Prize Winners 2013

Prize Winners 2013


British-Kuwait Friendship Society Book Prize 2013
Professor Yasir Suleiman, CBE
Chair, Panel of Judges, University of Cambridge

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests and Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the presentation of the BKFS book prize for books published in 2012.  

I would like to start by offering my personal greetings and those of the Panel of Judges to His Excellency Mr Khalid Al Duwaisan, Ambassador of the State of Kuwait, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps and Chairman of the British-Kuwait Friendship Society. We are grateful to His Excellency for generously hosting the award-giving ceremony in his Residence this year, despite this being alternative accommodation as his main residence undergoes renovation.  We are very grateful for his continued support.  

We are also very grateful indeed to His Excellency Shaikh Mubarak Abdullah Al Sabah for taking such an active interest in the Prize since its inception, acting as judge and representative of the Abdullah Al Mubarak Al Sabah Foundation, which generously funds the Prize. In this respect, our Book Prize reflects the long-standing interest of Kuwait in sponsoring culture, scholarship and innovation even before its independence.

The Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge has been a supportive host of the Prize during the past three years. I am grateful for this support and happy to see members of the Faculty with us tonight.

The Panel of Judges for this year consisted of:
• Shaikh Mubarak Abdullah Al Sabah;
• Professor Carole Hillenbrand, Professor Emerita at the University of Edinburgh;
• Professor Charles Trip, Professor of Politics with reference to the Middle East at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London;
• Mr Alistair Newton, former President of the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies and Managing Director/Senior Political Analyst at Nomura International plc;
• Sir Roger Tomkys, formerly Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge and, until recently, Chairman of the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce;
• And myself.

As ever, I would like to offer my personal gratitude to Sir Roger, the longest serving member of the Panel of Judges, for his deep and continued commitment to the Prize and for the support he has given me personally.  I would also like to add my thanks to Professor Carole Hillenbrand, Professor Charles Tripp and to Mr Alistair Newton for their excellent work on the Panel of Judges.    

I know how disappointed Carole, Charles and Alistair are at not being able to attend the ceremony.  You may not know, but the date of the ceremony was previously fixed for an earlier date.  A late change of date meant that the three judges are not able to join us.  All send their very sincere regrets.  

The work of the Panel of Judges has consistently benefited from the unstinting support of Louise Haysey who has been at the administrative helm since the inception of the Prize. I want to thank Louise for being such an excellent colleague to work with in the administration of the Prize.

Assisting the Panel of Judges in their work are anonymous reviewers whose contribution is important in helping the Judges make their final selections. I would like to thank the reviewers for their help, and, in this context, to point out that the Judges read extensively and intensively to ensure that reviews are calibrated. This direct involvement is important to reach what the Judges consider to be informed decisions. This is a long and intensive process but it is a testament to the integrity of the Prize.

Since 1998 when the Prize had its debut appearance in Middle Eastern Studies, over 600 books have been submitted to the prize.  In its early years, the tally of books for the Prize was around 23-28 per year, but this number has increased steadily in recent years.  Almost fifty books were submitted for consideration this year.

As you will see from the titles selected for special mention, the books we received this year again covered an incredibly wide range - the humanities and social sciences, including art and architecture, anthropology, history, international relations, language, law, politics and religion.

Twelve publishers submitted books, including university presses and independent publishers. We were particularly pleased this year to see submissions from publishers who had not previously recommended their titles and we hope to move forward from this to publicise the prize still further and find more ways of increasing the number of submitted entries and publishers in the future.

Before moving to the books selected by The Panel of Judges for honourable mention, and to the prize-winners themselves, I would like to mention a selection of books that impressed the judges, but did not reach the shortlist:

Zayde Antrim
Routes and Realms: The Power of Place in the Early Islamic World

‘Meticulously researched and engagingly written’, bringing a ‘variety of genres’ to the study.

Ariella Azoulay
Civil Imagination:  A Political Ontology of Photography  

The reviewer was impressed by the ‘cutting-edge scholarship’ as well as the author’s presentation of ‘alternative forms of re-interpreting photographs of the 1948 Palestinian Nakba and those of subsequent dispossession of the Palestinians …’, concluding that the work ‘is a very important addition to the field of visual culture, cultural studies and political philosophy’.

