Assistant Professor J.C. Salyer Honored by the Office of the Brooklyn Borough


J.C. Salyer, assistant professor of practice, anthropology, and human rights, was honored on April 4, 2019, by the Arab-American Family Support Center (AAFSC) and the Office of the Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams.

One of three allies recognized by the AAFSC during the annual Arab-American Heritage Celebration at Brooklyn Borough Hall, Salyer was lauded for his dedication to Brooklyn’s Arab-American community and his work to strengthen cross-cultural ties. (April is National Arab-American Heritage Month.) 

“Professor Salyer’s scholarship and practice is dedicated to issues of human rights and social justice, and we congratulate him on this honor that celebrates the impact of his work in the Arab-American community in Brooklyn,” said Provost and Dean of the Faculty Linda Bell

The Arab-American Family Support Center (AAFSC) is a nonprofit, nonsectarian organization created in 1994 to provide culturally and linguistically competent, trauma-informed social services to low-income immigrants and refugees throughout New York City. AAFSC’s mission is to empower new immigrants with the tools they need to successfully acclimate to the world around them and become active participants in their communities. 

See the original press release by AAFSC here.

MEI's Open Fund Partnership with NaTakallam to Offer Free Language Sessions

Interested in supplementing your classroom language learning? Unable to register for a class due to scheduling? Want to boost your conversational language skills in Arabic, Persian, or Kurdish? 

Apply to The Middle East Institute's Open Fund with NaTakallam! 

MEI and NaTakallam have partnered to offer packages of 10 hour-long conversation sessions in Arabic, Persian, or Kurdish to students at Columbia. There is a limited number of packages and applications are accepted on a rolling basis.

NaTakallam (“we speak” in Arabic) pairs displaced persons with learners around the world for online language practice. Sessions take place virtually and can be scheduled anytime that works for you! To learn more, visit:

To apply, please complete this form:

In Memorium Peter Awn


In Memorium of Peter Awn

The Middle East Institute joins the Columbia University community in mourning the loss of our dear colleague. Peter Awn is best known and widely admired for his leadership and passionate advocacy role as the Dean of General Studies, which he saw--with its veterans, first-generation and returning students--as representing the “cutting edge of undergraduate education.” Peter’s important work as Professor of Islamic and Comparative Religion ranged from teaching his department’s popular undergraduate lecture course to advising numerous doctoral dissertations.

 A former Director of the MEI, Peter also was a stalwart participant in the institute’s annual reviews of student applications for research and language study fellowships, meetings he joined both admirably prepared and with his inimitable personal wit and style, down to his flashy socks.

 As for our affiliate, the Center for Palestine Studies, Peter was there at its birth in 2010. His crucial, behind the scenes administrative intervention enabled the launch of an academic center particular to Columbia and unique in the western hemisphere.

We extend our condolences to Peter’s family and to his life-long friends.

Full Statement from the Office of the President

Graduate Student Article | "How Migrant Children Lose Their Mother in Lebanon"

by Anna Ruemert

“In Nadine Labaki’s new film Capernaum, the radio-transmitted voice of the incarcerated child protagonist tells his parents–and the Lebanese public, by extension–to stop having children, since they cannot provide them with a respectable life. Critics have pointed to the film’s Malthusian message of solving poverty by population control. What has been less noted in commentaries is that the film’s biopolitical imaginary captures the reality for black and brown migrant workers in Lebanon, where population control has a racialized effect.

Female domestic migrant workers contracted under the Kafala sponsorship are not allowed to marry or have children in Lebanon. Under this labor contract, the migrant worker exists legally as an extension of her employer-family. As Nayla Moukarbel has pointed out, female domestic workers are expected to care for others while denied their own relations of love and kin. The domestic migrant worker is included into the Lebanese family-nation as a legal exception, since she has no path to actual legal membership in the Lebanese nation-state, where patrilineal and sectarian lineage sets the condition for citizenship. In what follows, I show how the migrant’s imposed status as a double stranger–kinless and alien–through the Kafala system constitutes a specific kind of violence: A violence that is not simply exploitative, but racial. It is racial in that it does not merely break the migrant’s laboring body, but her lineage.

This specific form of racialized biopolitical violence echoes a history that reverberates across the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The first displacement on the trans-Atlantic route was the separation of the enslaved from their mother. The second displacement was the cutting of the paternal bond. The slave’s status as orphaned–a status imposed by violent separation–enabled the exploitation of her as a subject lacking a life and family of her own, and therefore under the patronage of her master. As Hortense Spillers once noted, in her seminal article “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe,” the combined systems of slavery and incarceration rendered the black father an absent figure in a US cultural imaginary, where the black woman has often doubled as mother-father–despite the social reality of black family life being more complex.

This history repeats itself in contemporary Lebanon, where the migrant child is legally papa’s baby and mama’s maybe.

The historical context of the Arab Mediterranean suggests a notable reversal of Spiller’s formula. In contrast to the Atlantic model of slavery, in the Ottoman Empire, children of female slaves did not inherit their mother’s status, but were born “free,” under the patronage of their master-father. In the harems of Ottoman Egypt and Greater Syria, Sudanese female slaves were often denied maternal linkage to their children, who became heirs of their masters.

