Latest news, event, research, and thoughts on the Islamicate World and West Asia from CIWAS

ANNOUNCEMENT | Call for Chapter Proposals

Editor: Dr Babak Rahimi, Program for the Study of Religion, University of California, San Diego

CIWAS Edited Volume Project

Muslim Futurism: Histories and Aesthetics of Tomorrow

In the first decade of the twentieth century, the Futurist movement emerged in Italy to reconceptualize modernity in the aesthetic formation of a radical new reality. Futurism, which found its most daring declaration in the “Founding and Manifest of Futurism” by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in 1909, celebrated dynamism, speed, anarchical activism, modern technologies and war. Against all forms of traditionalism, Futurism also emerged as something more than a mere phase in artistic and literary history of what the historian Eric Hobsbawm called “the short twentieth century”; marked by an ethos of newness, it articulated a radical conception of modernity as the subjective site of interruptive temporality, in which the very experience of the dynamic now represents an event of modernness.

With the jubilant affirmation of dynamic force of futurity in the present, Futurism saw its aesthetic ideology spread across Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. From the Russian Futurism in arts and theater to the short-lived Fascist-Futurist alliance between 1919-1920, the movement reflected a tumultuous historical era that exposed a troubling affinity between technologies of violence and modernity. Meanwhile, the celebration of vitalism, as a new possibility for aesthetic enunciation, found numerous adherents across the political spectrum. With the second generation of Futurists’ glorification of aerial landscape beginning in 1926, in what is known as “aeropainting,” the movement articulated its final celebration of machinery in the image of aerial technology, a celebration that would express itself in the tendency to privilege aerial over territorial dynamism. Just as it appeared as an eruptive force, Futurism had come to a speedy end after the death of Marinetti in 1944.

However, by the late twentieth century Futurism re-emerged in response to new experiences of time in the post-war period. This historical emergence of post-war Futurist movements combined aesthetic and political currents that, especially with the rise of identity politics in the U.S. of the 1960s and 1970s, represented views of an open-ended social transformation toward alternative futurity. While neo-Futurism found expression in design and architecture, Afrofuturism emerged as a complex set of cultural aesthetic, literary and philosophical currents that explored intersections of past and future African diasporas with scientific and technological possibilities. Feminist and Queer Futurisms marked new subjectivities that troubled the essentialized discourses and practices of gender and sexual identity while offering the possibility of feminist and queer utopias. Meanwhile the literary cyberpunk movement framed technology based on the impact of drug culture and the sexual revolution, articulating a dystopian futurity in terms of nihilistic conception of electronic and digital worlds.

Against colonial projects of racialization and modelled after Afrofuturism, “Muslim Futurism” appeared in the early 2000s to reconstruct a new set of aesthetics and conceptions of Muslimness. While Orientalism and Islamophobia continues to mediate in different ways since the “war on terror,” Muslim Futurism has innovatively explored alternative futures where Muslims redefine intersections of past and future through science and technology. From the speculative fiction of Somaiya Daud to the experiential art initiative of ALHAMDU, new Muslim realities are imagined in utopian futures of collective manifestation while opening critical spaces for new modalities of possible.

But what are the shifting contours of these new modalities of possible? How has the emergence in what Adam Greenfield has called “radical technologies,” ranging from automation to augmented reality, impact the way Muslims rethink their lifeworlds in multiple and lived contexts? Can we speak of “Muslim Futurism” as Muslimness undergoes change in complex transnational circuits of power and resistance within the racial capitalistic order? How do Muslims of diverse historical and social settings imagine themselves in the web of everyday technological formations that entail new sensory experiences of digital objects and virtual realities? All in all, what might “Muslim Futurism” look like as Muslimness is imagined in different worlds?

