Friday, December 19, 2014

Jonathan Petropoulos's "Artists Under Hitler"

Jonathan Petropoulos is John V. Croul Professor of European History, Claremont McKenna College, and author of several books on culture in the Third Reich. He is former Research Director for Art and Cultural Property, Presidential Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States.

Petropoulos applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Artists Under Hitler: Collaboration and Survival in Nazi Germany, and reported the following:
Well, it’s difficult for me to assess the quality of my own work (although not surprisingly, I believe I did a good job, having spent nine years researching and writing this tome), but I think page 99 is representative of the book as a whole. The page falls in the chapter on Paul Hindemith, the modernist composer who tried to find accommodation with the Nazi regime (but failed—as did the other cultural figures taken up in this section).

Page 99 engages many of the themes in the book: the defense of a modernist composer on ideological grounds (in this case by Wilhelm Furtwängler, who called Hindemith “purely Germanic”), the strong popular support expressed for these progressive artists during the Third Reich (audiences applauded for twenty minutes after Wilhelm Furtwängler conducted at the Berlin State Opera, although the reaction came because Furtwängler had defended Hindemith in a prominent German newspaper); and the active engagement of Nazi leaders in the formulation of state cultural policy. One of the great paradoxes of the Third Reich is that the Nazi leaders—the most barbarous and malevolent men in history—devoted so much time to cultural pursuits. They not only collected art, but were very hands-on in making cultural policy.

This page is representative of the book in other ways too. First, it is part of a case study approach. Because I seek to discern the motivations of these modernist cultural icons, it is important to examine the specifics of their lives. Every figure had his or her own reasons for seeking accommodation with the regime. Of course, they are comparable in many ways (hence the organization of the book, with one section on those who sought to find a place in the Reich and failed, and another about those who tried and succeeded). But it’s important to focus in on the specific thoughts and circumstances of these very complicated and accomplished artists.

I think this book is also representative because it shows that many modernist cultural figures continued to be productive during the Third Reich, and that is one of the arguments of my book. There is a myth that all Nazis were anti-modernist and that they prevented the creation of modern art between 1933 and 1945. That’s very far from the truth. Many modern artists not only continued to work, but enjoyed the most productive periods of their career. I’m not saying that it wasn’t difficult, but for many, the dangerous environment imparted a sense of meaning, even urgency, with regards to their work. The trade in modern artworks continued up until 1945—one could buy and sell works by Emil Nolde, Ernst Barlach, Franz Marc, or Käthe Kollwitz. It’s important that we develop a more nuanced understanding of the cultural life of Nazi Germany.
Learn more about Artists Under Hitler at the Yale University Press website.

Writers Read: Jonathan Petropoulos.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Lee A. Farrow's "Alexis in America"

Lee A. Farrow is professor of history and distinguished teaching professor at Auburn University–Montgomery.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Alexis in America: A Russian Grand Duke's Tour, 1871-1872, and reported the following:
On page 99 of my book, I begin the description of Alexis’s visit to Harvard University in the fall of 1871. Over a period of three months in 1871-1872, Grand Duke Alexis, son of Russian Tsar Alexander II, traveled all over the United States, visiting all the major American cities of the time (including Chicago right after the Great Fire) and meeting many famous Americans of the period, including Albert Bierstadt, Oliver Wendell Homes, Samuel Morse, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Ulysses Grant. He also traveled by train for a buffalo hunt with Buffalo Bill and Custer and was present for the first daytime celebration of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. His visit occurred during the high point of Russian-American relations and the success of his visit was seen as a measure of the reliability of the Russian-American friendship. This is the first book to cover this fascinating story. Because I wanted any history lover to read it, I wrote it with a general audience in mind. In that sense, page 99 does represent the whole of the book. It discusses one of Alexis’s encounters with Americans and American life and, I hope, it is engaging for readers of all kinds.
Learn more about Alexis in America at the LSU Press website.

