Friday, December 11, 2009

NYT "Illegal Immigrant Students Publicly Take Up a Cause"

It has not been easy for the Obama administration to deport Rigoberto Padilla, a Mexican-born college student in Chicago who has been an illegal immigrant in this country since he was 6.

On Thursday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said they would delay Mr. Padilla’s deportation for one year.

Mr. Padilla’s case had seemed straightforward to immigration agents who detained him for deportation in January after he was arrested by the Chicago police for running a stop sign and charged with driving under the influence.

But since then, students held two street rallies on his behalf and sent thousands of e-mail messages and faxes to Congress. The Chicago City Council passed a resolution calling for a stay of his deportation and five members of Congress from Illinois came out in support of his cause. One of them was Representative Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat, who offered a private bill to cancel his removal.

Obama administration officials said they would review cases like Mr. Padilla’s as they arose. They said the situation of Mr. Padilla, 21, pointed to the need for an immigration overhaul that would include a path to legal status for people in the United States illegally.

“We are committed to confronting these problems in practical, effective ways, using the current tools at our disposal while we work with Congress to enact comprehensive reform,” said Matthew Chandler, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.

Behind Mr. Padilla’s case — and others in Florida of students who fought off deportation — is activism by young immigrants, many of them illegal, which has become increasingly public and coordinated across the country, linked by Web sites, text messages and a network of advocacy groups. Spurred by President Obama’s promises of legislation to grant them legal status, and frustration that their lives have stalled without it, young illegal immigrants are joining street protests despite the risk of being identified by immigration agents.

With many illegal immigrants lying low to avoid a continuing crackdown, immigrant students have become the most visible supporters of a legislative overhaul, which Mr. Obama has pledged to take up early next year. In the meantime, their protests are awkward for the administration, with young, often high-achieving illegal immigrants asking defiantly why the authorities continue to detain and deport them.

“Maybe our parents feel like immigrants, but we feel like Americans because we have been raised here on American values,” said Carlos Saavedra, national coordinator of a network of current and former students called United We Dream.

“Then we go to college and we find out we are rejected by the American system. But we are not willing to accept that answer,” said Mr. Saavedra, 23, a Peruvian who lived here illegally until he gained legal status two years ago.

Young people who were brought to the United States by illegal immigrant parents draw a certain degree of sympathy even from some opponents of broader legalization programs. Roy Beck, the executive director of NumbersUSA, a group that has staunchly opposed a legal path for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants, said in an interview that he could support legal status for some young immigrant students. Mr. Beck said he would do so, however, only if Congress eliminated the current immigration system based on family ties and imposed mandatory electronic verification of immigration status for all workers — conditions that Democrats in Congress are not likely to accept.

The students’ goal is to gain passage of legislation that would give permanent resident status to illegal immigrants who had been brought to the United States before they were 15, if they have been here for at least five years, have graduated from high school and attend college or serve in the military for two years.

Known to its supporters as the Dream Act, it has been offered in the Senate by Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, and Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana. An effort to bring it to the Senate floor was defeated in 2007, and proponents now consider it part of a package that includes a path to legal status for illegal immigrants in general, an estimated 12 million people. Mr. Beck said he continued to oppose that proposal.

Many illegal immigrant students who were brought to the United States as children receive a shock when they get ready to go to college. They are generally not eligible for lower in-state tuition rates or government financial aid. In most states they cannot get drivers’ licenses.

In recent years, student groups joined battles in several states for in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, some successful and some not. This year, student organizers said, they worked to tie those state efforts into a national network, hoping to match the mobilization networks of opponents of the immigration overhaul, which proved far superior in the past.

The troubles for Mr. Padilla began when he drove home after watching a football game and drinking beer with friends. He ran the stop sign, and the traffic police arrested him because he did not have a driver’s license and had been drinking. Eventually, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor. Immigration agents found him in the county jail.

Mr. Padilla, now enrolled at the University of Illinois at Chicago, had no prior record and had been an honors student and president of the Latino student organization at Harold Washington College, which he attended for two years. Friends from both schools mobilized after his arrest.

Similar rallies took place in November in Miami, when immigration agents detained two brothers from Venezuela who were illegal immigrants — Jesús Reyes Mendoza, 21, a former student government president at Miami Dade College, and his brother Guillermo, 25. Students from the college held a protest in front of the immigrant detention center where the brothers were held.

“The undocumented youth are losing our fear of being undocumented,” said Carlos Roa, an illegal immigrant student from Venezuela who joined that rally. “I’m public with this. I’m not hiding anymore.”

Miami Dade College, with 170,000 students, has become a center for immigrant activism. After the protests, and letters from Eduardo Padron, the college president, the immigration authorities on Nov. 8 deferred the deportation of the Reyes brothers for one year.

Talal Asad on Scripture and Violence

The present discourse about the roots of "Islamic terrorism" in Islamic texts trails two intriguing assumptions: (a) that the Qur'anic text will force Muslims to be guided by it; and (b) that Christians and Jews are free to interpret the Bible as they please. For no good reason, these assumptions take up contradictory positions between text and reader: On the one hand, the religious text is held to be determinate, fixed in its sense, and having the power to bring about particular beliefs (that in turn give rise to particular behavior) among those exposed to it - rendering readers passive. On the other hand, the religious reader is taken to be actively engaged in constructing the meanings of texts in accordance with changing social circumstances - so the texts are passive. These contradictory assumptions about agency help to account for the positions taken up by orientalists and others in arguments about religion and politics in Islam. A magical quality is attributed to Islamic religious texts, for they are said to be both essentially univocal (their meaning cannot be subject to dispute, just as "fundamentalists" insist) and infectious (except in relation to the orientalist, who is, fortunately for him, immune to their dangerous power). In fact in Islam as in Christianity there is a complicated history of shifting interpretations, and the distinction is recognized between the divine text and human approaches to it.
-pg. 10-11 of Talal Asad's Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity

"The New Inquisition" by Laila Lalami in the Nation

A very well written piece in The Nation with a scathing review of Christopher Caldwell's Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West

NYT: Blackwater Guards Tied to Secret Raids by the C.I.A.

December 11, 2009
Blackwater Guards Tied to Secret Raids by the C.I.A. 

WASHINGTON — Private security guards from Blackwater Worldwide participated in some of the C.I.A.’s most sensitive activities — clandestine raids with agency officers against people suspected of being insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan and the transporting of detainees, according to former company employees and intelligence officials.

