Report on Trip to Hartford University

Recently I just came back from a trip to Hartford University, where, on November 1st and 2nd I gave four different presentations on Islam and contemporary politics, collectively entitled “Examining Islamic Politics and Culture” to various student and faculty groups.

The first presentation was an introduction to Islamic beliefs for an Honors Philosophy course taught by Professor Bernard den Ouden. Using the Five Pillars of Islam as my starting point, I proceeded to provide a more in-depth understanding of each pillar and how they overlap with important theological concepts like tawhid (Absolute Unity of God), its antithesis shirk (association of partners with God) and desired moral characteristics such as taqwa (God-consciousness) and dhikr (remembrance). Many questions followed suit to further clarify concepts presented, such as the practical applications of tawhid and taqwa in Muslims’ daily lives and the different lessons stressed during Ramadan fasts.

The next presentation, which followed almost immediately after the Honors class, was based on a paper I recently delivered at the 36th Annual AMSS Conference, on US Counterterrorism and civil liberties and human rights. Like my earlier presentation, I argued that the more US Counterterrorism policies deviate from civil liberties and human rights, the less effective such policies are at dismantling terrorist organizations. A series of questions were posed to me regarding the invasiveness and effectiveness of certain policies such as the NSA wiretapping and what are the real threats posed by terrorists vis-a-vis routine statements given by administration officials that some audience members felt to be “hype”.

The first day ended with a presentation of a forthcoming paper I’ll be delivering in London on Nov. 11 called “Sunni Structural Puritanism” which deals with Islamic religious authority and radicalism in contemporary international politics. I received a good reception from the class and answered questions about abuse of religious authority and used Al-Azhar in Egypt as my main example.

The next day I met up with a small group of professors over lunch and discussed some pressing issues facing the Middle East, especially concerning the Iraq War and the ongoing fighting between Palestinians and Israelis. After the meal I gave my main presentation for the day, entitled, “What You Need to Know About Islam, Muslims and Contemporary Politics and Terrorism.” While expressing my dislike for the lecture’s title because of the implied associations, I noted that it was important to address these issues head on. By putting issues into greater historical context, employing comparative analysis and citing empirical research, I aimed to disaggregate and demystify the topics discussed and provide the audience with an more enhanced and nuanced understanding. Audience members asked questions on other hot button topics like women’s rights, apostasy, Iraq, Iran and US counterterrorism policies. Again, these were tackled directly and without apology.

My experience at Hartford was amazing. The feedback I received from students and professors alike was entirely positive and some new friendship were formed. My sincerest thanks goes to everyone who attended my discussions and a special thanks goes out Professor den Ouden, who set up the speaking engagements and to professor Sandstrom for his engaging discussions with me on Third World and post-colonial politics.

Alejandro Beutel


Alejandro Beutel is program assistant for the Minaret of Freedom Institute with expertise in religious freedom, democratization and security issues.






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