This volume is about speculative imaginings of future and how being (or becoming) Muslim is reimagined through such future. Futurist imaginaries under study range from artistic to intellectual movements that celebrate the power and speed or the perils of technoscience in speculative fictions that envision alternative futures in diasporic realities. With the aim to be inclusive of wide historical contexts and geographies of Muslim futurity, Muslim Futurism: Histories and Aesthetics of Tomorrow, attempts to explore diverse ways in rethinking Muslim futurity. All in all, the ambition of the volume is to provide a forum for wide-ranging number of critical and innovative discourse that contribute to an emerging field of inquiry.

The volume welcomes contributions from emerging and established scholars, artists, writers, and futurists to articulate Muslim Futurism from a range of aesthetic and theoretical approaches. The volume also considers contributions that examine speculative fiction. Also, welcome are artistic visual expressions of Muslim Futurism. In the context of emerging paradigms of Muslim Futurism, suggested topics for the edited volume include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Muslim Futurism: conception and history,

  • Muslim world building,

  • Speculative Muslim fiction,

  • Extraterrestrial life and Islamic UFO Religions,

  • Floating mosques,

  • Muslim ufology,

  • Jinn Futurism,

  • Galactic Persianate,

  • Qur’anic Futurity,

  • Urban Muslim Futurism,

  • Afro-Muslim Futurism,

  • Queer Muslim Futurism,

  • Feminist Muslim Futurism,

  • Eco-Muslim Futurism,

  • Utopia.

Proposals and a (two-page) CV, should be sent to ciwas@rhul.ac.uk, specifying in the email subject: “Muslim Futurism” by 5pm (UK time), 8 July 2022. Proposals must include a tentative title and an abstract (600 words including mention of sources used).

Inquiries about the project should be referred to the editor, Dr Babak Rahimi (brahimi@ucsd.edu).

NEWS

When: 7 October 2021

Dr. Mohammad R. Kalantari met with the Pope and other religious leaders including the Archbishop of Canterbury and Sheikh of Al-Azhar as part of the 'Faith and Science: Towards COP26' initiative

In early October, religious leaders, scientists, and a group of academics joined Pope Francis in the Vatican City to discuss climate change and global educational challenges.

On 4 October, during the ‘Faith and Science: towards COP26’ event, Pope Francis and other leaders representing the world’s major religions, gathered in the Vatican and signed a joint appeal committing to ambitious targets for the upcoming COP26, while promising to do their own part to lead their faithful into more sustainable behaviour. (See here for more information on this)

On 5 October, Pope Francis and other faith leaders met again to commemorate World Teachers' Day and share ideas about how religions can address the main educational challenges within the framework of the Global Compact on Education. (See here for more information on this)

Dr. Mohammad Kalantari, Co-Director of Centre for Islamic & West Asian Studies, was invited to both events to share and explain Islamic viewpoints on climate change and education.

ANNOUNCEMENT | Call for Chapter Proposals

When: February 2022

Where: Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, Surrey UK

CIWAS Workshop

Utopias in the Middle East and Beyond

Utopias in the most widely-accepted sense, that is, preconceived models of an ideal society that encourage, legitimise, and guide (political) action, were strikingly absent from the initial phase of the 2011 Arab uprisings. However, new political imaginaries emerged throughout the revolutionary process itself with various actors attempting to realize newborn utopias, be they short-lived, such as the encampment on Cairo’s Tahrir Square, or more durable, like Syria’s local councils. To use Gilles Deleuzes’ terms, the relative absence of “transcendent utopias” (i.e. pre-conceived political projects geared towards the establishment of a perfect society) should not obscure the presence of “immanent utopias” (i.e. try-and-fail political experiments that take place in an endless process of resistance to oppression). Considering this, we invite scholars with various disciplinary backgrounds to take stock of the many utopias that have shaped (or, at least, strove to shape) the Middle East and adjacent regions throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

We are looking for contributions

  • on utopias broadly defined as the desire for a different, better way of being, which accommodates a wide variety of forms, functions, and contents;

  • on utopian visions, produced by both state and non-state actors;

  • on utopian projects stemming from a variety of ideological backgrounds such as modernism, nationalism, anarchism, socialism, Third-Worldism, Zionism, Islamism, and millenarianism;

  • that focus on both “transcendent” and “immanent” utopias;

  • that explain how utopias emerged, unfolded, and in some cases, disappeared;

  • that explore instances of cross-pollination between utopian projects;

  • that might challenge existing typologies of utopia.

