Middle East Studies

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Middle East Conference Abstracts

Looking to the Future:
New Paradigms and Perspective on the Middle East

An International conference organized by the Middle East Studies Program at SBCC, Friday and Saturday April 18-19, 2008

Santa Barbara City College, West Campus,
721 Cliff Drive, Santa Barbara, CA 93109

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AbstractsSpeaker BiosHome


Panel I: Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Annapolis and Beyond

Moderator/Respondent: David Krieger


  • Richard Falk
    I interpret the mandate of the panel to be one of looking at the Middle East from both regional and futurist perspectives. Two features of the overall situation make this task particularly daunting: complexity and uncertainty. Each conflict zone in the region is caught up in a variety of internal tensions abetted by transnational and external factors, including the role of the United States, energy geopolitics, nuclear proliferation, political Islam. To address these challenges in a constructive spirit the next American president should adhere to the following guidelines: lighten the footprint of the US in the region; seek an internationally supervised ceasefire between Israel and Palestine as a prelude to the initiation of a peace process mindful of international law; push for nuclear disarmament negotiations to address issues of proliferation; support a regional approach to peace and security that commits countries to a nuclear free Middle East and mutual non-aggression, implemented via annual conferences and intergovernmental working groups in continuous contact.
  • Sanford Silverburg
    Title: Justice Versus Law in International Negotiations: The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict-Resolution Process
    Asymmetric approaches to negotiations assumed by the Israelis and Palestinians heightens both the tensions between the parties as well as the ideological distance. Whereas both side accept the notion of the need to resolve the conflict, their respective internally-developed goals and set of objectives reflect a distinctive lack of specific congruities which would allow for contructive engagement. The Israelis, for their part seek a structured settlement based upon a legal qua diplomatic arrangement according to already stipulated criteria and rules. The Palestinians, on the other hand, rely heavily on the amorphous and highly normative notion of "justice" for a cause whose ideological center has migrated over time. The two national dynamics are, hence, mired in a oft thought of equation that law and justice are somehow similar, as is evidenced in the legal literature.
    This paper will examine the intricacies of the conceptual underpinnings of the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating positions in order to appreciate the difficulties in an asymmetric negotiating setting.
  • Roland D. McKay
    Title: "Deterring a Nuclear-Capable Iran: Challenges and Opportunities"
    The world wakes up one morning to find that Iran has acquired a limited nuclear weapons capability. What alternatives to conflict exist under this scenario? Can classic nuclear deterrence succeed in preventing Iran from using the bomb, spreading nuclear technology, or pursuing other activities under cover of a nuclear umbrella? This presentation will detail the various arguments for and against Iran's uniqueness as a deterrence case, past confrontations with the international community, Shiism as state religion, complex leadership structures, and outline a multi-layered regional deterrence model for the U.S. to adopt.


Panel II: New Visions, New Politics

Moderator/Respondent: Philip Grant


  • Mubarak Awad
    In our lives, we will struggle with many challenges as children, as adults, in our relationships, in our jobs, and with our governments. Some of these challenges will change our lives forever. It is our interests as people who believe in nonviolence to help people understand that they have choices to resolve conflict in a nonviolent way. A nonviolent alternative seeks a human understanding between individuals. A moment of anger and a violent action has tremendous consequences for individuals and society and every time results in a desperate situation a quick fix that results in lifelong regret. On a political level, to resolve a conflict it is in the interest of both sides to use nonviolence to make people aware of injustice in their communities and positive ways to deal with conflict. Demonstrations, sit-ins, non-cooperation and other forms of nonviolent action give people on opposing sides time to reflect, communicate, and resolve their conflicts without violence. This also benefits society as a whole, rather than small elite groups. Dr. Awad will illustrate these thoughts using examples from Palestine and other Middle Eastern countries.
  • Bruno Ferrer-Higueras
    Title: "Cinematic Perspectives on the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: Palestinian-Israeli Films, between Frontiers and Identities"
    Assuming that films can provide some insights, even alternative readings of reality, this paper proposes the analysis of some recent and classical movies (such as Wedding in Galilee) realized by Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. While constructing a filmic-virtual reality, each film director portrays his/her perspectives on the "real" world, but also contributes to his/her understanding, to reproduce and consolidate -old or new, individual or collective- meanings. This presentation takes into consideration complicated and liminal figures, such as the Palestinian-Israeli filmmakers, and their representation of the Arab-Israeli conflict, focusing on their readings, views and representations of violence, repression, frontiers and the struggle for land.
  • Joline Makhlouf
    After the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, Palestinians and Israelis witnessed euphoria about the initiatives aimed at bridging the gap between the two societies and at complementing the agreement to lead to the final status solution. How has the outbreak of second intifada and everything that followed, impacted the dynamic of such initiatives and what are Palestinian and Israeli civil societies doing today to push their leaders towards a long-lasting solution. With a closer look at the situation on the ground, this paper will shed some light on their challenges, successes and lessons learned.


