Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of Orson Welles' War of the Worlds Broadcast

by Salman Hameed

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the radio broadcast about Martian invasion that spooked many (how many?) Americans in 1938. Below is pretty good American Experience episode that provides the background on the panic and on the genius of Orson Welles. I do think that the word "genius" is quite appropriate for Welles, as he transformed theater, radio, and then movies - all before the age of 26! He is the Einstein of the entertainment industry. Okay - I digress.

But while you watch the show, also read this Slate article that claims that the stories of widespread panic following the broadcast are a myth, created by the newspapers, and they criticize this PBS documentary as well. I think they have a compelling argument for reducing the size of the myth, but I think the documentary is more than just about the panic, and presents a broader cultural context as well as caveats in estimates about the freakouts. One thing I did not like in the documentary: Actors performing actual comments from listeners at the time. Annoying and distracting. The real story is so good that you don't need gimmicks to keep viewers' attention.

You can also listen to the original radio broadcast on OpenCulture, where they have also included the video of a press conference following the panic - and it contains an amusingly brilliant performance by Orson Welles.

Here is American Experience - War of the Worlds (it is about an hour long).

Monday, October 28, 2013

SSiMS talk on "Seeking Good Debate: Religion, Science, and Conflict in American Public Life"

by Salman Hameed

If you are in the area, join us for Wednesday lunch talk hosted by the Center for the Study of Science in Muslim Societies (SSiMS) and the School of Cognitive Science at Hampshire College. Here are the details:

Seeking Good Debate: Religion, Science, and Conflict in American Public Life
Michael Evans
Neukom Fellow in the Neukom Institute for Computational Science and the Department of Film & Media Studies at Dartmouth College

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013
at Noon
Adele Simmons Hall, Hampshire College

Abstract: Why do science and religion seem to generate contentious public debate? In this talk I draw on computational linguistic analysis of over 10,000 newspaper articles, biographical research on key participants, and qualitative interviews with ordinary Americans to show that apparent conflicts in the public sphere over “science and religion” issues such as stem cell research, human origins, environmental policy, and the origins of sexuality actually result from a disconnection between the structure of elite debate in the American public sphere and the ideals of deliberative debate expected by ordinary Americans. I show how this insight helps explain several anomalies in current scholarship, such as why religious beliefs do not always impede support for science, why there is a gap between trust in science and trust in scientists, and why religious conservatives continue to dominate American public life. I also discuss the implications for science communication, particularly around issues where religion is involved.

Biographical statement: Michael Evans is an interdisciplinary scholar who uses computational and
qualitative methods to study contentious debates over science and technology issues. He has written about the social sources of public conflict over science and religion, how scientific elites shape interested publics, how narratives of continuity bolster scientific credibility, the role of religion in science communication, and the deliberative preferences of ordinary Americans, among other topics. He received his PhD in Sociology and Science Studies from the University of California, San Diego. Currently he is a Neukom Fellow in the Neukom Institute for Computational Science and the Department of Film & Media Studies at Dartmouth College.

In the Adele Simmons Hall (ASH) Lobby at Hampshire College.         
A light lunch will be available at noon.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Oh Nooo. Lou Reed - RIP

by Salman Hameed

Well this sucks.

Here is Lou flying into the Sun:

An excerpt from Fly into the Sun:

The earth is weeping, the sky is shaking
the stars split to their core
And every proton and unnamed neutron
is fusing in my bones

And an unnamed mammal is darkly rising
as man burns from his tomb
And I look at this as a blissful moment
to fly into the sun

Fly into the sun
fly into the sun
I'd burn up into a million pieces
and fly into the sun

To end this mystery
answer my mystery
I'd look at this as a wondrous moment
to end this mystery

Fly into the sun
fly into the sun
I'd break up into a million pieces
and fly into the sun

And here are couple of great songs (from many many others) for a taste and a reminder:

from his Velvet Underground days:

And how can we not end with A Walk on the Wild Side:

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Ansar Abbasi is a conservative hack and Pervez Hoodbhoy should not have engaged with him...

by Salman Hameed

More than ten years ago, talk shows on new private television channels in Pakistan were a breath of fresh air. For the first time, you could hear multiple opinions on all sorts of topics. The quality of those early talk shows was often quite good. But then, the open format of talk shows became more and more chaotic. If the guests themselves would not get into a verbal fight, the anchors would often egg them on. It was all good for rating.

