Conferences and Workshops Organized

“Cold War Islamisms,” Freie Universität Berlin (March 15-16, 2019)

Ideas of pan-Islamism and calls for an “Islamic government” predated the Cold War, but the emergence of a global competition between the United States of America and the Soviet Union changed the terms on which Islamist intellectuals had to justify themselves. The nature of imperialist competition had shifted from one of territorial annexation by European empires to a Cold War marked by the competition of ideologies and the threat of nuclear war. More than that, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and decolonization created an international system in which ideas of Islamic unity had to contend with various nationalisms in Muslim-majority societies, “pan” movements like pan-Arabism and Ba’athism, and secular internationalisms like Non-Alignment or Afro-Asianism. Further, when Islamist actors did break through onto the international stage, they did so in countries like Shi’a-majority Iran or Afghanistan that were themselves objects of superpower interventions from the United States and the Soviet Union. The emergence of political Islam on the world stage in 1978-1979 (the Iranian Revolution, the anti-Soviet Afghan jihad, and indeed the seizure of the Great Mosque of Mecca by Saudi radicals) thus not only altered the battleground of the global Cold War but had also been shaped by it, too.

Despite the intuition among historians that the “career” of Islamism was both shaped by the Cold War and shaped its ending, however, few works engage in the empirical work to understand the relationship between the two. The last several years has seen an efflorescence of works on Islamism and pan-Islamism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Similarly, the last decade and a half has seen the publication of works in “new Cold War history” that decenter the conflict from Washington and Moscow and explore themes like Sino-Soviet or Sino-American competition. This workshop will draw on both of these communities of scholarship to reveal the interactions between Islamist actors and the international system of the Cold War from the 1950s to the late 1980s.

“Human Rights, Humanitarianism and Development,” Freie Universität Berlin (November 15-16, 2018)

A small gathering of the new Editorial Collective of Humanity, this event offered a chance to discuss ongoing projects related to the themes of human rights, humanitarianism and development from historical and anthropological perspectives. Some of the papers discussed focused on conscientious objection and humanitarian aid; human rights and neoliberalism during the age of decolonization; and the transformation of European anti-colonial groups to humanitarian interventionists in the 1970s.

Toward an International History of the Middle East in the 1980s,” Freie Universität Berlin (July 30, 2018)

How ought we to write the history of the Middle East in the 1980s? The decade began with such spectacular events as the Iranian Revolution, the seizure of the Grand Mosque of Mecca, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Yet whether a decadological approach even really applies to the region is debatable, and in some ways the region stood abreast from the dramatic events that ended the Cold War in Europe. Even as many new sources are available and transnational and “trans-regional” turns in scholarship allow for exciting new work, we still arguably lack for frameworks to make sense of the region and its place in the world since the 1970s onward. This event brought together leading early-career scholars of Middle Eastern history and international history to showcase and workshop their ongoing work related to these questions. Some topics covered included the reception of the Iranian Revolution in the Islamic world; Iranian and Iraqi war literature produced during the war between those two countries; and American reactions to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.