Panel III: "God and War - Does Religion Cause Violence?"

(Panel Sponsored by SB Coalition for Global Dialogue)

Moderator/Respondent: Yoav Ben-Horin and Mona Kanwal Sheikh


  • Mark Juergensmeyer
    Title: "The Odd Attraction of God and War"
    This paper will explore the religious attraction to war and war's romance with religion, with reference to the global terror war where war and God seem to be on everyone's mind.
  • Nader Hashemi
    Title: Why Muslim Skepticism towards Secularism is Warranted: Rethinking the Relationship between Islam and Politics
    Secularism has more than one history. The history of secularism in the West is different in Protestant England than it is in Catholic France. Similarly, American secularism has its distinguishing features that cannot be located in other historical experiences. What these experiences have in common, however, is that they are broadly correlated with a set of emancipatory ideas such as pluralism, tolerance, human rights and democracy. Muslim societies have had their own experience with secularism that is largely unknown in the West. This paper seeks to provide an overview of this history. It will be argued that the broad legacy left by this historical experience has been mainly negative thus warranting skepticism toward the concept of secularism in Muslim societies. This historical survey will comprise the first part of this paper.
    The second section of this paper is devoted to resolving a core dilemma in the construction of a democratic theory for Muslim societies. The contradiction is as follows: liberal democracy necessitates a form of secularism to sustain itself yet simultaneously there is widespread skepticism toward secularism in most Muslim societies today. How can we reconcile this paradox? Drawing upon recent developments in Turkey and Indonesia - two countries which have received some of the highest scores (among Muslim majority societies) from Freedom House's annual survey on democracy - it will be argued that the development of an indigenous theory of "Muslim secularism" can significantly enhance the prospects for democratization in Muslim societies.
  • Imam Ibrahim Kazerooni
    The debate on the relation between religion and violence has a long history. In its current format, it is an attempt by a few to frame and blame religion for all the ills without acknowledging the existence of externalities leading to breakdown of societies, warranting a legitimate response. While one can not deny the presence of historical instances that religion has been used as the primary cause of violence, in the majority of cases, particularly in our contemporary history, religion has been associated with violence as a dependant variable (the legitimizer of a particular response), rather than the cause.
    This paper will attempt to explain that if we are to accept that there is nothing instinctive in human nature towards violence, religion cannot create such reaction in a determinist manner.


Panel IV: The Role of Women and Minorities

Moderator/Respondent: Elizabeth Mizrahi


  • Hilal Elver
    Title: "The Headscarf Controversy: Muslim Women's Exclusion from Public Spaces"
    The exclusion of religiously devoted Muslim women who wear headscarves from education and public service in some countries raises serious questions about human rights violations in societies that are otherwise liberal democracies. Despite all the established norms of religious freedom, and a strong argument in favor of these universal norms as being part of customary international law, violations of these principles is common. Muslim women confront this problem in particularly difficult ways, because of common stereotypes against Islam. There are serious restrictions and exclusions placed upon devout Muslim women's rights, not only in Western countries where Islam is a minority religion, but also in predominantly Muslim countries, such as Turkey. In this presentation, I will devote particular attention to Turkey discussing how Muslim countries have created their own version of Islamophobia.
  • Hilary Rantisi
    Title: The Challenging Role of Palestinian Women: Patriarchy, Occupation and Power
    The presentation will be on the Palestinian women's movement in the Occupied Territories within the context of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. I argue that the Palestinian women's movement offers a unique critique of the ongoing conflict and provides new ways for it to be understood. Part of the unique critique they bring is how to solve the conflict in general and their collective and their specific individual ideas for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. At the heart of the critique is a gendered and more nuanced understanding of power. For Palestinian women, their struggle has been against both patriarchy in society and the overarching control over society of the Israeli military occupation. Through a series of illustrations from different facets of the Palestinian women's movement I will give examples of this unique contribution by Palestinian women.
  • Nomi Morris
    Drawing on personal and anecdotal experience as a Middle East correspondent, I will engage in myth-busting oft-heard Western perceptions about women in the region. Women are not apart from but very much a part of the political cultures in the areas they live, including national and religious struggles. Their primacy in the home and in caring for children has made women a point of first contact for fundamentalist groups such as Hamas and Hizbollah, which both use social services such as schools and health services to grow their ranks. On the other end of the spectrum, Israeli and Palestinian women have been leaders in the 'people's peace' of on-the-ground contacts and dialogue - although the asymmetrical power relationship complicates these efforts. I'll tackle the myth that Israeli women have long enjoyed equality and the myth that Arab mothers offer up their children to be martyred. And I'll talk about Hillary Clinton, Suha Arafat, Queen Rania and other women who have been in the public eye.