Pervez Hoodbhoy (full disclosure that he is a good friend of mine) is often on the talk shows to present the increasingly limited liberal views. You pick a topic: Minority rights, blasphemy law, issue of problematic contents in textbooks, or even in the sad saga of the claim of the miraculous "water-kit" - a water-powered car that would solve all of Pakistan's energy crisis. As you can imagine, Pervez's positions are not the crowd pleasers.

So now we have this episode where Pervez and a journalist Ansar Abbasi got into a verbal fight. It is awful! I think both of them are way way out of line. This is not the way to have a conversation - and Ansar Abbasi kept calling Pervez a "Jahil" - a particularly pejorative term for an ignorant (in fact, he kept on saying that how come they let this jahil let teach in a college). Pervez walked out after that. The three minute brouhaha is below.

But let me just contextualize Abbasi a bit. Ansar Abbasi is the journalist who complained that the new 10th grade Urdu textbook (Punjab Board) does not contain sufficient Islam references. Oh but in his Urdu column, he argues that this was a conspiracy to impose secularization by the Punjab government (curious note: the government in Punjab is Pakistan Muslim League - which is to the "right" of a considerably conservative political center). Pervez called him out on this past April:
At the outset, one needs to know that the withdrawn book was intended solely for the teaching of Urdu as a language, and should be judged on these grounds alone. Any book for teaching a language must introduce the student to great poets and essayists and delve into linguistic nuances and subtleties. It should not be just a supplementary text for teaching Islamic studies. Students use an entire, separate book for Islamiat. 
This episode is important for only one reason: the new Urdu reader represented an attempt, albeit a feeble one, to remove the blinkers forced upon students by General Ziaul Haq’s education fantasia. The 1980s Islamisation of education meant that every subject — languages, geography, history, social studies, chemistry, physics, mathematics, etc. — could only be viewed through a narrow prism. All else was to be shunned and filtered out. It is this attempt to break loose that Mr Abbasi finds so terribly objectionable.
And now Ansar Abbasi has gone after Malala (and a tamer version in English). For what? Amongst other things, he is hurt that Malala is too soft on Salman Rushdie (she argues for freedom of speech while disagreeing with the contents of Satanic Verses, more particularly she says: "‘Is Islam such a weak religion that it cannot tolerate a book written against it? Not my Islam!”"), she talks about the rights of Ahamadis, the problems with the blasphemy law, that Pakistan lost three wars with India (which is a factual statement accepted everywhere in the world except in Pakistan's textbooks), etc. etc. Oh wait. And the horror of it all for Abbasi: She criticized Pakistan's brutal military dictator from the 1980s, General Zia ul Haq, and his "Islamization" policies that Pakistan is still dealing with. The problem is that Abbasi is a fan of Zia - and Malala's criticism of his hero really crosses him.

It is in the context of the recent Abbasi's column on Malala and the prior history of Hoodbhoy-Abbasi interaction that you should view this altercation on this "talk-show". Abbasi's regressive and often offensive views are still no excuse for Pervez to engage in this manner. This is wrong. Period. You will also notice that the anchor is simply sitting there and enjoying the fight. Shame on him as well (Fox News has nothing on these guys...). It is painful, but if you can stomach it, here is the clip:

Saturday Video: An idiosyncratic short film about Giordano Bruno

by Salman Hameed

Here is an intriguing short film (about 20 minutes): Giordano Bruno in Conscious Memory. Bruno, of course, has come to stand in as a symbol for free speech etc., but that is a later construction (see this earlier post: Why was Giordano Bruno burnt at the stake? But this movie, takes it in another direction and presents his broader influence, including on the writings of Shakespeare (they were contemporaries - and some have suggested this connection. I don't know anything about this to comment on it). Despite the acting and some limited camera work, I like the ambitious nature of the short film. Enjoy!

