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The Turbulent World with James M. Dorsey

News & Politics Podcasts

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa.




Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa.






Shiites, Not Jews, Emerge As A Touchstone Of Saudi Moderation

Saudi Arabia has removed anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli references from Islamic studies schoolbooks, according to an Israeli textbook watchdog.


Culture Wars Bubble Under Arab Surfaces

Religious conservatives and nationalists in the Muslim world and beyond have the wind in their sails. So do Arab autocrats, even if they increasingly cloak themselves in nationalism rather than religious conservatism.


Are Muslim religious conservatism and political Islam making a comeback?

Little did Elianu Hia know that a video he posted on Facebook in early 2021 would shape Indonesian policy and turn his life upside down. A Christian in a Muslim-majority nation, Mr. Hia objected to vocational school authorities in the West Sumatran city of Padang, obliging his daughter to wear a hijab. Mr. Hia’s experience tells the story of see-saw swings in the Muslim world between trends towards increased religious individuality, more personal understanding of religion, and skepticism towards religious and temporal authority, and support for greater public adherence to religious norms and often state-aligned clerics.


Sudan Tests The Limits Of Middle Eastern De - Escalation.

With Saudi-hosted talks to end Sudan fighting producing minimal results and Arab states supporting rival forces, de-escalation in the Middle East faces a major test. So does Gulf states' ability to employ dollar diplomacy to persuade poorer Arab brethren to align with the policies of countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.


Middle Eastern Rivalries Are Alive And Kicking Despite De - Escalation

Middle Eastern battlegrounds are alive and kicking even though rivals seek to balance contentious relations.


Is Central Asia And The Caucasus The Indo - Pacific’s Next Stop

America to the rescue. In a twist of irony, that may be Central Asia's only alternative, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine upsetting the region's security apple cart.


Syrian President Al - Assad Plays A Strong Hand In Diplomatic Poker

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has put restoration of control of all of Syria at the core of efforts to manage multiple Middle Eastern rivalries that often play out in his war-ravaged country. Mr. Al-Assad’s demand means different things to different parties.


Shaping A 21st - Century World Order The Nation - State Vs The Civilizational State

US President Joe Biden positions the Ukraine war as a battle between autocracy and democracy. That reduces what is at stake in the war. The stakes constitute a fundamental building block of a new 21st-century world order: the nature of the state.


The Qatar World Cup Has Come And Gone, But The Debate Continues.

The 2022 Qatar World Cup has come and gone. Most fans will remember the exhilarating matches and the dramatic final. They will recall the emergence of Morocco as the tournament’s darling. For some, the politics will stick in their mind: expressions of support for the Palestinians, struggles over support for LGBTQ rights, and the unprecedented more than a decade-long campaign by human rights groups and trade unions to improve the working and living conditions of migrant workers. The tournament may be history but the often-fierce debate about Qatar is not. To be sure, the debate has moved on. It focusses on lessons learnt from a country that at least when it came to workers rights was willing to engage. Those lessons are particularly relevant with countries like Saudi Arabia set to host a slew of tournaments over the next decade and bidding for many more. The bids include an effort, together with Egypt and Greece, to win the hosting rights for the 2030 World Cup. Saudi Arabia and Egypt, two of the world’s worst violators of human rights, are, in contrast to Qatar, unlikely to recognise their critics, let alone engage with them. Gulf states’ forays into sports are not limited to hosting. They involve the acquisition of high-profile clubs like Manchester City, Paris St. Germain, and Newcastle United, and now perhaps even Manchester United as well as celebrity players like Neymar and Ronaldo. The forays also involve attempts to control whole sport discipline with Saudi Arabia’s creation of an alternative golf tournament and effort to Saudi to set up world's richest cricket competition while Qatar has invested in the International Padel Federation to create new global tour. The Qatari World Cup experience may well embolden the kingdom in maintaining a hard line. Criticism of Qatar was relentless in the 12-year walkup to the 2022 World Cup. Yet, the Gulf emerged from the successful hosting of the tournament with its reputation enhanced rather than tarnished. Similarly, perceptions of the debate about Qatar that was as much about legitimate rights issues as it was skewed by prejudice, bias, sour grapes, and a Western-centric focus, is likely to reinforce Saudi reluctance to engage. To discuss these issues, I am joined today by Karim Zidan, an acclaimed Egyptian Canadian journalist, short story writer, and translator.


Anglican Schism Is Not Just About Theology. It’s About Geopolitics Too

A schism that could tear the Anglican church apart is about more than LGBTQ rights. It's about fundamental cultural and religious differences with potentially profound consequences for the geopolitical battle to shape a 21st-century world order.


