In an April 11 article on The Washington Post’s politics blog, “Monkey Cage,” Associate Professor of Political Science Stacey Philbrick Yadav and her coauthor Ian Hartshorn reflect on the common attitude among U.S. policy makers that the country’s “diplomats should work to clearly disassociate extremists from the vast majority of peaceful Muslims.”
In the article, “Here’s what happens when diplomats get involved in religious rhetoric,” they write that while such “criticism may seem intuitive and appropriate,” their latest research shows “how classifying who constitutes ‘real’ Muslims – even when it is used to assert progressive values – can be unpredictable and contingent on the authority of the speaker and perceptions of the audience.”
Philbrick Yadav and Hartshorn, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Reno, note that “accusations of apostasy, called takfir in Arabic, have often preceded violence throughout the Middle East…Most actors in the region therefore share the common knowledge that the stakes of takfir are high, and many who have been accused understand the practice to be an explicit threat.”
Therefore, they argue, although the U.S. “and its allies have primarily focused on how this rhetoric can bolster their legitimacy and win new allies,” evidence “suggests that even when mobilized by those deeply versed in Islam, the strategy can backfire. The line between criticizing takfir and engaging in takfir is difficult to spot until one has crossed it.”
Philbrick Yadav, who has lived in Yemen and is a member of the executive committee of the American Institute of Yemeni Studies, has been writing about Yemen’s opposition politics for more than a decade. Since Yemen’s uprising in 2011, she’s published a book exploring the dynamics of Islamist activism and alliance building, and articles in several academic journals, including The International Journal of Middle East Studies and Middle East Report. She has previously published analysis of the Yemeni uprising and the country’s Islamist politics in “Monkey Cage.” In 2017, she was elected to the Project on Middle East Political Science steering committee.
A member of the HWS faculty since 2007, Philbrick Yadav earned a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Pennsylvania and a B.A. in anthropology and Middle Eastern studies from Smith College, and has spent several years conducting field research in Yemen, Lebanon and Egypt. Before joining the Colleges, she taught at Mount Holyoke College, and in 2008 was a visiting scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies.