International Women’s Day Reading List

From feminist theory, to history and contemporary politics, these are some of Pluto’s best books, old and new, that celebrate radical women.


Revolutionary Learning: Marxism, Feminism and Knowledge by Sara Carpenter and Shahrzad Mojab Carpenter T03129

Revolutionary Learning by Sara Carpenter and Shahrzad Mojab explores the Marxist and feminist theorisation of knowledge production and learning. From an explicitly feminist perspective, the authors reconsider the contributions of Marx, Gramsci and Freire to educational theory, expanding Marxist analyses of education by considering it in relation to patriarchal and imperialist capitalism.  The reproductive nature of institutions is revealed through an ethnography of schools and pushed further by the authors who go on to examine how education and consciousness connects with the broader environment of public policy, civil society, the market, and other instruments of ‘public pedagogy.’

The book’s use of work by feminist, anti-racist and anti-colonial scholars means it will have significant implications for critical education scholarship, but its use value extends beyond educational praxis; providing the tools dissect, theorize, resist and transform capitalist social relations.


Captive Revolution: Palestinian Women’s Anti-Colonial Struggle within the Israeli Prison System by Nahla AbdoAbdo T02851

Throughout the world, women have played a part in struggles against colonialism, imperialism and other forms of oppression, but their vital contributions to revolutions, national liberation and anti-colonial resistance are rarely chronicled.

Nahla Abdo’s Captive Revolution seeks to break the silence on Palestinian women political detainees. Based on stories of the women themselves, as well as her own experiences as a former political prisoner, Abdo draws on a wealth of oral history and primary research in order to analyse their anti-colonial struggle, their agency and their appalling treatment as political detainees. Through crucial comparisons between the experiences of female political detainees in other conflict; a history of female activism emerges.

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Hezbollah, Syria and the Arab uprisings

We recently published ‘Hezbollah: The Political Economy of Lebanon’s Party of God’, Joseph Daher’s analysis of the Lebanese party argues that Hezbollah are misunderstood and to understand them better we must position them within socio-economic and political developments in Lebanon and the Middle East. In this comprehensive article, written exclusively for the Pluto blog, Daher examines the changing tone of Hezbollah’s support for people’s movements in the Middle East, arguing that their continued support for the Assad regime in Syria has been the main determinate on their opinion.  More broadly, this article seeks to disprove the theory that Hezbollah’s political activity is grounded in revolutionary spirit and is imbued in the economic and political apparatus of the Middle East.


In the last few weeks, the leader of Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has reiterated his vow to maintain Hezbollah’s “jihad” in neighbouring Syria and declared that “there are no prospects for political solutions” in the country, “the final word is for the battlefield”. All this, in spite of the human and material costs of bombing by Russian and Assad’s regime airplanes in Aleppo. This rhetoric is matched by Hezbollah’s military activity. Currently, Hezbollah fighters are participating in the offensive against the liberated neighbourhood of Aleppo,[1] alongside regime forces and Shi’a fundamentalist militias sponsored by the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI).

In spite of this, Hezbollah is still considered by large swathes of people as defending the “oppressed” throughout the region, it is even believed to be advancing the revolutionary processes of the Middle East and North Africa. This is an illusion we must challenge. It is imperative that we accurately see the record of the Lebanese Islamic Shi’a movement (Hezbollah) towards various uprisings and pay close attention to Syria where Hezbollah played a determinant role in support to the authoritarian Assad regime.


The uprisings are part of the resistance project


In early 2011, Hezbollah officials were claiming that the Arab uprisings were part of their project of resistance. During a massive rally in support of the Arab uprisings, organised by Hezbollah in Dahyeh, Nasrallah made a speech in which he voiced his support to the Arab people and their revolutions and sacrifices, but failed to mention the first demonstrations, occurring a few days before, that would become the Syrian uprising. The uprising would be severely repressed by the Assad regime with the support of Hezbollah.