Proposals should be sent to ciwas@rhul.ac.uk, specifying in the email subject: “Utopias in the Middle East and beyond” by 5pm (UK time), 15 October 2021. Proposals must include a tentative title and an abstract (600 words including mention of sources used).

We are particularly interested in panel and paper proposals that offer original and under-researched approaches to studying historical and contemporary Islamic cities in West Asia, South Asia, and Africa. We welcome research that focuses on all Muslim communities, including Sunni, Shiite, Sufi, those of sub-denominations and of different schools of thought, jurisprudence and theology; and adherents of Muslim movements having a prominent communal identity and living as minorities in Islamic cities.

For more information about the workshop and the project's editors visit here.

BOOK LAUNCH | Online

When: 29 June 2019 | 18:30

Where: Room 104 | Senate House Library, London WC1E 7HU

The Prophet’s Heir: the life of Ali ibn Abi Talib

Ali ibn Abi Talib is arguably the single most important spiritual and intellectual authority in Islam after Prophet Muhammad. Through his teachings and leadership, the fourth caliph nourished Islam. But Muslims are divided on whether Muhammad wanted Ali to become his political successor.

Hassan Abbas, Distinguished Professor of International Relations at the National Defense University’s Near East South Asia Centre for Strategic Studies in Washington, argues in his latest book that Ali’s message and legacy remains a powerful one of peace and tolerance.

In this CIWAS online book launch, Professor Abbas will discuss his book with Nicole Correri (M.A., M.Ed.), PhD Student Islamic Studies at Boston University, and Dr Simon Wolfgang Fuchs, Lecturer in Islamic and Middle East Studies at University of Freiburg.

EVENT

When: 21 February 2020 | 9:00 am - 5:30 pm

Where: Moore Auditorium | Royal Holloway University

CIWAS 3rd Annual Conference

Urban Islam, Muslim Minorities, Identity, and Tradition

ANNOUNCEMENT | Call for Paper Proposals

When: 21 February 2020

Where: Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, Surrey UK

CIWAS 3rd Annual Conference

Urban Islam, Muslim Minorities, Identity, and Tradition

The Centre for Islamic and West Asian Studies is seeking papers for its 2020 Annual Conference. The Conference is concerned to explore multi-disciplinary approaches to the study of urban Islam which address questions such as how Islam has influenced urbanisation and the urban livelihoods of their Muslim inhabitants; what the impact of this urbanisation process has been on Islamic practices and Muslim identities; and how the presence of Islam in cities intertwined with concepts of ‘self’ and ‘other?

We are particularly interested in panel and paper proposals that offer original and under-researched approaches to studying historical and contemporary Islamic cities in West Asia, South Asia, and Africa. We welcome research that focuses on all Muslim communities, including Sunni, Shiite, Sufi, those of sub-denominations and of different schools of thought, jurisprudence and theology; and adherents of Muslim movements having a prominent communal identity and living as minorities in Islamic cities.

The various issues that might be addressed and be applied to a case of an Islamic city include, but are not limited to:

  • The history, development, and modernisation of Islamic cities

  • The definition, ideal, and cosmology of Islamic cities

  • Islamic cities in religious texts

  • Urban architecture and Islamic cities

  • The culture and Identity of Islamic cities

  • Sacred spaces and rituals in, and pilgrimages to, Islamic cities

  • Muslim minorities in Islamic cities

  • Islamic cities and the politics of urban design

  • Persecution, sectarianism and violence involving Muslim communities in cities

Please submit a paper title, abstract (maximum 250-words), and a short bio by email attachment to ciwas@rhul.ac.uk by 5pm (UK time), Friday 4 October 2019.

