World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010

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Religious and secular approaches to political inclusion in Mediterranean civil societies (405) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: FRI 23, 9.00-11.00 am

· NOT_DEFINED institution: University of St Andrews (UK)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Frederic Volpi

· NOT_DEFINED sponsor: The British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES)

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: Contemporary debates about civility commonly have at their core the notion of state-guaranteed free association in a non-violent public sphere. Civility is presented as a civic virtue that enables social and political life to function efficiently by minimizing what would otherwise be unproductive conflicts and disruptions for the state. In this panel, we consider the limitations of traditional notions of civility in contemporary Mediterranean polities by contrasting the contributions made by Islamic and secular views and practices to the production of a “civilized” social order. In particular, we highlight how the formation of religious subjectivities can transforms, supplements or bypass state-led processes of construction of national communities. Overall, this panel critically examines the articulation of “civil”/”civilized” state-society relations in different Mediterranean polities. It investigates the instruments of socialization that are commonly used to secure the public domain against the possibility of violence in social and political interactions. In this context, particular attention is paid to how religious and nationalist/secular forms of violence are viewed by different social actors. The papers presented in this panel map out different trajectories of social and political inclusion that are underpinned by distinct religious and secular processes. They detail the interactions between particular techniques of governmentality and the (re)composition of political and religious identities.

Chair: Francesco Cavatorta (Dublin City University)

Paper presenter: Michaelle Browers (Wake Forest University, USA), “Taqrib as a Strategy for Constructing Shi'i Conceptions of Self and Society in Contemporary Lebanon”
Taqrib (rapprochement) has traditionally been defined as the mitigation of doctrinal differences between Sunnis and Shi’is. However, in modern Lebanon taqrib has been put to a broader range of purposes by prominent Shi’i figures, from Muhsin al-Amin (1867-1952) to Muhammad Husyan Fadlallah (1935-). How is the concept and practice of taqrib utilized in constituting Lebanese Shi’i notions of the self and relations with others? I critically examine recent examples of three distinct uses of taqrib by Shi’i religious figures: 1) as a way of reconfigure the meaning of modern Shi’ism (construction of self); 2) as an approach to interpreting aspects of the religious heritage and contemporary practices that have divided Sunni and Shi’i, as well as Muslims and Christians (construction of self in relation to others); and 3) as a way of defining the very terms of coexistence in Lebanon (construction of society). While most of the intellectuals I study advocate the use of taqrib as a way of reducing sectarianism, I consider the possibility that its current practice can serve or engender narratives that merely shift the balance of power among confessional groups in Lebanon.

Paper presenter: James Sater (American University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates), “Lebanese political parties and the protection of gendered, migrant rights”
This paper seeks to analyze Lebanese political parties beyond the sectarian and ideological conflicts that continue to mark much of its post- civil war political history. While the international, ideological, and domestic factors that divide parties have been very well analyzed in the literature on Lebanon's multi-party consociational political system, recent research has placed distinctively less emphasis on decisions, ideologies, and discourses that pertain to specific apparently non-ideological issues. Within this context, this paper addresses the legislative issue of non-national female housemaids that live and work in private families, and a recent legislative initiative to increase their rights by providing basic regulations on issues such as vacation time and minimum pay. By comparing political parties: (Kata'ib, Hizboallah, Amal, etc.) attitude towards this question, this paper examines the working hypothesis that faced with new phenomena that mark contemporary global politics, Lebanese political parties embark on a nationalist discourse that continues to revolve around the country's identity crisis.. The aim of this paper is not only to show how non-ideological questions are embedded in broader ideological conflicts. Instead, this paper seeks to trace back a political discourse on migrants and examine how Lebanese parties are effective or ineffective mechanism of discourse articulation and representation.

Paper presenter: Ilham Sadoqi (Mohamed V University, Morocco), “Rethinking the discourse legitimacy: the sacred and the secular”
This paper aims at questioning the rationality of the idea of the nation state as a hegemonic institution, which is continuously contested by the marginal or the counter powers in an attempt to underline the cultural and the ideological structures and premises that form and inform the state legitimacy. In Morocco, the “proximity of the sacred and secular, the national and the foreign, the same and the other” constitutes a condition of possibility for power interplay, where the state’s discourse has been de-constructed by the counter-discourses of the feminist and fundamentalist movements. The state development strategies shed lights on the state’s consolidation process from a gender perspective, and unveil the historical and the political ramification of the global gender-driven agenda of neo-liberal democracy. State institutions upgrade themselves by trying to enlarge the space of freedoms and promote the rights of fragile social categories, so as to incorporate both the claims of the fundamentalists and the feminists. The sacred and the secular, in this perspective, are re-imagined continuously to reinforce the state’s hegemony. Yet it is in a cultural and ideological disclosure / resistance of the marginal to the normalizing tendency of the state that a space of the interstice could revolutionize the location of power.

Paper presenter: Frederic Volpi (University of St Andrews), “Framing the social and political activism of Crimean Tatars”
This paper documents the patterns of formation of everyday forms of civility across perceived ethno-national and religious divides by detailing how the ethic and religious “other” is included or excluded from common norms and practices in the local community. It combines political analysis with ethnographic observations of the practices and discourses of local NGOs dealing with the civic and religious integration of the Muslim Tatar minority in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (Ukraine). The paper analyses how far views of civil and civilized interactions between individuals and groups are framed in terms of an Islamic/Tatar versus a secular/Russian template for good behaviour. It considers the role played by the leading Tatar umbrella organizations in countering the threat of exclusion coming from both Russian-oriented ultra nationalist movements and transnational Islamist networks originating from the Middle East. When considering inclusion/exclusion from the normal rules of civility, the paper notes the importance of hybridity in the views and practices of religious and ethnic coexistence. Secular views on human and political rights and Islamic notions of the good are mixed into accounts of how to solve nationalistic and religious tensions.