Ostovar, “Vanguard of the Imam”

Next month, the Oxford University Press will release “Vanguard of the Imam: Religion, Politics, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards,” by Afshon Ostovar (Johns Hopkins University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are one of the most important forces in the Middle East today. As the appointed defender of Iran’s revolution, the Guards have evolved into a book coverpillar of the Islamic Republic and the spearhead of its influence. Their sway has spread across the Middle East, where the Guards have overseen loyalist support to Bashar al-Assad in Syria and been a staunch backer in Iraq’s war against ISIS-bringing its own troops, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and Shiite militias to the fight. Links to terrorism, human rights abuses, and the suppression of popular democracy have shrouded the Revolutionary Guards in controversy.

In spite of their prominence, the Guards remain poorly understood to outside observers. In Vanguard of the Imam, Afshon Ostovar has written the first comprehensive history of the organization. Situating the rise of the Guards in the larger contexts of Shiite Islam, modern Iranian history, and international affairs, Ostovar takes a multifaceted approach in demystifying the organization and detailing its evolution since 1979. Politics, power, and religion collide in this story, wherein the Revolutionary Guards transform from a rag-tag militia established in the midst of revolutionary upheaval into a military and covert force with a global reach.

The Guards have been fundamental to the success of the Islamic revolution. The symbiotic relationship between them and Iran’s clerical rulers underpins the regime’s nearly unshakeable system of power. The Guards have used their privileged position at home to export Iran’s revolution beyond its borders, establishing client armies in their image and extending Iran’s strategic footprint in the process. Ostovar tenaciously documents the Guards’ transformation into a power-player and explores why the group matters now more than ever to regional and global affairs. The book simultaneously serves as a history of modern Iran, and provides a crucial and engrossing entryway into the complex world of war, politics, and identity in the Middle East.

Tarabey, “Family Law in Lebanon”

9781780765624Next month, Macmillan will publish Family Law in Lebanon: Marriage and Divorce Among the Druze by Lubna Tarabey (American University of Beirut). The publisher’s description follows.

Much of the life and ritual of the Druze in Lebanon appears mysterious to outsiders, as this esoteric sect remains closed to non-members. Lubna Tarabey, herself a member of this secretive community, is ideally-placed to offer insight into the family life, tradition and religious practices of the Druze. She reaches back to the 1970s, and the start of a civil war that shattered Lebanon along confessional lines, to explore how the substantial social and political changes that have shaken the country have affected marriage and divorce practices. Through extensive research, she approaches a complex web of change and continuity, of traditional values competing with enhanced individualism and personal freedoms. In Lebanon, family law falls under the authority of its religious courts, and Tarabey traces the ways in which social and legal developments have impacted family law and the internal cohesion of the Druze.

Deeb & Harb, “Leisurely Islam: Negotiating Geography and Morality in Shi’ite South Beirut”

Next month, Princeton University Press will publish Leisurely Islam: Negotiating Geography and Morality in Shi’ite South Beirut by Lara Deeb (Scripps College) and Mona Harb (American University of Beirut). The publisher’s description follows.bookjacket

South Beirut has recently become a vibrant leisure destination with a plethora of cafés and restaurants that cater to the young, fashionable, and pious. What effects have these establishments had on the moral norms, spatial practices, and urban experiences of this Lebanese community? From the diverse voices of young Shi’i Muslims searching for places to hang out, to the Hezbollah officials who want this media-savvy generation to be more politically involved, to the religious leaders worried that Lebanese youth are losing their moral compasses, Leisurely Islam provides a sophisticated and original look at leisure in the Lebanese capital.

What makes a café morally appropriate? How do people negotiate morality in relation to different places? And under what circumstances might a pious Muslim go to a café that serves alcohol? Lara Deeb and Mona Harb highlight tensions and complexities exacerbated by the presence of multiple religious authorities, a fraught sectarian political context, class mobility, and a generation that takes religion for granted but wants to have fun. The authors elucidate the political, economic, religious, and social changes that have taken place since 2000, and examine leisure’s influence on Lebanese sociopolitical and urban situations.

Asserting that morality and geography cannot be fully understood in isolation from one another, Leisurely Islamoffers a colorful new understanding of the most powerful community in Lebanon today.

Sisk, “Between Terror and Tolerance: Religious Leaders, Conflict, and Peacemaking”

This November, Georgetown University Press will publish Between Terror and Tolerance: Religious Leaders, Conflict, and Peacemaking edited by Timothy D. Sisk (University of Denver). The publisher’s description follows.

Civil war and conflict within countries is the most prevalent threat to peace and security in the opening decades of the twenty-first century. A pivotal factor in the escalation of tensions to open conflict is the role of elites in exacerbating tensions along identity lines by giving the ideological justification, moral reasoning, and call to violence. Between Terror and Tolerance examines the varied roles of religious leaders in societies deeply divided by ethnic, racial, or religious conflict. The chapters in this book explore cases when religious leaders have justified or catalyzed violence along identity lines, and other instances when religious elites have played a critical role in easing tensions or even laying the foundation for peace and reconciliation.

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Avon & Khatchadourian, “Hezbollah: A History of the ‘Party of God'”

Here’s an interesting looking treatment of the deeply controversial political party which is now in a position of power in Lebanon and elsewhere, Hezbollah: A History of the “Party of God” (HUP 2012), by Dominique Avon and Anaïs-Trissa Khatchadourian (both of the Université du Maine).  The publisher’s description follows.

For thirty years, Hezbollah has played a pivotal role in Lebanese and global politics. That visibility has invited Hezbollah’s lionization and vilification by outside observers, and at the same time has prevented a clear-eyed view of Hezbollah’s place in the history of the Middle East and its future course of action. Dominique Avon and Anaïs-Trissa Khatchadourian provide here a nonpartisan account which offers insights into Hezbollah that Western media have missed or misunderstood.

Now part of the Lebanese government, Hezbollah nevertheless remains in tension with both the transnational Shiite community and a religiously diverse Lebanon. Calling for an Islamic regime would risk losing critical allies at home, but at the same time Hezbollah’s leaders cannot say that a liberal regime is the solution for the future. Consequently, they use the ambiguous expression “civil but believer state.”

What happens when an organization founded as a voice of “revolution” and then “resistance” occupies a position of power, yet witnesses the collapse of its close ally, Syria? How will Hezbollah’s voice evolve as the party struggles to reconcile its regional obligations with its religious beliefs? The authors’ analyses of these key questions—buttressed by their clear English translations of foundational documents, including Hezbollah’s open letter of 1985 and its 2009 charter, and an in-depth glossary of key theological and political terms used by the party’s leaders—make Hezbollah an invaluable resource for all readers interested in the future of this volatile force.

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