Anti-liberal attempts: between burqa and criticism demonization

Yesterday, the British Parliament debated the ban of a garment, something that the British Parliament had not discussed since Victorian times. This time it was not the length of skirts or sleeves that the honorable parliamentarians addressed, but rather the well known (but rarely seen in western cities) burqa; banned in France, threatened in the rest of Europe, and now also under threat in the UK.

As other attempts, however, yesterday’s debate failed in imposing a burqa ban in the UK, and as the minister confirmed, Great Britain will not follow France.

The burqa is not an Islamic fashion per-se, but rather a tradition not opposed by Islamic teaching, which is probably the best way to present it. Covering the face, and in particular the mouth, has a geographical and environmental genealogy (such as the protection of skin and eyes from the dust and sand of, for instance, the Afghan desert). If such a garment is anything in Islam, it is a scholarly theological diatribe, with some sheikhs ready to wrap a baby in it, and others stating that it is not Islamic dress per-seContinue reading

9/11 commemorations: ritualizing and celebrating civilization rhetoric

Yesterday the tenth anniversary of 9/11 was commemorated in New York. Yet the commemorations started more than one week in advance with newspapers, TVs and magazine building up the momentum. There is little need to summarize the incredible amount of special dossiers, reports, commentaries and documentaries which have been written during these days for a tragedy that happened ten years ago. The commemoration of 9/11 is becoming increasingly interactive with questions like: “do you remember 9/11?” or “share your 9/11” and similar collective archiving of personal memories, often shared every year for the past decade. Continue reading

The English riots: multiculturalism, ‘the roba‘ and the crowd

Many questions remain unanswered in the violent riots which have shaken England recently. As could be expected, some have blamed the “failed” experience of multiculturalism. In reality these riots are very different from previous ones that have thrown neighborhoods into chaos (see the 2001 English riots, the Leeds 2001 Harehills riot, the 2005 Birmingham race riots, or even the most recent 2010 UK student protests). While the context in which the above riots developed are clear (community frustration, neighborhood-specific inter community tensions, and traditional student protests gone wrong), the recent riots are unusual in many aspects, such as the heterogeneity of those involved, the dynamic of how they started, a lack of apparent common strategy and a lack of shared reasons for rioting. Continue reading

The Libyan massacre: or rather protesters killed for Italian and European interests?

Libyan protesters are facing one of the most violent repressions that the wave of Arab revolts have witnessed to date. Yesterday reports of Libyan aircraft and Apache helicopters bombing and shooting the protesters started to circulate. This was just after Gaddafi’s son proclaimed to the world that Libya was not witnessing a revolt against one of the most oppressive and inhuman regimes in North Africa and the Middle East, but rather a civil war. In reality this is a regime that has declared, as many other times before, war on its own population. The question that we may ask, however, is why Gaddafi has preferred the bloodbath to an easy, and wealthy, exit. Many were the options open to him before he started the massacre. Now, of course, few are left. Is Gaddafi just defending his own interests? Is there something more than just a struggle to maintain power? Continue reading

Fear, Muslims and Islam: reconsidering Islamophobia

Is it politically incorrect to say that one ‘fears’ Muslims? Does it deserve public condemnation? In other words, should have Juan Williams been sacked for his remark about fearing Muslims dressing in ‘Islamic garb’ on planes? Are these instances of Islamophobia?

Let me start with an anecdote which took place in London in the aftermath of the 7/7 attacks. I was waiting for the next tube train with my friend Hakim, a Pakistani born and raised in London who wore clothes considered to be Islamic attire and sported a very long beard. When the train arrived, we were lucky enough to find a seat. At the next stop, another young Pakistani, attired in western clothes and shaved to perfection, entered the train and after freeing himself from a bulky and heavy black backpack, which he positioned in front of him, sat a couple of seats from Hakim. We had a long way to go yet.

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British Prisons and terrorism: the foretold failure

A few days ago, the head of MI5 Jonathan Evans has undertaken the unusual step of revealing, among other aspects linked to the security of the UK, his own concerns that a number of soon-to-be-freed inmates are still ‘committed extremists and likely to return to terrorist activities.’ As an anthropologist who has conducted one of the most in-depth research projects on Muslims in prison in the UK, his quite alarmist announcement did not take me by surprise. I am pretty sure that Mr Evans has every right to be concerned. Yet the British public needs to also know why today we find ourselves in such situation and where the political responsibility lies. Continue reading

Generation without future, a future without generations: the endless suffering of Afghan children

"A collateral dammage"

Nine and a half have passed since the US and allies invaded Afghanistan. American and European soldiers (among whom the most affected are the British) sacrificed their lives for political games, international interests and local corruption, as well as strategic failure. While an unstoppable abacus precisely tracks each soldier’s death, little is really known about the civilian fatalities, which suggests a silent confession that, in this war, human blood weighs differently between the civilizer and the (un)civilizable Afghan. Continue reading