‘Going anywhere nice?’
‘Going Anywhere Nice?’
Tomorrow I fly to Beirut to teach a two-week cultural anthropology class on the cultures of North Africa and the Middle East. When I was getting some US dollars for the trip from the bank yesterday the assistant asked me if I was going anywhere ‘nice’. Her reaction to my reply suggested that she did not think that Beirut fitted that description at the moment! Indeed many locations in the Middle East would provoke the same response. With bombs in Beirut, civil war in Syria, crowds of refugees, chaos in Libya, ongoing demonstrations in Egypt and political uncertainty in Tunisia, 2013 did not finish well and 2014 has started little better for the Arab world.
Whilst the upheavals of the Arab revolutions are largely political and cultural in nature, they are not isolated from religious issues – both within Islam and between Islam and the minority religions of the region. Prince Charles’ speech on 17 December at a reception for Middle East Christians was a welcome and sober reminder that many Christian communities are being deliberately and ruthlessly targeted by ‘fundamentalist Islamist militants’ – although judging from the photo it came as something of a surprise to him!
However, the turning of the year did not bring all bad news. Twitter was awash with re-tweets of the Muslim Council of Britain’s reworking of the ‘keep calm’ theme: ‘Don’t panic, Christmas is not banned’. Decrying politically correct paranoia they assured us all that Muslims are not offended by Christmas or any other religious celebration.
These two stories emphasise the ongoing significance of Muslim-Christian relations in 2014. Here at the Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies our aim is to produce and make available good quality academic research of the interaction between Christians and Muslims by researchers from both communities, as well as those from no faith background. In this way we aim to help Christians to better understand Islam and Muslims to better understand Christianity – welcoming all the nuance and complexity that this entails.
So as we head into 2014, in addition to our Annual Joint Lectures and Term-time Seminars, we plan to start producing short guides, annotated bibliographies, book reviews and research summaries to help everyone – Christian, Muslim or otherwise – to come to a better understanding of this complex yet vital interface. Why not follow us on Twitter, find us on Facebook or sign up for our monthly news?
In the meantime I have a bag to pack. I’m heading somewhere ‘interesting’!