Writers Read: Lee A. Farrow.

My Book, The Movie: Alexis in America.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Raanan Rein's "Fútbol, Jews, and the Making of Argentina"

Raanan Rein is Sourasky Professor of Latin American and Spanish History at Tel Aviv University, Israel.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Fútbol, Jews, and the Making of Argentina, and reported the following:
This book focuses on the history of the Club Atletico Atlanta, a soccer/football club located in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Villa Crespo. I consider soccer as a privileged avenue in Argentina for negotiating social, ethnic and gender identities. Although populated by many ethnic groups, Villa Crespo has long been considered, by Jews and non-Jews alike, as a Jewish neighborhood. Since the mid-20th century, Jews have constituted a substantial proportion of the fans, administrators and presidents of Atlanta, so much so that the fans of rival teams often chant anti-Semitic slogans during matches.

Page 99 begins a discussion about a critical stage in Argentine history, including the history of sports. The rise of a populist movement headed by the charismatic Juan Perón changed the rules of the political game to this day. The use and abuse of sports by the Perón regime influenced the history of Club Atlanta, as well as the relations of Jewish-Argentines with the government. The bond between Atlanta and Juan and Evita Perón started in 1944, when club members, many of them Jewish, donated money in order to assist the victims of the San Juan earthquake. They were part of a nationwide solidarity campaign headed by Juan Perón.

In the following years Atlanta, like many other soccer clubs, enjoyed financial support from the regime and paid back by expressing support of the government. The planned stadium of Atlanta was supposed to be named after Eva Perón. However, the military coup d'etat that deposed Perón in September 1955 also put an end to this plan. The new national authorities briefly closed the Villa Crespo stadium, a measure motivated by political consideration. The Jewish image of the neighborhood, and, by extension, of Club Atlanta, may have contributed to a certain attitude of suspicion and mistrust on the part of the new government. It was a time when nationalistic Catholic groups were distributing anti-Semitic pamphlets that included accusations against the Jews and the Masons of supposedly encouraging Perón to enter into a conflict with the Catholic Church.

The Jewish identity of Club Atlanta is similar to the one of Ajax Amsterdam and London's Tottenham Hotspur. The book thus discusses identity issues within and without the stadium and the cases in which identity is assumed by people or imposed on them.
Learn more about Fútbol, Jews, and the Making of Argentina at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

R. S. Deese's "We Are Amphibians"

R. S. Deese teaches history at Boston University. His work has been published in AGNI, Endeavour, Aldous Huxley Annual, MungBeing, and Berkeley Poetry Review.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, We Are Amphibians: Julian and Aldous Huxley on the Future of Our Species, and reported the following:
Just as some films are only remembered for one or two lines, some authors are only remembered for one or two books. Often this winnowing of our collective memory is just, but sometimes it is not. For example, the human race will probably get along just fine when the only thing that anyone can recall from the ill-fated Godfather, Part III is the line that Al Pacino made famous in the trailer: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” In contrast, the world would be a poorer place if the only books that anyone recalled from Aldous Huxley’s massive body of work were Brave New World and The Doors of Perception. Dystopian novels and psychedelic drugs are fine as far as each of them goes, but there is so much more to the life and thought of Aldous Huxley. This was a man who maintained a childlike interest in just about everything until the bitter end, and his ideas concerning such subjects as science, religion, and the future of our species still possess the power to surprise and enlighten curious readers more than half a century after his death.

We Are Amphibians explores the lifelong dialogue between Aldous Huxley and his brother, the biologist Julian Huxley, about all of these big, chin-scratching subjects. When I put this book to the Page 99 Test, however, I suddenly imagined Aldous Huxley stealing that line from Al Pacino (though with less lockjawed anger and more ironic aplomb). The problem is this: Although my book is only a little bit about drugs, page 99 is wall-to-wall tripping tales, thus throwing Aldous right back into to the same bin with Timothy Leary, Terence McKenna and other lesser lights who made their reputations as gurus of pharmaceutical mysticism. On the bright side, the tales of altered states recounted on page 99 of We Are Amphibians are not from the well-explored terrain of sixties psychedelia, but concern the mind-expanding experiments of people who predated Aldous Huxley by decades, such as William James, Havelock Ellis, and Mabel Dodge Luhan.