Friday, October 25, 2013

New issue of CyberOrient and a call for papers on History of Modernity and Telephony in the non-West

by Salman Hameed

The last two weeks has been incredibly busy - and hence the lack of posts here. I blame the government shutdown. I guess this was a sympathy shutdown here on Irtiqa. But lets start the things rolling again. So first, here is a call for papers in the journal, CyberOrient, for a special issue on History of Modernity and Telephony in the non-West. Here are the details (tip from Tabsir).

Call for Papers for CyberOrient Vol. 8, Iss. 2, 2014
Submission deadline: 30 April 2014 (Full Papers)
Special Issue: History of Modernity and Telephony in the non-West
Guest Editor: Burçe Çelik 
For the past few decades, history of modernization began to be written by focusing on how technologies as components of modernization processes change the lives of humans, their daily practices and imaginations, and the ways in which they construct and express their identities. Telephony, which functions in both public and private spheres and witnesses social and political changes in private as well as professional relations, is regarded as especially important for historical analysis. Functioning on multiple levels, social history of telephony can unearth the ways in which technologies obtain meanings and values in changing cultural contexts and the dynamics of social, political and cultural transformations. The history of modernization in the non-western societies is often studied by focusing on the projects of the rulers and on the discourses of the ruling parties that aim a social/political change in accordance with a particular Occidentalism – where modernity is imagined with a model of the western modernization processes. Yet, the question of how people of these landscapes contributed to the modernization processes and how they produced their own modern practices in daily organizations, relations and experiences, did not receive enough scholarly attention.
This special issue of CyberOrient invites articles that focus on the history of modernity and telephony in the non-west that take the user perspective to the center. Topics could include the daily practices of users with telephone technology, the meaning and values that have been attributed to this technology by users, the role of telephony within the social, cultural and political struggles of users, and the effect of the ownership or non-ownership of telephony in social, cultural and political lives of individuals and collectives. We welcome submissions from across disciplines and methodological approaches that are empirically and critically grounded. 
SubmissionArticles should be submitted directly to Burçe Çelik ( and Vit Sisler ( Articles should be between 6,000 and 8,000 words (including references), and follow the AAA style in referencing and citations. Upon acceptance, articles will be published online with free access in autumn 2014.

And to give you a flavor of the journal, here is the latest issue of CyberOrient that is available online:

Online and Offline Continuities, Community and Agency on the Internet
Jon W. Anderson

The Earth Is Your Mosque (and Everyone Else’s Too): Online Muslim
Environmentalism and Interfaith Collaboration in UK and Singapore
Lisa Siobhan Irving

Telling the Truth about Islam? Apostasy Narratives and Representations
of Islam on
Daniel Enstedt and Göran Larsson

Digital Images and Visions of Jihad: Virtual Orientalism and the
Distorted Lens of Technology
Raymond Pun

Review: Arabités numériques. Le printemps du Web arabe
Luboš Kropáček

Review: Media, Power, and Politics in the Digital Age. The 2009
Presidential Election Uprising in Iran
Zuzana Krihova

Review: iMuslims: Rewiring the House of Islam. Islamic Civilization
and Muslim Networks
Vit Sisler

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Heading over to New Orleans for the annual MESA meeting

