Terror and Academia in the UK

May 26, 2008

Sabah al-Kheyr,

I have just received this from a colleague based in the UK.


From: Nilsen Alf [mailto:Alf.Nilsen@nottingham.ac.uk]
Sent: Thu 5/22/2008 15:56
Subject: Student and Staff arrests at Nottingham University – Please Circulate!!!

Dear Friends – I’m writing to call your attention to a recent incident at the University of Nottingham, where a one of our Graduate Students at the School of Politics and International Relations and an administrative member of staff at the Department of Engineering were arrested by armed police under the Terrorism Act of 2000. Their alleged “crime” was that the graduate student had downloaded an Al-Qaeda training manual from a US government website for research purposes, as he’s writing his MA dissertation on Islamic extremism and international terrorist networks. He had then sent this to his friend in the Department of Engineering for printing. The printed material had been spotted by other staff and reported to the University authorities who passed on the information to the police. The two were then arrested by armed police on May 14 and held for six days without charge, before being released without charge on May 20. During the six days they were imprisoned, the men had their homes raided and their families harassed by the police. It is worth noticing that in talking to one of my colleagues, a police officer remarked that the incident would never have occurred if the persons involved had been “blonde, Swedish PhD students” (the two men were of British-Pakistani and Algerian backgrounds respectively).

The incident was recently reported in the Times Higher Education Supplement online:


Needless to say, this raises hugely important issues both about academic freedom and civil liberties. Obviously, there is the issue that for those of us involved in research on contentious issues we will by necessity have to consult primary materials of a controversial nature, and the fact that the material is controversial should not lead to it being deemed as illegitimate research material. Moreover, we should not under any circumstances have to fear for infringements upon our civil liberties as a consequence of doing our jobs. Moreover, it goes without saying that the university should guarantee the academic freedom, freedom of speech and expression, and civil liberties of all members of staff and students, irrespective of ethnic and religious background or political beliefs!

I would be most grateful if you could circulate this e-mail as widely as possible in the interest of raising awareness and attention about this incident and the wider issues of academic freedom that it gives rise to, to as many of your friends and colleagues as possible! I would of course also be very grateful if any of you would be willing to write to the University of Nottingham to express your concern about this issue. If you are willing to do so, please contact me as soon as possible.


Dr. Alf Gunvald Nilsen
RCUK Fellow, Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham
http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/cssgj/index.php <http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/cssgj/index.php>
University Park, Nottingham, NG7 2RD, England, UK
Mobile: (0044) (0) 7973332219
Office: (0044) (0) 1159514032 Read the rest of this entry »

Abu-Lughod on the Nakba

May 17, 2008

I just received my March 08 copy of American Anthropologist (and it’s only May!! — that’s what you get when you live in Australia) and was reading Matti Bunzl’s article, “The Quest for Anthropological Relevance.” Bunzl’s article is a call for greater public engagement by anthropologists, and an attempt to explain “the persistent failure of contemporary anthropologists…to play a more prominent role in the public sphere.”  His key argument is that the lack of public intellectuals amongst this generation of anthropologists boils down to the dominant epistemology of our discipline. In short, he argues that anthropologists from the 1990s on are so busy complexifying the world that they can’t take enough of a powerful stand on any position to have any traction in popular culture.

Just as I was furrowing my brow and thinking, “Yes indeed, where are today’s Margaret Meads?,” my dad sent me a link to a Der Spiegel interview with Lila Abu-Lughod on the occasion of Israel’s founding and Palestine’s nakba. “Ah,” I thought to myself, relieved, “here we go! An anthropologist in the public sphere!” Read the rest of this entry »

Israel: A Model Australia

May 15, 2008

In recent weeks effusive congratulations have been sent to Israel for reaching its sixty-years as a State. Here in Australia, the Prime Minister, and the Liberal opposition, have sent warm salutes to Israel, and in the US there have been numerous extensions of congratulations to Israel for the “progress” achieved in the last sixty years.

For many Palestinians the deafening silence from the Australian government and opposition regarding their sixty years of dispossession and oppression have been considered an insult. In contrast, a few thoughtful columns have appeared in the press written by Peter Manning and Antony Lowenstein and Michael Shaik presenting the case for a recognition by Australia’s leaders of the plight of the Palestinians and some censure of the Israeli State for the excesses that it has committed in the establishment, consolidation and expansion of Israel over the last sixty years.

