Visiting research fellow
I completed my Ph.D. at NYU's Dept. of Middle Eastern Studies in 1999, after which I held postdoctoral positions at Cornell University's Society for the Humanities and the European University Institute's Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, in Florence, Italy before accepting a position at the University of California, Irvine, where I am presently a Professor and Director of the Global Middle East Studies Program.
My research and teaching focus on the following issues: histories, theologies and political and cultural economies of the Middle East, Africa and Islam in the modern and contemporary periods; Palestine/Israel; cultural production, revolution and resistance in the Middle East and Africa; modern and contemporary Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco; art and conflict in West Africa (including Mali, Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya); comparative studies of imperialism and colonialism, urban planning and architecture (history and theory); critical theory and globalization studies with a comparative focus on popular cultures and performance activism, and religion in Europe and the Muslim world; peace and conflict studies; and comparative nationalisms.
My first book, Overthrowing Geography: Jaffa, Tel Aviv and the Struggle for Palestine, was published by the University of California Press in 2005. My second book, Why They Don't Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil, was published by Oneworld Publications in 2005. My third book, Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance and the Soul of Islam, was published by Random House in 2008 and expanded into an award-winning theatrical documentary, Before the Spring, After the Fall, directed by Jed Rothstein, as well as an album, Flowers in the Desert, released by EMI in 2009), and my fourth single-authored book, Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine since 1989, was published by Zed Books in 2009.
I have also co-edited half a dozen books. The first, with Viggo Mortensen and Pilar Perez, Twilight of Empire: Responses to Occupation, was published in 2004 by Perceval Press and features leading scholars and activists from around the world discussing the roots, present dynamics and possible solutions to the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. My second edited volume, Religion, Social Practices and Contested Hegemonies: Reconstructing the Public Sphere in Muslim Majority Societies, was co-edited with Armando Salvatore, and was published by Palgrave Press in 2005, and focused on integrating the theories of Antonio Gramsci and Michel Foucault. My third volume, Reapproaching the Border: New Perspectives on the Study of Israel/Palestine, co-edited with Sandy Sufian, was published by Rowman Littlefield Press in 2007. My fourth edited volume, Struggle and Survival in Palestine/Israel, was co-edited with UC San Deigo sociologist Gershon Shafir and published by UC Press in 2012. My fifth, Heavy Metal: Controversies and Countercultures, was co-edited with Titus Hjelm and Keith Kahn-Harris and published by Equinox Books in 2012. My sixth edited volume, One Land, Two States: Israel and Palestine as Parallel States, was co-edited with Ambassador (ret.) Mathias Mossberg and published by UC Press in 2014. Finally, my seventh edited volume, Islam and Popular Culture, co-edited with Martin Stoke and Karin van Nieuwkerk, was published by the University of Texas Press in 2015.
I am presently working on three new monographs which will feature both research and writing by me as well as collaboratively written sections in keeping with my belief that the complexities of both present-day realities and the methodologies and theories to study and account for them demand the same kind of collaborative research and writing in the humanities and social sciences as we see in most research in the physical sciences. These books, all scheduled for publication with the University of California Press, include The Five Year Old Who Toppled a Pharoah, which chronicles my travels through the Arab world since the eruption of the Arab uprisings in 2010 and places them in the longer durée of history that produced the present moment of upheaval; The Occupation at 50: Confronting the Past, Diagnosing the Present, Re-Imagining the Future, written with a dozen leading Palestinian, Israeli and International Scholars; and Art at the Edge: Creativity and Conflict in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, written with my UCI colleague Bryan Reynolds, which explores how art functions as vectors for grassroots power in zones of intense social, economic and political conflict in over a dozen countries on three continents. More specifically, our project both studies how culture is produced, circulated and experienced/consumed in societies in the midst of intense social and political stress and, as important, involves our collaboration with local artists, particularly musicians and theater makers in the production of local, grass-roots inspired art, in the countries where we are engaged in research. Thus far we have worked in Baghdad, the West Bank (with the Jenin Freedom Theater), Gaza, Tunis, Cairo, Casablanca, Bamako, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Nairobi, Turkana, and will be returning to Africa soon to continue our work. We have several publications already resulting from this collaboration, including in my co-edited volume Islam and Popular Culture.
