Gruber & Haugbolle, “Visual Culture in the Modern Middle East: Rhetoric of the Image”

In June 2013, The Indiana University Press will publish Visual Culture in the Modern Middle East: Rhetoric of the Image edited by Christiane J. Gruber (University of Michigan) and Sune Haughbolle (University of Copenhagen).  The publisher’s description follows.

This timely book examines the power and role of the image in creating a rhetorical lexicon for political Islam. The essays explore the role and function of image making to highlight the ways in which the images “speak” and what visual languages mean for the construction of Islamic subjectivities, the politics of power, and the formation of identity and belonging. Visual Culture in the Modern Middle East addresses aspects of the visual in the Islamic world, including the presentation of Islam on television; the internet and other digital media; banners, posters, murals, and graffiti; and the satirical press, cartoons, and children’s books.

Hansen, “Al Shabaab in Somalia: The History and Ideology of a Militant Islamist Group, 2005-2012”

This November, The Columbia University Press will publish Al Shabaab in Somalia: The History and Ideology of a Militant Islamist Group, 2005-2012 by Stig Jarle Hansen (University of Life Science, Norway). The publisher’s description follows.

Harakat Al Shabaab is Somalia’s infamous though under-researched militant Islamist group. An offshoot of the Islamic Courts Union, the organization seeks to impose Sharia law across the country, has been linked to acts of maritime piracy, and was until recently the de facto rulers of the land. Along with the group’s international connections to Al Qaeda and other Islamist networks, Harakat Al Shabaab is heavily involved in local clan structures. Combining intensive field research with interviews of Shabaab leaders, this volume builds a history of the organization while critically analyzing the roots of its resilency.

Larry Gatlin and Jonathan Rauch on Christian Groups at Vanderbilt

Now there’s a pairing you don’t see everyday. Country music star Larry Gatlin and Brookings Institute scholar Jonathan Rauch both weigh in on Vanderbilt’s denial of recognition to Christian groups in this new video from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Higher Education (FIRE). Vanderbilt denied the groups recognition under its all-comers policy, which requires groups to open their leadership positions to all students, even students who disagree with the groups’ principles. In CLS v. Martinez (2010), the Supreme Court held that such a policy is consistent with the First Amendment. Many American universities have such a policy, but not all; recently, for example, SUNY-Buffalo decided to allow the local chapter of the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship to require its leaders to affirm the group’s beliefs. The FIRE video is a very good introduction to the topic; unfortunately, Vanderbilt apparently did not accept FIRE’s invitation to present its side of the story.

Yildirim on Turkey’s Draft Constitution

The Forum 18 Blog has an interesting article by Mine Yildirim (Åbo Akademi University) on the freedom of religion provisions in a draft constitution currently under consideration in Turkey. The ruling Islamist AKP party and the opposition secularist CHP party have agreed on some provisions, but not all, and Yildirim describes the result as a mixed bag. For example, for the first time, the constitution will contain a clause conferring a right to change one’s religion. As Yildirim points out, many majority-Muslim countries reject such a right, and the AKP deserves some credit for accepting the language (though Islamists sometimes interpret such language to confer only a right to convert to Islam). On the other hand, the AKP has refused to discontinue compulsory religion classes in public schools. Minorities, especially Alevis, claim these classes amount to proselytism, and the ECtHR has agreed on at least one occasion (Zengin v. Turkey). Also, the AKP rejected the CHP’s proposal for a clause stating that “the state is impartial toward all religions and beliefs in all its proceedings and actions and will respect social pluralism based on the diversity of religions, beliefs and opinions.” The AKP argued that such a provision would invalidate the state’s Ministry of Religious Affairs, or Diyanet, which has a major role in promoting Sunni Islam in Turkey. Here’s Yildirim’s closing paragraph:

The challenge for the AKP – as the current ruling party – remains to devise policies which genuinely respect the religious freedom of Turkey’s increasingly pluralistic society. This starts with the Constitution and also includes other legislative changes to protect religious freedom in line with the country’s existing human rights commitments. The AKP’s non-recognition of Alevi cem houses (places of worship), insistence on the compulsory [religious education] lessons, strengthening the Diyanet’s position as a publicly-funded religious institution, and the comments of AKP politicians, indicate that the party fails to devise policies that respect Turkey’s pluralistic reality and observe the principle of impartiality on the part of the state.