2020–2021 Report – Jewish-Muslim Research Network

2020–2021 Report

With all our activities held online, this academic year was certainly different and represented a steep learning curve, but it was no less enriching and productive than our usual programming. Along with our monthly reading group, the JMRN organized 15 events, ranging from lectures and seminars to book launches, in collaboration with a variety of academic partners, including Michigan’s Frankel Center for Judaic Studies, the Global Islamic Studies Center, and the Center for North African and Middle Eastern Studies, as well as the CUNY Graduate Center’s Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center and the University of Manchester’s Centre for Jewish Studies and Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in the Arts and Languages.

Due in large part to the support of Michigan’s Frankel Center, we were able to put together a program of events that examined fundamental issues in Jewish and Muslim studies, drawing on insights from a range of geographical locations, including Southeast Asia, Europe, North Africa, Somalia, Andalusia, Israel/Palestine, and India.

In September, we welcomed Sa’ed Atshan and Katharina Galor to discuss their new book The Moral Triangle: Germans, Israelis, Palestinians (Duke UP, 2020). Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork and interviews in Berlin, home to Europe’s largest Palestinian diaspora and one of the world’s largest Israeli diasporas, Atshan and Galor’s book explores the asymmetric relationships between Israelis, Palestinians, and Germans in the context of official German policies, public discourse, and the private sphere. Highlighting how these relationships stem from narratives surrounding moral responsibility, the Holocaust, the Israel/Palestine conflict, and Germany’s recent welcoming of Middle Eastern refugees, the authors point to spaces for activism and solidarity among Germans, Israelis, and Palestinians in Berlin that can help foster restorative justice and account for multiple forms of trauma.

In October, we hosted Alana Lentin who presented her timely book Why Race Still Matters (Polity Press, 2020). Debunking the myth of a post-racial society, Lentin’s book is a call to notice not just when and how race still matters but when, how, and why it is said not to matter. At the JMRN book launch, Lentin discussed the fourth chapter of her book which examines the ways in which the objection to antisemitism has been used as a proxy for a commitment to antiracism on behalf of all racialized people, and responsibility for antisemitism is placed onto minoritized communities, in particular Muslims. She argues that in order to adequately theorize antisemitism today, we must instead see it as entangled with Islamophobia.

In November, we hosted two events. The first was a seminar on theories and contexts of Jewish-Muslim relations with JMRN members Bryan Cheyette, Yulia Egorova, Jonathan Glasser, and JMRN coordinator Adi Saleem Bharat reflecting on analytical utility and validity of the category of Jewish-Muslim relations in their own research.

The second was a launch event for JMRN members Samuel Sami Everett and Rebekah Vince’s edited book Jewish-Muslim Interactions: Performing Cultures between North Africa and France, which includes chapters by several other JMRN members. By exploring dynamic Jewish-Muslim interactions across North Africa and France through performance culture in the 20th and 21st centuries, this volume offers an alternative chronology and lens to a growing trend in media and scholarship that views these interactions primarily through conflict.

In December, Dalia Kandiyoti presented her recent book The Converso’s Return: Conversion and Sephardi History in Contemporary Literature and Culture (Stanford UP, 2020). Focusing on contemporary fictional and autobiographical texts about crypto-Jews in Cuba, Mexico, New Mexico, Spain, France, the Ottoman Empire, and Turkey, Kandiyoti’s book explores the cultural politics and literary impact of a reawakened interest in converso and crypto-Jewish history, ancestry, and identity, and asks what this fascination with lost-and-found heritage can tell us about how we relate to and make use of the past.

In January 2021, JMRN members Roey Gafter and Tommaso Milani presented a paper on the reactions of some mainstream Israeli politicians to a celebrity marriage between Tzahi Halevi, a Jewish Israeli actor, and Lucy Aharish, a Palestinian Israeli TV personality. Drawing upon the notion of stance, they unveil the affective trouble generated by this heterosexual union vis-à-vis the Israeli national project, exploring an affective patchwork that, they argue, is itself the product of a tension that is at the very heart of the Israeli nation-state, that between the policing of Jewishness as the defining principle of the Israeli national imagined community, on the one hand, and the upholding of the democratic imperative to equal treatment and recognition, on the other.

In February, we hosted a conversation between Ammiel Alcalay and Gil Anidjar around Alcalay’s groundbreaking book After Jews and Arabs (University of Minnesota Press, 1993), which redrew the geographic, political, cultural, and emotional map of relations between Jews and Arabs in the Levantine/Mediterranean world over a thousand-year period. When the book was originally published, there wasn’t enough space to include its original bibliography, a foundational part of the project. In spring 2021, A Bibliography for “After Jews and Arabs” was published with Punctum Books, presenting the original and unchanged bibliography as a glimpse into the historical record of a unique scholarly, political, poetic, and cultural journey, along with three accompanying texts. Marking the occasion, Alcalay and Anidjar reflected on the legacy of After Jews and Arabs nearly 30 years later.

In March, we held three events. The first was a launch event for Charles Hirschkind’s The Feeling of History: Islam, Romanticism, and Andalusia (University of Chicago Press, 2020). We discussed the idea of Andalucismo—a modern tradition founded on the principle that contemporary Andalusia is connected in vitally important ways with medieval Islamic Iberia. Tracing the various itineraries of Andalucismo, from colonial and anticolonial efforts to contemporary movements supporting immigrant rights, his book offers a nuanced view into the way people experience their own past, while also bearing witness to a philosophy of engaging the Middle East that experiments with alternative futures.

The second event in March was a seminar on Ahuva ʿOzeri led by JMRN member Re’ee Hagay with Tamar Sella serving as a respondent. Re’ee focused on ʿOzeri’s cinematic performance against the background of south Tel Aviv, revealing a twofold memory of loss, both Mizrahi and Palestinian. In his reading, ʿOzeri emerges as a singer who drew on multiple resources of mourning positioned across putative national and regional borders of urban and global Southern geographies. ʿOzeri is narrated not only as a child mourner but also as the last mourner, in the face of progressive national time. Re’ee concludes by asking what is lost with the last mourner’s departure from the world, when one loses the ability to recognize one’s own loss through its reflection in the other’s ruins.

The final event in March was a workshop on trauma and memory in Somali diasporic contexts led by Amal Alhaag and JMRN member Alessandra Benedicty-Kokken. The workshop focused on how geographies continue to limit our thinking and our potentialities in how we might think our Opacity/ies and Relation/s to each other. Inviting attendees to think from Somalia, the speakers asked what is yielded when we think colonially bifurcated geographies together or when, in Alhaag’s words, we imagine and care for each other “from different oceans and seas that wrap around the African continent”?

The month of April saw two events. The first was a seminar on Islam, Judaism, and Decoloniality with Santiago Slabodsky and Sanober Umar. Slabodsky and Umar suggested some paths towards disrupting/decentering (Eurocentric) intellectual epistemic hegemonies in the broadly defined fields of Jewish Studies and Islamic/Muslim Studies. Slabodsky, the author of Decolonial Judaism: Triumphal Failures of Barbaric Thinking (Palgrave, 2014), connected Jewish history and thought with the histories and presents of anti-colonial and decolonial struggles, thus exploring what a decolonial Judaism would look like in the twenty-first century, while Umar, who is writing a book on the histories and global politics of “racing” and gendering Islam, sought to complicate and decolonize ideas of the “Muslim World,” specifically from a Global South/Indian Muslim perspective, foregrounding caste, racialization, and gender.

The second event in April was a lecture by JMRN member Seth Anziska on the challenges of defining antisemitism and Islamophobia in the context of UK universities. Raising and addressing several key questions for scholars and students of Jewish-Muslim Relations and related fields, Anziska explored the challenges and opportunities for cross-communal solidarity and mutual understanding of the lived experience of discrimination.

Our final events of the academic year took place in May. First, we hosted a launch event for Leila Farsakh and Bashir Bashir’s edited book The Arab and Jewish Questions: Geographies of Engagement in Palestine and Beyond (Columbia UP, 2020). Farsakh and Bashir were joined by contributor and JMRN member Moshe Behar as well as Nadia Fadil. The essays in this collection bring together leading scholars to consider how Zionism’s attempt to solve the “Jewish Question” created what came to be known as the “Arab Question,” which concerned the presence and rights of the Arab population in Palestine.

The second event in May was another launch for JMRN member Joseph Ford’s new book Writing the Black Decade: Conflict and Criticism in Francophone Algerian Literature (Lexington Books, 2021). Joined by another JMRN member Imen Neffati, the discussion revolved around how Francophone Algerian literature, along with the cultural and academic criticism that has surrounded it, has mobilized visions of Algeria over the past thirty years that often belie the complex and multi-layered realities of power, resistance, and conflict in the region.

For our final event of the year, we hosted a launch event for a special issue of Religion, State and Society co-edited by JMRN member Saleena Saleem. Joined by her co-editor Alexander Arifianto and respondents Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel, we discussed the question of cases of sectarianization in Southeast Asia and beyond. The issue features case studies from Indonesia, Malaysia, and Turkey and shows how sectarianism among intra-Sunni Muslim groups are largely driven from political considerations to promote regime survival (in both authoritarian and democratic contexts) and patronage, protect established national narratives on Muslim identity, and gain ‘political affirmation’ to increase group’s influence and membership.

Video recordings of some of these events are available on our YouTube channel.

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