The raids against suspects occurred on an almost nightly basis during the height of the Iraqi insurgency from 2004 to 2006, with Blackwater personnel playing central roles in what company insiders called “snatch and grab” operations, the former employees and current and former intelligence officers said. 

Several former Blackwater guards said that their involvement in the operations became so routine that the lines supposedly dividing the Central Intelligence Agency, the military and Blackwater became blurred. Instead of simply providing security for C.I.A. officers, they say, Blackwater personnel at times became partners in missions to capture or kill militants in Iraq and Afghanistan, a practice that raises questions about the use of guns for hire on the battlefield. 

Separately, former Blackwater employees said they helped provide security on some C.I.A. flights transporting detainees in the years after the 2001 terror attacks in the United States. 

The secret missions illuminate a far deeper relationship between the spy agency and the private security company than government officials had acknowledged. Blackwater’s partnership with the C.I.A. has been enormously profitable for the North Carolina-based company, and became even closer after several top agency officials joined Blackwater. 

“It became a very brotherly relationship,” said one former top C.I.A. officer. “There was a feeling that Blackwater eventually became an extension of the agency.”

George Little, a C.I.A. spokesman, would not comment on Blackwater’s ties to the agency. But he said the C.I.A. employs contractors to “enhance the skills of our own work force, just as American law permits.”

“Contractors give you flexibility in shaping and managing your talent mix — especially in the short term — but the accountability’s still yours,” he said. 

Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Blackwater, said Thursday that it was never under contract to participate in clandestine raids with the C.I.A. or with Special Operations personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere else.

Blackwater’s role in the secret operations raises concerns about the extent to which private security companies, hired for defensive guard duty, have joined in offensive military and intelligence operations. 

Representative Rush D. Holt, a New Jersey Democrat who is chairman of the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, said in an interview that “the use of contractors in intelligence and paramilitary operations is a scandal waiting to be examined.” While he declined to comment on specific operations, Mr. Holt said that the use of contractors in such operations “got way out of hand.” He added, “It’s been very troubling to a lot of people.” 

Blackwater, now known as Xe Services, has come under intense criticism for what Iraqis have described as reckless conduct by its security guards, and the company lost its lucrative State Department contract to provide diplomatic security for the United States Embassy in Baghdad earlier this year after a 2007 shooting that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead. 

Blackwater’s ties to the C.I.A. have emerged in recent months, beginning with disclosures in The New York Times that the agency had hired the company as part of a program to assassinate leaders of Al Qaeda and to assist in the C.I.A.’s Predator drone program in Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director, recently initiated an internal review examining all Blackwater contracts with the agency to ensure that the company was performing no missions that were “operational in nature,” according to one government official.

Five former Blackwater employees and four current and former American intelligence officials interviewed for this article would speak only on condition of anonymity because Blackwater’s activities for the agency were secret and former employees feared repercussions from the company. The Blackwater employees said they participated in the raids or had direct knowledge of them.

Along with the former officials, they provided few details about the targets of the raids in Iraq and Afghanistan, although they said that many of the Iraq raids were directed against members of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. To corroborate the claims of the company’s involvement, a former Blackwater security guard provided photographs to The Times that he said he took during the raids. They showed detainees and armed men whom he and a former company official identified as Blackwater employees. The former intelligence officials said that Blackwater’s work with the C.I.A. in Iraq and Afghanistan had grown out of its early contracts with the spy agency to provide security for the C.I.A. stations in both countries. 

In the spring of 2002, Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, offered to help the spy agency guard its makeshift Afghan station in the Ariana Hotel in Kabul. Not long after Mr. Prince signed the security contract with Alvin B. Krongard, then the C.I.A.’s third-ranking official, dozens of Blackwater personnel — many of them former members of units of the Navy Seals or Army Delta Force — were sent to provide perimeter security for the C.I.A. station.

But the company’s role soon changed as Blackwater operatives began accompanying C.I.A. case officers on missions, according to former employees and intelligence officials.

A similar progression happened in Iraq, where Blackwater was first hired for “static security” of the Baghdad station. In addition, Blackwater was charged with providing personal security for C.I.A. officers wherever they traveled in the two countries. That meant that Blackwater personnel accompanied the officers even on offensive operations sometimes begun in conjunction with Delta Force or Navy Seals teams.

A former senior C.I.A. official said that Blackwater’s role expanded in 2005 as the Iraqi insurgency intensified. Fearful of the death or capture of one of its officers, the agency banned officers from leaving the Green Zone in Baghdad without security escorts, the official said.

That gave Blackwater greater influence over C.I.A. clandestine operations, since company personnel helped decide the safest way to conduct the missions.

The former American intelligence officials said that Blackwater guards were supposed to only provide perimeter security during raids, leaving it up to C.I.A. officers and Special Operations military personnel to capture or kill suspected insurgents or other targets.

“They were supposed to be the outer layer of the onion, out on the perimeter,” said one former Blackwater official of the security guards. Instead, “they were the drivers and the gunslingers,” said one former intelligence official.

But in the chaos of the operations, the roles of Blackwater, C.I.A., and military personnel sometimes merged. Former C.I.A. officials said that Blackwater guards often appeared eager to get directly involved in the operations. Experts said that the C.I.A.’s use of contractors in clandestine operations falls into a legal gray area because of the vagueness of language laying out what tasks only government employees may perform. 

P.W. Singer, an expert in contracting at the Brookings Institution, said that the types of jobs that have been outsourced in recent years make a mockery of regulations about “inherently governmental” functions. 

“We keep finding functions that have been outsourced that common sense, let alone U.S. government policy, would argue should not have been handed over to a private company,” he said. “And yet we do it again, and again, and again.”

According to one former Blackwater manager, the company’s involvement with the C.I.A. raids was “widely known” by Blackwater executives. “It was virtually continuous, and hundreds of guys were involved, rotating in and out,” over a period of several years, the former Blackwater manager said. 

One former Blackwater guard recalled a meeting in Baghdad in 2004 in which Erik Prince addressed a group of Blackwater guards working with the C.I.A. At the meeting in an air hangar used by Blackwater, the guard said, Mr. Prince encouraged the Blackwater personnel “to do whatever it takes” to help the C.I.A. with the intensifying insurgency, the former guard recalled.

But it is not clear whether top C.I.A. officials in Washington knew or approved of the involvement by Blackwater officials in raids or whether only lower-level officials in Baghdad were aware of what happened on the ground. 

The new details of Blackwater’s involvement in Iraq come at a time when the House Intelligence Committee is investigating the company’s role in the C.I.A.’s assassination program, and a federal grand jury in North Carolina is investigating a wide range of allegations of illegal activity by Blackwater and its personnel, including gun running to Iraq.

Several former Blackwater personnel said that Blackwater guards involved in the C.I.A. raids used weapons, including sawed-off M-4 automatic weapons with silencers, that were not approved for use by private contractors. In separate interviews, former Blackwater security personnel also said they were handpicked by senior Blackwater officials on several occasions to participate in secret flights transporting detainees around war zones. 

They said that during the flights, teams of about 10 Blackwater personnel provided security over the detainees. 

“A group of individuals were selected who could manage detainees without the use of lethal force,” said one former Blackwater guard who participated in one of the flights. 

Intelligence officials deny that the agency has ever used Blackwater to fly high-value detainees in and out of secret C.I.A. prisons that were shut down earlier this year. Mr. Corallo, the Blackwater spokesman, said that company personnel were never involved in C.I.A. “rendition flights,” which transferred terrorism suspects to other countries for interrogation.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

NYT: 26 Students Arrested in Protest Over Tuition Increases

December 11, 2009
26 Students Arrested in Protest Over Tuition Increases 

SAN FRANCISCO — Twenty-six students were arrested at San Francisco State University before dawn on Thursday after some students barricaded themselves inside a building to protest budget cuts and tuition increases across the state’s public university system.

“The doors were locked with chains from the inside so police broke through a window to get in,” a university spokeswoman, Ellen Griffin, said. “We’re approaching final exams and the end of the semester, and as many as 3,200 students have classes in that building.” 

On Wednesday, classes in the building were canceled after the occupation began.

Along with indignation over budget cuts, a blog listing the protesters’ demands included forgiveness of all student loans and ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. With demands far beyond the purview of school administrators, negotiations with the students was nearly impossible, Ms. Griffin said.

The students occupied the three-story building for about 24 hours before the police took them into custody. They were charged with misdemeanors and released, Ms. Griffin said. Thirteen students were arrested inside the administration and classroom building, and 13 were arrested protesting outside.

The arrests came after months of growing student anger that followed a steep decline in state financing for public universities. Fees for students at the 23 California State University campuses, including San Francisco State, increased 30 percent this school year. In November, the University of California’s Board of Regents approved a 32 percent increase in undergraduate student fees, which resulted in protests across the 10 campuses. 

Students on at least three campuses, including Berkeley, took over buildings and dozens were arrested in the days after the fee increase. Those protesting also took issue with layoffs, faculty furloughs and other cuts.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Stephen M. Walt: How about we just ignore Obama's Nobel Prize speech?

Instead of spending a lot of time parsing Obama's latest speech -- to no one's surprise, it was thoughtful, self-effacing, nuanced, balanced, eloquent, lucid, well-delivered, etc. etc. (yawn) -- I suggest we focus our attention henceforth on what he actually does.

And if you want a good idea of how deep a hole he's dug himself in the war he defended (Afghanistan), please take note of General David Petraeus's warning to Congress that "it is going to be years before [the Afghan government] can handle the bulk of the security tasks and allow the bulk of our troopers to redeploy," and that "achieving progress in Afghanistan will be hard, and the progress there will likely be slower in developing than was the progress in Iraq."

One reason, as Petraeus's statements make clear, is that the U.S. strategy is still predicated on the goal of creating an efficient centralized state in Afghanistan, one that can field 400,000 well-trained and reliable troops and security forces, even though this goal is at odds with Afghanistan's political traditions and takes little account of the considerable ethnic divisions within the country. It's like trying to build a pyramid with marbles, and about as likely to succeed.

And then read the recent account by veteran journalist Nir Rosen, who has spent a lot of time in Pakistan and Afghanistan and provides a scathing assessment of our prospects. Makes me wonder if we will one day regard Obama's award the same way one might look upon previous winners such as Theodore Roosevelt (whose "mediation" of the Russo-Japanese War paved the way for Japan's brutal colonization of Korea) or Frank B. Kellogg (co-author of the utopian Kellogg-Briand Pact), not to mention Le Duc Tho and Henry Kissinger.

Juan Cole: Obama, Peace and War

If it is true that the Nobel committee awarded President Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize for not being George W. Bush, they must have been dismayed to discover that Bush's war on terror remained the framework for Obama's acceptance speech.

It was a great speech, with its references to Gandhi and King and its emphasis on human rights and economic justice. It was not a speech Bush could or would have given.

But Obama ultimately failed to escape the pull of the GWOT. Accountability is demanded of others but not of the US. No high official will be prosecuted for war crimes in Iraq.

The fringe terrorist group al-Qaeda is depicted as a challenge for the Pentagon, not the Interpol. Then Afghan insurgents are equated to al-Qaeda. Iran, which has no nuclear weapons program, is equated with North Korea.

Obama implied that peaceful conflict resolution is preferable, but that challenges do arise that require a military resolution. But he has unwittingly stacked the deck in favor if the military-industrial complex by adopting Bushian rhetoric at key junctures--speaking of enemies as 'evil,' militarizing the response to terrorism, and asserting false equivalences that help make war seem inevitable.

Obama has yet to decide whether he is a visionary or a technocrat. The prize committee hoped for the former. In this speech they got the latter.

Gaith Adhami's CD is out!

Went to the CD release of Upward Climb last night! Support our beloved talented artist!

Addicted to Nonsense By Chris Hedges

Posted on Nov 30, 2009

Will Tiger Woods finally talk to the police? Who will replace Oprah? (Not that Oprah can ever be replaced, of course.) And will Michaele and Tareq Salahi, the couple who crashed President Barack Obama’s first state dinner, command the hundreds of thousands of dollars they want for an exclusive television interview? Can Levi Johnston, father of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s grandson, get his wish to be a contestant on “Dancing With the Stars”?

The chatter that passes for news, the gossip that is peddled by the windbags on the airwaves, the noise that drowns out rational discourse, and the timidity and cowardice of what is left of the newspaper industry reflect our flight into collective insanity. We stand on the cusp of one of the most seismic and disturbing dislocations in human history, one that is radically reconfiguring our economy as it is the environment, and our obsessions revolve around the trivial and the absurd.

