Statement by Jewish Studies Professors in North America Regarding the Amcha Initiative

Forward, October 1, 2014

We the undersigned are professors of Jewish studies at North American universities.
Several of us have also headed programs and centers in Jewish studies. Many of us have worked hard to nurture serious, sustained study of Israeli politics and culture on our home campuses and elsewhere.

It is in this latter regard that we call attention to the activities of an organization called the AMCHA Initiative whose mission is “investigating, educating about, and combatting antisemitism at institutions of higher learning in America.” Most recently, AMCHA has undertaken to monitor centers for Middle Eastern studies on American campuses including producing a lengthy report on UCLA’s in which that center is accused of antisemitism.

AMCHA has also circulated a list of more than 200 Middle Eastern studies faculty whom it urges Jewish students and others to avoid because, it asserts, they espouse anti-Zionist andeven antisemitic viewpoints in their classrooms.

It goes without saying that we, as students of antisemitism, are unequivocally opposed to any and all traces of this scourge. That said, we find the actions of AMCHA deplorable.

Its technique of monitoring lectures, symposia and conferences strains the basic principle of academic freedom on which the American university is built. Moreover, its definition of antisemitism is so undiscriminating as to be meaningless. Instead of encouraging openness through its efforts, AMCHA’s approach closes off all but the most narrow intellectual directions and has a chilling effect on research and teaching. AMCHA’s methods lend little support to Israel, whose very survival depends on free, open, and vigorous debate about its future. (more…)

Anyone who has watched NFL or NCAA football or listened to interviews with major football players will find a large amount of talking about Jesus. Tim Tebow, the Florida quarterback went so far as to inscribe Bible verses on his forehead. Jesus talk, like trash talk, is as much a part of the game as fighting in hockey. But heaven (and you know which one I mean) forbid if you have a Muslim name, pick off a pass by a Patriot like Tom Brady, scoot into the endzone and slide into a position that for literally three seconds looks like the Muslim prayer position. This happened to Kansas City Chiefs player Husain Abdullah in Sunday’s game. If he had raised his hands and said “Thank you, Jesus” the refs would not have batted an eye, but if he has a Muslim name he must not be allowed to look like he might be praying. Who knows how many ISIL terrorists would be inspired by such an act! Thus, a 15 yard penalty, but it is more than that.

On top of the prejudice, whether premediated or not, the ref has a very poor understanding of how Muslims pray. The most important part of prayer is intention. A Muslim prepares for prayer with ablutions and with a mindset that is focused on the spiritual. Running into the endzone is a thrill and one can understand the excitement of Husain as he slid on his knees. But anyone who looks at the video can see that he was not actually praying. Prayer is a ritual with stages, not what position you end up in at the end of a slide. It was no more a literal religious act than a “Thank you Jesus” would be. (more…)

Al-Jazeera has been covering the Huthi conflict in Yemen. Here is one of their recent broadcasts.

On September 14 the new Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, Canada opened. Details below:

The Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, Canada offers visitors a window into worlds unknown or unfamiliar: the artistic, intellectual, and scientific heritage of Islamic civilizations across the centuries from the Iberian Peninsula to China.

Its mission is to foster a greater understanding and appreciation of the contribution that Islamic civilizations have made to world heritage. Through education, research, and collaboration, the Museum will foster dialogue and promote tolerance and mutual understanding among people.

As a vibrant educational institution, the Museum encourages the full spectrum of public engagement with its diverse Permanent Collection of more than 1,000 objects and its ever-changing roster of exhibitions and innovative programs – including music, performances, culinary traditions, lectures, debates, special events, or film.

The Aga Khan Museum has an international mandate. It maintains strong ties with such institutions as the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, and the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar. It is also deeply committed to forging relationships with Canadian institutions and communities. Together, these global and local connections generate exciting opportunities to enhance scholarship, inspire temporary exhibitions, and produce public programs honouring the spirit of collaboration upon which the Museum is built.