Aldous was aware that William James had experimented with nitrous oxide and he shared the philosopher’s notion that other worlds of consciousness lay in wait for us just beyond the edges of our quotidian experience. He also drew inspiration from the physician and pioneering sexologist Havelock Ellis, who dosed himself with peyote in his gas-lit London flat in the 1890s and wrote an essay expounding on the significance of his experience. That essay, “Mescal: A New Artificial Paradise”, was published in 1898, and it may have played a role in inspiring others to repeat the experiment. On the eve of the First World War, the wealthy American bohemian Mabel Dodge Luhan conducted what she called ‘an experiment in consciousness’ in her Greenwich Village apartment by ingesting peyote buttons with friends in an improvised recreation of a Native American spiritual rite.

After recounting these antecedents to Aldous Huxley’s initial experiment with mescaline in 1953, page 99 of We Are Amphibians points out that his interpretation of the psychedelic experience owed a great deal to the thinking of the French philosopher Henri Bergson.
In a letter dated April 10th, 1953 to Humphry Osmond (the psychiatrist who would soon give him his first dose of mescaline), Aldous cited Bergson’s conception of how the human brain processes our experience of the world around us. This Bergsonian paradigm would guide his interpretation of his experiments in The Doors of Perceptions and of his subsequent essays and lectures:
It looks as though the most satisfactory working hypothesis about the human mind must follow, to some extent, the Bergsonian model, in which the brain with its associated normal self, acts as a utilitarian device for limiting, and making selections from, the enormous possible world of consciousness, and for canalizing experience into biologically profitable channels. Disease, mescaline, emotional shock, aesthetic experience and mystical enlightenment have the power, each in its own way and to varying degrees, to inhibit the functions of the normal self and its ordinary brain activity, thus permitting the ‘other world’ to rise into consciousness.
Although there is only a passing mention of Julian Huxley on page 99 of We Are Amphibians, this reference to the thinking of Henri Bergson points to the common intellectual heritage that Aldous Huxley shared with his brother. As descendents of T. H. Huxley (a.k.a. “Darwin’s Bulldog”) both brothers tended to view every question that commanded their attention from the broad perspective of evolutionary biology. Bergson’s expansive musings on evolution and human consciousness were a source of inspiration for Julian Huxley’s earliest essays on the life sciences, and proved to be a seedbed of ideas to which Aldous Huxley would return throughout his career.
Learn more about We Are Amphibians at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 15, 2014

Andrew Denning's "Skiing into Modernity"

Andrew Denning is a postdoctoral fellow in history at the University of British Columbia.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Skiing into Modernity: A Cultural and Environmental History, and reported the following:
A fascinating sketch [below left; click to enlarge] dominates page 99 of Skiing into Modernity. This piece, drawn by the German artist Toni Schönecker and published in a popular ski magazine in 1924, encapsulates the appeal and meaning of the sport in the decades before World War II. Schönecker depicts skiers walking through the city after a day on the slopes. They make their way down a narrow sidewalk, surrounded by the city’s shadowy denizens. A path opens up before the two skiers as they walk with their skis slung over their shoulders, and an aura of light emanates from their bodies, cutting through the gloom of the modern city.

As Schönecker suggests and countless skiers from the hills of Nice to the gates of Vienna argued, Alpine skiing offered a necessary antidote to the physical, emotional, and spiritual hazards of modern life. By taking to the Alps on skis, modern individuals reconnected with the overwhelming beauty of nature while moving through it at great speeds, a paradoxical mix of harmonizing with nature and mastering it that formed the cardinal appeal of the sport in the interwar era.