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The Legacy of King Abdullah

The Saudi king’s recent death has sparked debate. Andrew Hammond, author of The Islamic Utopia: The Illusion of Reform in Saudi Arabia, gives us his take.

‘Hagiography of the deceased Saudi king Abdullah has piled up at a surprising rate, reflecting the desire – the desperate hope – among Western policy-makers to present Saudi Arabia as on a path to “reform” that justifies their continued investment in the regime. Astoundingly, the UK Hammond TIUgovernment has even ordered flags to be put at half-mast. In reality, the Saudi government’s political repression, economic plunder, improvised regional interventions and cradling of religious obscurantism and zealotry is of a scale arguably unique in modern times and the late King Abdullah did little to improve matters.

The legacy of Abdullah as a “reformer” had dissipated long before his death. Abdullah rose to prominence in the late 1990s at the beginning of his predecessor Fahd’s long incapacitation – a time of collapsing oil prices and high government spending. In 1998 the then crown prince told Saudis, both the population and the ruling family, that they would have to tighten their belts. The catastrophe of 9/11 created a further imperative for domestic reform and an array of political activists spanning reformist clerics, Jeddah liberals, Islamists, leftists, Arab nationalists, Eastern Province Shia and women, came together to formulate those demands in a series of petitions; liberals in particular felt that their time had come. The cult of Abdullah was born.

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Top players in Islamophobia Industry paid over $150,000 per year

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has released a new report documenting the state of affairs for the anti-Islam network in the United States, Charlotte Silver writes for the Electronic Intifada blog today.

The report revealed the continued presence of a large, well-funded infrastructure of anti-Islam organisations and individuals, which continues to peddle Islamophobia in a bid to shape the public discourse.

Silver writes:

The report rates the year 2012 as a 5.9 on a scale of one to ten — ten representing the worst possible situation for Muslims in the US. The year 2010 received a rating of 6.4; this is attributed to the storm of anti-Islam sentiment that was sparked by the building of the Park51 Muslim community center in lower Manhattan.

The report provides a useful and extensive index— a sort of “who’s who — of the US Islamophobia network, including politicians, pundits and other leaders. CAIR identifies 37 groups that comprise an “inner core” of groups that directly work to denigrate Islam.

And while signs suggest a softening of anti-Islamic sentiment among the general public in America, the Islamophobic industry that fear-baits the American public remains a lucrative one: CAIR estimates that the total revenue for these groups was $119.6 million between 2008 and 2011. The report is careful to distinguish revenue from funding. In 2011, the Center for American Progress published “Fear, Inc.,” an investigative report that isolated seven foundations that provided $42.6 million worth of funding to Islamophobia think tanks, including Daniel Pipes’ Middle East Forum and Steve Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism.

9780745332536You can read the full article on the Electronic Intifada website, by clicking here. For further reading about the subject, see Nathan Lean’s award winning The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims (Pluto, 2012). This week, you can pick up a copy for just £8.05 including free UK P&P as part of our 40% off ‘back to uni’ sale. Click here to activate the site-wide discount, or on the cover image for more information about the book.


“This concise, accessible and illuminating book meets one of the most urgent needs of our time. Nathan Lean has provided us with a compelling counter-narrative that reveals the vested interests and highly-organized networks of those who preach the virulent Islamophobia that is not only endangering world peace but is also corroding the tolerance and egalitarian ethos that should characterize Western society. This book should be required reading.”

– Karen Armstrong, author of A History of God, Islam: A Short History and Muhammad

Mehdi Hasan argues against Islamophobia in Oxford Union debate

Mehdi Hasan spoke at the Oxford Union debate earlier this month, arguing for the motion that ‘Islam is a Peaceful Religion’, which passed 286 to 168.

Hasan spoke for approximately 13 minutes and demolished a number of enduring myths perpetrated by the ‘phobes and bigots’ who pursue Islamophobic agendas. You can watch the video below for the full speech.