What really matters in our lives—the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the steady deterioration of the dollar, the mounting foreclosures, the climbing unemployment, the melting of the polar ice caps and the awful reality that once the billions in stimulus money run out next year we will be bereft and broke—doesn’t fit into the cheerful happy talk that we mainline into our brains. We are enraptured by the revels of a dying civilization. Once reality shatters the airy edifice, we will scream and yell like petulant children to be rescued, saved and restored to comfort and complacency. There will be no shortage of demagogues, including buffoons like Sarah Palin, who will oblige. We will either wake up to face our stark new limitations, to retreat from imperial projects and discover a new simplicity, as well as a new humility, or we will stumble blindly toward catastrophe and neofeudalism.

Celebrity worship has banished the real from public discourse. And the adulation of celebrity is pervasive. The frenzy around political messiahs, or the devotion of millions of viewers to Oprah, is all part of the yearning to see ourselves in those we worship. We seek to be like them. We seek to make them like us. If Jesus and “The Purpose Driven Life” won’t make us a celebrity, then Tony Robbins or positive psychologists or reality television will. We are waiting for our cue to walk onstage and be admired and envied, to become known and celebrated. Nothing else in life counts.

We yearn to stand before the camera, to be noticed and admired. We build pages on social networking sites devoted to presenting our image to the world. We seek to control how others think of us. We define our worth solely by our visibility. We live in a world where not to be seen, in some sense, is to not exist. We pay lifestyle advisers to help us look and feel like celebrities, to build around us the set for the movie of our own life. Martha Stewart constructed her financial empire, when she wasn’t engaged in insider trading, telling women how to create a set design for the perfect home. The realities within the home, the actual family relationships, are never addressed. Appearances make everything whole. Plastic surgeons, fitness gurus, diet doctors, therapists, life coaches, interior designers and fashion consultants all, in essence, promise to make us happy, to make us celebrities. And happiness comes, we are assured, with how we look, with the acquisition of wealth and power, or at least the appearance of it. Glossy magazines like Town & Country cater to the absurd pretensions of the very rich to be celebrities. They are photographed in expensive designer clothing inside the lavishly decorated set pieces that are their homes. The route to happiness is bound up in how skillfully we present ourselves to the world. We not only have to conform to the dictates of this manufactured vision, but we also have to project an unrelenting optimism and happiness. Hedonism and wealth are openly worshiped on Wall Street as well as on shows such as “The Hills,” “Gossip Girl,” “Sex and the City,” “My Super Sweet 16” and “The Real Housewives of (whatever bourgeois burg happens to be in vogue).”

The American oligarchy—1 percent of whom control more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined—are the characters we most envy and watch on television. They live and play in multimillion-dollar mansions. They marry models or professional athletes. They are chauffeured in stretch limos. They rush from fashion shows to movie premieres to fabulous resorts. They have surgically enhanced, perfect bodies and are draped in designer clothes that cost more than some people make in a year. This glittering life is held before us like a beacon. This life, we are told, is the most desirable, the most gratifying. And this is the life we want. Greed is good, we believe, because one day through our acquisitions we will become the elite. So let the rest of the bastards suffer.

The working class, comprising tens of millions of struggling Americans, are locked out of television’s gated community. They are mocked, even as they are tantalized, by the lives of excess they watch on the screen in their living rooms. Almost none of us will ever attain these lives of wealth and power. Yet we are told that if we want it badly enough, if we believe sufficiently in ourselves, we too can have everything. We are left, when we cannot adopt these impossible lifestyles as our own, with feelings of inferiority and worthlessness. We have failed where others have succeeded.

We consume these countless lies daily. We believe the false promises that if we spend more money, if we buy this brand or that product, if we vote for this candidate, we will be respected, envied, powerful, loved and protected. The flamboyant lives of celebrities and the outrageous characters on television, movies, professional wrestling and sensational talk shows are peddled to us, promising to fill up the emptiness in our own lives. Celebrity culture encourages everyone to think of themselves as potential celebrities, as possessing unique if unacknowledged gifts. Faith in ourselves, in a world of make-believe, is more important than reality. Reality, in fact, is dismissed and shunned as an impediment to success, a form of negativity. The New Age mysticism and pop psychology of television personalities and evangelical pastors, along with the array of self-help best-sellers penned by motivational speakers, psychiatrists and business tycoons, peddle this fantasy. Reality is condemned in these popular belief systems as the work of Satan, as defeatist, as negativity or as inhibiting our inner essence and power. Those who question, those who doubt, those who are critical, those who are able to confront reality, along with those who grasp the hollowness and danger of celebrity culture, are condemned for their pessimism or intellectualism.

The illusionists who shape our culture, and who profit from our incredulity, hold up the gilded cult of Us. Popular expressions of religious belief, personal empowerment, corporatism, political participation and self-definition argue that all of us are special, entitled and unique. All of us, by tapping into our inner reserves of personal will and undiscovered talent, by visualizing what we want, can achieve, and deserve to achieve, happiness, fame and success. This relentless message cuts across ideological lines. This mantra has seeped into every aspect of our lives. We are all entitled to everything. And because of this self-absorption, and deep self-delusion, we have become a country of child-like adults who speak and think in the inane gibberish of popular culture.

Celebrities who come from humble backgrounds are held up as proof that anyone can be adored by the world. These celebrities, like saints, are examples that the impossible is always possible. Our fantasies of belonging, of fame, of success and of fulfillment are projected onto celebrities. These fantasies are stoked by the legions of those who amplify the culture of illusion, who persuade us that the shadows are real. The juxtaposition of the impossible illusions inspired by celebrity culture and our “insignificant” individual achievements, however, is leading to an explosive frustration, anger, insecurity and invalidation. It is fostering a self-perpetuating cycle that drives the frustrated, alienated individual with even greater desperation and hunger away from reality, back toward the empty promises of those who seduce us, who tell us what we want to hear. The worse things get, the more we beg for fantasy. We ingest these lies until our faith and our money run out. And when we fall into despair we medicate ourselves, as if the happiness we have failed to find in the hollow game is our deficiency. And, of course, we are told it is.

I spent two years traveling the country to write a book on the Christian right called “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.” I visited former manufacturing towns where for many the end of the world is no longer an abstraction. Many have lost hope. Fear and instability have plunged the working class into profound personal and economic despair, and, not surprisingly, into the arms of demagogues and charlatans of the radical Christian right who offer a belief in magic, miracles and the fiction of a utopian Christian nation. Unless we rapidly re-enfranchise these dispossessed workers, insert them back into the economy, unless we give them hope, these demagogues will rise up to take power. Time is running out. The poor can dine out only so long on illusions. Once they grasp that they have been betrayed, once they match the bleak reality of their future with the fantasies they are fed, once their homes are foreclosed and they realize that the jobs they lost are never coming back, they will react with a fury and vengeance that will snuff out the remains of our anemic democracy and usher in a new dark age.