This history repeats itself in contemporary Lebanon, where the migrant child is legally papa’s baby and mama’s maybe. Because the no-pregnancy policy does not apply to male migrant workers, the migrant father becomes the legal guardian of the child. Consequently, their children exist only on condition of the father. As mentioned, children born of migrant fathers and mothers have no path to Lebanese citizenship. Meanwhile, they can only obtain foreign citizenship through paternal recognition. If the father denies parental linkage, the child is rendered not only “illegal” in Lebanon, but stateless in the world.

Such is the fate of the black child we encounter in Nadine Labaki’s new film Capernaum. Tigest, the child’s Ethiopian mother, knows that her status as a migrant worker in Lebanon renders her motherhood a legal impossibility. The father absent, her son is rendered illegal, too. He is born into a life of disguise. During the day, he is hidden in the restaurant bathroom where she works. On the street, he is covered in her sack. At home, he is kept behind heavy curtains. Living on the edge of the Lebanese underground economy, the mother must navigate the dual threats of the police, who will deport the child, and the smuggler, who wants to profit from him. In the racial economy of migration, the black boy is at once desired and despised, rendered valuable and valueless.

When many female domestic migrant workers still do become pregnant, whether voluntarily by their partners or, as is often the case, involuntarily by their male employers, they are expelled from their jobs, and subject to arrest and deportation. Of the two hundred thousand or more female migrant workers in Lebanon, twenty to thirty thousand have children in Lebanon, the majority of whom live undocumented. In a recent report on migrant motherhood in Lebanon, Bina Fernandez argues that “the Lebanese government’s restrictions on MDWs' rights to legally marry and have children has the unintended counter-effect of propelling these women and their children into irregular status and precarious single motherhood.” The effect of Lebanese migration policy is certainly one of precarious motherhood–but is it unintended? The structural denial of black and brown kinship is not accidental, nor is it limited to the Lebanese case, as migrant children currently separated from their parents across the US-Mexico border know all too well.

While black and brown migrants in Lebanon form bonds of reproductive and social kinship despite their legal status, their existence as a family remains structurally impossible and, arguably, culturally unimaginable in Lebanon. If imagined at all, the migrant family is spatially confined to an exceptional or marginal space within the Lebanese state. In the Lebanese reality depicted in Capernaum, for example, the migrant mother is faced with the choice of separation or incarceration. The compromise is their re-unification behind bars. The film’s bittersweet finale, in which migrant mother and child are let to live together within the necro-political zone of the prison, suggests the limits of imagination for migrant kinship in contemporary Lebanon.”


Anna Reumert is a PhD student in sociocultural anthropology at Columbia University, conducting fieldwork with African migrant workers in Lebanon.

The original article can be found here.

Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict, and Complexity Peace Fellowship Program

The Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict and Complexity at Columbia University is accepting applications for the Peace Fellowship Program. The program engages graduate level students and faculty at Columbia University who are doing interdisciplinary research or practice with focus on conflict resolution and peace-building, aiming to cultivate sustainable peace and support students to engage and think critically about issues of peace and sustainability.

Application deadline: February 11, 2019

For the application and more information, please reference the AC4 website.


Foreign Language & Area Studies Fellowships (FLAS) Opportunities for 2019-2020


The Middle East Institute awards Foreign Language & Area Studies Fellowships for undergraduate and graduate study in Arabic, Armenian, Persian, Turkish, and Hebrew.

FLAS awards can be for Academic Year study at Columbia, or for intensive Summer language study in the US or abroad.

Applicants must be a US citizen or permanent resident in order to apply. The deadline for both summer and academic year applications is February 15, 2019.

New Spring 2019 Course | The City of God and the Worldly City

Society Architecture Jerusalem Course Flyer 1-20-2019 (1).png

New Spring 2019 course, The City of God and the Worldly City: A Social and Architectural History of Jerusalem, is being held on Wednesdays 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM and instructed by Professor Suad Amiry. The call number for the course is 22204.

The course seminar provides a social and architectural history of Jerusalem, with a focus on issues of representation, urban form, planning, spatial contestation, and debates about the status of city and its future.

Columbia Professor Awarded the Giorgio Levi Della Vida Series in Islamic Studies

Congratulations to Professor Zeynep Çelik, who was just announced as the recipient of the prestigious Giorgio Levi Della Vida Award, given to outstanding scholars whose work has significantly and lastingly advanced the study of Islamic civilization. 

"As the preeminent architectural historian and museum curator of the Middle East and North Africa, Zeynep Çelik has been selected for her extraordinary teaching and research along with her extensive publication record. The award carries with it a bronze medal and an invitation to present a formal keynote lecture as part of a conference held at UCLA CNES. The recipient of the award chooses the theme of the conference and selects the other participants. The conference proceedings are published in the Giorgio Levi Della Vida Series in Islamic Studies."