Participating at the 1997 BRISMES
(British Society for Middle Eastern Studies) International Conference,
and the Annual Meeting of MESA (Middle Eastern Studies Association of
North America) 1997
During quite dry summer days in early July 1997, the
BRISMES Conference was held at St. Catherine's College, in the University
of Oxford. The meeting was held from July 6th to 9th. The theme of the
Conference was "Rethinking Islam," which aimed at discussing
"divergent views on a subject of current reinterpretation of Islam."
Most participants and presenters lived in Europe, whether
ethnically from the Middle East or not. Among presenters, I was the
only Japanese, and met one more Japanese in the audience.
About 50 panels and workshops were held. A large variety
of subjects were discusses in the panels and workshops. While the Middle
Eastern Studies Association Meeting (MESA) focuses on contemporary politicalissues
in the Middle East, BRISMES focuses on historical and cultural issues
in the Middle East. For example, several topics are ignored at MESA
but typical of BRISMES: Muslim communities in Europe, Muslim-Christian
relationships in history, Islamic elements in European Architecture,
rethinking concept of Jihad, and so on.
One of the most interesting presentations I attended
was "Islam and Politics in Chechenya," in which Prof. Anya
Zelkina (Oxford) discussed the important roles Sufi leaders played in
the resurgence of Islamic movements after the USSR's collapse. Also
to be noted was the presentation entitled "Islam and Media,"
by Christopher Dickey (Director of News Week, Paris). He criticized
America's racist attitude for distorting the images of Muslims, and
criticized American feminism for portraying Muslim women as backward.
I made a presentation entitled "British and American
Cooperation and Conflict during the Musaddeq Era", at the Panel
called "Pahlavi Iran." My study examined the determinants
of British and American cooperation and conflict regarding their policies
toward Musaddeq. By investigating the concept of "the communist
threat," my presentation clarified that it was British rhetoric
but American reality. While Britain used this rhetoric to motivate America's
involvement in the dispute, America sought international security. Britain
pursued their regional economic interests; America, as a superpower,
sought to secure Iran from Communism. This fundamental difference in
their objectives, as I argued, produced alternating pattern of trust/cooperation
and distrust/conflict between two nations.
Three more panelists filled out my panel. Negin Nabavi
(University of Manchester) talked about the resurgence of Islamic festivals
in the 1970's in Iran as a form of national authenticy. Farian Sabahi
(SOAS) evaluated the impact of the Literacy Corps in a village in Pahlavi
Iran. Ali Massoud Ansari (SOAS) talked about the myth of socio-economic
change in the White Revolution. The panel was attended by about 25 scholars.
The Panel's Chair, Prof. Sheikholelami (Oriental Institute, Oxford)
said that my paper was one of the most balanced works on the Musaaddeq
era. A question was raised to my presentation by Ziba Mir-Hosseini,
an Iranian scholar from Cambridge University, who asked what the place
of the populace was in my current study. I answered that my presentation
this time was from a rather different perspective, a diplomatic perspective,
yet I was aware of the role of the masses in supporting Musaddeq's policies.
During the reception dinner, a British Minister of Foreign
Office gave an hour-long speech on the prospect of the Palestinian problem.
He highly evaluated the role of the EU in the peace-process in the past
five years, particularly the EU's leading role in the Palestinian election
of January 1996. Moreover, he implicitly criticized Israeli's expanding
Jewish settlement in the outskirt of East-Jerusalem. He concluded that
negotiation, not military action, should promote further peace between
Israel and Palestine, and that the United Kingdom would play a key role.
The 30th Annual Meeting of Middle Eastern Studies
Association of North America (at San Francisco, Nov. 22-25, 1997)
MESA is the biggest academic association in the study
of the Middle East. Thus, the 1997 conference had about 130 panels and
workshops in which about 500 speakers talked for 3 days. Approximately
2000 participants attended.
The presentations covered a wide range of themes. Historically,
topics ranged from early Islamic to the contemporary period. Geographically,
most presentations delt with the Middle East, with some coverage of
Muslims in Indonesia and Central Asia. Scholars' academic disciplines
also varied: Anthropology, Political Science, History, Sociology, Political
Economy, and so on.
The following topics seemed to be trendy in this conference:
democratization in Middle Eastern societies, ethnic and religious pluralism
in the Middle East and Central Asia, politics and economics in the post-Gulf
War Arab societies, women writers and women's consciousness in the Middle
Three Japanese scholars made presentations in this conference:
Mr. Hidemitsu Kuroki (from Institute for Asian and African Languages
and Cultures at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies), Ms. Akiko Motoyoshi
(graduate student at Indiana University), and myself (Hisae Nakanishi
from Koryo International College). Mr. Hidemitsu Kuroki discussed socio-economic
conditions in Aleppo at the time of Napoleon invasion in Egypt. Ms.
Motoyoshi examined "Ekphrase of the Alhambra Palace in Ibn Zamrak."
My presentation concerned the significance of the International
Oil Consortium which was established a year after the downfall of the
Musaddeq government. I analyzed it from three different perspectives:
first, as a solution for the Anglo-Iranian Oil dispute; second, as a
means of preserving British oil interest in Iran, and third, as a security
issue in American foreign policy. This was my 5th presentation at MESA,
yet my panel "Pahlavi Iran" attracted the largest audience
of all the panels where I read papers: about 90 scholars attended.
The range of quality of papers presented was great.
Yet, there were many interesting presentations. One of them was by Mahmood
Sariolghalam (National University of Teheran) in the special session
entitled "Perspectives on the Iranian Revolution: Views from Around
the Gulf." Based on a national poll, he analyzed the attitude of
Iranian people toward the Iranian Revolution of1979. The other is by
Soraya El-Torki (American University in Cairo) who discussed recent
trends in feminist activities in Cairo. Overall, more monographical
and comparative case studies were observed than theoretical works on
various aspects of Muslim societies in the Middle East.
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Office of Islamic Area Studies, All rights reserved.