historians have not got permission to see. Then I asked myself what security bodies were there, and I found they all had their own archives,” Adi said.

“It was the same for the filmed material… sometimes I noticed there were two people taking photos, so I said I have to go find them,” she added.

“So I pieced together each part, when they put the Algerians on buses, when they detained them at the police department, the unseen photos from the Palais du Sport, the expulsions, the women’s protest. At a certain point I said to myself ‘wow’.”

The true number of those who died may never be known.

“It’s difficult to establish a figure. Some say 100, some say 200, some say 400, it’s complicated. The police prefecture has a list of dead but these lists are not trustworthy,” Adi said. “We could say around more than 1,500 were expelled.”


Adi took the title for the film from graffiti daubed on a bridge over the Seine on October 28 1961 and caught on camera before the authorities could remove it. The words and the image she says dropped out of France’s collective consciousness for decades.

She says France’s unwillingness to offer more public recognition of what happened in those days contrasts with France’s championing of Arab Spring causes such as Libya, which was taken up by President Nicolas Sarkozy and Bernard Henri-Levy, a prominent public intellectual in France.

“Sarkozy has said a few weeks ago why should Turkey be in Europe? If you Turks want to be in Europe you have to recognize the Armenian genocide. Before giving lessons to others, France ought to look at itself in history,” she said.

“As citizens we should not allow ourselves to be manipulated by methods, images, language, because they cross time and governments take up the same methods and language.”

France has had a complex relationship with Algeria since it was forced to give up a colony it ruled for 132 years in 1962 after a bitter war. Sarkozy has refused to apologize for Algerian dead.

France considered Algeria an integral part of the French state and more than 1 million French fled the country in the months before Algeria finally became independent.

Adi said she was surprised to see large audiences of young French people attending the screenings of her film in France when it was released in October.

“There were few Algerians but many French at the screenings, because many young people in particular are rediscovering the past and realizing it’s not an Algerian problem but a Franco-Algerian problem,” she said.

Analysis: Arab uprisings overturn cliches on democracy

By Andrew Hammond

CAIRO | Wed Feb 16, 2011 8:42am EST

(Reuters) – Arab uprisings against unpopular Western-backed rulers have undercut the arguments of some Western intellectuals about passive populations who are not prepared to fight for democracy.

During the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, neoconservative cheerleaders for war who had direct access to Western policymakers said force was the only way to take down Arab dictators. A minority of Arab intellectuals agreed with them. Continue reading Analysis: Arab uprisings overturn cliches on democracy