Chris Hedges, who is a senior fellow at The Nation Institute and who writes a weekly column for Truthdig that appears on Mondays, is the author of “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

GRITtv: Jeff Sharlet: Inside the Value Voters Summit

from 2 months ago but very interesting insights Jeff Sharlet has to offer on the social movements springing up in the right and the left's ridicule and lack of understanding or reaching out to

The Obama Doctrine and the Nobel Prize.

From:  Tapped    By:  Adam Serwer

It was an awkward thing for the president to be accepting a Nobel Peace Prize shortly after announcing he would be sending more troops to Afghanistan. And perhaps recognizing that, the president eschewed ambiguities. "My accomplishments are slight," Obama said, acknowledging that the prize was awarded more for aspiration than accomplishment, admitting that there are those "far more deserving of this honor than I."

Obama's Nobel acceptance speech -- essentially a second escalation speech -- is perhaps the most articulate expression of The Obama Doctrine we've seen yet. It was a lengthy defense of American military intervention from World War II to Desert Storm, and a forceful justification of the escalation of troop levels in Afghanistan. It was a stirring defense of human rights, and an indictment of violence and extremism. Obama at once dismissed the idea of a military solution for problems of hunger and disease, while justifying military intervention on humanitarian grounds. He venerated Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr., while asserting that "as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone." Obama conceded that "war itself is never glorious," but nevertheless argued that "the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace." The president again repudiated the use of torture and advocated for engagement with repressive regimes, citing Iran, Burma, and North Korea by name. While "engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation," Obama said, "the promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone."

It was an unapologetic assertion of American exceptionalism, all while tying that exceptionalism to actual American behavior. It was, in short, exactly the kind of speech that one has come to expect from Obama, with it's paeans to human dignity: "Only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting."

But much of the president's rhetoric on human rights felt hollow. "We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend," he said. By that standard, we've lost ourselves. Obama has repudiated torture, but has left the other hallmarks of executive overreach -- from indefinite detention without trial or charge to warrantless surveillance -- largely untouched. He has refused to hold anyone accountable for the lawbreaking and human rights violations of the past, opting instead to "look forward."

On the right, folks will likely see this speech, with its unflinching defenses of American military intervention, as somehow distinct from Obama's previous rhetoric. It's entirely consistent with the vision the president set forth on the campaign trail -- a vision of American exceptionalism that demands certain standards of American conduct, not one that justifies our actions when we fall short. It neither justifies violence as a solution to all problems nor condemns it as useless. The fallacy of Obama as weak-kneed pacifist has been a much a creation of the fevered swamps as the controversy over his birth.

One of the best parts of Obama's speeches is that they seem to implicitly acknowledge his limitations. In this speech, Obama said "Even those of us with the best intentions will at times fail to right the wrongs before us." For liberals, that may be the lesson of the first year of Obama's presidency.

Original article and comments (12/10/2009 Thu 9:30am)

Black Eyed Peas - Where Is The Love?

TARIQ ALI: “Obama’s Afghan-Pak Syndrome"

The Nation: The Swiss Minaret Ban: What Are Voters Really Trying to Outlaw?

    The Swiss Minaret Ban: What Are Voters Really Trying to Outlaw?



    December 7, 2009

    When I was five years old, my parents enrolled me in Sainte Marguerite-Marie, a French grade school in a suburb of Rabat, in Morocco. The school was run by a group of Franciscan nuns who had arrived in the country during the colonial period but had stayed behind after independence. My favorite teacher was Soeur Laurette, who nurtured my love of books, and my regular tormentor was Soeur Isabelle, who, whenever I made a mistake, pulled my ponytail so hard my neck would hurt for hours.

    My father, like his father before him, had memorized the Koran by the time he started his own grade school education; but he did not see any danger or contradiction in having his child attend a French school. My mother, who did not cover her hair, did not seem to have any anxiety about my spending half my day with women dressed in austere tunics and long black veils. I suppose that my parents' guiding principle was that they had to choose the best neighborhood school. The fact that it happened to be run by Catholics did not scare them--they understood that being in daily contact with another religion is not dangerous. It does not mean you will be converted. It does not mean that you will have to change. Religion is not passed through the air you breathe or the sidewalk you tread or the classroom you share.

    Last Sunday's referendum in Switzerland, in which voters approved a ban on the construction of minarets in their country, has been greeted in Europe with pious cries of horror from mainstream politicians. The Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, says she is "very concerned," while her French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, says he is "a bit shocked." Editorials in many European newspapers have condemned the ban, if not the irrational fear behind it. In an effort to calm things down, some have pointed out that the four existing minarets in Switzerland would not be affected and that minarets are not necessary for the construction of mosques.

    But it would be a mistake to ignore this ban. It is a significant new step in a trend that has been working its way through Europe for some time. It began in France in 1989, with a controversy over the wearing of headscarves in public schools. The debate continued there over the next fifteen years and was periodically reignited by worldwide events, culminating in a ban on the wearing of headscarves and other "ostentatious" religious symbols in 2004. Belgium has started along the same route, giving school headmasters discretionary power to decide whether Muslim schoolgirls who cover their hair can attend school. Not long ago, Denmark passed a law that makes it nearly impossible for anyone under the age of 24 to bring a spouse into the country from abroad, a move that is aimed at curbing the arrival of foreign spouses of Muslim immigrants. And Switzerland is not the first to ban minarets. The Austrian state of Carinthia earned this dubious honor in 2008.

    The ban on minarets is at once profoundly silly and sure to be completely ineffective. It will not stop Swiss Muslims from practicing their religion--it may, in fact, make some of them want to flaunt it. It will not make the nearly half million Muslims in Switzerland disappear into thin air--even if their compatriots seem to wish that they would. It will, however, make it harder for Muslims and non-Muslims to get along, especially now that this new law reinforces the perception that not everyone is equal under the law.