by Salman Hameed

I'll be leaving for the annual MESA meeting early tomorrow morning. I'm part of the panel on The Reception of Biological Evolution in the Muslim World and we will present some of our results from
the recent NSF survey. Our panel has the honor of being scheduled on the last session of the last day of the conference. So if you are at the meeting and are sticking around on Sunday, come to our session. Here is the description of our panel:
We are familiar with debates over biological evolution here in the US. These debates are now starting to take place in various Muslim countries as well. In this panel we want to take an interdisciplinary approach to understand the reception of biological evolution in diverse Muslim societies. In particular, we want to explore how belief, ideology and politics interplay with each other in the acceptance and rejection of evolution. 
Biological evolution is still a relatively new concept for a majority of Muslims and a serious debate over its compatibility with religion has not yet taken place. The circumstances for the debate are, in many ways, significantly different from the engagement between evolution and Creationism in the West, reflecting a complex intermingling of ideas about science and religion. For example, much of modern science, including evolution, is an import for Muslims, and is therefore often seen through the complicated lens of modernity and the interactions with European colonial powers. 
However, science in general is well respected, and there is widespread recognition that science (usually in its applied form) is essential for progress. For instance, many Muslim countries are investing in biomedical fields that make use of evolutionary theory. Evolution is also included the high school curricula of many Muslim countries, though human evolution is often excluded. 
This reflects the prevailing narrative in the Muslim world that Islam and modern science are compatible, and that Islam is a rational religion in harmony with modern science. It is common for people to cite verses in the Qur’an or achievements of medieval Muslim philosophers to support this assertion. However, for many Muslims, biological evolution also clashes with common Qur’anic interpretations. This leads to a complex mesh of attitudes, ranging from rejecting evolution altogether to interpreting the Qur’an in ways that eliminate inconsistencies with the theory. 
The goal of this panel is to present the topic from three perspectives: a) to present an analysis of high-school biology curricula in various Muslim-majority countries so see how evolution is presented and contextualized with respect to Islam, b) to present an analysis of the way biomedical Muslim professionals negotiate evolution and their beliefs, and the local cultural and political factors that might shape these responses, and c) to present the perspective of professional Muslim biologists engaged in dialogue with theologians and the general public on the topic of evolution.
Unfortunately, one of our panelists, Ehab Abouheif, cannot make it to the meeting. But you will still get to hear from the rest of us.

I will also try to post from sessions that are relevant for the blog. 

Monday, October 07, 2013

This is brilliant! "The Making of Malala" from NYT

by Salman Hameed

There is a good chance that Malala will get a well deserved Nobel Peace Prize (even thought the prize itself has become dubious with the E.U and Obama as some of its recent winners). She is absolutely phenomenal and fearless and the Nobel prize is not for being a victim, but rather for what she has been doing for education both before and after getting shot. But she is still only 16 years of age! I first posted about her back in January 2009, when I read about her in BBC and the New York Times. Later, NYT also had a short film featuring Malala, and her cheerful personality came bustling through. Now, almost a year after she was shot in the face by the Taliban, the NYT has a brilliant and thought provoking short film about the role of her (ambitious) father and the news media in making Malala a symbol for girls education - something that provoked the Taliban. But what is amazing about the film is that it not only shows a growing independence of Malala and her transformation but also the larger cultural context of girls education in Pakistan. It also highlights contradictions in Malala's own father, and those clips add so much depth to this 10-minute video. One problem is that people not familiar with Pakistan will have a hard time distinguishing cultural norms in Swat (and in the northern parts of Pakistan in general) versus the rest of Pakistan, in particular the more urban areas. Nevertheless, take 10 minutes and watch the video below (and read the article in NYT here):

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Pew Survey on changes amongst Jewish-Americans

by Salman Hameed

Pew has a new report out that looks at Jewish Americans and the changes in their views over the last 100 years. Some of the findings are not surprising, but I think it is the generational comparison that makes the report fascinating. For example, here is a snapshot of how the numbers of Jews who do not associate with the religion have increased over the last hundred years or so:

Now this trend of no-religion is the same as with the rest of the US, but within the Jewish context, 44% of no-religion Jews still attend religious services at least a few of times a year. Here is a snapshot of religious attendance along with a comparison with American Christian groups: 

And again, this may not come as a surprise, but being Jewish is more about cultural identity than religion:
Secularism has a long tradition in Jewish life in America, and most U.S. Jews seem to recognize this: 62% say being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture, while just 15% say it is mainly a matter of religion. Even among Jews by religion, more than half (55%) say being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture, and two-thirds say it is not necessary to believe in God to be Jewish.

