Thursday, May 11, 2017

Two new books of possible interest

by Salman Hameed

There are some really good new books out. I want to highlight a couple of interviews with the authors as part of the fantastic New Books Network. The first one is important because it traces the origins of the way we use the term "Muslim World". Today, this notion that a dominant motif for Muslims today is this religious identity. But this was construction of the 19th century and then saw its revival again in the mid-20th century. Here is a description of this new book, The Idea of the Muslim World: A Global Intellectual History, by Cemil Aydin:
Almost daily in popular media the Muslim World is pinpointed as a homogeneous entity that stands separate and parallel to the similarly imagined West. But even scratching the surface of the idea of a Muslim World reveals the geographic, social, linguistic, and religious diversity of Muslims throughout the world. So what work is performed through
the employment and use of this phrase? And in what context did the idea of the Muslim World emerge? 
Cemil Aydin, Associate Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, tackles these questions in his wonderful new book The Idea of the Muslim World: A Global Intellectual History (Harvard University Press, 2017). It in he weaves distant and interconnecting social, intellectual, and political histories of modern Muslims societies with clarity and detail. Altogether, he reveals the complex story of how the concept is constructed as a device intended to point to a geopolitical, religious, and civilizational unity among Muslims. The term is defined and employed by Muslim and non-Muslim actors alike across imperial and national contexts over the past nearly 150 years. In our conversation we discussed the justifications for imperial conflicts, the effects of Christian nationalistic liberation and the colonization of Muslims, orientalism, social Darwinism, the racialization of Muslims, the global role of the Ottomans, European and Russian imperialism, Muslim modernists thinkers, the effects of the World Wars, and the changing political landscape of the late 20th century.
You can listen to the interview here and Kristian Peterson did an excellent job with probing questions on the topic. This book is in my queue to read next but you should remember to buy books via New Books link, as it helps the Network.

Two other author interviews I want to quickly highlight. Here is Making Moderate Islam: Sufism, Service, and the 'Ground Zero Mosque' Controversy by Rosemary Corbett:
Among the most powerful and equally insidious aspects of the new global politics of religion is the discourse of religious moderation that seeks to produce moderate religious subjects at ease with the aims and fantasies of liberal secular politics. For Muslim communities in the US and beyond, few expectations and pressures have carried more
weight and urgency than that to pass the test of moderation. In her brilliant new book, Making Moderate Islam: Sufism, Service, and the Ground Zero Mosque Controversy (Stanford University Press, 2016), Rosemary Corbett, Visiting Professor at the Bard Prison Initiative, interrogates the tensions and ambiguities surrounding the moderate Muslim discourse. Far from an exclusively post 9/11 phenomenon, she presents the long running historical and political forces that have shaped the demand for moderation, especially in the equation of Sufism with moderate Islam. The strength of this book lies in the way it combines a deep knowledge of American religious history with the historical narrative and contemporary dynamics of American Islam. Written with breathtaking clarity, this book will spark important conversations in multiple fields including the study of Islam, American Religion, and secularism studies.

You can listen to the interview here.

More book recommendations coming soon. 

Monday, May 08, 2017

Excellent NYT article on SESAME particle accelerator in Jordan

by Salman Hameed

At a time when we are bombarded by various kinds of terrible news, the story of Sesame particle accelerator becomes all the more amazing (see earlier posts here, here and here). Just to remind you, SESAME stands for the Synchrotron-Light for Experimental Science and Applications, and it is located in Jordan. The accelerator is modest in terms of current particle accelerators around the world. However, what makes it amazing is that it is a collaboration between Cyprus, Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority and Bahrain. Even getting visas across these reasons is impossible, let alone a scientific collaboration of this magnitude. The accelerator saw the first beam circulation this past January, and its Sesame institute will formally open on May 16th.

The idea of this accelerator was first proposed by Prof Abdus Salam. It is incredible how influential he has been for the development of sciences in developing countries. Sesame has been built under the auspices of UNESCO, and some of the main components were donated by Germany. However, I did not know that CERN, which operates the Large Hadron Collider, was also inspired by the idea that scientific collaborations can transcend conflicts. In the case of CERN, it was in the aftermath of World War II. Here is a bit from an excellent article by Dennis Overbye in today's NYT:
Sesame is following a path blazed by CERN, which was birthed by Unesco with the aims of reviving European science after World War II and fostering a spirit of cooperation on the Continent. 
The only difference today, Dr. Llewellyn Smith noted, is that in Europe hostilities had already ended, while in the Middle East they are still very much alive. 
Dr. Rabinovici traced the origins of Sesame to the 1993 Oslo Accords, when Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat shook hands in front of President Bill Clinton. 
At the time he was working at CERN. A short while later, he recalled, an Italian colleague, Sergio Fubini, walked into his office and told him it was time to put his “na├»ve idealism” to the test. 
Science is a natural way to build bridges between cultures and nations, Dr. Rabinovici said, because of its common language. 
He and Dr. Fubini went on to create a self-appointed Middle Eastern Science Committee, which in turn led to a meeting in November 1995 in a big red tent at Dahab, Egypt, in the Sinai Desert near the Red Sea, attended by scientists from around the Middle East and beyond. They escaped uninjured from a 6.9-magnitude earthquake. “We saw Mount Sinai shake,” Dr. Rabinovici said. 
In another telling moment, the Egyptian minister of scientific research Venice Gouda, asked everyone to stand for a moment of silence in honor of Mr. Rabin, who had been assassinated just two weeks before. 
“The silence echoes in my ears still today,” Dr. Rabinovici said.
The group got a mission when German scientists offered it an old accelerator known as Bessy, that had served as a light source in Berlin and was being replaced after the country was reunified. 
Read the full article here.

No - this is will not solve world's problems (even though Trump thinks it is easy to achieve peace in the Middle East). But at least it can show that scientific collaborations can sometimes transcend political and national hostilities. Perhaps there will be more attempts like this. In other news, Pakistan said "no, thanks" to India's offer to use its satellite. May be some other time (or in some other universe). 
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