Community Discussions

Every Friday on Zoom at 19:00 BST / 11:00 PST. #ARABdialogue on Twitter. Open to all.

In April 2020, in response to the global coronavirus lockdown, Arab Research & Advocacy Bureau (ARAB) commenced a group learning initiative with our followers. These regular sessions were conducted over Zoom video call and were recorded and uploaded to Youtube for the feedback, insights and learning benefit of others.

We covered a wide variety of Arab-related political, historical & cultural topics, such as the Israel-Palestine conflict, ISIS, gender stereotypes of Arab and Muslim women, amongst others.

If you would like to join future discussions, please follow our Twitter timeline for updates on upcoming events.

في أبريل 2020، ونظرًا للحجر الصحي الذي فرضه العالم بسبب ج ائحة كورونا، أنشأ مكتب البحوث والدعم العربي مبادرة تعليميةجماعية مع بعض متابعي الصفحة، وذلك بالقيام بمكالمات مباشرة عبر تطبيق Zoom، وللحصول على تعليقاتكم وجميع استفساراتكم تمتسجيل وتحميل هذه المكالمات على موقع يوتوب.

وفي خضم هذه المحادثات قمنا بمناقشة مجموعة من المواضيع السياسة التاريخية والتفافية العربية كالصراع الاسرائيلي الفلسطيني،داعش وأيضا حول المرأة المسلمة ودورها في المجتمع العربي.

للمزيد من المعلومات الإضافية أو الانضمام إلينا في المناقشات المقبلة، يمكنكم متابعة صفحتنا عبر موقع تويتر.

Every Friday, 19:00 BST

join via Zoom

10. Identity politics in the Arab world

Discussion timeline

0:00:00 – Introductory presentation by Sh. Hossam Ed-Deen Allam
0:08:48 – The role of religion in Arab regional conflict
0:10:22 – Sectarianisation in the Middle East
0:22:17 – The social construction of Islamic sects
0:28:48 – Politicisation of religious, Arab institutions
0:33:15 – Should religion & politics be separated in the Arab world?
0:37:47 – Orientalism & Islamic sectarianism
0:54:21 – Religious homogeneity in Libya
1:02:09 – On Al-Azhar’s mixed religious heritage
1:11:22 – Can we make “takfir” on Muslims who don’t pray?
1:37:05 – To what extent does ISIS represent Islam?
1:42:43 – When did sectarianisation within Islam begin?
1:53:03 – Should we make “takfir” on ISIS members?
1:58:33 – Is peace among Muslims & Arabs possible?

Key takeaway points

  • Sectarian divisions among Arabs & Muslims date back to the inception of these societies.
  • Arab & Muslims societies are not the only societies that have experienced significant sectarianisation.
  • Sectarianism in the Arab world can be a reflection of both domestic society & foreign policy.
  • It can be difficult to manage extremism among Muslims due to the debate on the permissibility of making “takfir” (or ex-communicating) other Muslims.

10. Identity politics in the Arab world

Discussion timeline

0:00:00 – Introductions
0:07:16 – House rules
0:08:26 – Significance of identity politics in the Arab world
0:11:40 – How identity is constructed in the Arab world
0:27:20 – Why Arab identity is particularly complex
0:30:24 – Colonisation & identity in the Arab world
0:36:35 – The mismanagement of identity politics in the Arab world
0:40:01 – The role of geography in formulating Arab identity
0:43:12 – The role of collective memory in formulating Arab identity
0:46:27 – How important is identity in general?
0:50:23 – Do we consent to our identity labels?
0:52:02 – Arab identity as a political outcome
0:56:29 – Arab & black identity in North Africa
1:05:20 – The utility of a collective Arab identity
1:06:23 – The politics of Kurdish identity in the Arab world
1:11:14 – Can identity be “quantified” or captured?
1:13:29 – If there is a Kurdish national identity, why is there no Kurdish nation?
1:17:18 – The various layers of Lebanese-Druze identity
1:21:50 – The role of survival in minority identity politics
1:26:32 – The various layers of Palestinian-Christian identity
1:31:21 – Can we reject our identity labels?
1:37:17 – Why has pan-Arabism failed?
1:43:36 – Can “realism” be applied to Arab politics?
1:47:15 – How suppression catalyses group identity
1:50:24 – Group photo!

