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  • Dubai: world’s least cosmopolitan city

    Dubai is probably the most international place in the world, with less than 10% of its inhabitants holding the local passport. But calling Dubai ‘cosmopolitan’ would be a mistake, derived from a wrong understanding of the term and of reality of life in the Arab Gulf. In fact, Dubai is maybe the least cosmopolitan city there is.

  • Andalusia’s ambivalence: between convivencia and Islamophobia

    The seven centuries of Islamic rule over the southern Spanish province of Andalusia are often romanticized for its convivencia: the peaceful coexistence of Muslims, Christians and Jews. Today, the region exploits this history for tourism, but is not devoid of Islamophobia.

    I wrote this article for the Center for Intercultural Dialogue.

  • Identity and nationality in the Gulf

    Few countries in the world have more foreigners than locals living within their borders. It is the case in the Arab Gulf states, where the majority of the population consists of immigrants: up to more than 85% in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. For the locals, this poses unique challenges to their concepts of identity and nationality.

  • Islamic State: media and identity

    The so-called Islamic State might have been defeated, but ideas do not die so easily. In this essay I deconstruct its ideology and self-identification and show that it is different from the way ‘the West’ has categorized it.

  • Amritsar: conflict and harmony

    The city of Amritsar in north-western India is not big, but attracts more visitors than the Taj Mahal. The two main attractions are symbols of harmony and conflict, respectively: the Sikh religion’s holiest temple complex where everyone is welcome, and the nearby border with Pakistan where on a daily basis people on both sides assemble to celebrate the gates closing.

    I wrote this article for the Center for Intercultural Dialogue.

  • On India, poverty and religion

    Different religions deal with poverty differently, and in India you find a lot of both. At one point or another, the visitor of the subcontinent will inevitably be faced with more misery than one can bear and the challenging question how to approach it. What answers do religions provide?

  • Movie: Silence by Martin Scorsese

    It is a mystery to me why Martin Scorsese’s 2016 movie Silence, about Christian missionaries in Japan, premiered at the Vatican. Although Scorsese is Catholic and at some point in his life even wanted to become a priest, it seems that more than just offering a historical account of an encounter between cultures and religions,…

  • Field notes

    What happens when academics go on a ‘field trip’? “Describing any impressions of such a brief moment is per definition more about our own experience than it can be an accurate account of the reality we were asked to report about. ‘Field notes’ as a description of what it is like to experience an unfamiliar environment for someone living in a university. A depiction of a glimpse of someone else’s everyday. In the name of knowledge.”

  • In search of Buenos Aires

    “My contemplations streamed into a gaping expectation of novelty that was not filled by Buenos Aires. As a European, I had covered inhumane distances to get here and yet it seemed I had only traveled in terms of time – some 24 hours – and not in space. It was not a New World; it was a copy of the old one.”

  • Still(ed) waters: a very short history of Mexico City

    How a lake turned into one of the largest cities in the world: this is the story of Mexico City.

    Before the Spanish conquest, Mexico City was a kind of Venice in the middle of a couple of connected lakes, surrounded by volcanoes. It was called Tenochtitlan: ’the place of many tunas’ (notwithstanding the watery environment, a tuna here being the fruit of a cactus).

  • Antithesis

    Amid the chaos of the city that she was calling her home for a little while now, there were only two sights calm and peaceful: the surface of the river and the setting of the sun. On the bridge, people were gathering to welcome the evening coolness closing in. She walked by them over the…

  • The commuter

    It was overwhelmingly hot and the metro was packed as usual. The agonizing heat and lack of space made the world as small as her own discomfort. The other passengers, covered in many bright layers of clothing yet used to extreme temperatures, nevertheless seemed fascinated by her as always. It was obvious: the lightness of…