In The Black Hole - James M. Dorsey On The Battle For The Soul Of Islam

Pakistan ranks high on the list of Muslim-majority countries in which significant segments of the population are in religious terms militantly ultra-conservative. It’s a country where the impact of decades of Saudi funding of ultra-conservative religious thinking has left deep inroads. It’s also a country in which numerous people over the years have been killed or lynched by outraged individuals or mobs over allegations of blasphemy or for expressing opposition to harsh laws that mandate the death sentence for blasphemy. Since 1990, more than 80 people have been killed in such violence. This month, a Chinese national was remanded in custody after protesters accused him of blasphemy. This makes a discussion with a Pakistani audience about the battle for the soul of Islam, the rivalry in the Muslim world over what constitutes ‘moderate’ Islam, the need for reform of religious jurisprudence, and the competition for religious soft power in the Muslim world, particularly interesting. Pervez Hoodhboy, a prominent nuclear scientist and human rights activist, hosts regular in-person and online discussions at The Black Hole, a community center in Islamabad that seeks to foster critical debate. This week, Pervez kindly hosted me for a discussion about what I describe as The Battle for the Soul of Islam


Confronting Problematic Tenets Of Religious Law - Judaism Could Follow Islam

Since 9/11, Muslim political and religious leaders and world leaders joined a chorus of voices declaring extremism and jihadism as beyond Islam’s pale. Islam was not part of the problem, the leaders asserted. However, Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest and most moderate Muslim civil society movement, bucked the trend, insisting that Islam is part of the problem. But equally important is Nahdlatul Ulama’s assertion that it is not just Islam that embraces legal concepts that are outdated, obsolete, and/or problematic today. The movement argues that this is equally true for most, if not all, religions. In the case of Judaism, that has become more evident. This is not just with the rise of the most far-right, ultra-nationalist, and religiously ultra-conservative government in Israel's history.


Religion Inspired The Nation - State, But Politics Made The Difference

Think that the modern nation-state originated with the emergence of the 17th-century beginnings of the era of science and reason? Think again. In a recently published book, political scientist Anna Gryzmala-Busse traces the origins of the modern state to medieval Europe when religion and the church played a powerful role rather than the 16th-century beginnings of the modern era.


Sports Are A Potential Bellwether Of How Middle Eastern States Manage Their Differences

Renewed controversy over Saudi ownership of English Premier League club Newcastle United suggests the kind of opposition the kingdom may encounter as it bids for hosting rights to multiple global and regional sporting megaevents. The controversy may also become a bellwether of how Saudi Arabia deals with criticism of its blitz to be front, left, and center in international sports, and in a broader context, how Middle Eastern states manage their differences in an era of reducing regional tensions.


The Fallacy Of A US Withdrawal From The Middle East

America is in decline. Eclipsed by China’s rise, it is shifting attention from the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific. That is one refrain in the analysis of three seemingly paradigm-challenging developments in the past month: a Chinese-mediated restoration of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the kingdom’s association with the China-led, security-focused Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and a possible Russian-facilitated revival of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Syria. The geopolitical importance of these developments is too early to tell. While significant in and of themselves, they raise as many questions as they provide answers. Their ultimate impact remains uncertain.


Putting Hindu Nationalists On The Spot

An Indian Supreme Court ruling coupled with calls by Indian Muslims for an end to sustained Islamophobic attacks on the world’s largest Muslim minority put Hindu nationalists on the spot.


A Battle For The Soul Of Islam Plays Out In A Bahrain Courtroom

This week, there was more at stake in a Bahrain courtroom than the fate of three free speech advocates. At stake was a fundamental question that divides believers across the Muslim world and challenges autocratic rulers’ religious legitimisation: Does Islamic jurisprudence need to be reformed to ensure it is more pluralistic, inclusive, and aligned with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?


Reforming Islamic Jurisprudence Shapes The Battle To Define Moderate Islam

The world’s largest, most moderate Muslim civil society movement has called for abolishing the concept of a caliphate in Islamic law. In a radical break with Islamic orthodoxy, Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, or Revival of Islamic Scholars, wants to replace the concept with notions of the nation-state and the United Nations that are non-existent in Islamic legal tradition.


Unleashing An Iranian Tiger

A Gulf investor with an analytical and artistic bent, Ali al-Salim pinpointed the long-term challenges Saudi Arabia faces as it reestablishes relations with Iran. While most analysts focused on the immediate reduction of regional tensions and the possible opening for an end to the eight-year-long Saudi military intervention in Yemen as a result of a Chinese-mediated agreement to restore diplomatic relations between two Middle Eastern arch-rivals, Mr. Al-Salim is looking at Iran’s long-term competitive edge compared to the kingdom.


Today Jihadists Focus On Africa And Afghanistan, But They Also Eye China And Russia

All Mr. Mohamed wanted was a job and a marriage. A 22-year-old Somali farmhand, Mr. Mohamed, skeptically retorted, "is that right?" when Al Shabab recruiters sought to convince him that the defence of Islam needed him. "What I really need is a job and a wife,' Mr. Mohamed added. The farmworker was persuaded when the recruiters for one of Africa's oldest jihadist movements promised to find him a wife.