I am also co-producing an international project bringing together revolutionary artists from the Arab world and Iran to record covers of Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti's most political songs. Our first production, of his seminal hit, “Zombie,” was released in May 2015 and features Fela's son Seun Kuti, as well as Egyptian revolutionary singer Ramy Essam, Moroccan rapper El Haqed, Egyptian rapper Karim Rush from Arabian Knightz, Palestinian rap duo Refugees of Rap, from Yarmouk Camp in Syria, and Iran's first female (and best) rapper, Salomé MC. It was released through the Copenhagen-based international anti-music censorship organization Freemuse, and is available for download here. Our second song is “Shakara,” recorded by the great Malian blues group Songhoy Blues and featuring Femi Kuti on sax and several of Mali's greatest traditional musicians (a first for the band). It was released as the official song for the 2017 edition of Music Freedom Day. Presently I am producing a version of “No Agreement,” with young artists in Port Harcourt and the Niger Delta region of Nigeria and their counterparts in Turkana, in northern Kenya.
As a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Lund University's Center for Middle Eastern Studies, where I have collaborated on several projects since 2009, I am helping to lead a research team with the American University of Beirut and the Arab Institute for Human Rights in Tunis, to study the evolution of human rights discourses in the Arab world. I am co-principal investigator of a team of scholars, funded by both the Swedish Research Council, Rijksbankens Jubilee Fund and the National Endowment for the Humanities, that is producing the largest body of scholarly research yet done on human rights in the Arab world, and will focus on the relationship between research, advocacy and the shaping of public policy, which we bring together under the acronym RAPP. Our case studies include Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Bahrain, and the Gulf sheikhdoms.
With my colleagues at Lund University, in particular Mathias Mossberg, I'm continuing to develop the ideas surrounding the concept of “parallel sovereignty” as developed in One Land, Two States, and with Sune Haugbølle of Roskilde University and Jillian Schwedler of Hunter College am directing a long-term study and edited volume on the changing nature of the state in the Arab world, which has also received funding from the Swedish Research Council among other foundations. Finally, I am working to develop a project called “The New Arab Exiles,” which explores the experiences of exile, migration and integration of young Arab activists who were forced into exile in Europe in the years before and surrounding the ongoing European refugee crisis, with a focus on Malmö, Berlin, Bologna, and Paris.
Finally, with colleagues at Uppsala University's Nordic Africa Institute and CMES Lund I developed a multi-year project studying the origins and affective dynamics of “suspicion,” “ambivalence” and “familiarity” as every day modes of interaction and communication in societies with antagonistic state-society relationships, with Nigeria and Egypt as our case studies. It received a 5-year grant from FORMAS - a Swedish Research Council for Sustainable Development, one of the largest ever given, and we are presently engaged in preliminary field work for the project.
As journalist I have written for al-Jazeera's flagship English website since 2007, including as a senior columnist, and was a regular contributor to al-Jazeera America, appearing regularly on the various English and Arabic news shows. I have also written for publications including Jadaliyya, Le Monde, The Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, the Christian Science Monitor, and TIKKUN (where I am a contributing editor).
As a professional musician and have worked with artists such as Mick Jagger, Dr. John, Johnny Copeland, Albert Collins, Chuck D, Michael Franti, Ozomatli (which won a Grammy), world music artists Hassan Hakmoun, the Kordz, Lazy Wall, Cafe Mira, Ramy Essam, Arabian Knights, Armada Bizerta, MC Rai, Tanboura, Sara Alexander, Femi and Seun Kuti, Songhoy Blues, Toumani Diabate, Ebo Taylor and others. I have spent the last two years working with many of the main revolutionary musicians in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Palestine, and Iran. These days I play mostly a combination of Middle Eastern, Balkan/Romani, funk, Latin and blues (although not always all at the same time).
My scholarship, activism and music are all tied to my commitment to struggles for social justice in the United States and around the world. I attempt to bring these three fields together through the practice of "culture jamming," which brings together leading artists, scholars and activists in critical dialog and performance on issues of concern to young people. I have held these culture jams in LA, NYC, Philadelphia, Paris, Rome, Baghdad, Casablanca, Beirut, Cairo, Tunis, Prague, Bamako, Nairobi, Port Harcourt and other cities.