Robert Carter
Sea of Pearls  
(Arabian Publishing)

This ‘meticulously worked’ volume traces the history of pearls from the moment they are formed in the oyster shells to the moment they end up in a shop, having been worked in ornamentation.  The reviewer was particularly impressed by the use of archaeological finds and oral history in the study.  

As we have come to expect from Arabian Publishing, the book is beautifully presented and this adds to its appeal.

Linda Darling
A History of Social Justice and Political Power in the Middle East  

This book is seen by our reviewers as ‘extraordinarily ambitious’, offering ‘marvellously rich supporting documentation’ and a spectacular mastery of detail which is ‘methodologically rigorous, yet ‘ a pleasure to read’.  

Robert Gleave
Islamic and Literalism: Literal Meaning and Interpretation in Islamic Legal Theory

Our reviewer is particularly impressed by the author going ‘well beyond previous treatments in both breadth and depth’.

Lina  Khatib
Image Politics in the Middle East:  The Role of the Visual in Political Ptruggle
(IB Tauris)

The book offers an ‘outstanding contribution to our understanding of a key aspect of the political in the Middle East’ in a work based on ‘primary research’ and using language that is ‘clear and communicates well the complex ideas and developments that it analyses’.  The only negative comment submitted by our reviewer was his (can we use his/her???)  regret that colour illustration had not been used throughout.

From the positive comments on these submissions, we move to those selected for Honourable Mention:

Denis McAuley
Ibn ‘Arabi’s Mystical Poetics
Described by the reviewer as ‘meticulously researched and presented, with the originality of the book coming ‘from its sharp focus on Ibn ‘Arabi’s poetry, a much neglected area of his mystical works’.   Our reviewer found the introduction particularly impressive, describing it as ‘most illuminating’.  In short, the book will provide a valuable contribution to the knowledge of Sufism and in particular of Ibn ‘Arabi.

Another book by OUP to be chosen is:

Travis Zadey
The Vernacular Qur’an: Translation and the Rise of Persian Exegesis
Our reviewer predicts that this book will become ‘an indispensable first stop in the study of Islam in Iran’.  While the reviewer acknowledges that ‘The texts that [Zadey] analyses have been long known to scholars’, what impresses is that the author bringing a ‘fresh perspective that demonstrates how these key transitional and liminal texts established models for the vernacularization of the faith and the process of adoption of Islam…’, showing how ‘that initial process of transformation still continues to influence attitudes and approaches to our understanding of Iran today’.  The reviewer concludes with the view that the text ‘will become an indispensable study of the Islamisation of Iran and its elites, standing alongside the classic studies of Richard Bulliet on the Particians of Nashapur and Roy Mottahadeh on the negotiation and articulation of Loyalty and Leadership in Buyid Iran’.

The final book in the honourable mention category is by

Ali Ansari
The Politics of Nationalism in Modern Iran
In his/her opening comment the reviewer says that the author has produced ‘a daring, nuanced and readable study on the complex development and interpretation of 20th century Iran’.  The reviewer is delighted with the ‘refreshing departures from previous historical analysis’ as well as the ‘unconventional analysis’ offered by the book, concluding that:   ‘In this scholarly tour-de-force, frequently marked by moments of sensational felicity, both in insight and language, Ansari provides a rich and thought-provoking treatise on Iranian intellectual and political development, as well as on the nature of nationalism itself  Through his sophisticated analysis of the writings of Iran’s political thinkers, elected politicians, monarchs, historians and religious leaders, Ansari’s The Politics of Nationalism in Modern Iran fills a critical gap in Iranian studies on the subject of nationalism, while adding materially to the historical debate on nationalism in the larger Middle East’

Finally to the winners:

The Panel of Judges was unanimous in its decision to award the prize this year jointly to two titles:

Joesph Sassoon
Saddam Hussein’s Ba’th Party: Inside an Authoritarian Regime

Our reviewer comments ‘Joseph Sassoon has written what is undoubtedly the most important book on the Iraqi state and Iraqi politics since Hanna Batatu’s 1978 The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq. Not coincidentally, it is the first work since Batatu that is based on modern Iraqi archival material – in this case internal Ba’th records. Sassoon’s style and objective analysis of these previously inaccessible sources makes his contribution a truly valuable one that has inestimably enhanced our understanding of the workings of the Ba’th Party and the mechanisms of authoritarianism in Ba’thi Iraq.’