Panel V: Official and Unofficial Voices in the Middle East

Moderator/Respondent: Manoutchehr Eskandari-Qajar


  • Elizabeth Robinson

    Article 19 of the United Nations Charter on Human Rights reads:

    'Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.'

    This is a right that most of the people of the Middle East (like most of the people of the world!) are routinely denied. Where states do not monopolize media, corporations do. Where poverty and/or lack of infrastructure do not prohibit access to instruments of communication, censorship does. Using the excuse of an interminable war on terror, youth are imprisoned for web surfing; radio stations are denied licenses or closed on official whim; and journalists are imprisoned, denied the right to work, and worse, denied the right to live.

    Despite these constraints, there are nascent movements throughout the Middle East and North Africa insisting on both the rights of freedom of expression and the rights to communicate. In this presentation, I will explore some specific efforts in this regard, particularly those of 'citizen journalists'. This is the good news, the evidence of the indomitable human spirit.

  • Burak Bekdil
    Title: Can Turkey's "Mildly Islamist" Government be a Role Model for the Middle East?
    This speech will hope to explore the merits and demerits of the idea of presenting Turkey's AK Party government as a role model for mild Islam in a geography where long-standing disputes are generally blamed on radical Islam. I shall try to explain the dominant ideological/religious thinking in the AK Party politburo, with numerous examples of its governance since the party came to power in November 2002. I shall discuss the limits of 'mild Islam' in politics, with reference to the 'Turkish experience'. What are the limits to 'mildness'? Where is the presumed line between mild and radical interpretations of Islam as a political force? How fragile are these differences? When a mild Islamist can become a radical and vice versa? Is radicalism only related to resorting to violence? Can there be other/unconventional methods of violence. And what does the Turkish experience tell us about these questions. Under AK Party's rule the Turks have visibly become more conservative, more religious, more anti-American, more anti-Semitic, more prosperous, pro-business and less pro-EU. More importantly, they have become deeply polarized along 'Muslim/secular' and/or 'Islamist/secularist' lines. According to one view, Turkey's demographical/political change in favor of 'greener' Islam is positive from a global point of view. According to another, it exposes the country to the risk of further polarization and instability while pushing the country to the critical edge that divides 'acceptable' levels of Muslimness and the 'unacceptable' levels as a political doctrine. With half of the Turks supporting the ruling party and the same party facing a case for closure on allegations of undermining the country's secular regime, Turkey is at a historic juncture.
  • Abderrahim Foukara
    In the eleven years since its inception, Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel has ushered in a new age not only in Arab broadcasting but also in the way the peoples of the region see themselves and the world around them. Admired by hundreds of millions of loyal viewers for what they see as its no-nonsense approach, Al-Jazeera is also vilified by many governments in the region and beyond as a dangerous tool of subversion. But whatever the disagreements about it, Al-Jazeera has gone from strength to strength, making itself indispensable to fan and critic alike. In fact, Al-Jazeera has given almost everyone something they badly need. It has helped put the geographically small state of Qatar big on the region's political map, it has given global reach to Arab/ Muslim concerns and aspiration and provided the Americans and others with a unique forum for communicating directly with the peoples of a region so vital to world stability. Few broadcasters have had such power to extend their appeal even as they are subjected to constant criticism, or has criticism been grist to al-Jazeera's mill?


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