BOOK LAUNCH

When: 29 June 2019 | 18:30

Where: Room 104 | Senate House Library, London WC1E 7HU

God and Man in Tehran

In his latest book, God and Man in Tehran, Hossein Kamaly analyses the long tradition of theological influence and philosophical plurality in the modern history of Iran. He explores the historical processes that have made and unmade contending visions of God in Iran’s capital throughout the past two hundred years.

Kamaly examines how ideas of God have been mobilised, contested, and transformed, emphasizing how notions of the divine have given shape to and in turn have been shaped by divergent conceptualizations of nature, reason, law, morality, and authority.

Dr Kamaly is a research fellow at Middle East Institute, Columbia University. His research interests focus on intellectual history and the broad field of Perso-Islamic studies. Centre for Islamic and West Asian Studies, Royal Holloway University of London invites you to this event, where the author discusses his recently-published book, God and Man in Tehran.

EVENT

When: 20 February 2019 | 10:00 am - 5:00 pm

Where: Shilling Lecture Theatre | Royal Holloway University

CIWAS 2nd Annual Conference Islam, the West, and Radicalism

BOOK LAUNCH

When: 18 January 2019 | 17:30

Where: Moore Auditorium | Royal Holloway University

Islam in International Affairs: Politics and Paradigms

Islam in International Relations: Politics and Paradigms analyses the interaction between Islam and IR. It shows how Islam is a conceptualization of ideas that affect people’s thinking and behaviour in their capacity to relate with IR as both discipline and practice. This approach challenges Western-based and defined epistemological and ontological foundations of the discipline, and by doing so contributes to worlding IR as a field of study and practice by presenting and discussing a broad range of standpoints from within Islamic civilization. Centre for Islamic and West Asian Studies, Royal Holloway University of London is pleased to host co-editors of this volume to share their ideas about this timely book.

NEWS

When: 14 January 2019

The Iranian Revolution: 40 years on

This afternoon, Dr Mohammad R. Kalantari, CIWAS Deputy Director is going to address members of the Middle Eastern Society at Eton College, to discuss the causes and consequences of the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

ANNOUNCEMENT | Call for Panel and Paper Proposals

When: 20 February 2019

Where: Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, Surrey UK

CIWAS 2nd Annual Conference

Islam, the West & Radicalism: Perspectives & Policies

The Centre for Islamic and West Asian Studies (Royal Holloway, University of London) and the Imam Sadr Foundation (Lebanon) invite proposals for the 2019 Annual Centre for Islamic and West Asian Studies (CIWAS) Conference on ‘Islam, West, and Radicalism’. Today, more than in any age and area, the role of Islam in societies across the world is being shaped by the political, economic, and cultural dynamics of West Asia. While many are celebrating the imminent demise of ISIS, acute observers express concern that the persistence of the West Asian socio-political context in which radical ideologies and movements have emerged will generate new radical movements in the region and beyond.

The CIWAS 2019 Annual Conference seeks to address the conference theme by considering a broad range of issues; and we are particularly interested in panel and paper proposals that offer original and under-researched approaches to them. The various issues that might be addresses, include, but are not limited to:

  • Islam and the West (the Muslim diaspora, its coexistence with ‘others’ in the West) Islamic responses to radicalism

  • Islam and ethics (human rights, ethics, medical ethics and Islamic jurisprudence, women’s rights)

  • Spirituality in Islam (Islamic arts, rituals)

  • Islamic authority in an age of Western dominance

Panels: a 250-word discussion of the theme of the panel and, for each presenter, a paper title and abstract (maximum 250-words) and contact details, using the form available here.

Individual papers: a paper title and abstract (maximum 250-words) and contact details, using the form available here.

Completed forms should be sent by email attachment to ciwas@rhul.ac.uk by 5pm (UK time), Wednesday 24 October 2018.

