It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to this new edition of the Asfar e-Journal. It has been a long 18 months which seem to have witnessed it all; indeed, many of us have already had enough of 2020. Undoubtedly, much has happened; yet, equally, some would claim not enough has changed. Large swathes of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) continue to be no-go zones for anyone not keen on experiencing first hand military insurgency; central government brutality provided there is one; and at best questionable commitment to the notion of modern law with seemingly inexhaustible military supplies and the opportunism of spectacularly arbitrary legal interpretation going hand in hand. In the meantime, the Balkans, wedged in between the weary European Union and over-energetic Turkey, have been left to their own devices to grapple with national consciousness building, identity politics and bubbling populism. Unless Djokovic is on the court, few seem to care. Similarly, the young states of the Caucasus are trying to find their own feet with the Big Brother carefully watching from across the border. Old conflicts develop new angles, and there is no agreement on how much meddling in others’ affairs is too much.
These are the places heavily webbed with active migration routes, legal and not so much, for both people and commodities, albeit the difference between the two is often hardly discernible. Many of these lands are of ‘critical strategic importance’ to the West’s security. Or at least this is what we are told when yet another military advisor, an arms cargo or a development aid check is dispatched to some peculiar corner of the world. As though this was not enough, the recent global health crisis caused by the spread of COVID-19 is likely to exacerbate many of these issues even further causing long-term downward and backward trends. Today we seem to be living in a dark, inward-looking world yet again.
Or so it seems.
But let us take you down a narrow street somewhere in the heart of sunny Casablanca rushing towards the blues of the Atlantic, filled with the smells of freshly baked crepes, strong coffee and flowers. Let us discover the hidden gems, and bridges, of small towns in provincial Bosnia and Herzegovina which tell the stories many history books have chosen to forget. We investigate how art and religion reinvent themselves and are reinvented to serve a variety of purposes, whether it is the instrumentalisation of Serbian music to reinforce dominant political narratives through traditional gender dynamics or the all-enduring commitment of the Gergian Orthodox Church to maintaining its everyday relevance over the past 17 centuries. Our issue examines subtle, and not so much, shifts in relations between two big players in the Middle East, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, demonstrating an urgent need for consistent, informed and timely interaction patterns even when, or particularly if, the language of hard power is the norm. Equally, we look at alternative understandings of power, power to inspire and to empower others; we do so by exploring the stories of influential Muslim women who throughout history have served as role models to many of us, but whose legacy is routinely overlooked by ‘Eastern traditionalists’ and ‘Western modernists’ alike.
Going back to the question of change, some things are permanent for the better. Asfar’s Editorial Team are always happy to hear from those of you who may be interested in contributing to our publication. We accept a variety of submission formats, provide feedback to make it a constructive learning journey for you, and do not require extensive relevant experience.
Additionally, we are looking for two volunteer Editors with some expertise in the Balkans or the Caucasus. This is a flexible, part-time role which can be developed in multiple ways depending on your interests and availability as well as being a great addition to your CV.
If you feel passionate about a topic which falls within one of our focus areas (the MENA, Balkans or the Caucasus) and would like to write about it, or if you are keen on getting editorial experience and taking the e-Journal to the next level, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org – our friendly Editorial Team will be happy to discuss your involvement with Asfar.
We hope you enjoy our selection of articles and look forward to hearing from you!
With warm wishes,
Asfar e-Journal Editor