    Already there are signs that the minaret vote will embolden right-wing groups in Switzerland and across Europe. Geert Wilders, the leader of the Dutch Freedom Party, has already announced that he will try to organize a similar referendum in the Netherlands. Pia Kjaersgaard, the head of the Danish People's Party, wants a ban in Denmark, even though there are no minarets in her country. As for Marine Le Pen, the vice chair of the French Front National, she thinks the Swiss ban doesn't go far enough and now wants a referendum on communautarisme in France--by which she means legal decisions on everything from the availability of halal food in school cafeterias to taking a day off for a religious holiday.

    Muslim right-wing groups in Europe will also find this ban convenient, because their recruitment pitch becomes that much simpler. "They forbid you to practice your religion," they may say. In the larger Muslim world, right-wing leaders will seize this opportunity as well. Egypt's leading cleric Ali Gomaa has alreadywhipped up the i-word: "This not considered just an attack on freedom of beliefs, but also an attempt to insult the feelings of the Muslim community in and outside Switzerland." You don't need a crystal ball to see where this is headed.

    The ban on minarets, if considered on its own, may not seem important. But it is hitched to a bigger story, one that has been unfolding over the last twenty years--one of mass immigration, economic depression and the rebirth of fascism in Europe. It would be a mistake to think that the world we live in can go back to being simpler. Most countries will no longer have the luxury (if they ever did) of including only one ethnic group, one religion or one language. Learning how to balance the rights of the individual and the rights of the community is unavoidable.

    About Laila Lalami

    Laila Lalami, the author of Secret Son, is an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside. more...

    Juan Cole: Top Things that would Redeem Obama's Peace Prize

    The world has noted the irony that President Barack Obama is delivering his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize after launching an escalation of the Afghanistan war. Of course, the critique is a little misplaced, since the prize is for a specific policy success, not for being a pacifist.

    Still, Mr. Obama was clearly given the prize to encourage him in the direction of peace. It is the tragedy of the sole superpower that it is unconstrained by peers and so can launch wars of choice and shatter international law at will. It can be counseled but not blocked. He was awarded this honor as a counsel.

    So here are the things Obama can do to redeem his prize.

    1. Get out of Iraq on schedule. We can't stop their low-intensity conflicts, and they are more likely to compromise with each other if we are not there.

    2. Resist calls for Iran to be bombed. Such a raid would guarantee that Iran would start a crash program to develop a nuclear weapon, and there would be no way to stop it short of full-scale war.

    3. Stop allowing the CIA to operate drones with which to assassinate people. It is illegal and shameful. The US military must be in charge of defending the country by force or we are a police state.

    4. Get the Palestinians a state by the end of 2011, even if by unilateral recognition. Palestinian statelessness is the biggest human rights scandal in the world, since citizenship is the right to have rights. This step alone would solve the bulk of US problems in the Arab world and would deal a deadlier blow to al-Qaeda than capturing Bin Laden.

    5. Stick to the plan of beginning a US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in summer 2011. Karzai and the generals will attempt to embroil us in a decades-long quagmire. No one will remember his Nobel peace prize if President Obama lets that happen.

    - Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

    Naomi Klein and Martin Khor on the Growing North-South Divide in Copenhagen over Kyoto, Climate Debt and Emission Targets

    Talal Asad on Violence and Scripture

    Let me pursue this point briefly with reference to what is described in our media, and by many of our public intellectuals, as "the Islamic roots of violence" - especially since September 2001. Religion has long been seen as a source of violence [10] and (for ideological reasons) Islam has been represented in the modern West as peculiarly so (undisciplined, arbitrary, singularly oppressive). Experts on "Islam," "the modern world," and "political philosophy" have lectured the Muslim world yet again on its failure to embrace secularism and enter modernity and on its inability to break off from its violent roots. Now some reflection would show that violence does not need to be justified by the Qur'an - or any other scripture for that matter....They might in some cases do so because that seems to the just - or else expedient. But that's very different from saying that are constrained to do so. One need only remind oneself of the banal fact that innumerable pious Muslims, Jews, and Christians read their scriptures without being seized by the need to kill non-believers. My point here is simply to emphasize that the way people engage with such complex and multifaceted texts, translating their sense and relevance, is a complicated business involving disciplines and traditions of reading, personal habit, and temperament, as well as the perceived demands of particular social situations.

    Mahmood Mamdani: Culture Talk; Or, How Not to Talk About Islam and Politics

    This moment in history after the Cold War is referred to as the era of globalization and is marked by the ascendancy and rapid politicizing of a single term: culture. During the Cold War, we discussed socioeconomic or political developments, such as poverty and wealth, democracy and dictatorship, as mainly local events. This new understanding of culture is less social than political, tied less to the realities of particular countries than to global political events like the tearing down of the Berlin Wall or 9/11. Unlike the culture studied by anthropologists - face-to-face, intimate, local, and lived - the talk of culture is highly politicized and comes in large geo-packages.

    Culture Talk assumes that every culture has a tangible essence that defines it, and it then explains politics as a consequence of that essence. Culture Talk after 9/11, for example, qualified and explained the practice of "terrorism" as "Islamic." "Islamic terrorism" is thus offered as both description and explanation of the events of 9/11. It is no longer the market (capitalism), nor the state (democracy), but culture (modernity) that is said to be the dividing line between those in favor of a peaceful, civic existence and those inclined to terror. It is said that our world is divided between those who are modern and those who are premodern. The modern makes culture and are its masters; the premoderns are said to be but conduits....

    In post-9/11 America, Culture Talk focused on Islam and Muslims who presumably made culture only at the beginning of creation, as some extraordinary, prophetic act. After that, it seems Muslims just conformed to culture. According to some, our culture seems to have no history, no politics, and no debates, so that all Muslims are just plain bad. According to others, there is a history, politics, even debates, and there are good Muslims and bad Muslims. In both versions, history seems to have petrified into a lifeless custom of an antique people who inhabit antique lands. Or could it be that culture here stands for habit, for some kind of instinctive activity with rules that are inscribed in early founding texts, usually religious, and mummified in early artifacts?

    Cornel West - Democracy Matters Are Frightening in Our Time 5

    Let us not be deceived: the great dramatic battle of the twenty first century is the dismantling of empire and the deepening of democracy. This is as much or more a colossal fight over visions and ideas as a catastrophic struggle over profits and missiles. Globalization is inescapable - the question is whether it will be democratic globalization or a U.S.-led corporate globalization (with thin democratic rhetoric). This is why what we think, how we care, and the way we fight mean so much now in democracy matters. We live in a propitious moment in which it has become fashionable to celebrate the benefits of imperial rule and acceptable to condone the decline of democratic governance. The pervasive climate of opinion and the prevailing culture of consumption make it difficult for us to even imagine the revival of the deep democratizing energies of our past and conceive of making real progress in the fight against imperialism.

