Last week, I finally got around to digitize the old map of Lucknow's Shia and Sunni population, which an enthusiastic Census officer produced in 1961, and which I managed to acquire in full copy three days before I left India last December.1 Geocoding the scan and counting all the little dots (which represent 200 Shia or Sunni households) resulted in the following map of Shia population:

  • 1. Census of India. (1961). Moharram in two cities (Lucknow and Delhi). In: Census monograph series, part VII-B: Fairs and festivals.

This past weekend, my wife and I participated in a conference on Islamic feminism - a theoretical and political interest of ours, reinvigorated during our year in Lucknow (see here for part of why). Midway through the first discussion, she leaned over and whispered: this (she meant incredibly stupid statements about the essence of man- and womanhood, about the "weaker sex" etc) is precisely what Sigmund Freud wrote, too (she truly is a psychotherapist in the making). Not much later, somebody complained that Muslim societies consider the family the most important social unit - and I had to think of conservative parties across Europe and the German principle of subsidiarity.

Our associations hint at a widespread problem in the discourse on women and Islam: what makes a deplorable patriarchic practice an Islamic one? The fact alone that it is justified with recourse to Quran, Sunna and Hadith? Or the mere fact that it occurs (more frequently, perhaps) in societies with many Muslim citizens? Would this not leave the definition of Islam to patriarchs, precisely something which we (and other Islamic feminists) should challenge? After all, patriarchs will take whatever source to justify themselves, if need be the local fast food menu card ("Chow mein causes rape")...

The letter in today's picture almost wrecked my presentation in Oxford last week - and reminded me how easy it is to get quantitative papers spectacularly wrong. What happened? While re-writing my talk two weeks ago (basically extending earlier work from Lucknow to the whole of Uttar Pradesh), I noticed some odd phenomena in my dataset. And freaked out. Oxford is not just any place to be invited to speak at. I had to know quite exactly what had gone wrong. After some fairly tense hours, I discovered it: the "Š", a letter which apparently crept into some electoral rolls of Eastern UP (and no, these are not written in latin script, but in devanagari). I have no idea why they were there in the first place, and there seemed to be no system - but as soon as my name-matching algorithm stumbled across them, it crashed. And left my dataset corrupted. Luckily, I was able to solve the problem (the final dataset arrived literally five minutes before my presentation), and could ditch the "I am truly sorry but my talk just dissolved in a data nightmare" embarassment. Close call!

Similar to earlier data trouble, I thus realized again how easy it is to spectacularly fail in quantitative research. You get one calculation wrong, a data row slips elsewhere - and your analysis is blown. It's much harder to fail equally grand in qualitative research. This is no argument in the quantitative-qualitative debate (which I find silly most of the time anyway). But if you deal with numbers as part of your research: be careful. Very careful. There might be a lurking "Š" around, waiting to destroy your fancy arguments at the most inconvenient hour...

The following book review first appeared in ASIEN / The German Journal on Contemporary Asia 127 (see entry in my publication list) and is reprinted here with permission. The book itself is here.

P. Ghassem-Fachandi: Pogrom in Gujarat. Hindu nationalim and anti-Muslim violence in India

Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012, 335 S., EUR 25,99

Im Frühjahr 2002 wurde die Heimat Mahatma Gandhis, der indische Bundesstaat Gujarat, Schauplatz der schlimmsten anti-muslimischen Ausschreitungen im Land seit den 1970er Jahren; mit staatlicher Duldung und teils Unterstützung wurden über 2000 Menschen ermordet. In den vergangenen Monaten, zehn Jahre später, fielen auf Drängen des Supreme Courts und gegen großen Widerstand in Gujarat selbst erste Urteile gegen die Täter – zuletzt spektakulär gegen eine ehemalige Ministerin im Kabinett von Narendra Modi (BJP), die wegen Verschwörung zu Mord und anderen Delikten zu lebenslanger Haft verurteilt wurde.

Finally, I received my author copies, an actual book, with my text in it and my name on top. Happiness! But: a book is only good when it is being read, and to find readers (as well as catalysts such as reviewers), one needs to engage in some marketing. Which can feel a bit awkward - academe rests on and yet despises selling oneself and one's intellectual produce. So I used the adrenalin and joy of the moment to write this series. And thought about what else to do.