Cleveringa Lecture in Jerusalem

During the Second World War, on the 26th of November 1940, multiple professors from Leiden University held protest lectures as a reaction to the dismissal of two Jewish colleagues, professors Meijers en David. Professor Cleveringa, dean of Leiden University’s law faculty, held a lecture on the illegality of the German occupiers’ measures according to international law. In remembrance of these lectures, ‘Cleveringa lectures’ are to this day being held all over the world.

In Israel, Irgun Olei Holland organizes a Cleveringa Lecture on Tuesday the 26th of November in the auditorium of the Rabin building of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. This year, Professor Tahir Abbas will give a lecture titled ‘The crisis of Islamophobia in the Global North’. Prior to his lecture, we asked professor Abbas some questions.

As an assistant professor at the ‘Institute for Security and Global Affairs’ at Leiden University, you do research on Islamophobia and radicalization. How did these fields come to be of interest?
"I first began researching the concept of Islamophobia in 1996 when I was a doctoral research student and had an opportunity to help support a Runnymede Trust research initiative into the topic, in particular, a focus on the question of Islamophobia in the media. While my doctoral work was on the education of South Asians in the city of Birmingham, Islamophobia was of growing interest to me, specifically during the 1990s when the Bosnian War generated major concerns among Muslims minorities in Western Europe, especially with refugees and asylum seekers coming to parts of Western Europe and relaying some of their horrific stories. After a spell in central government from 2000 to 2003, during a time when the war on terror began in earnest, I returned to academia to look at Muslim identity politics in the West, the problems of extremism and the wider concept of radicalisation. For many years, I was treating them as separate concepts, but over the years, as I began to think and research about these concepts more generally, I began to view them as related to such an extent that they feed off each other in a vicious cycle. A few months ago, I attempted to combine my two decades of research and observations on the questions of Islamophobia and radicalisation in my recent book, which came out in September 2019."

Your lecture is called ‘The Crisis of Islamophobia in the Global North’, could you explain shortly what you are going to tell the audience?
"I am going to talk about the evolution of Islamophobia over time. And I want to be able to address the problem of the Islamophobia as a concept that contains many different facets, including the structural, cultural, institutional and ideological motivations that demonise, vilify and marginalise Muslims across the global North. I will argue that it is a specific form of racism; bringing together exclusion based on colour, culture and religion with respect to a particular category - namely, that of Muslims."

It has been 79 years since Professor Cleveringa held his oration. What are the takeaways from his action in the year 2019?
"It has been 79 years since the initial lecture by Professor Cleveringa; however, intolerance, understanding and fighting bigotry and racism are more important than ever, especially in a global climate where racism is taking multiple forms, affecting the lives of people as minorities in societies all over the world. What is incredibly worrying is the way in which it is normalised in the dominant political and media discourses of so many of these countries, which suggests that thinking on antiracism, fighting social injustices and developing inter-community associations have subsided. A form of neoliberal globalisation has resulted in governments being directed not by the interests of the people, but by the motivations relating to a complete abandonment of wealth redistribution, equality and fraternity. We all have to fight against prejudice. This is why the lessons learned from Professor Cleveringa remain as important as ever."

What does it mean to you to give this lecture in Israel, where the theme carries a different load than in Western Europe?
"Intolerance and bigotry, as well as anxieties around equality and fraternity, are invariably found all over the world. Israel is a special place because of its emergence in recent political history is unique. It is facing some of the exceptional difficulties that necessarily emerge when a nation is being formed out of a historical space containing particular memories, experiences and understandings of associations with the land and its meaning for religious groups. There are huge complexities to consider in Israel. In addition, while there is an acceptance that matters could be improved concerning improving interactions between those who are otherwise recognised as distinctly separate groups, there is a great deal that brings the people of Israel together under the banner of fraternity, equality and recognition of social justice. It is real honour and privilege to talk in a country that I have visited a number of times in the past, but in spite of the many ongoing questions that remain, we must all work together to see the bigger picture and to deliver what is just and right for all."

Prof. Tahir Abbas