EVENT

When: 14 February 2018 | 9:00 am - 5:00 pm

Where: Arts Building | Royal Holloway University

CIWAS 1st Annual Conference Islam, the West, and Radicalism

ANNOUNCEMENT | Call for Panel and Paper Proposals

When: 14 February 2018

Where: Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, Surrey UK

CIWAS 1st Annual Conference

Islam, the West, and Radicalism

The West Asia and Islamic societies maps are in disorder. Recent turmoil has entrenched the new waves of political Islamic revival, the re-emergence of sectarian struggles, and the ongoing process of formation of radical ideologies in the region, thus, have spurred new concerns over religio-political dynamics that are still not fully understood by academics and policymakers. Today, there are a growing number of organised Islamic groups in West Asia, representing diverse political goals, and generating tensions that threaten to move beyond the borders of the region. Hence the question arises as to what role ‘the west’ has played in the on-going violence, and what are the influence of Islam to the western communities?

CIWAS first Annual Conference offers an opportunity to address these questions from different, yet original, perspectives. We encourage panels and proposal with new and under-researched approaches. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Islam and the West (the Muslim diaspora, its coexistence with ‘others’ in the West), Islamic responses to radicalism,

  • Islam and ethics (human rights, ethics, medical ethics and Islamic jurisprudence, women’s rights),

  • Spirituality in Islam (Islamic arts, rituals),

  • Islamic authority in an age of Western dominance.

Panels: a 250-word discussion of the theme of the panel and, for each presenter, a paper title and abstract (maximum 250-words) and contact details, using the form available here.

Individual papers: a paper title and abstract (maximum 250-words) and contact details, using the form available here.

Completed forms should be sent by email attachment to ciwas@rhul.ac.uk by 5pm (UK time), Wednesday 25 October 2017.

BOOK LAUNCH

When: 11 May 2017 | 17:00

Where: Founder's Main Lecture Theatre | Royal Holloway University

Sectarianization: Mapping the New Politics of the Middle East

Danny Postel and Nader Hashemi will be discussing their new, co-edited book, “Sectarianization: Mapping the New Politics of the Middle East”. Their book provides an essential and comprehensive discussion by some of the most esteemed Middle East scholars on the history of sectarianism in the Middle East, leading to its recent emergence as a product of geopolitical contestation between regional powers and their local proxies.

OPINION

31 March 2017

The Unresolved Puzzle of the Invasion of Iraq

By: Prof. Sandra Halperin | CIWAS Director

The Chilcot Report, which focuses on the activities, views and relations between Tony Blair and George Bush, leaves key puzzles unresolved. Hans Blix, the chief United Nations weapons inspector, argued in lengthy testimony that by the end of February 2003 hundreds of inspections had failed to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So, one puzzle is why the US and UK appeared to be convinced that there was a threat of overriding urgency when inspectors and intelligence agencies, as well as nearly all the rest of the international community, including France, Germany, Russia, China, and Iraq’s traditionally hostile Arab neighbours, were convinced there was none. Blix also argued that the inspection regime was still working and would be completed in ‘months, not years’. So a second puzzle is why the US and UK refused to wait the remaining months needed to complete weapons inspections. What was the necessity of an invasion to bring about regime change by mid-March 2003?

To answer the first question requires a consideration of what differentiates the US and Britain from, say, the other Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, as well as France and much of the rest of the international community. The report suggests that George Bush was, for reasons left unexplained, committed to regime change in Iraq and that Tony Blair, in thrall to the US-British ‘special relationship’, endeavoured to shape and direct Bush’s agenda in ways that would quash opposition both in Britain and throughout the broader international community. The nature of the ‘special relationship’ that features so prominently as an underlying theme in the Chilcot Report is not fully understood. A defining factor in this relationship has been US-UK mergers in oil, defence, and finance.

