At Georgia Law, Karima Bennoune on “Muslim Fundamentalism”

karimaLooking forward to tomorrow’s talk by IntLawGrrl Karima Bennoune, based on her book, Your Fatwa Doesn’t Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism (W.W. Norton 2013). The event, which I have the honor of moderating, will be at 4 p.m. Thursday, November 14, in the Chapel of the University of Georgia, here in Athens. Details here.

The daughter of a University of Algiers professor/activist, Karima grew up in Algeria and in the United States. She was educated at Michigan Law, and was an Amnesty International attorney in London for a number of years before entering academia. She’s now a law professor at the University of California-Davis.

Since the onset of the so-called Arab Spring, Karima has traveled through dozens of countries, in Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, Russia, etc. There she’s talked with many different people of Muslim heritage; in particular, with dissidents, journalists, musicians, artists, secularists, women’s activists, and similar “outsiders.” Her book recounts how 2 powerful forces – autocratic governments, one on side, and ideologues, on the other, have squeezed out hoped-for pluralism.

I first met Karima about a dozen years ago, not long after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when she gave a gripping talk at an American Society of International Law meeting. She’s written frequently on issues of human rights, terrorism, etc., in popular media like The Guardian and The New York Times, and, of course, at IntLawGrrls blog. Indeed, her September 11, 2011, IntLawGrrls post entitled “Why I Hate Al Qaeda” forms a basis for a chapter in her new book.

We who are cosponsoring this event – the law school, its Rusk Center, and its student-run international law society, along with the International Law Students Association and the university’s African Studies Institute and Willson Center on Humanities – are delighted her book tour includes Athens.

(Cross-posted from Diane Marie Amann)

Human Rights and Lefts

If the left and the right support the right, who is then left to support the left?

The recent ousting of the Egyptian President has brought some noteworthy insights into the discussion about the academic right and left and their approach to human rights.

Before unearthing this insight, let’s take a step back and start with what is considered to be the normal perception of the left in academic discourse. We’ll stay in the region and take the scholarship on the Middle East and North Africa as a case.

In his book Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America (2011), Martin Kramer criticizes Middle Eastern studies in the United States for what he sees as left-wing biased scholarship. Inspired by that book, Norwegian editors Bernt Hagtvedt, Øystein Sørensen and Nik. Brandal published Venstreekstremisme (2012) which contains a similar criticism against Norwegian Middle Eastern scholarship. The essence of the criticism in both books is that leftist scholars have a tendency to romanticize the Third World and sympathize with political radicalism in the Middle East. In a human rights context, particularly when we find ourselves at the intersection of human rights and what is understood to be Islam or islamist actors, leftist scholars appear to defend the latter- sometimes with good intention- as a culturally appropriate alternative. Some of these scholars identify as left-wing, while others are deemed as such.

But does the identification of the scholar as left-wing, imply that the content of the scholarship also is left-wing?

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