(more…)

by Antonella Vicini, Reset Doc, September 12, 2014

In the ‘Great Game’ developing in the Middle East and amidst constant changes in diplomatic equilibria, as well as the deployment of armed forces to try and stop ISIS’ advance, the only certainty for the moment is the role the Kurds have over time cut out for themselves and their mandate from the most important European countries and the United States. This concerns not only the often discussed Peshmerga, Iraqi Kurds who have rather effectively opposed the Islamic State’s penetration since the beginning of the summer, but also Syrian Kurds, active since at least 2012 and without doubt less visible at least from a media perspective.

Syrian Kurdistan is a region mainly inhabited by Kurds in northern Syria and also known as Rojava, effectively the western part of the nation called Kurdistan. Since the Syrian civil war started, rather like what happened in Iraq after 2003, the Kurds have gained control over increasingly larger areas and achieved greater autonomy, although there has not as yet been formal acknowledgment as happened with Iraqi Kurdistan. The Syrian Kurds, after fighting Assad’s armed forces, have clashed with Islamists so as to defend their region, in a rather fragile area bordering with Iraq and subject to infiltrations from the Al Nabar province. They have become a force, fighting the Islamic State fanatics thanks to action taken by YPG, the Yekîneyên Parastina Gel (Kurdish for the People’s Protection Unit), a regular army of about eight brigades spread throughout the area and also the armed wing of the Kurdish Supreme Committee. The female wing of the YPG is called the YPJ, Yekineyen Parastina Jin, the Women’s Protection Unit. (more…)

Are the Houthis a symptom of regional mistrust?

by Abdullah Hammidaddin, alarabiya.net, Saturday, 20 September 2014

Ten years ago this month Ali Saleh had ordered the field execution of Husayn al-Houthi. This was after a three-month war between government forces and Husayn’s supporters in a remote village in northern Yemen. At the time, Husayn’s supporters were few and I believe the matter could have ended there. But Saleh decided to push on and confront the rest of Husayn’s family who then reacted by picking up arms again. They ended up surviving five wars waged by the government. Today Abdulmalik al-Houthi – Husayn’s younger brother – has forces in Sanaa and this time he is threating the Yemeni government, forcing it to make concessions.

In the past year alone, the Houthis have altered the political landscape of Yemen. They pushed the Ahmar family out of their homes and overthrew their three hundred year sheikhdom and authority in the tribal federation of Hashid. They took the al-Jawf area as a strategic last stronghold for their adversaries. They’ve forged alliances with most tribes in the northern region and also in the south. And now in Sanaa they are fighting against both the militias of the Islah party (Muslim Brotherhood branch in Yemen) and military factions loyal to General Ali Muhsin Al-Ahmar in what could escalate into a major war in the fragile capital city. (more…)

Throughout history in almost every culture there has been the sordid practice of beheading. John the Baptist lost his head to King Herod. Louis XVI lost his under a French guillotine. But few would argue that beheading is just today, no matter what the rationale. The recent choreographed beheadings of ISIS have brought the issue once again to a head. Unfortunately, such video propaganda only feeds Islamophobia, even though there is no legitimate justification for such a practice in Islamic law or the sunna of the Prophet. Not one of the companions of the prophet is recorded as having decapitated an enemy; certainly the Prophet himself never committed such an act. Indeed, the blood-soaked ISIS spectacles are pornographic.

I recently came across a lengthy fatwa on the Islamic Sham Organization in response to the question if beheading is sanctioned in Islam. I attached it below as it is well worth reading.

السؤال:
ما حكم ذبح أسرى الأعداء بالسكين؟ وهل هو فعلاً سنة نبوية يمكن اتباعها؟

الجواب:
الحمد لله، والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله، وبعد:
فقد أرسل الله سبحانه وتعالى رسولَه بالهدى والعدل والرحمة، فكان مما شرعه الإحسان في استيفاء العقوبات والحدود والقصاص، بأن تكون بأيسر طريقة وأسرعها، ومنعَ من كل ما فيه تعذيب وتمثيل، كتقطيع الأعضاء والذبح بالسكين، فإنها من الطرق الشنيعة والمنكرة في القتل، وبيان ذلك فيما يلي:
(more…)


Turkey - “The sick man of Europe”, by John Leech, Punch, September 17, 1853

For a fascinating collection of cartoons, many from Punch, since 1853, check out the website “A Cartoon History of the Middle East,” compiled by Peter Casillas.

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