I describe the motivating ideology of skiers as Alpine modernism, as it was the sport’s beneficent blend of timeless nature and modern values that convinced skiers and the public at large that skiing was more than a mere pastime, it was a potentially transcendent way of life. Skiing into Modernity traces the path of skiers through the twentieth century, examining the changing complexion of Alpine modernism as the sport transformed from a niche sport practiced by European elites to a pillar of the European service economy and a mark of middle class identity.
Learn more about Skiing into Modernity at the University of California Press website and Andrew Denning's website.

Writers Read: Andrew Denning.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Joshua A. Sanborn's "Imperial Apocalypse"

Joshua A. Sanborn is Head of the Department of History and Chair of the Russian and East European Studies Program at Lafayette College. His books include Drafting the Russian Nation: Military Conscription, Total War, and Mass Politics, 1905-1925 and, with co-author Annette Timm, Gender, Sex, and the Shaping of Modern Europe: A History from the French Revolution to the Present Day.

Sanborn applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Imperial Apocalypse: The Great War and the Destruction of the Russian Empire, and reported the following:
Page 99 is indeed an important page of the book. It is in the heart of the central chapter, which deals with the military, social, and political consequences of Russia’s "Great Retreat" in 1915. I deal on page 99 with the revival of oppositionist politics in the summer of that year after several months of a self-imposed political truce. In particular, I cite the speech of a liberal politician from Kyiv at a party conference of the Constitutional Democratic (Kadet) Party in June:
"The moment is critical for the Kadet party; either it helps save the country or it will perish itself. The imprint of old tactics lies upon the theses of the Central Committee [of the Kadet Party]… Already in August [1914] we in Kiev were more closely aware of the true state of affairs and already in December urgently pressed to convene a conference in order to tell you those things that you only now are understanding. And if you had listened to us, maybe things would have turned out differently."
This sentiment is telling, as it highlights one of the core arguments of my book. Social and political unrest migrated from the (destabilized) war zones in the western empire back to the center over the course of the war. Thus, the political frictions were not simply between opposition parties and the autocratic government, but even within those blocs based on how close they were to the fighting. As the war proceeded, however, this distinction lessened, as the "home front" experienced the social (and epidemiological) pathologies that had infected the war zone as early as 1914.

These were the "things that you only now are understanding," and as that understanding grew, so too did the momentum for revolution. The "revolution" that emerged, however, was bound to express itself in different ways in different zones of the empire. If social class framed the revolution in the metropole, anti-imperial sentiment helped to do so in the western borderlands. It mattered that the dark truths of the Great War became evident first to people living in Poland, Ukraine, and Armenia. The collapse of the empire was well underway even before Tsar Nicholas II abdicated his throne.
Learn more about Imperial Apocalypse at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 12, 2014

David Green's "The Hundred Years War"

David Green is Senior Lecturer in British Studies and History, Harlaxton College, and a regular speaker on medieval history at conferences and seminars in the UK, Ireland, and the US. He is the author of Edward the Black Prince: Power in Medieval Europe.

Green applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Hundred Years War: A People's History, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The citizens of London constructed giant figures on London Bridge: one, a man who:

…held like a champion, a great axe in his right hand and, like a warder, the keys of the city hanging from a baton in his left. At his side stood a figure of a woman . . . wearing a scarlet mantle . . . and they were like a man and his wife who . . . were bent upon seeing the eagerly awaited face of their lord . . . And all around them, projecting from the ramparts, staffs bearing the royal arms and trumpets, clarions, and horns ringing out in multiple harmony embellished the tower [on the bridge], and the face of it bore this choice and appropriate legend inscribed on the war: Civitas Regis Iustice.

