Book Reviews

The Sword and the Comma Or Down with Sibawah by Chérif Choubachy

CC3The Author: Cherif Choubachy is an Egyptian writer and journalist who was born in Alexandria.He lived in France for twenty-one years (from 1980 to 2001) where he worked as a civil servant for UNESCO and then became director of the Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram's Paris office. In Egypt, he was a news anchor for the french-speaking TV news and also Vice-Minister of Culture (from 2002 to 2006).

In 20065, he published the book Down with Sibawayh ( translated into French and published in 2007 under the title Le sabre et la virgule) which caused a fierce controversy in the Arab world. Subsequent to official protests he even had to resign from the government in 2006. In his book Choubachy asserts that one of the principle reasons for the retardation of modernity in Arab societies is the Arabic language itself and its complex rules

The Book: The original title of Choubachy’s book was Down with Sibawayh (Sibawayh is considered to be the greatest grammarian of the Arabic language). This title is a bit provocative and immediately shows Choubachy's attitude, that of someone who is preaching a renewal of Arabic. This issue is something taboo in Arab societies, because the Arabic language is sacred, as it is the language chosen by God for his last revelation, the Koran. That being so, we can understand why some asserttions by Choubachy, such as “the Arabs are riding a camel along a motorway" or “the Arabs are not able to write their own languagecorrectly ” provoked violent reactions.

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Sectarian Gulf: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the Arab Spring That Wasn't, by Toby MATTHIESEN

PR6Everybody remembers the Arab uprising as the biggest global turmoil since the collapse of the Soviet Union. These mass protests against authoritarian rule that swept the Arab world in 2011 have changed the Middle East forever. They have broken the common idea that Arab countries are fatally condemned to live under authoritarian rulers and have promoted a new Arab public sphere in which Arab autocrats no longer feel secure. Nevertheless, counter-revolutionary forces have since then rapidly set about attempting to divide the protesters along regional, sectarian, tribal, or ideological lines. Such is the sectarian line that Toby MATTHIESEN has decided to study in his book Sectarian Gulf: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the Arab Spring That Wasn’t.

Toby MATTHIESEN is a Research Fellow in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Pembroke College, University of Cambridge. With Sectarian Gulf, he has written a book about the events which took place in the Gulf during 2011. His aim is to provide us with a contribution to the debates around the Arab uprising.

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Medine, rapper or preacher?

Méd1The idea here is to focus our attention on what one French raptivist[1], writer and performer Medine, has to say in one of his numerous songs concerning Islam, Muslims and current society. This singer was indeed awarded the distinction of figuring in France’s public History manuals in 2012[2] , and a few months from now will once again stage a come-back with a new album,entitled “the Alb’man”. It is consequently interesting to study, through the lyrics of a recent single, from what angle he approaches the current crisis in inter-religious and community relations in French society.

Medine was formerly a member of the hip-hop collective “La Boussole” in 1996 and has been recording with its music label, “DIN records”, since 1995. Known for the quality of his writing and his adamantium[3] nib, Medine is an openly committed artist struggling for the right to be a Muslim in France. His provocative lyrics force listeners to reconsider their attitudes, do some thinking and be more open-minded about the world around them.

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The Minority Concept in the Turkish Context: Practices and Perceptions in Turkey, Greece and France, by Samim Akgönül

SA Samim Akgönül's book is a blend of sociology, history and political science.The author is a professor at the University of Strasburg and a researcher at the French National Scientific Research Centre (CNRS). In his new book, Samim Akgönül questions the term “minority”, focusing specifically on France, Greece and Turkey. This concept of minority is approached by the author very much in the same vein as the French sociologist, Marcel Mauss did, i.e., as a total ‘social fact’. ‘Socials facts’ are conceptual tools for studying different social situations. The author considers the Muslim minorities in Greece as products of the Ottoman Empire's former supremacy, and the Turkish minorities in France as the consequence of the arrival of Turkish immigration in France during the 1960s. Samim Akgönül claims that the issue of minorities in Turkey arose during the 1923 Turkish revolution, simultaneously with the state’s will to obliterate all differences between them.

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Secularism, Religion and Multicultural Citizenship by Braham Levey Geoffrey, Modood Tariq (Sidney 2005)

ChoiceHow can secularism and religious pluralism be thought about oday? Can secularism accommodate changing social contexts and more importantly: the challenge of Islam? The contributors of this volume bringing their expertise in various fields of social, religious and political sciences to bear on the study of these questions agree that the answer to the second of these questions might be “Yes” - or rather “Yes, if…”.