And here is the denominational distribution of American Jews. Note that unaffiliated Jews are more than the "no-religion" Jews and that is because 19% of Jews by religion and two-thirds of Jews of no religion do not identify with any denomination.

Also, the overall level of education is much higher for American Jews compared with the rest of the population:
Jews have high levels of educational attainment. Most Jews are college graduates (58%), including 28% who say they have earned a post-graduate degree. By comparison, 29% of U.S. adults say they graduated from college, including 10% who have a post-graduate degree.
One last thing from the Pew survey. It is fascinating to note that most American Jews recognize that Muslims (and also gays and lesbians) in the US face more discrimination than they do. See the table below:

Read the full report here (pdf).

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Growing open atheism in Egypt

by Salman Hameed

The Egypt Independent has a nice profile of the growing number of atheists in Egypt. Instead of just relying on second-hand accounts, the members of the newspaper staff met with 15 atheists at cafe in downtown Cairo. The stories they tell are familiar and heartbreaking: families disowning kids,  parents resorting to violence, and even companies firing individuals for their (non)religious views.

So couple of general comments: It is not surprising that atheists exists in deeply religious Muslim countries. But even within atheism, there are all sorts of different shades - from the more familiar agnostics and atheists, to those who consider themselves not-religious but may still pray regularly (a case of cultural conditioning) to those who cognizantly embrace the surrounding Muslim culture and its affiliated religious customs. But overall we are seeing a increasing trend of self-expression especially when it comes to religious beliefs ("it is my belief") and this comes from the spread of university education as well as an exposure to broader debates via the internet and satellite television (there is also a trend of increased religiosity based on personal interpretation of the Qur'an - and it is shaped by the same self-confidence from education and worldly experience). As much as I disagree with Dawkins' Islamophobia, he does deserve credit for making atheism an acceptable "religious" position worldwide. Not surprisingly, the article also
noted the fact that most of these "open" atheists are young - in their 20s. It is the same generation that has been behind the movements for democratic representations as well.

Where will it lead to? Indeed in the short run there is going to be a backlash. But overall, we are looking at the early stages of the development of religion as a matter of personal belief. While much of these atheists and cultural Muslims may belong to a privileged or upwardly mobile middle classes, there still exists enormous socioeconomic and education disparities where religion can be used as a weapon. This is something we are seeing in Bangladesh right now (see this earlier post: Standing with Bangladesh's Secular Bloggers), where Jamaat-e-Islami has been "accusing" their young rivals of being atheists and has been successful in shifting the focus away from their own atrocities in the 1971 civil war.

So stay tuned on this issue.

Now back to the Egypt article. Here is the bit where these young atheists talk about the consequences of coming out as an atheist:

Those who have come out publicly as atheists have been not only isolated by their friends and families, but also society in general. However, others who turn down their familial religion have faced many worse trials than mere isolation.

Asmaa Omar, 24, who has just graduated the Faculty of Engineering, said that once she revealed her beliefs to her family, they began to physically and mentally torture her. Her father slapped her in the face and broke her jaw. She was not able to eat properly for seven months.

Both her immediate and extended families began to insult her. “You just want to have free relations with boys,” they would say, or “You used to be the best girl in the family,” and “Now you’re a prostitute.”

By now, she said, most of her friends have cut their ties with her and other girls no longer speak to her after she took off her veil.

Milad Suliman, or better known as Evan, was fired from his company over his beliefs. His boss confronted him with the ideas he shared on his Facebook page and told him the company could not have an atheist among its employees.

His family was not happy either. They told him his ideas were shameful and this was the reason their home was no longer blessed.

Another atheist, Sarah al-Kamel, 24, fears this very isolation, thus has chosen not tell her family of her beliefs after her newly adopted ideas created a wedge between her and her friends.

Despite the risks of coming out, many atheists I spoke to claim their numbers have slowly been on the rise following the 25 January Revolution. The rise in atheism could be seen as a by-product of the revolution pushing the boundaries of commonly-held belief systems and breaking down previous political, social and religious restrictions.
Read the full article here.
Powered by Blogger.