There were turrets bearing heraldic emblems and insignias, statues of St George, tapestries, choirboys dressed as angels, a company of older men dressed as the Apostles, and others as prophets; flocks of small birds were released as the king passed by. Maidens sang to the returning king as if he were David returning from the slaying of Goliath. Later, in 1419, there was dancing in the streets of London when news arrived of the successful capture of Rouen. Henry V’s victories and the Burgundian alliance led to the treaty of Troyes in 1420 and the chance of a permanent resolution.

However, like previous agreements, the treaty only led to further conflict. Indeed, it did not result in any period of peace at all. The treaty of Troyes was far more ambitious than the Brétigny settlement of 1360. It did not seek merely to transfer various French territories to English sovereign control. Rather King Henry sought to gain sovereignty over all France and seize the French throne. Through his marriage to Charles VI’s daughter Katherine he would change the line of succession, thereby avoiding a conflict with Salic law. Henry became Charles’s son and heir: the aging, deluded king retained his title but with Henry serving as regent: on Charles’s death he would take the Crown.
This page begins with a description of the fantastic and fabulous celebrations held to honour the King Henry V of England on his return after the victory at Agincourt in 1415. A subsequent campaign saw the king conquer (or perhaps from an English perspective reconquer) the duchy of Normandy and the political momentum he gained from this, allied with a catastrophic civil war in France, allowed Henry to enforce the treaty of Troyes in 1420 – this proved to be the most significant peace settlement of the Hundred Years War.

The war had been fought by the English, at least in part, to regain sovereign authority over their ancestral lands in France – the territories of the former Angevin Empire. Anglo-French hostilities had also intensified following the death of the last Capetian king of France in 1328 and the establishment of the new Valois dynasty in the face of counter-claim from the Plantagenet rulers of England. With the treaty of Troyes, Henry V appeared to have resolved both these issues and brought the conflict to an end. It proved, however, to be a false dawn.

The political dimensions of the Hundred Years War are important in this book, I am, however, much more interested in exploring the impact of the war on those who prosecuted it and were persecuted by it – on the soldiery, the peasantry, the churchmen and women who were caught up in the struggle; by those who were captured and held for ransom, as well as the monarchs and members of the military aristocracy whose roles and responsibilities were reshaped by more than a century of endemic conflict. As this extract from page 99 also shows the war engendered a new sense of national identity on both sides of the Channel. This was not the nationalism of the modern age but there is no question that France and England were fundamentally re-forged through the Hundred Years War. In that sense this book is about peoples as well as people.
Learn more about The Hundred Years War: A People's History at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 11, 2014

John M. Owen IV's "Confronting Political Islam"

John Owen is the Ambassador Henry J. and Mrs. Marion R. Taylor Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia. He is the author of The Clash of Ideas in World Politics and Liberal Peace, Liberal War.

Owen applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Confronting Political Islam: Six Lessons from the West's Past, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Following Thomas Jefferson, Americans believe that the truths in the Declaration of Independence are self-evident. True they are, but if their truth were self-evident then U.S. counterterrorism and counterinsurgency would not need to win the “hearts and minds” of millions of people. Indeed, across history countless thinkers have thought that all persons are not equal. The truly self-evident truth is that American values are contested around the world. That means that to many around the world the United States is an ideological country, not a rational one.
So begins page 99 of my book Confronting Political Islam. I am arguing that the United States is, in an important sense, an ideological country.

Why a passage about the early United States and Europe in a book about Islamism – an ideology that insists that Islamic law be the law of the land? Because there is an important analogy. Often when people in the Western world consider an Islamist state such as Iran, they disagree sharply over whether that state is rational or ideological. The presumption is that a state cannot be both. That presumption is wrong. In fact, a state can have ideological goals yet employ rational (that is, efficient) means toward those goals. To outsiders, Iran’s stubborn persistence in its nuclear program may look irrational, because it has brought on international sanctions and the threat of a U.S. or Israeli nuclear strike. But Iran’s rationality becomes clear once we recognize that one of its stated goals is to reduce American influence in the Middle East. And that goal is a product of the Iranian regime’s ideology.

