How best to deal with Islamophobia in the US today?
I glimpsed the answer on February 7, 2018, when I accompanied Ambassador
Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, to
Knoxville, Tennessee, where he became the first Muslim to deliver the prestigious Ashe Lecture at the Howard H. Baker, Jr. Center for Public Policy at the University of Tennessee. The center is named after Howard Baker, who served as a US Senator from Tennessee, President Ronald Reagan’s Chief of Staff, and US Ambassador to Japan. The talk was arranged by my good friend Harrison Akins, a doctoral student and researcher at the Baker Center who previously worked with Ahmed. Understanding the current negative climate concerning Muslims, the widespread common misperceptions of Islam and Muslims, and the fear evident in the Muslim community with rising incidents of violence and intimidation, I was curious how an East Tennessee audience would react to a Muslim scholar.
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“I hope that Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity, by Akbar Ahmed, will come to be recognized as not only a superb piece of reportage and analysis, but also an authentic application of the ethnographic method to a much larger canvas than anthropologists normally feel comfortable with. Ahmed makes the case so well that all people involved in the present crisis of Europe, especially those in leadership positions, have a share of responsibility in helping to make a better world.”
– Jonathan Benthall, Former Director of the Royal Anthropological Institute and Founder Editor of Anthropology Today
In a silent and quite grainy black and white film clip showing members of the extended British royal family lined up for a photograph, one is struck by the overpowering dazzle and opulence of the jewels worn by the women. The scene is from the early part of the last century and the jewels are undoubtedly the spoils of empire. Another scene, one that Anthropologists and popular-culture buffs alike are familiar with, and one that is illustrative of why Akbar Ahmed’s Journey into Europe is an absolute must-read, appears in chapter one of his book: “Decked out in khaki shorts, knee socks, and solar topees, clutching binoculars, notebooks, and tape recorders, and suitably inoculated against deadly tropical diseases, they (Anthropologists of the colonial era) disembarked on the Pacific Islands or headed into the Amazon rainforest or the African hinterland. We, too, ventured forth to do our fieldwork; only our destination was Europe itself.”
As Noam Chomsky has noted, Ahmed’s study, which takes into account things such as Europe’s ‘primordial tribal identity’ as well as the deep-rooted effects of Western imperialism, in addition to the flux of immigrants from former colonies- in order to study contemporary dynamics between communities of Muslims and the European countries they call home, reverses the traditional paradigm in the social sciences (“in this case, not Europeans studying African and Asian societies but an Asian author examining Europe”). This, in my view, provides the long-awaited necessary corrective, the radical shift in connotations derived from Imperialist attitudes and agendas, coining, finally, a language without which neither academic discourse nor artistic representation can be fair or go far, one that may finally make it possible to have balanced, nuanced perspectives on subjects relevant to Islam and the West.
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Akbar Ahmed, a leading authority on Islam at American University and former Pakistani commissioner to the United Kingdom and Ireland, believes building bridges across religions is essential to solving global problems of war and terrorism.
Ahmed spoke Wednesday at the University of Tennessee, asking the standing-room-only crowd at the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy “to get into my skin” to understand his message. While Muslim, he attended schools where he was taught by Christians, he said.
“They shaped me as much as my religion,” Ahmed said.
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“The current dynamic agitating Europe is Islam,” writes Akbar S Ahmed in his new book, ‘Journey Into Europe: Islam, Immigration and Identity’, of which he has kindly sent me an advance copy.
“The long-drawn-out wars between Catholics and Protestants, the struggle against the Ottomans, the steady and large-scale migrations to America, the world wars, and the confrontation between the West and the Soviet Union are no longer centre stage. On philosophic, political, and cultural levels, Islam is central to the discussion about Europe,” notes Professor Ahmed in the opening chapter of perhaps the most important book of his illustrious career dedicated to studying Islam and its engagement with the modern world.
“Islam affects a wide range of people, from young Muslims unsure of what to make of their faith and its place in Europe to the leaders of the Far Right who project their political philosophy and strategy as a war against it.”
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In today’s rapidly globalizing world, there are many political, social and cultural shifts taking place. For instance, the last decade has seen an increase in the population of Muslim immigrants in Europe. While many believe that this is a new and recent trend, there has been an historic presence of Islamic culture and influence in Europe for centuries. How has the history of Islam in Europe had an influence on European culture? Can an understanding of this history help address some of the issues that Europe is facing today?
