The Public Humanist

The Public Humanist contributor: David Mednicoff

David MednicoffDavid Mednicoff is a professor of Public Policy and Legal Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His undergraduate degree in Public and International Affairs is from Princeton; his graduate degrees in Law and in Political Science are from Harvard. His research and teaching focus on comparative law and politics in the Middle East, forces of globalization, human rights, democratization and American foreign policy. He is currently engaged in a study of connections among the rule of law, the politics of reform and US policy in five Arab countries, including Qatar, where he was a Fulbright Scholar in 2006-7. He has won campus-wide and national awards for his teaching and frequently engages in community education and media work.

Bin Laden is Dead, and I’m not feeling so good myself

I get that Usama Bin Laden’s death is a big deal, and mostly a good thing. I was around for the 9/11/01 attacks, had friends at the World Trade Center and Pentagon that day (thankfully none hurt), and watched with reasonably mature eyes the sense of tragedy here in the US after that day and the events that unfolded in the Middle East and elsewhere as a result of that day. Indeed, I can go further.


A Visit to the Twentieth Doha International Book Fair

I am in the Middle East for some research, and specifically in Qatar, where I lived a few years ago. With some time this morning because of a cancelled appointment, I walked over to the country’s major annual book fair. Despite taking place in a massive space and including approximately 100,000 book titles, Doha’s fair is hardly the largest international book exhibition in the Arab world, which takes place in Cairo each February.


Being strangers in the land of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, the US, or wherever

The Bible is perhaps the most famous of very old sources that remind us of the importance of how we treat “the stranger in our midst,” which is also often cited by political philosophers as the true test of any civilization. The early Jews were commanded by God in the Old Testament to treat well the stranger in your midst, “because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”


Seeing the US from REALLY afar: it’s not always easy, but it’s certainly interesting

A few years ago, I was on a lecture tour in several Persian Gulf countries sponsored by the US Department of State, part of my gig as a Fulbright Scholar in Qatar. My US Embassy hosts in one country, honoring a request of mine, set up a meeting with some local teachers of Islamic Studies. One of the senior diplomats in the Embassy chose to accompany me to this meeting. Several local men welcomed us, and we shared tea and stories about Islam.


Seeking genuine “catholicity” (or pluralism) in studies of religion

Judaism, Christianity and Islam are three major contemporary religions to come out of the Middle East, my region of focus as a scholar of contemporary law and politics. I study aspects of one religion professionally (Islam), experience the impact of another publicly (Christianity) and practice the third personally (Judaism).


Point the Finger: External influences on Middle Eastern group conflicts

It’s very enlightening to see my U.Mass. colleague Mary Wilson’s succinct account of the centrality of demographics to the Palestinian/Israeli and Lebanese conflicts. I share her view of the problems that can arise when governments divide people and treat them differently based on their religion.


Religion and Democracy 2: ESTABLISHING Identity — to VEIL or UNVEIL religious solidarity?

I enjoyed my UMass colleague Dan Gordon’s take on religion and democracy with particular respect to Muslim women’s head coverings. Dan’s points also provide good opportunity to look at the issues he raises from two inter-related standpoints that complement his, (1) the other side of the American constitutional language and (2) one basic Middle Eastern position on national identity and religion.


Countering the Orchestra of Orthodoxies: A UMass Amherst Fulbright Scholar Returns from Qatar

How has the US-led overthrow of Iraq’s former government and ongoing military presence changed American and Middle Eastern societies?Several broad answers are obvious. The 2003 war led Iraqis to more personal andpolitical freedoms. Yet this came alongside widespread death, violence, and insecurity, bringing back the relevance of philosophers like Thomas Hobbes, who prioritize the need for political order over rights and democracy. I