The book is the result of a symposium held by the University of New South Wales in Sidney 2005 on Religion and Multicultural Citizenship. The editors are two renowned scholars, Geoffrey Braham Levey in the field of political theory and Tariq Modood in Sociology and Public policy and especially the latter can look back on a large number of publications on the subjects of this volume. In their inquiry on how to conceive liberalism, citizenship and its relation to secularism in a contemporary context, the contributors make the solution they suggest also their guiding principle: Reassessing secularism and religion in the light of the pragmatic question: How are multicultural democracies to be made to work?. The volume tries to break out of a discussion on the circular relationship between religion and the liberal state that simply opposes secularist to anti-secularist views. It attempts to re-think secularism from different angles and discuss its usefulness and possible forms in contemporary political and social contexts.

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Nine Parts of Desire, The Hidden World of Islamic Women (1994)

Brooks 2Geraldine Brooks is an Australian journalist and writer. She was born in 1955. After graduating, she worked as a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal in several countries undergoing conditions of war or civil conflict, for instance Bosnia or Somalia. In the 1990s, she spent six years in the Middle East, where she became famous for her coverage of the Gulf war.

Nine Parts of Desire, The Hidden World of Islamic Women is a first-hand account , written in dashing, journalistic style. It is a testimony, based on her own direct experience in the Middle East. Although it is considered to be a non-fictional story, it might have been somewhat fictionalized mainly to meet editorial requirements. As the book was first published in 1994: we can easily imagine that 20 years later, the situation in the Middle East must have changed. That is why we may wonder if the issues raised by G. Brooks are still as relevant as they were then.

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The Copts and the West (1439-1822), by Alastair Hamilton

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The Copts and the West est un livre d’Alastair Hamilton, fruit de ses recherches sur les relations scientifiques, culturelles, ecclésiologiques entre les Coptes et l’Occident, sur la période 1439-1822

 Au moyen d’une narration riche en anecdotes biographiques, l’ouvrage aborde les tentatives d’union, le développement de l’Eglise Catholique Copte, la concurrence entre protestants et catholiques dans le développement des études arabes et coptes, les biographies d’humanistes coptes ayant enseignés en Occident et finalement le rôle des études coptes dans le développement de l’égyptologie.

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Lydie Salvayre, d’une langue à l’autre…

indexLydie Salvayre a écrit le livre qu’elle devait écrire,  certainement un des livres – sinon le livre – de sa vie. Ce livre, Pas pleurer,  intensément, presque fébrilement habité de bout en bout, lui permet de remonter enfin triomphalement, mais aussi avec un certain détachement, aux origines, à l’aurore de sa vie, de son destin : en amont du moment où son devenir personnel allait être irréversiblement délité et en même temps comme encodé à rebours par un des événements historiques majeurs du XXème siècle : la révolution noyée dans le sang de la République espagnole de ‘36. Le sens de l’être, de notre sujet, est sans doute toujours déjà enfoui, occulté par l’histoire familiale, politique et sociétale, marquant à tout jamais notre subjectivité d’une empreinte collective dont nous luttons pour mettre à jour le sens. Mais chez certains individus, venus au monde à des moments charnières de l’Histoire, cela reste encore plus vrai que pour les autres. Ces êtres, lorsqu’ils accèdent à la parole, à la création, sont comme des paroles vivantes de l’Histoire. On pourrait dire qu’à leur insu – et même peut-être contre leur propre gré – ils ont pour destin de porter une parole censurée, mutilée, qui n’est pas seulement la leur, mais qu’ils ont comme charge paradoxale d’incarner et de transmettre en la dénouant enfin. C’est peut-être là ce qui fait la différence entre un(e) écrivain(e) et un lettré ou un idéologue gratte-papier.

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Book Review : Le syndrome islamiste et les mutations du capitalisme, par Ahmed Henni

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English Abstract: Political Islamism is usually considered to be an ‘exotic phenomenon’ but is seldom explained in the light of economic dynamics and contemporary policies. Ahmed Henni has based his work on a wide range of statistical and historical data and sought to show how that trend is not so much the result of the Koran as it is that of petroleum-related activities and of the transformations of capitalism. The battle that is being fought for the underprivileged by political Islamism is no longer directed at property and the economic power that is derived from it; political sovereignty is the new target. Judicial claims and egalitarian aspirations do not aim to solve problems that are related to the improvement of standards of living of individuals: their goal is the equal redistribution of the income that comes from other entities. When wealth is based on income, it is granted in accordance with social status, not economic activity. That is the reason why social competition for status and position happens in redistribution rather than the production process. This form of Islamism that is commonly presented as political has expanded tremendously in the Gulf States, where oil income has enabled the latter to accumulate wealth and to become a major hub for consumption over the past few years.

Perçu comme un « phénomène exotique », l’ « islamisme politique », n’est que rarement expliqué à l’aune des dynamiques économiques et politiques contemporaines.

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