    But we must remember that the basis of democratic leadership is ordinary citizens' desire to take their country back from the hands of corrupted plutocratic and imperial elites. This desire is predicated on an awakening among the populace from the seductive lives and comforting illusions that sedate them and a moral channeling of new political energy that constitutes a formidable threat to the status quo. This is what happened in the 1860's, 1890's, 1930s, and 1960s in American history. Just as it looked as if we were about to lose the American democratic experiment - in the face of civil war, imperial greed, economic depression, and racial upheaval - in each of these periods a democratic awakening and activistic energy emerged to keep our democratic project afloat. We must work and hope for such an awakening once again.

    Wednesday, December 9, 2009

    Dr. J: 'Indigenization' v. 'Assimilation'

    the distinction between 'indigenization,' that is, carving out a space for oneself in society and "assimilation," that is, accepting the place in society assigned to one by the dominant group. In the case of Blackamerican Muslims, this is a critical distinction, for, as both blacks and as Muslims, experience has suggested that the dominant culture does not have all the answers and that in many instances accepting the invitation to be included in the latter might be tantamount to accepting admission into a burning building.
    -pg. 169 of Sherman Jackson's Islam and the Blackamerican

    [footnote 80: To take just one example of the inadequacies of present understandings of both pluralism and equality, Stephen Carter notes that he was told by a leading evangelist that Muslim inmates have no cause to complain because they have all the rights and privileges that Christian inmates have. Carter perceptively responds: "No doubt they do. But they would prefer to have the rights they need as Muslims. The right to do everything that Christians are allowed to do is not the same as the right to follow God in their own way." Carter, God's Name in Vain, 157-158. See also my "Shari'ah, Democracy and the Modern Nation State: Some Reflections on Islam, Popular Rule and Pluralism," Fordham International Law Journal 27, no. 1 (December, 2003): 102-107.]

    Dr. J - Resistance

    Did I say that I love this man for his vision, thoughtfulness, scholarship and relevancy! :)
    From such a position, that is, within the American constitutional order, the enterprises of resistance and protest would be able to reassert themselves as acts dedicated to reforming America and to holding her to her own ideals, rather than as attempts to destroy her or impose upon her an alien vision from without. Resistance, however, would have to emerge as a positive, efficacious effort that served a higher good. Indeed, Blackamerican Muslims would have to recognize that blind resistance is no less grounded in a false universal than is the order that it blindly resists.
    -pg. 168 of Islam and the Blackamerican by Sherman A. Jackson

    John Gray on "Progress"

    The core of the belief in progress is that human values and goals converge in parallel with our increasing knowledge. The twentieth century shows the contrary. Human beings use the power of scientific knowledge to assert and defend the values and goals they already have. New technologies can be used to alleviate suffering and enhance freedom. They can, and will, also be used to wage war and strengthen tyranny. Science made possible the technologies that powered the industrial revolution. In the twentieth century, these technologies were used to implement state terror and genocide on an unprecedented scale. Ethics and politics do not advance in line with the growth of knowledge — not even in the long run.
    John Gray, essay "Joseph Conrad, Our Contemporary" in Heresies

    Tariq Ramadan on dogmatism of "so-called modern, progressive thought"

    "Today we are witnessing an upsurge of unhealthy, ideology-driven movements. To affirm one’s convictions and respect others is no longer sufficient. Muslims are now being called upon to condemn the Qur’an, and to accept and promote homosexuality to gain entry into the modern world. Not only is such an attitude doomed to fail (the majority trends in both traditional and reformist Islam, as in other religions, will never waver on this question) but it also reveals a new dogmatism—and a whiff of colonialism, not to mention xenophobia—at the heart of so-called modern, progressive thought. Certain prominent intellectuals and lobbies have ordained a new form of political correctness; they would like to force everyone to be “open” or “liberal” in the same way. At first glance, this open, liberal thought would seem to warrant respect; but it reveals a troubling tendency to impose its own dogmas, leaving little or no room for the convictions of traditional philosophical, spiritual or religious world-views. Betraying the ultimate goal of modernity, which should help us manage freedom and diversity, we are now told that there is only one way to be free and modern. Both dogmatic and dogmatizing, this trend, in the name of liberal thought, is a dangerous one, and should alarm all women and all men, whether atheists, agnostics, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Christians or Muslims. It strikes at the very heart of our freedom of thought, of the most intimate aspects of our lives, of the ways we strive for social and intellectual emancipation."
    -Tariq Ramadan "Islam and Homosexuality"

    itunes U - "The Future of Islam" with Dr. Jackson and others

    I haven't really searched or used the itunes U before - it looks there's actually a great deal of lectures and classes available for free downloading and streaming (some in video, some in audio, some in both)

    There's a video of a lecture/panel discussion at the University of Michigan entitled "The Future of Islam" with Nasr Abu Zayd, Sherman Jackson, Ralph Williams.

    To search for it, I guess you have to have itunes

    Abdal-Hakim Murad: Bi-Focal Ability

    We do indeed need a bi-focal ability. It is, after all, a quality of the Antichrist that he sees with only one eye. An age of decadence, whether or not framed by an Enlightenment, is an age of extremes, and the twentieth century was, in Eric Hobsbawm’s phrase, precisely that. Islam has been Westernised enough, it sometimes appears, to have joined that logic. We are either neutralised by a supposedly benign Islamic liberalism that in practice allows nothing distinctively Islamic to leave the home or the mosque - an Enlightenment-style privatisation of religion that abandons the world to the morality of the market leaders and the demagogues. Or we fall back into the sensual embrace of extremism, justifying our refusal to deal with the real world by dismissing it as absolute evil, as kufr, unworthy of serious attention, which will disappear if we curse it enough.
    -Abdal Hakim Murad: "Faith in the future: Islam after the Enlightenment"

    Monday, December 7, 2009

    Chris Hedges: Liberals are Useless

    "There is no breaking point. What is the breaking point? The criminal war of aggression in Iraq? The escalation of the war in Afghanistan? Forty-five thousand people dying a year because they can’t afford health insurance? The hollowing out of communities and sending the jobs to fascist and communist regimes overseas that know how to put the workers in their place? There is no breaking point. And when there is no breaking point you do not have a moral compass.”
    Read here

    Cornel West on Intellectual Marginality

    The "Muslim-American community" needs this message:

    "Afro-American thought must also remove itself from the uncritical elements of mainstream Afro-American life. This is not a geographical or existential removal, but an intellectual one which acknowledges the demand of the discipline. Any critical and creative activity requires a certain degree of marginality. Intellectual activity certainly flourishes best when one is on the margin, not in an ivory tower but resolutely outside the world of aimless chitchat and gossip."