While these articles and commentaries are important in redressing the imbalance in the news and views about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict there is one element they have overlooked: a common history shared by Australia (and the US) and Israel. What is missing from these commentaries, probably due to the discretion of the authors, and what they fail to mention is that Australia (and the US) are actually extending their congratulations to Israel for following the exact model of state formation that led to the establishment of modern Australia (and the US). Australia and the US, and more recently Israel, have been responsible for committing the “necessary” excesses that allow for the establishment and consolidation of a settler- state on somebody else’s land, an act only possible by force, by imposing dispossesion, by creating oppression and practicing ethnic cleansing (where needed). Finally what all three states have successfully implemented, and this is the most insulting aspect of the process of creating a settler society, is the illusion that the new State is part of the civilised world, that it is a part of the world which adheres to the enlightenment principles of equality and liberty. This is the myth we live in Australia, which is also held by the US, and which we eagerly grant to the Israeli’s, lest our own bloody and brutal past be cast into the open.

What I abbhor as much as the violence, no maybe even more than the violence, is the charade and the hypocrisy that modern westernised states maintain regarding their own brutal and bloody histories, the same charade that Israel and its supporters continue to maintain, regarding the place of Israel as part of the “enlightened world”.

Noah Bassil

NYT series of articles on Saudi youth

May 14, 2008

Reading from the recent New York Times series of articles on Saudi youth and dating (from the perspective of men, from the perspective of women, and on a much more grave topic, journalistic methodology and the threat of rape, which recollected this widely publicized court case in Saudi Arabia last year), I was nostalgically reminded of my time in Jeddah some 15 years ago, when my Saudi girlfriends met men in malls and dated surreptitiously by cell phone, and teachers at the Saudi girls’ school where I worked told hilarious stories about their sons dressing up brooms with `abayas and veils and putting them in the back of their car and driving around to see how many men would follow, trying to flirt with the broom-women.

More than ten years ago, I wrote a short article for Middle East Report on the phenomenon of dating in Saudi Arabia and how it was mediated by commodity culture.  In the Times article, it seems that just about the only difference between now and then is (a) the way that Bluetooth technology is mediating the flirting of Saudi youth, and (b) the fact that New York Times reporters have gained enough access to Saudi society to write about the phenomenon.

–L.L. Wynn

NPR reviews “Umm Kalthoum: A Voice Like Egypt”

May 12, 2008

Umm Kalthoum

I first saw Virginia Danielson and Michael Goldman’s documentary, “Umm Kalthoum: A Voice Like Egypt,” when I was in graduate school and it deeply shaped my appreciation for Arab popular culture.  Before watching the film, I honestly just couldn’t understand why everyone loved the low, almost masculine voice of Umm Kalthoum so much.  After seeing the film, it all made sense to me, and so by the time I was sitting in a Cairo nightclub in 2001, watching famous belly dancer Dina perform to an instrumental version of Inta Omri (“You Are My Life”), I could appreciate the reverence of the audience as nearly every person in the room quietly sang along to the music.  There was a kind of electricity in the room, a measure of how the singer’s powerful charisma has survived long after her death.

I don’t know why NPR is just now discovering the documentary, which is more than 10 years old (IMDB dates it to 1996, while NPR calls it “recent”!).  But it’s a good opportunity to listen to and watch some classic clips of Umm Kalthoum singing, and it will whet your appetite for the full documentary.

–L.L. Wynn

grants available for “social innovation” projects

May 11, 2008

…and I also received this notice of a grant program that might be of interest to some Khaldoun readers:

The Synergos Institute is now accepting applications and nominations to our Social Innovators Program, which we will be reviewing through mid-September. We are in search of twenty outstanding social pioneers who are successfully implementing innovative projects in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco or Palestine, which have helped improve conditions and the quality of life for people in those five geographies. Read the rest of this entry »

Call for papers on cinema in the Muslim world

May 11, 2008

In the wake of our discussion of Fitna vs Schism, I thought I’d post this call for papers that I received via Kalpana Ram. I wonder if the journal is prepared to entertain papers on YouTube films — does that count as “cinema”?

Please contact ali.ahmad@eui.eu for further information

Cinema and the Muslim World

The journal Third text is compiling a special issue on cinema and the Muslim world.

Whilst it seems a bad idea to take for granted, as some authors do, the existence of something called ‘Islamic’ or ‘Muslim cinema’ (often without defining it), others risk reifying the nation-state, ethnic group or region by ignoring the significance of transnational and trans-regional Islamic political processes, subjective identifications and experiences, many of which span continents. It seems reasonable to ask whether the recent convergence in imperialist meddling and intervention, the rise in fundamentalist religious belief and the surge in political Islam across many parts of the world that are populated by Muslims have forged similar sets of preoccupations for directors and film writers, for instance, in, say, representing love, sexuality and the body; in thinking about gender and patriarchy; in making certain kinds of political statements such as criticising religious authority and hypocrisy; in representing the trauma, violence and conflict that accompanies war, imperialism, occupation and resistance. Read the rest of this entry »