Pluto has some excellent further reading to offer as well. Nathan Lean’s award-winning The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims (Pluto, 2012) can be purchased from our website for just £11.50 including free UK P&P. Just click on the cover image below.


“This concise, accessible and illuminating book meets one of the most urgent needs of our time. Lean has provided a compelling counter-narrative that reveals the vested interests and highly organized networks of those who preach the virulent Islamophobia that is not only endangering world peace but is also corroding the tolerance and egalitarian ethos that should characterize Western society. This book should be required reading.”

– Karen Armstrong, author of A History of God, Islam: A Short History and Muhammad

“Islamophobia is not only about ignorance and fear. Some people purposefully nurture it and use it as a political strategy. Nathan Lean’s The Islamophobia Industry shows what is happening behind the scenes. It is an essential book for anyone who wants to understand the rationale and objectives behind those who foster this new racism against Muslims.”

– Tariq Ramadan, Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University and author of The Quest for Meaning

Life as the spouse of a suspected al-Qaeda terrorist – Victoria Brittain’s ‘Shadow Lives’ in the Guardian

Guardian Logo

Victoria Brittain’s powerful new book, Shadow Lives: The Forgotten Women of the War on Terror (Pluto, 2013), has had an extract in the Guardian (and G2) today.

What’s it like being married to a man who has spent 13 years in UK prisons fighting deportation to the US on terrorism charges – and seeing him finally lose that battle? In a particularly emotive extract from Victoria’s book, Ragaa, the wife of Adel Abdul Bary, tells of the prison visits, the battles with bureaucracy and the struggles to raise a family under extraordinary pressures.

To read the extract at the Guardian, click here.

Ragaa met Adel Abdul Bary, the man who would become her husband, in 1981. Her Egyptian family had moved from the countryside into a flat near the centre of Cairo. In those days she was a girl in tight jeans and a T-shirt, with long hair below her waist, though at her parents’ insistence she tied it back in a plait, and was not allowed to wear makeup. At Cairo University, Ragaa found herself doing business studies instead of the art or music she had wanted to do, because her final school exam results were not good enough.

She hated her course but was entranced by the university world. Before long, other girls from her class, wearing hijab, began to take her aside and talk to her about how her beautiful hair should be hidden, encouraging her to come into the mosque area of the college. “I went,” she says. “It was something different. I felt calm, peaceful in there.”

Ragaa and her sister began to follow Islam more strictly than the rest of their Muslim family. It was the fashion for the educated young back then, she says. The two girls went to an all-female Islamic study circle where the male teacher sat the other side of a curtain. One day, Ragaa saw him after class in the street, a handsome man with a little beard and turban, and imagined how lovely it would be to be his wife. Later, his sister spoke to her about a marriage, and then to her great excitement, he and his family came to visit hers. The marriage was decided.

At the time Egypt was a tinder-box of political and religious tension. On 3 September 1981 President Anwar Sadat had ordered an extraordinary mass round-up of religious leaders, politicians, journalists, army officers and others. He mocked the girls wearing chadors, “going about like black tents”, and the young men with beards. Sadat was assassinated shortly afterwards, during a military parade, by a handful of young Islamist officers, and was succeeded by another military leader, Hosni Mubarak. Continue reading

Wall Street Journal Denies Existence of Islamophobia – Nathan Lean responds to Jonathan Schanzer

The Islamophobia Industry (Pluto, 2012) was given a critical, even scathing review in the Wall Street Journal last week. Jonathan Schanzer’s article denied the existence of Islamophobia, using phrases such as “in reality, Islamophobia is simply a pejorative neologism designed to warn people away from criticizing any aspect of Islam.”

Lean has responded earlier this week in the Huffington Post, defending the arguments he makes in his award winning book. We’ve reproduced it below. To see it in its original context, click here.