    -pg. 24 of Cornel West's Prophecy Deliverance

    “No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” (Samuel Beckett)

    Chomsky speaks on U.S. imperialism

    Friday 4 December 2009 03:57am EST.

    by Claire Luchette

    According to Noam Chomsky, all U.S. leaders are schizophrenic.

    Chomsky, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, came to Columbia on Thursday to discuss hypocrisy and “schizophrenia” in American foreign policy from the early settlers to George W. Bush.

    Chomsky, often considered one of the fathers of modern linguistics, is also well known for his controversial criticism of the United States’ actions in international politics.

    At the fifth annual Edward W. Said Memorial Lecture hosted by the Heyman Center for the Humanities, Chomsky began his speech on “The Unipolar Moment and the Culture of Imperialism” by applauding Said for calling attention to America’s culture of imperialism. Said, a cultural critic and literary scholar who taught at Columbia for about three decades, died in 2003.

    Though America just celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Chomsky said the commemoration ignored a glaring human rights violation that occurred only one week after the wall fell. On November 16, 1989, a U.S.-armed Atlacatl battalion assassinated six leading Latin American Jesuit priests, he explained.

    Chomsky contrasted America’s self-congratulation of the Berlin Wall destruction with the resounding silence that surrounds the assassination of these priests.

    He said that this was just one example of the many stains on America’s foreign policy record. Chomsky criticized the U.S. for its role in the continuing conflicts in the Middle East. Alluding to the wall dividing Israel and Gaza, he stressed the need to “dismantle the massive wall ... now snaking through Palestinian territory in violation of international law.”

    Discussing the United States as an international player, he said, “To this day, the U.S. is reverentially admired as a city on a hill.” Chomsky characterized this as an imperialist policy, “a conception that we are carrying out God’s will in mysterious ways.”

    He argued that the U.S. sacrifices democratic principles for its own self-interest, and tends to “focus a laser light on the crimes of enemies, but crucially we make sure to never look at ourselves.”

    Democracy, he said, is “supported if it defends the strategic and economic objectives of the United States.”

    Akeel Bilgrami, director of the Heyman Center for the Humanities, said in an e-mail prior to the event that they were honored to have Chomsky return for a fourth visit. “He is one of the greatest figures of public conscience of the last century,” Bilgrami said, adding that, in linguistics and philosophy, Chomsky “single-handedly generated a revolution in the subject.”

    Bilgrami noted that the Heyman Center’s choice of speakers does not necessarily reflect its political views. He said, “To some extent, the choice of speakers and interests over the years have reflected the progressive, humanistic, politically radical possibilities in the study of the humanities but it has never been a political platform” and explained that any sort of agenda would “cancel out other voices and points of view.”

    Authority/Crisis, Identity/Crisis: American Students of Knowledge and Traditional Islam
    Zareena Grewal
    PhD Candidate
    University of Michigan
    Interdepartmental Program
    in Anthropology and History

    Muslim engagements with the classical Islamic tradition in the US are framed by a context of contending cultures where multiple and competing claims to authority emerge. For Muslim Americans the choice between traditional and modern is moot, yet the question of how to be modern in a way that is recognizably “our own” remains. In light of the crisis of religious authority, partly inherited from the post-colonial Muslim world, Muslim American youth at the end of the 20th century have begun traveling to the intellectual centers of the Muslim Middle East in search for a “traditional” education. These Muslim travelers are hoping to reform their US communities and protect the legitimacy and authority of their tradition-in-crisis by becoming literate in legal and theological discourses with deep historical roots. The issues of literacy and authority shape their curriculum. Many students claim they want to be trained in the classical tradition of evaluating the authority of texts and developing a critical faculty and authoritative interpretations, a methodology they identify as “traditional.” However, some students are simply becoming familiar with a classical canon assumed to be the exclusive and final word because of its historical origins. The more serious, long-term students and the Arab teachers hotly debate whether literacy can be achieved during an extended “vacation.” Many argue that the “democratization” of access to authoritative knowledge often undermines or reconfigures the very tradition it references. The relations of knowledge, particularly in legal contexts are transformed. The processes by which authorizing arguments and practices are drawn on highlight the various relations of power embedded in the religious tradition. By placing an ethnographic lens on the experiences of Muslim American “students of knowledge” in Damascus and Cairo, I will explore the nature of religious authority and the ways it is enacted, reconfigured and reinforced.

    Zareena Grewal bio

    Assistant Professor, Departments of American Studies and Religious Studies, Yale University
    Zareena Grewal, Assistant Professor in the departments of American Studies and Religious Studies at Yale, is a historical anthropologist whose research focuses on Islam in the US. Her research interests include race, trans-nationalism, experimental ethnography, film, religion, and identity politics across the wide spectrum of Muslim American communities. She was a Fulbright Fellow in Egypt (2002-3) and received the Fulbright's prestigious Islamic Civilization Grant. She is currently developing a book manuscript based on her dissertation research, tentatively titled Destination, Tradition: The Crisis of Islam in the US, which explores the transnational dimensions of the authority crisis in American mosques. She recently published an article in Ethnic and Racial Studies titled "Marriage in Color: Race, Religion, and Spouse Selection in Four American Mosques" which examines the generational differences in racial and gender ideologies among Arab and South Asian immigrants. She is also co-editor of a forthcoming volume titled Treating Muslims: An Interdisciplinary Primer on Health which brings together the perspectives of anthropologists, historians, ethicists, and health practitioners on cultural encounters in healthcare settings. She also directed and produced the documentary By the Dawn's Early Light: Chris Jackson's Journey to Islam which examines the scrutiny of Muslim American patriotism. (The film was recently featured on the Documentary Channel). She is also the director of the Center of American Muslim Studies at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. At Yale, she teaches courses on Islam in America, US policy in the Middle East, ethnographic film, and religion and media.

    "Whither Political Islam?" a review essay by Mahmood Mamdani

    Whither Political Islam?