Join the World Affairs Council-Washington, DC as we host Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, author of “Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration and Identity” , to discuss the history of Islam in Europe and the effects of this history in the present day. Ambassador Ahmed is currently the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, D.C.
6:00pm-6:45pm Reception and Registration
PLEASE NOTE WE WILL BE IN THE HEMISPHERE SUITES.
We are unfortunately unable to provide books for purchase at the event. Books however can be pre-purchased and picked up at the registration table.
This program brought in sponsorship with
DATE AND TIME
Tue, March 13, 2018
6:00 PM – 8:00 PM EDT
Hemisphere Suites, Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest
Washington, DC 20004
To RSVP, please visit the Eventbrite page here.
I salute Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, whom I have known for three decades as a warrior for peace, for the publication of his new book, Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity, particularly as he has written and released it in a time when the world grapples with great political, social, and religious challenges. Discussing relations between Europe and the East and the importance of building understanding between both cultures and faiths, the book is a breath of fresh air. It consists of more than 500 pages which have the power to create harmony and understanding. This book has not only been endorsed by the top scholars, but also by some of the great spiritual leaders of our time. It is not just a journey into Europe, but a journey into peace. I thoroughly recommend people not only buy this book, but when they read it try to act on and reflect its message, because each one of us has a role to play in building a more peaceful, harmonious world. I congratulate Ambassador Ahmed and his wonderful team of young scholars for this great accomplishment, and I salute Ambassador Ahmed for dedicating his life to building bridges of understanding.
-Councillor Dr. James Shera MBE, S.Pk, former Mayor of Rugby
Copies will be available for sale this February: https://www.brookings.edu/book/journey-into-europe/
Ahmed (The Thistle and the Drone), Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, turns his eyes to Europe in this sweeping ethnographic exploration of Islam and its multiple narratives across the continent. The central thread woven throughout is the question of “primordial identity” (an imagined ethnic essence and tribal memory) in the modern world. Through interviews, surveys of history, and reflections on his own experience, Ahmed argues that communities in Europe—whether they primarily identify as Muslim or European—need to turn away from these primordial identities and instead seek mutual flourishing through a “pluralist identity.” As a model, he examines Andalusian, Balkan, and Sicilian communities and identities that are defined by the coexistence of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Ahmed is perhaps a bit utopian, and the language of the book can be simplistic when it frames Islam and Europe as opposing and separate entities. Nonetheless, this highly instructive work deserves careful and critical attention as people across the world wrestle with how to balance community with difference in an age of reinvigorated tribalism. (Feb.)
The review can be found here
A dense but rewarding anthropological account of European reactions to Islam and Muslim immigrant communities, and vice versa.
In Germany, reports the newsmagazine Bild, 110,000 jobs rely on the döner kebab—a Turkish version of the gyro, that is—alone. That the food has been so widely accepted does not automatically translate into easy acceptance of other Islamic artifacts, though, to say nothing of people. As Ahmed (Chair, Islamic Studies/American Univ.; The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam, 2013, etc.) argues, this speaks to the enduring strength of tribal separatism. The term “tribalism” has long been reserved for so-called primitive societies, but “the classical attributes of tribes are present in modern European societies, however heavily they are buried or disguised, in cultural norms, language, rhetoric, symbolism, and assumptions of who ‘we’ are.” When such tribes meet with Islamic ones with their own assumptions of ethnic identity, then trouble is bound to ensue, as it certainly has, with many manifestations. One, for instance, is the refusal of Turkish players on Hungarian soccer teams to sing the national anthem—and no wonder, given that “the anthem depicts the ‘wild Turks’ as an excrescence, a ‘barbarian nation.’ ” It’s easy to see how a Hungarian nationalist might react to such a response. Ahmed ventures that given the experiences of Eastern European societies with predatory neighbors—i.e., Germany and Russia—such expressions of “primordial tribal identity” are not unexpected. The author examines differing ideas of nationhood among the European powers, such as the marked distinction between French and British ideas of imperial management and citizenship. More pointedly, he considers how Muslim immigrants with “a tribal background,” confronting prejudice and discrimination, might develop primordial responses of their own to the insult on their honor—responses that include being ripe for recruitment into terrorist organizations, especially by way of “kinship and neighborhood links, as in areas like Molenbeek in Brussels.”
Academic but of considerable interest to any student of current affairs and geopolitics.
The review can be found here.