‘In Saddam Hussein’s Ba’th Party, we finally have an informed and balanced analysis of how Iraq was governed over the decades and how authority, decision making, state-society relations and repression functioned.’

The reviewer continues:

‘In sum, Sassoon’s ground-breaking research has shed light on so much that had previously been obscured by censorship and security concerns. In the process, his book has changed and clarified our understanding of the Ba’th era and set a new benchmark for future scholarship on Iraq and for that he is to be commended.’

I would like to ask Professor Sassoon to accept his award.

And last, certainly not least, to the other joint winner:

Mohammad  Qasim Zaman
Modern Islamic Thought in a Radical Age

To quote from our reviewer:
‘This is an extremely interesting and well-written book, offering valuable insights on vital areas of modern Islamic thought. Its strength comes from its highlighting the often neglected, but very dynamic, interaction between the two main centres of Islamic learning (the Indian Subcontinent and the Middle East), and also from the way debates which flared up at the beginning of the twentieth century still remain relevant today. It focuses on ‘internal criticisms’ within the traditional body of Islamic scholarship in the centres of learning in the two regions, with a particular focus on the Deoband School and al-Azhar.’

The reviewer continues:

‘One of the core issues is the status of Islamic education and its traditional institutions in the face of the challenges of modernity. Not only was the crisis of these institutions a central factor in the inability of Muslim societies to catch up with advanced economies, but it is also responsible for divisions within society and crises of identity. The book examines in detail some of the heart-felt pleas for reform in these institutions, and the problems and dilemmas they posed.’

The reviewer concludes:

‘This book represents a tour de force in modern Islamic intellectual history: meticulously researched, well-written, packed with insights. I have seen few books of its calibre in recent times, and have no hesitation in recommending it for the prize.’

I would like to ask Professor Zaman to accept the award.

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests and Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for joining us here tonight and I hope to see you next year.

Prize Winners 2012

Prize Winners 2012

British-Kuwait Friendship Society Book Prize
Professor Yasir Suleiman, CBE
Chair, Panel of Judges
University of Cambridge

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Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests and Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen

A warm welcome to Cambridge, home of the British-Kuwait Friendship Society Book Prize which is administered by the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University. This is the second year of the Prize from its new home, but the first year that the Prize Award-Ceremony is held in Cambridge. I would like to thank the Master of Corpus Christi, Stuart Laing, and College staff for making the College available to us. Corpus is the College of Sir Howard Walker who was Chair of the Panel of Judges for a number of years before I took over from him. And Corpus is not far from Pembroke where Sir Roger Tomkys, one of the longest serving members of the Prize, was Master. Pembroke is also the College of one of the Judges: His Excellency Sheikh Mubarak Abdullah Al Sabah, representative of the Abdullah Al Mubarak Al Sabah Foundation who have generously funded the Prize through the British-Kuwait Friendship Society. On behalf of the Judges and the Middle Eastern Studies community in the UK I would like to extend my warm thanks to Sheikh Mubarak, a champion supporter of the Prize, and to the great Foundation he represents for their generous gift to Middle Eastern Studies.