*   *   *

Nathan Lean

Nathan Lean

Unless you’ve been asleep for the past 10 years (or write book reviews for the Wall Street Journal), you may have noticed that anti-Muslim sentiment in the past decade has recently spilled out into some of this country’s nastiest displays of hate.

In August, a Sikh temple was shot up in Oak Creek, Wis.; the gunman couldn’t distinguish between Sikhs and Muslims, and so, frightened just the same by the presence of brown-skinned Americans with foreign names and beards, killed seven people.

That same month, as Muslims prayed inside a mosque in Hayward, Calif., four teens drove by the house of worship, hurling lemons and firing shots from a BB gun. In Panama City, Fla., a Mason jar filled with gasoline was thrown at the home of a Muslim family.

Two months later, in Ohio, Randolph Linn, a white, middle-aged Muslim hater, upped the ante on the lemon and Mason jar throwers, entering a Toledo mosque, pouring gasoline on the prayer area, and torching the building. Later, he said that all he knew about Muslims came from Fox News (surprise, surprise!).

More recently, commuters on buses and metros in some of the nation’s major metropolitan cities have comes across advertisements by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, an anti-Muslim hate group. The ad campaigns equate Muslims with “savages” and cherry-pick violent verses from the Quran, plopping them alongside some predictable gory imagery of 9/11.

No wonder, then, in late December, Sunando Sen, a Hindu man living in New York, was pushed onto the tracks on of oncoming subway train and killed by a woman who later admitted that she hated Muslims and Hindus.

The FBI has reported that hate crimes against Muslims in the United States, which include vandalism, intimidation, assault, rape and murder, have continually risen in the past few years. In 2011, 157 cases were reported — an insignificant drop from the some 160 cases reported in 2010.

Any reasonable person would look at this growing phenomenon and conclude that we’ve reached an ugly new level of prejudice against religious minorities in this country. But not Jonathan Schanzer, a hawkish Bush-era terrorism analyst whose predictable (and unethical — I’ll get to that later) review of my book, The Islamophobia Industry, in the Wall Street Journal last week denied the existence of Islamophobia entirely. These episodes of violence against Muslims are, for him, apparently unimportant and easily justified by the continued political ferocity of Islamist groups acting overseas.

Schanzer apes the extremist voices on the right (including hate group leader Robert Spencer) and calls Islamophobia a “vaguely medical sounding term” that is “simply a pejorative neologism.” Strikingly, he doesn’t suggest that we should be concerned about increased anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S., and seems to indicate that because some people may abuse the term “Islamophobia,” we should simply dismiss it altogether. That’s a dangerous deficiency in logic. Some people also abuse the terms “anti-Semite” and “racist,” but imagine his outrage if those terms were swiped from usage.

As I point out explicitly in my book, Islamophobia is a complicated term and one that has been parsed thoroughly throughout history. It’s not perfect, but it’s what we have and is the only real word that exists in public discourse to describe an irrational fear of an entire religious faith, Islam, based on the actions of a fraction of zealots. There’s not a person in this world — myself included — who would conclude that every critique of Islam or the violent actions of some Muslims constitutes Islamophobia (of course, that point didn’t configure in Schanzer’s review because it obviously undermined the attack that he hoped to level).

But what the Wall Street Journal doesn’t seem to get is that at the core of Islamophobia is the belief that there is something about the religion of Islam itself that is evil and dirty and bad — that groups like al Qaeda and Hezbollah and others are motivated only by the tenets of their faith and not by their political grievances or ambitions. That unbalanced view places the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims under the magnifying glass, and that’s not OK.

It is also that belief — that Muslims possess, as a result of their religious faith, some inherently violent characteristic — that links discussions of racism and Islamophobia. Schanzer scoffs at the possibility that Islamophobia may be a distant cousin of racism.

