political discourse across western/muslim "divides"
Bridging interests in political communication and Muslims and politics, I analyze discourse in public spaces - both online and offline - to evaluate the conditions under which more or less constructive debate about the role of Islam and Muslims in world politics generally, and in Western life more specifically, emerges. In online spaces I am particularly interested in how the underlying structural features as well as the culture of communicative practices among users of a given platform promote, discourage, and/or mitigate insults, harassment, abuse, and trolling behaviors. In traditional mass media outlets I explore whether journalists are helping to generate transnational "public spheres" - spaces where Muslim and non-Muslim voices and perspectives are placed in fruitful dialog with one another.
The first publication to result from this project, an article entitled "Are We Talking With or Past One Another? Examining Transnational Political Discourse Across Western-Muslim 'Divides'" was published in International Studies Quarterly. The article investigates the possibilities for meaningful cross-cultural political dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims. While skeptics maintain that political, cultural, and linguistic barriers preclude meaningful transnational discourse as a whole - let alone between Muslim and non-Muslim interlocutors specifically - our analysis of the discursive links formed in British and Pakistani newspapers during the 2005-2006 Danish Muhammad cartoon controversy provides clear evidence to the contrary. Rather than talking at cross purposes, actors in both countries engaged one another's claims directly and constructively, creating a transnational discursive space where disagreements were evident but not caustic. The codebook for this article may be found here and the replication data here.
islam in central asia
I have conducted extensive fieldwork in former Soviet Central Asia, studying various Islamic movements as well as public discourses about Islam in the region.
My 2014 article "Securitising Islam, Securitising Ethnicity: The Discourse of Uzbek Radicalism in Kyrgyzstan" notes that since independence, Kyrgyzstani leaders have used Islamic identity as a tool for nation-building. While embracing Islam as a marker of Kyrgyz nationhood, however, they have simultaneously sought to limit its role in political life. The resulting discourse draws a sharp dichotomy between “good”, “local” forms of Islam and “bad”, “foreign” manifestations. Unfortunately, the latter, “bad” forms are frequently linked to Kyrgyzstan's largest minority population: ethnic Uzbeks. Drawing on, and adding insights to, the theory of securitisation forwarded by the Copenhagen School of security studies, the article examines how and why religion and ethnicity have become intertwined in Kyrgyzstani discourse.
My article in Problems of Post-Communism, entitled "From Nomadic Traditionalists to Sedentary Scripturalists? Reexamining Ethno-Religious Discourse in Central Asia," further explores the discursive links between religion and ethnicity in the region as a whole. One common narrative forwarded by political elites, average citizens, and outside observers (including Western academics) alike suggests that as a result of differences between historically sedentary and nomadic populations, ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks are naturally more religious and more likely to radicalize than their Kazakh and Kyrgyz neighbors. Using extensive data available from the Pew Research Center's 2012 The World's Muslims survey, this article examines whether such claims stand up to empirical scrutiny. The data cast doubt on simplified versions of this discourse and suggest that future analyses should focus attention on individual-level explanations rather than potentially essentializing group-based narratives. The appendix for this article can be found here.