In both countries, the defence and oil industries are disproportionately powerful and wealthy vis-à-vis the rest of the economy, and the economies of both have become increasingly dependent on exporting weapons and defence-related infrastructure and services and the pursuit of profit-making opportunities on behalf of their increasingly integrated oil industries. As this snapshot suggests, the Anglo-American relationship is a very special one, indeed. Standing ‘shoulder to shoulder’, Britain and the US have worked to tear down barriers erected by national governments through various schemes of privatisation: ‘shock therapy’ in Eastern Europe and Russia; and elsewhere of ‘structural adjustment’ and post-war ‘reconstruction’.

The same agenda is at the heart of their ‘democratisation’, ‘civil society’, and ‘good governance’ initiatives and it is, as well, of their pursuit of regime change which entails, not only the removal of particular individuals, but a complete economic restructuring along the same lines as all of the above. The oil sectors that were nationalised beginning in the 1970s have been a key target of the American-British political-military alliance. Until it was nationalised in 1972, Britain’s Iraqi Petroleum Company owned the entire territory of Iraq. The 1973 Arab-Israeli war began a wave of nationalisation throughout the Middle East and OPEC countries, shifting ownership of the vast majority of the world’s oil resources to state oil companies. Like other countries, the UK and US paid higher oil prices, but most of these extra funds flowed back to their own financial and defence sectors. However, unlike the Saudis and other Arab ruling groups who invested their petrodollars in Western financial and defence industries, Iraq used its increased oil revenues to invest, not in Western banks and armaments, but either internally or in the Eastern block.

Oil after Iran-Iraq War

At the end of the Iran-Iraq war, with its economy in shambles, Iraq faced mounting pressure from Kuwait for repayment of loans (which had helped to finance the war against what had been, and remained at that time, a common enemy). Confronted with Kuwaiti intransigence on this and other long-standing Iraqi grievances, and with the failure to get help from the international community, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990. Rebuffing Soviet, European, and Arab diplomatic initiatives, the US and UK launched the first ‘Gulf War’ and, after the war, used their Security Council vetoes to block the lifting of sanctions the UN had imposed on Iraq prior to the onset of fighting. From this and US/UK actions that followed, many concluded that the object of Anglo-American policies after the conclusion of the Gulf War was the same as that of the War itself: to bring down the regime of Saddam Hussein and replace it with a government that would open the country to exploitation by American- and British-based transnationals.

Sanction and Iraqi Oil Contestation

Between 1997 and 2001, Iraq tried to gain political support for lifting the sanctions by concluding contracts for oil concessions among three permanent Security Council nations: France, Russia, and China. US and UK firms watched from the side-lines while European and Chinese firms concluded deals enabling them to exploit Iraqi oil reserves with an estimated value of several trillion dollars. All of these deals could not take effect until UN sanctions were lifted – and sanctions could not be lifted until the UN certified Iraq as being free of WMD. Once the UN declared Iraq to be free of WMD, sanctions would be lifted and French, Russian and German firms would begin rebuilding and exporting Iraqi’s vast reserves while, given Saddam Hussein’s hostility towards the U.S. and Britain, U.S. and British companies would be sidelined. Thus, Anglo-American oil and other corporate interests needed to prevent the lifting of sanctions until a new Iraqi regime could be installed that would nullify European and Asian agreements and welcome US and British firms back in. The day after British and American land forces entered Iraq, a new UN Security Council Resolution dropped all sanctions against Iraq, ‘effectively ended involvement of other countries with Iraqi oil via the UN’s ‘oil for food’ programme and voided the various oil exploration contracts that Iraq signed during the 1990’s with France, Russia and China, allowed the US and UK to completely control Iraq’s oil production revenue, and established a joint US/UK administered ‘Iraqi Assistance Fund’ which reconverted Iraqi’s oil exports back to the dollar.

In sum, the puzzles left unresolved by the Chilcot Report dissolve with the recognition that the US and UK were committed to bringing about regime change in Iraq in order to replace a government whose hostility towards US and British investment put enormous profit-making opportunities out of reach of Anglo-American industries. They rushed to bring about regime change before the conclusion of the inspections and the consequent lifting of sanctions, as this would have enabled the contracts concluded between Saddam and British and US competitors to go forward. Instead, a new Iraqi regime was installed that nullified European and Asian agreements and welcomed US and British firms back in, one which has now re-written the Iraqi constitution to open up the country’s oil fields to domination by US and British corporations.