But what does he say about Ahmed Sharif, the New York City cab driver who was slashed in 2010 because of his brown skin? How does Schanzer explain Sunando Sen, the brown-skinned Hindu who was pushed to his death in New York City subway station? Or how about the brown-skinned man from Queens, who in November of last year, was beaten to a bloody pulp by two attackers who asked if he was Muslim or Hindu? There was also a trio of shootings in Brooklyn that same month that killed an Egyptian Jew, an Iranian Jew and an Egyptian Muslim. According to law enforcement authorities, the victims, all shot by the same .22 caliber gun, were targeted as a result of their Middle Eastern descent.

Schanzer is silent on these issues. And his inability to grapple with these serious questions is just as unsurprising as the fact that his review does not even address the central thesis of my book to begin with: that there exists within this country an active and well-funded cottage industry of anti-Muslim fear mongers. Schanzer does not critique that uncontestable point; he does not deny the money lines, the relationships, nor does he reject my contention that Islamophobia is largely a fixture of the political right. (Consider, for instance that in 2011 and 2012, 78 Congressional bills or amendments aimed at interfering with Muslim religious practices were considered in 31 states; Of them, a whopping 73 were introduced by Republicans, four were bi-partisan, and only one by a Democrat.)

That’s because Schanzer is a part of that right-wing industry — a product of the grandfather of anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States, Daniel Pipes. It’s a relationship he doesn’t mention (one must believe, intentionally) in his review. In the spirit of fair journalism, the WSJ could have at least added that line of disclosure, especially since I attack Pipes in my book. But given that Fox News tycoon Rupert Murdoch owns the paper, such an expectation is merely a pipe dream.

Speaking of pipes, Daniel Pipes once employed Schanzer as a researcher at the Middle East Forum (he is still listed on the site as “staff”), his neoconservative think tank, and he wrote the foreword for Schanzer’s 2008 book. The two have authored numerous articles and appeared in public together.

Ironically, while Schanzer throws a public temper tantrum about the linkage between Islamophobia and racism, his former boss, Pipes, is the author of what is, perhaps, the most blatantly racist sentence ever uttered by someone claiming to be a serious scholar of these issues:

“West European societies,” he once wrote, “are unprepared for the massive immigration of brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and not exactly maintaining Germanic standards of hygiene.”

(Since that time, Pipes has tried to wriggle his way out of that statement, practically begging his audience to just see things his way — he’s not really a racist, just someone who misplaced a quotation mark or two!)

The great irony in all of this is that Schanzer, by the very nature of his career as a neoconservative terrorism analyst and vice president of a hawkish pro-Israel think tank in Washington, actually depends on these types of “all Muslims are suspicious” narratives. It’s what prevents his paycheck from bouncing each month. The more he, and others like him, can dismiss Islamophobia as some imagined mental state and continue to conflate the actions of a few violent Muslims with all adherents of the global faith, the more he can legitimize his presence within a neoconservative clique that thrives on such discrimination.

If there ever was proof of the existence of the “Islamophobia Industry,” Jonathan Schanzer is it.

The Islamophobia Industry

How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims

Nathan Lean. Foreword by John L. Esposito

Disturbing account of the rising tide of Islamophobia sweeping through the United States and Europe.

“This concise, accessible and illuminating book meets one of the most urgent needs of our time. Lean has provided a compelling counter-narrative that reveals the vested interests and highly organized networks of those who preach the virulent Islamophobia that is not only endangering world peace but is also corroding the tolerance and egalitarian ethos that should characterize Western society. This book should be required reading.” – Karen Armstrong

“Islamophobia is not only about ignorance and fear. Some people purposefully nurture it and use it as a political strategy. Nathan Lean’s The Islamophobia Industry shows what is happening behind the scenes. It is an essential book for anyone who wants to understand the rationale and objectives behind those who foster this new racism against Muslims.” – Tariq Ramadan, Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University and author of The Quest for Meaning

£12.99 only £11.50 on the Pluto site