Exiled Sufi scholar: military action strengthens Islamists

How frustrating that a secular anti-imperialist perspective which has been virtually purged from the so-called “alternative media” finds its way onto the front page of the New York Times Metro Section. Peter Applebombe in his “Our Towns” column features a profile of Shemeem Burney Abbas, a professor at Westchester County’s Purchase College and author of works such as The Female Voice in Sufi Ritual: Devotional Practices of Pakistan and India. The profile is aptly entitled “Lecturing on a World She Cannot Lecture In.” Prof. Abbas has been effectively censored in her native Pakistan. Excerpts, links and emphasis added:

After earning a Pd.D. from the University of Texas in 1992, she returned to Pakistan to teach at the giant Allama Iqbal Open University in Islamabad. But she soon found that being a woman edcuated at an American university and writing on the populist Sufi traditions of Islamic spirituality was extremely hard in a society increasingly dominated by Islamic orthodoxy. She left in 1999 and returned to Texas to write, and then after 9-11 felt she could not continue her work in Islamabad.

Through a group called the Scholars at Risk Network, which has found teaching opportunities and housing for more than 150 scholars since its founding in 2000, she was able to teach at Texas… Last year she relocated to Purchase College, where she teaches Islamic law and courses on gender, free speech and literature in the Islamic world. She’s giving a public lecture on March 2.

Dr. Abbas said she wanted to maintain her links to Pakistan, but would rather teach here—she can write what she wants, and she relishes the opportunity to educate Americans, still mostly in the dark about Islam.

Dr. Abbas finds troubling elements in both places. At home, she worries about the doors closing on speech and thought, the struggles of scholars, particularly women, who raise topics that challenge Islamic orthodoxy. Here, she’s convinced that American military actions in the Muslim world are only strengthening the Islamists. “They have taken on the role of being the voice of anti-imperialism,” she said, “and everyone else has no choice but to let these people represent them.”

Dr. Abbas exiled from fundamentalism-plagued Pakistan to the US, seat of the empire; secular anti-imperialism exiled from the supposed “left media” to the New York Times, organ of the empire. Once again, dizzying irony.

Annoyingly, this article is only available online to paid subscribers of the “Times Select” service. We have typed in these excerpts, copied directly from the print edition, in protest of this elitist policy.

See our last post on the struggle within Islam.