EVENT

When: 24 March 2017 | 17:00

Where: Founder's West, Room 101 | Royal Holloway University

UK Counter-terrorism & British Muslim Women

Nadya Ali, is a lecturer in International Relations at the University of Sussex. Her research examines racialized and gendered understandings of ‘terrorism’ and, more broadly, the colonial/post-colonial dimensions of Muslim governance in European states.

EVENT

When: 9 February 2017 | 18:00

Where: Founder's Main Lecture Theatre | Royal Holloway University

Iraq after ISIS

Hayder Al-Khoei, Research Director of the Centre for Shi’a Studies in London and an Associate Fellow of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations, will be speaking about the political and social challenges facing Iraq after ISIS.

EVENT

When: 2 February 2017 | 18:00

Where: Founder's Main Lecture Theatre | Royal Holloway University

Bahrain Won’t Be Televised

Dr. Ala’a Shehabi, will be speaking about the episodic history of uprisings in Bahrain and its local, regional, and international context.

Ala’a is a co-founder of Bahrain Watch, an NGO that advocates for accountability and social justice in Bahrain. She has a PhD in Economics from Imperial College, London. She was a lecturer at the Bahraini Institute for Banking and Finance during the 2011 Uprising. Her husband was imprisoned during that period and she visited the prisons and military court then. Ala’a is also co-editor of the book ‘Bahrain’s Uprising’.

OPINION

25 November 2016

CIWAS and the Dilemma of Mutual ‘Misundercepculations’

By: Dr Mohammad Kalantari | CIWAS Co-Director

Years ago, perhaps like many others in their early thirties, I experienced a personal transformation. I had been brought up in a conservative family and was among the so called ‘third generation’ of Iran’s Islamic Revolution. During my childhood I had personally witnessed the war with Iraq, Rafsanjani’s constructionism, Khatami’s reformism, and the rise of Ahmadinejad’s Apocalypticism in my country. At the time that I left Iran to go to the United Kingdom to pursue postgraduate studies, West Asia was a key battleground in the ‘war on terror’. I keenly monitored the news, read books, and followed scholarly commentary about the situation in the region that had been my home. The starting point of my personal transformation occurred at the same time. It was perhaps quite similar to what my predecessors had experienced, albeit with some differences. Those of us ‘Easterners’ who had the opportunity to observe our homeland from the vantage point of the West, all acknowledged that there was a problem. While for Seyyed Qutb, the problem was laid in the ‘America that he was seen’, for Edward Said, the problem was attributable to the ‘orientalism’ that had shaped all the region’s predicaments. Yet for me, the West and East both are equally accountable for what I rather call ‘mutual Misundercepculations’.

Over the course of decades, and to the dismay of each other, both the orientalists and the inhabitants of the orient themselves, contributed to a process of mutual misunderstanding, misperception, and miscalculation. For me, Afghan Jihadists and the US neo-conservatives were equally accountable for the miseries in which Afghans have been entangled since 2001; President Bush and Saddam Hussein are both to blame for the turmoil in Iraq today; and the list might go on.

Thus, there is a job to be done for those who are eager to mitigate this East-West gap in trust and understanding; and to elevate the awareness of both the oriental and occidental masses and elites. This was my, and my colleagues’, grand ambition when we established the Centre for Islamic and West Asian Studies at Royal Holloway.

Our CIWAS blog aims to look at the history of, and contemporary affairs in, the Islamic World and West Asian communities from the perspective of those who wish to contribute to a better understanding of the region. In fostering such an aim, and with the hope of opening up a constructive dialogue, we extend our hands to readers who, with their comments, wish to contribute to diminishing the dilemma of Misundercepculation that we still witness in East-West relations.