Ironically, to Europe’s monarchies the young United States looked like Iran does today. America pursued policies that some Europeans thought irrational. But American leaders had distinctive goals for their country and for the international system, goals shaped by their liberal-republican ideology and pursued rationally. Page 99 continues:
Indeed, Jefferson himself knew well that the young United States held a revolutionary set of ideas about how both domestic and international life ought to be ordered. America was a revisionist power. In the late eighteenth century the Western international system, based in Europe, was built upon the legitimacy of thrones. The only legitimate states were monarchical states. For more than a century, the crowned heads of Europe had been increasing their power by subduing the nobles who had been so powerful in the Middle Ages. Europe had republics dominated by nobles—Venice, the Netherlands, and Switzerland were the outstanding examples—but the great military powers were all monarchies, modeled on the successes of France’s Louis XIV. Around this system had been built an ideology of royal sovereignty, seen in the writings of England’s James I and of the Frenchmen Jean Bodin and Bishop Bossuet.

As important, these monarchies sought empires—pieces of extra territory to rule and monopolize economically. Some European empire building in the eighteenth century took place in Europe itself, but most of it was in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. European monarchs commissioned private entrepreneurs and adventurers to claim new land for the purposes of economic exploitation. Under the system known as mercantilism, an imperial state (or metropole) would send colonists to subdue and govern a territory; the territory would export raw materials to the metropole; and the metropole would export manufactures back to the colony. Each imperial power claimed a monopoly on trade with its colonies, and so competition for territory could be fierce.

Mercantilism came under increasing criticism in Western Europe in the eighteenth century. In France the Physiocrats argued that agriculture, not the acquisition of precious metals or the development of manufacturing, was the engine of wealth. In Britain Adam Smith argued that political barriers to economic exchange actually impoverished nations; better to let people conduct commerce freely, without monopoly privileges within or among nations.
Lesson 4, “A State May Be Rational and Ideological at the Same Time,” is just one of the book’s six lessons from the West’s past on how to deal with political Islam. There are many books on Islamism, many of them very good. My book takes a fresh approach to the subject by considering Islamism and its struggle against secularism not in isolation but as an example of a general recurring phenomenon in world history: ideological contests that cut across entire regions for many decades. Islamism’s 86-year-old struggle against secularism is much like struggles between Catholicism and Protestantism in Europe 400 years ago; republicanism and monarchism 200 years ago; and communism, fascism, and democracy 70 years ago. We have much to learn from those struggles about the vexing and confusing dynamics of the Muslim world today.
Learn more about the book and author at John M. Owen IV's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Clash of Ideas in World Politics.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Shane Harris's "@War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex"

Shane Harris is currently a senior correspondent at The Daily Beast, where he covers national security, intelligence, and cyber security. He is also an ASU Future of War Fellow at New America.

His first book, The Watchers, tells the story of five men who played central roles in the creation of a vast national security apparatus and the rise of surveillance in America. The Watchers won the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism, and the Economist named it one of the best books of 2010.

Harris applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, @War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex, and reported the following:
Page 99 captures one of the core arguments of my book: that the U.S. government, and particularly the National Security Agency, should be in the business of protecting the Internet, not trying to weaken it. This page looks at "zero day" vulnerabilities, which are flaws in software or operating systems that have never been discovered by the manufacturer. If a hacker found such a vulnerability he could use it to commandeer or damage a computer system, and potentially physical infrastructures regulated by it. Hackers sell this zero day information to the highest bidder in a shadowy online market, and the NSA is the single largest buyer. The agency hordes zero days in order to build exploits for hacking into commercial technology used around the world, both to spy on America's adversaries and potentially attack their infrastructure.

But the NSA could be disclosing these zero days, so that manufacturers can fix their products, and so people will know not to use vulnerable technology. On page 99, I use the analogy of a neighborhood security guard, which is essentially what the NSA claims it wants to be in cyberspace.
What would happen if the guard hired to watch over a neighborhood discovered an open window but didn’t tell the owner? More to the point, what if he discovered a design flaw in the brand of window that everyone in the neighborhood used that allowed an intruder to open the window from the outside? If the security guard didn’t alert the homeowners, they’d fire him— and probably try to have him arrested.
The NSA should start acting like a security guard. Instead, it's behaving more like a burglar.
Visit Shane Harris's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Esra Özyürek's "Being German, Becoming Muslim"

Esra Özyürek is an associate professor at the European Institute of the London School of Economics. She is the author of Nostalgia for the Modern: State Secularism and Everyday Politics in Turkey.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Being German, Becoming Muslim: Race, Religion, and Conversion in the New Europe, and reported the following:
Being German, Becoming Muslim is about Germans who embrace Islam. Every year more and more Europeans, and Germans, convert to Islam. It is estimated that there are now up to one hundred thousand German converts – a number similar to that in France and the United Kingdom. What stands out about recent conversions is that they take place at a time when Islam is increasingly seen as contrary to European values. The book explores how Germans come to Islam within this antagonistic climate, how they manage to balance their love for Islam with their society’s fear of it, how they relate to immigrant Muslims, and how they shape debates about race, religion, and belonging in today’s Europe.

Page 99 of the book discusses “halal entertainment” as a way in which German Muslims bring together Islamic values and German youth culture. Here I specifically discuss a group called Muslim Youth Germany (MJD) which is a home to many converts but also to born Muslims who are committed to embracing their German identity.
The MJD, which was in tune with emergent Muslim youths, was the first group in Germany consciously to build bridges between German youth culture and an Islamic lifestyle. ‘Fun and Islam?’ is a question that MJD provocatively asks on its Web site. It supplies the answer right away: ‘Yes please! It is possible to have fun in the Islamic way, without setting boundaries between the two.’ Islamically proper fun, or fun Islam, involves going to concerts with Muslim rappers, joining workshops on how to rap, celebrating New Years’s eve, organizing paint wars, and taking field trips within and outside Germany. In one MJD gathering I watched video-recorded funny skits of annoying little things some people do in mosques – such as taking too long during group prayer, not showering before coming to the mosque, moving around too much during lectures, and so on. The skit that made the audience of MJD members laugh their heads off started with the slogan ‘Because it is halal to laugh!’ Such an approach that aims to bring fun and Islam together is genuinely unique to MJD, or was until ten years ago. Before that, Muslim communities in Germany were not especially welcoming to youths, and Islam was not associated with having fun.

The past few decades of the Islamic scene across the globe have simultaneously witnessed increasing strictness and avoidance of ‘fun’ alongside an increasingly widespread global culture of Islamic consumerism and fun. In his article “Islamism and the Politics of Fun,” Asaf Bayat asks why puritanical Islamic movements such as the Taliban in Afghanistan, Wahabis in Saudi Arabia, and mullahs in Iran have been so vehemently against Muslims, especially the youths, having fun. He argues that what he calls “anti-fun-damentalism” has to do with preserving power: “At stake is not necessarily the disruption of the moral order, as often claimed, but rather undermining of the hegemony, the regime of power on which certain strands of moral and political authority can rest” (Bayat 2007, 435). Perhaps it is no coincidence that especially within the West, global Muslim youth culture, which both stands in opposition to mainstream Islamic society and wants to be an integral part of it, has embraced fun, which Bayat (ibid., 434) defines as “a metaphor for the expression of individuality, spontaneity, and lightness, in which joy is the central element.” Unlike the cases that Bayat discusses, Muslim youth culture in Germany is not hegemonic in its orientation. Fun-approving Muslim youth cultures such as the MJD aim to challenge the moral and political authority of both German mainstream society and the traditional authority structures of their Muslim communities.
Learn more about Being German, Becoming Muslim at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue