Up for Debate

 

There’s a telling moment in our cover story, “Music Lessons,” about the collaboration between Associate Professor of Music Carol Muller’s class in ethnomusicology and the Quba Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies on Lancaster Avenue near Penn’s campus. Quba’s Saida Abdul Aziz, who oversees the exchange for the institute, recounts how a young, non-Muslim visitor (not a Penn student, fortunately) had explained his reason for dropping by: “We heard you were all terrorists. We wanted to see what it was like to be around terrorists.”

“We all laughed,” recalls Abdul Aziz, adding that the institute welcomes outsiders’ curiosity, however awkwardly expressed. “We tell people to ‘Ask the things you’ve always wanted to ask Muslims.’ Maybe you never knew anybody [who was Muslim], you just see people on the street and of course you’re not going to ask them something that may be offensive. You just walk around Philadelphia filled up with fear and questions.”

Muller, whose early research took place in apartheid-era South Africa (see the sidebar to the main article for more on that), has been working with gospel music groups in West Philadelphia for a number of years and began working with Quba last spring. Students in the class engaged in a variety of fieldwork activites and developed their own video projects; the semester climaxed with a showing in Fisher-Bennett Hall to an audience of students and community members.

Susan Frith—to whom we said farewell as associate editor in our last issue, but who wrote this piece while still on staff—details how Muller’s class got a rare insight into one Muslim community’s attitudes and practices, along with some equally significant lessons in how ethnographic studies take some unexpected paths in an environment where both “researchers” and “subjects” are in positions of equality.

Attempts at cultural understanding—both in terms of the (very marginal) groups intent on attacking the U.S. and the much broader Muslim population—have been singularly lacking in America’s foreign policy since 9/11, according to political-science professor Ian Lustick. The result, he argues in his new book, Trapped in the War on Terror, has been to make a gift to the terrorists of their wildest dreams of power and significance on the world stage.

In “Lowering the Temperature,” an excerpt from the book, and in an accompanying interview, Lustick makes his case: Set loose by a “cabal” intent primarily on justifying an invasion of Iraq, the “War on Terror” has taken on a life of its own, trapping politicians of both parties into ever-escalating rhetoric, employed as a justification for any type of self-interested spending, and hamstringing law-enforcement-based approaches to combating terrorist groups that might actually work.

Such contentious issues are the bread-and-butter of Justice Talking, a radio show produced by the Annenberg Public Policy Center and broadcast on National Public Radio. In “Law Made Plain,” frequent contributor Dennis Drabelle G’66 L’69 looks back on the show’s history with producer Kathryn Kolbert and host Margot Adler, and offers a snapshot of the season-ending program from last summer that assessed the first session of the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts.

Finally, in “Workers of the World, Adapt!” senior editor Samuel Hughes profiles union leader Andrew Stern C’71, who has sparked a fair amount of debate as well. Stern led the split of his and six other unions from the AFL-CIO last year to form the Change to Win Coalition, prompting assertions that he is either the savior of the union movement or an accomplished self-promoter. As one union spokesperson, who leans toward the latter interpretation, offered, in lieu of no-comment: “Enjoy your alum.”

—John Prendergast C’80

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