And I would like to extend my sincerest thanks, on behalf of the Judges of the Prize and scholars of the Middle East, to His Excellency Mr Khalid Al Duwaisan, Ambassador of the State of Kuwait, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps and Chairman of the British-Kuwait Friendship Society for championing the Prize from its inception. His Excellency is a great standard-bearer of what the Prize represents: friendship, understanding, openness and excellence in researching the Middle East. Perhaps the Prize will one day become the Deanery of the Scholarly Corps of which His Excellency will, naturally, be Dean.
And this is the first time the Prize Award-Ceremony is held in conjunction with the Gulf Research Meeting at Cambridge. GRM is the biggest scholarly festival on the Gulf outside the Gulf region. Celebrating a British and Gulf Partnership in the form of the Prize at this premier Gulf academic event, from its home in Cambridge, is a source of great pride and pleasure for me personally. In this context, I would like to thank Mr Abdul Aziz Al Sager, Chairman of the Gulf Research Centre and of the Gulf Research Centre, Cambridge for cooperating with us on this joint venture. The remit of the Prize extends beyond the Gulf, but the Gulf is central to it in very many productive ways. This is why today’s presentation is a cause for double celebration.
The Panel of Judges for 2011 consisted of myself; Sheikh Mubarak Abdullah Al Sabah; Sir Roger Tomkys; Professor Carole Hillenbrand, Professor Emerita at the University of Edinburgh; Professor Charles Trip, Professor of Politics with reference to the Middle East at the School and African Studies, University of London; and  Alastair Newton, President of the British Society of Middle Eastern Studies who serves on the Panel in a personal capacity. I would like to extend my thanks to my fellow judges for their commitment to the prize, their time, wisdom and unfailing sense of duty in ensuring that the work of the Panel is conducted with integrity and collegiality. The panel is assisted ably by Louise Haysey as Secretary to the Prize. I wish to record my thanks to Louise for her help and to Candida D’Souza, Sheikh Mubarak’s PA, and Widad Bishara, His Excellency Khalid Al Duwaisan’s PA for assisting the work of the Prize with their usual efficiency.

The Judges are assisted in their work by reviewers whose critical readings and evaluations of the submitted entries are important in helping the Panel reach their final decisions. I would like to thank these reviewers, some of whom are long-standing supporters of the prize, for their help and genersity. The judges, of course, continue the practice of reading extensively and intensively to ensure consistency of assessment across reviewers. As I said last year, this is a long and time-consuming process, but the Panel believes it is the only way to ensure fairness, quality and confidence in this premier Prize in Middle Eastern Studies.

More than 500 books have been submitted to the prize since 1998 when the Prize had its debut appearance in Middle Eastern Studies. In its early years, the tally of books for the Prize was around 23-28 per year, but this number increased steadily in recent years. Forty two books were submitted for consideration in 2011. The books we received this year covered the humanities and social sciences, including art and architecture, anthropology, history, international relations, language, law, politics, the media and religion. Twelve publishers submitted books, including university presses and independent publishers.

The Panel of Judges would like to thank the editors of two series for producing books which, each in its way, has brought aspects of the Middle East to different and expanding reading constituencies. The first is the Oxford University Press ‘Very Short Introductions’ series that has submitted books to the Prize on several occasions, including Jonathan A C Brown’s Muhammad for this year’s competition. The second series is the Aracadian Library in Association with Oxford University Press. This series is to be commended for producing richly illustrated books of exquisite quality including, for this round of the competition, Robert Irwin’s Visions of the Jinn: Illustrations of the Arabian Nights and Alistair Hamilton’s Western Appreciation of Arab and Islamic Civilization.  

The Panel of Judges selected two entries as highly commended which I list by alphabetical order of their authors:
The Ornament of Histories: A History of the Eastern Islamic Lands AD 650-1041 (The Persian Text of Abu Sa’id ‘Abd Al-Hayy Gardizi), translated by Edmund Bosworth (IB Tauris). This is as an excellent translation of a work that will enrich the corpus of materials available to historians of Iran. The second entry in this category is The Emergence of Minorities in the Middle East by Ben White (Edinburgh University Press). The reviewer says that this excellent book is well-researched, based on a wide range of archival materials and builds and develops the work of previous scholars. It is also a timely book, although it is mainly concerned with Christian in Syria only.

The Panel of Judges selected the following items for honourable mention which I commend to you by alphabetical order of their authors:
Orientalists, Islamists and the Global Public Sphere: A Genealogy of the Modern Essentialist Image of Islam by Dietrich Jung (Equinox) explores the intricate links between Orientalism and Islamic thought, and how they reinforced each other, by taking issue with Edward Said’s radical critique of Orientalism. The author argues that Orientalism was an aspect of the multi-faceted character of modernity in which Modernist Islamic reformers were participants who adopted some of its themes and reinforced others. The reviewer says that this is a meticulous, enlightening and significant work, both in its arguments and findings.

Cosmopolitans and Heretics: New Muslim Intellectuals and the Study of Islam by Carool Kersten (Hurst) discusses the careers, writings and impacts of three influential Muslim thinkers: Nurcholish Madjid from Indonesia, Hasan Hanafi from Egypt and Mohammed Arkoun from Algeria. The author uses a wide range of languages, including sources in Arabic, Indonesian, French and German to produce a masterly narrative. The reviewer commends the author on the excellent job he has done analysing Hanafi’s life and works, but considers the most original, penetrating and impressive part of the book to be the section dealing with Madjid.

Muslims and Non-Muslims in the Early Islamic Empire by M. Levy-Rubin (Cambridge University Press) is an excellent contribution to the history of the political institutions in the early Islamic world.  It builds on existing scholarship by taking seriously the long continuities in Middle Eastern political culture over three or four millennia. The reviewer says this is a well-structured book, expressed in lucid prose, elegantly produced and shows thorough awareness of existing scholarship on the topic.

Patronage and Poetry in the Islamic World by Jocelyn Sharlet (IB Tauris) is an excellent piece of scholarship that contributes broadly to the fields of Arabic and Persian literatures and cultures. The book shows that individual loyalties were far more important than institutional ones in social mobility and status in medieval Arab-Islamic culture, and that this mobility depended on refined rhetoric rather than political authority. One reviewer describes this book as innovative and that it will force scholars to rethink the composition and interpretation of 9th to 11th century literature in medieval Islamic culture.

The judges decided to split the award as follows: a runner up and two joint first prizes. The joint-first prize winners will receive £4000 pound each. The runner up will receive a prize of £2000.

Runner Up
Hamas and Civil Society in Gaza: Engaging the Islamist Social Sector by Sara Roy (Princeton University Press) promises to impact both the academic analysis and international policy towards Islamic charities in the Palestinian Territories and beyond. The book is based on meticulously detailed ethnographic research spanning decades. It is a thoughtful and conceptually rich book. The reviewer describes it as an outstanding book of original scholarship, depth, nuance and insight. The reviewer adds that the book is written in a lucid and accessible manner and it wears its extensive scholarship lightly.  

First Prize Winners
Persia in Crisis: Safavid Decline and the Fall of Isfahan by Rudi Matthee (IB Tauris) deals with the history of Iran from the death of Abbas 1 in 1629 to the fall of Isfahan to Afghan invaders in 1722, covering issues such as monetary policy, military politics the centre and the provinces, religion, and the intervention of eunuchs, women and clerics in government. The book demonstrates the author’s unrivalled mastery of the primary sources for Safavid history in Persian and in all of the major European languages. The author draws confidently on scholarship ranging from ancient Rome to modern Asia in defining and refining his theoretical and conceptual armoury. The reviewer describes the book as an exceptional work of scholarship, a very important contribution to the field of Iranian history and a study whose relevance and interest extend far beyond the boundaries of its immediate subject.

The Climate of Rebellion in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire by Sam White (Cambridge University Press) demonstrates persuasively how the climate fluctuations caused by the Little Ice Age influenced the Eastern Mediterranean territories and led to the Celali Rebellion of 1596-1610, arguably the worst crisis in Ottoman history from the invasion of Tamerlane to World War I. The great achievement of this book is its impressive interdisciplinary approach that not only establishes the relationship between climate and rebellion but also discusses convincingly how the ‘Little Ice Age’ triggered a crisis in Ottoman history whose impact was felt in the Ottoman lands and beyond. The author employs and analyses meticulously a wide range of sources, including comprehensive climatic data, to produce an innovative study on the new field of environmental history in the Near East.

YS (July 2012)