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Lecture series

'Saving Soviet Muslims': The Politics of Protection at Jerusalem’s General Islamic Congress of 1931

Historians of the Middle East have extensively explored how imperial powers and international institutions during the interwar period used the idea of “minority rights and protection” to solidify their rule and influence over large parts of the region. Rather than focusing on the Eurocentric premises of this idea, the present lecture considers the role of Muslim anti-colonialists in challenging the utilization of the humanitarian discourse of protection by colonial powers. As a case study, it examines the 1931 General Islamic Congress (GIC) in Jerusalem, which brought Muslims from across Asia and Africa together to address various issues affecting Muslims worldwide. Amid the Stalinist anti-religious campaigns, Muslim emigres (muhajirs) from the USSR and their Arab co-religionists used the platform of the GIC to initiate a transnational campaign to protect the religious rights of millions of Soviet Muslims from Moscow’s policies. Investigating what the principle of “protection” meant for these anti-Soviet activists and their Arab counterparts, the lecture argues that this campaign inspired alternative visions of world order and protection of vulnerable populations, including those that were not necessarily internationally defined as numerical “minorities.” The lecture thus shows how Muslim thinkers – in contrast to European colonial empires – understood and reformulated the language of protection, and thereby recovers the role of Muslim anti-colonialists in the international history of minority rights during the interwar period.

Dr. Roy Bar Sadeh is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Graduate School for Global Intellectual History at the Freie Universität Berlin. A social and intellectual historian in a global framework, his research examines how people across the Middle East, South Asia, and Eurasia during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries experienced and contributed to regional and international debates about sovereignty, citizenship, and religious and social difference. He is currently working on a book manuscript that examines the global history of the concept of minority from the multi-lingual perspectives of Muslim thinkers across the  British, Ottoman, and Tsarist Empires and their successor states. This manuscript is based on two years of archival research in private and state repositories, mainly in India, Russia, Israel/Palestine, and Britain. It draws on a variety of sources (such as treatises, private letters, pamphlets, official documents, autobiographies, and travelogues) in Urdu, Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, Russian, and French. Dr. Bar Sadeh earned a Ph.D. in History from Columbia University in the City of New York on May 2022, and from August 2022 to July 2023, he was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Yale University Law School. Dr Bar Sadeh's doctoral dissertation has been awarded the Ab Imperio Dissertation Prize for 2022 and he has published articles in prominent peer-reviewed journals, including Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History (Indiana University Press, 2020), Comparative Studies in Society and History (CSSH; Cambridge University Press, October 2023,) and the International Journal of Islam in Asia (Brill, Fall 2023).


The event will be held hybrid.
Link to participate on Zoom: https://us06web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZAofumqrjMuE9OSShDidxkajWmlV4JVfRAp

This event is part of the lecture series:
Summer Semester 2024