Key takeaway points

  • The ability to choose or reject an identity can be seen as a form of privilege that’s not afforded to everybody.
  • Identity in the Arab world is extremely complex & multifaceted.
  • Some group identities in the Arab world may also be the result of regional, elite power politics.
  • Group identities can therefore be signs of liberation or of subjugation depending on their origins.

9. Art, religion & self-expression

Discussion timeline

0:00:00 – Purpose of discussion
0:00:50 – Faiza Ramadan art shwocase
0:03:50 – Is art haram?
0:17:01 – Art in the Druze community
0:31:49 – Art in conflict zones
0:34:48 – Al-Azhar University art showcase
0:39:13 – Western Islamic thought vs Arab Islamic thought
0:46:30 – Expressing Islamic identity through art
0:51:06 – “A Crafty Arab” art showcase
1:07:03 – African art vs Arab art
1:14:15 – Black identity vs North African identity
1:19:12 – Black identity vs Arab identity in Sudan
1:22:56 – Role of art in Sudan’s revolution
1:27:38 – Sudan divide – a balance sheet
1:29:51 – To what extent are the Sudanese also Arabs?
1:31:22 – To what extent are Druze also Arabs?
1:35:18 – Is identity a fluid social construct?
1:40:31 – Group photo!

Key takeaway points

  • There is a long tradition and history of art in the Islamic world, especially calligraphic and geometric art.
  • Art can be a powerful medium for communicating political messaging due to both its accessible & visual nature.
  • Through art, people may explore various group identities & temporarily escape distressing circumstances, such as conflict situations.
  • The extent to which identity is a completely fluid construct is disputed.

8. Religion, culture & gender in a globalised society

Discussion timeline

0:00:00 – Communicating “radical” ideas
0:09:25 – Western vs Arab patriarchy
0:13:50 – Patriarchy, colonialism & capitalism
0:24:52 – Arab vs Muslim patriarchy
0:36:00 – Being Muslim & feminist
0:43:30 – Is Ayan Hirsi Ali assisting or oppressing Muslim women?
0:45:37 – Arab vs Islamic culture
0:47:51 – The politics of leaving & changing religion
0:55:45 – Living with Coronavirus in Palestine
1:05:20 – The commercialisation of identity politics
1:08:20 – Gender oppression during conflict
1:12:34 – Where did patriarchy “begin”?
1:28:47 – Gender according to Islam
1:40:07 – Women’s rights & the hijab
1:52:16 – The politicisation of the hijab
2:00:49 – Is “free choice” overrated?

Key takeaway points

  • Gender, religion & culture are intersectional & multifaceted identities.
  • Patriarchy exists globally, but manifests itself differently in the West and in the Arab world.
  • The extent to which Arab patriarchy is linked to Islam as opposed to Arab culture is unclear.
  • Strategic communication can be required when raising awareness on issues relating to gender oppression.

7. What attracts young Muslims to ISIS in Syria?

Discussion timeline

0:00:00 – Link between Israeli conflict and the Syria conflict
0:18:26 – How ISIS take advantage of youth identity crises
0:25:38 – How binary thinking can slowly result in radicalisation
0:31:19 – In what ways are Muslim youth uniquely vulnerable?
0:32:21 – “Integrative complexity” as an antithesis to binary thinking
0:33:47 – NATO destabilisation & its affects on radicalisation
0:42:31 – Distinction between Treaty of Sevres and Sykes-Picot
0:43:23 – How responsible are Arabs for mismanaging regional instability?
1:00:59 – Regional power politics surrounding the Syria conflict
1:09:28 – Why accountability is difficult to consolidate in revolutions

Key takeaway points

  • Islamic extremists tend to exploit the vulnerabilities and identity crises of young Muslims living in migrant communities.
  • In order to protect children from radicalisation, families should instil a strong sense of stability in the household.
  • Schools should also fend of radicalising forces by nurturing critical thinking skills, or “integrative complexity”.
  • Integrative complexity can be developed by exposing youths to a wide variety of subject matters over a prolonged period of time.
  • People often refer to the ‘Sykes-Picot Agreement’ as the moment the former Ottoman Empire was divided into Middle Eastern nations, but the treaty responsible for this is actually the Treaty of Sevres.

6. Orientalism, colonialism & Arab objectification

Discussion timeline

0:00:00 – An explanation of Orientalism by Edward Said
0:07:06 – Was Islamic expansion a form of Arab colonialism?
0:19:30 – Differences in effectiveness of British, French & Italian colonialism
0:38:15 – On Abd el-Krim el-Khattabi’s anti-colonial strategy in Morocco
0:42:18 – Colonialism in North Africa vs East Africa
0:45:09 – Colonisation of the Amazigh (“Berbers”)
1:06:11 – Effects of colonial & orientalist art, cinema & literature on Arab people
1:20:10 – Self-objectification of Arabs on social media
1:38:49 – Is Arab blood cheaper than European blood?
1:49:34 – Internalised colonialism in the Arab world

Key takeaway points

  • Artistic and cultural representations of Arabs continue to dehumanise and trivialise Arab society.
  • These representations can, intentionally or otherwise, help normalise military intervention in Arab countries.

5. Is Israel a special case?

Discussion timeline

00:00 – Is Israel more illegitimate than Saudi and/or Iran?
07:11 – Do Arab revolutions serve the interest of Western powers?
10:52 – Is Israel an ethnic or a tribal state?
13:20 – Extent of international condemnation towards Israel
19:05 – Politics & sensitivities surrounding antisemitism
28:06 – Normalisation of Israeli & other human rights abuses
42:43 – Saudi Arabia & Israel: friends or enemies?
50:31 – Britain’s role in Zionism

Key takeaway points

  • The current nature of Israeli occupation in Palestine – coupled with the backing of the current global hegemon – makes Israeli human rights abuses unique.

4. Ben Ali, secularism & Islamism in Tunisia

Discussion timeline

0:00:00 – Realising authoritarianism
0:08:10 – Should Ben Ali have been swiftly exiled?
0:25:23 – Legitimacy of Destour Party in Tunisia
0:32:30 – Is it ever okay to compromise with an autocrat?
0:38:59 – Role of Nessma TV in Tunisian revolution
0:43:24 – Role of Ennahda Movement in the democratic process
0:54:54 – Do Islamist parties undermine the democratic process?
1:08:27 – Postcolonialism in Tunisia today
1:14:10 – The toxic relationship between Arab secularism & Islamism
1:23:22 – Separation of Islam from politics in the Arab world
1:33:27 – Can we perfectly represent Islam in politics?
1:35:03 – Tunisia’s controversial nationality law
1:43:47 – How problematic are diplomatic relationships with Israel?

Key takeaway points

  • Due to Ben Ali’s swift exile, the former leader of Tunisia could not be held accountable for misconduct.
  • The nature of his exit may have, however, allowed Tunisia to democratise as successfully as it did.
  • Participants found it unanimously difficult to assess whether a lack of accountability is a “price worth paying” for swift democratisation.

3. Gaddafi - dictator or revolutionary?

Discussion timeline

0:00:00 – Sean introduces us to his baby
0:01:15 – Is Gaddafi a hypocrite?
0:06:26 – Who earns the right to revolution?
0:15:35 – Freedom of press in Libya
0:25:34 – Is democracy a Western institution?
0:28:44 – Was Gaddafi an Islamic leader or a secular leader?
0:45:59 – Gaddafi as an African leader
1:00:10 – How consistent is Gaddafi’s “Green Book”?
1:13:50 – Trickle-down economics under Gaddafi
1:25:05 – Was Gaddafi a dictator?
1:52:30 – Is it ever appropriate to remove a dictator?
2:10:06 – Saif al-Islam as a leadership candidate
2:20:20 – Sarraj vs Haftar

Key takeaway points

  • The situation in Libya had been problematic under Gaddafi.
  • This is due to the nature and frequency of various human rights abuses that allegedly occurred under his regime.
  • However, the situation in Libya continues to be suboptimal.
  • Both Sarraj and Haftar have failed to stop NATO from taking advantage of the situation.
  • The Libyan community had also failed to preserve Gaddafi’s human rights in holding him to trial.

2. Zionism in Israel & Palestine

Discussion timeline

00:00 – What is true Zionism?
03:40 – Right of return in Israel
08:33 – One-state solution
14:10 – Education, globalism & de-radicalisation
21:00 – Use of moderation in peace-building
34:47 – How Hamas reaffirms Zionist ambitions
38:40 – Can Muslims sympathy with Zionism?

Key takeaway points

  • Strategic land swaps are apparent in Trump’s so-called proposed ‘deal of the century’ between Israel & Palestine.
  • There are many different definitions of Zionism.
  • It is therefore possible for a non-Jew to be a Zionist.
  • Hamas’ diplomatic response – or lack thereof – further fuels political Zionist propaganda.

1. Islam, Arab politics & secularism

Discussion timeline

0:00:00 – Introductions
0:17:00 – Islamic versus Arabic culture
0:22:00 – Is secularism compatible with Islam?
0:31:00 – Merits & limitations of the Salaf (the 1st 3 generations of Muslims)
0:40:32 – Political motivation in religious conflict
0:46:34 – Significance of Masjid al-Aqsa
1:00:00 – Psychological trauma and Zionism
1:10:26 – Arab diaspora in the IDF

Key takeaway points

  • There is ample evidence in the body of Islamic history & literature to suggest that the inclusion of other faiths in a state political system does not necessarily contradict Islam.
  • More conservative Muslims who follow the Salaf, however, are right to place a greater emphasis on earlier Islamic generations in their attempts to interpret the religion correctly.

Participant Feedback

Dr Jennifer Philippa Eggert - Researcher & Practitioner
United Kingdom
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It was a pleasure to contribute to ARAB's community discussion on religion, culture & Gender in a globalised world. Kudos to the ARAB team for providing a much needed space for exchange & dialogue.
Kholoud 'Kay' Tarapolsi
United States
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ARAB also does a tremendous service to the Arab arts community, bringing artists and arts administrators into an active dialogue with audiences, both of whom are too often frequently omitted from the conversation.
Khaoula B. - PhD Candidate
Canada
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I had the pleasure of participating in ARAB's panel discussion on patriarchy. It was insightful to hear diverse voices discuss what patriarchy looks like in their societies and communities. I look forward to contributing to more discussion that deal with issues related to Arabs both in the Arab world and among the Arab diaspora.
Amal Harhor - Student
United Kingdom
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ARAB is a think-tank covering a diverse range of topics and issues affecting the Arab world, such as politics, religion & culture. I found their community discussions (where I was exposed to many differing opinions) particularly engaging & eye-opening.
Yasmeen Elgerbi - Student
United States
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I love what ARAB stands for; peace, progress & change within the Arab world. If we all could support this message & work together for a better future then nothing is impossible.
Meriam Arifa - Student
United Kingdom
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ARAB provides useful insights & analysis on various important issues within Arab countries. Their platform allows individuals to express their opinions regarding different matters affecting the Arab world (their discussions are very interesting). They deserve a follow!
Fatima S. - Student
Canada
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I appreciate Arab Research & Advocacy Bureau's work. We definitely need more Arabs to get on these sorts of platforms to share their experiences & opinions.
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