Scholars in Context: Mohammed Almahfali
Jadaliyya's Scholars in Context series consists of Q&As in which scholars of the Middle East describe their research and the paths they took to arrive at it. The series provides a platform for these scholars to highlight the significance of their work, identify the audiences they seek to reach, and outline their future research trajectories, giving readers an in-depth look at the latest research in a given field.
Jadaliyya (J): What is the main focus of your current research and how does it connect to or depart from your previous work?
Mohammed Almahfali (MA): My current research is centered around a comprehensive discourse analysis, particularly focusing on discourses utilizing the Arabic language. I have recently achieved a second master's degree in media and communication and have been involved in diverse research projects investigating political media discourse. In these, I have explored the confluence of cultural and social motifs, delving into various contexts. For instance, I have examined the dynamic relationship between sociocultural factors and election campaigns; the portrayal of women in Yemeni folk tales; and how social networks amplify the creativity of Arabic authors in Sweden.
My research horizons have expanded significantly in recent years. One prominent avenue I have pursued involves a thorough exploration of the repercussions of conflict on education, especially within varying contexts like Yemen. Another avenue has been the task of mapping out a comprehensive human rights discourse within the Arab world, by unraveling its fundamental dimensions and tracing its evolutionary trajectory. An additional facet of my work involves scrutinizing Arab research grants focused on human rights, particularly from the vantage point of Islamic perspectives.
These endeavors slightly diverge from my previous academic undertakings, when I concentrated on deciphering literary attributes of the Arabic language and the nuances of fictional and poetic literary texts, examining their interplay with cultural and ideological constructs.
J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does it address?
MM: I am currently fascinated by the tools of framing and critical analysis of discourse because they provide me with efficient mechanisms for dissecting discourses with tangible societal implications. That entails unraveling these discourses with the aim of crafting plausible scenarios that could pave the way toward resolving dominant challenges. For instance, I conducted an analysis of how media reports on Yemeni television utilize language to frame events and present them to audiences within Yemen. In another research endeavor, I scrutinized the Yemeni Houthi movement's discourse framing, exploring its interplay with ideological and historical elements.
As a scholar rooted in the diaspora experience, I am fascinated with the intricacies that unfold within this context. For instance, my experience spans the terrain of migration, encompassing both the initial journey and the subsequent postmigration milieu. Central to my examination are discursive aspects, including how Arabic-speaking migrants in Sweden harness media platforms and engage in cultural creation, such as obtaining publishing opportunities or organizing cultural events. I am intrigued by the potential of these media and cultural endeavors to facilitate integration of migrants into the new societal fabric.
J: What brought you to this work? What was the source of inspiration?
MM: Displacement has profoundly shaped my trajectory in research. Initially, I had set my sights on an academic path as a professor of Arabic literature at a Yemeni university. However, the protracted conflict that has engulfed Yemen for over nine years compelled me to relinquish my roots and depart from my homeland. Consequently, I was forced to navigate the concept of resilience and to adapt to the changes encountered in my personal journey, moving me from a Middle Eastern setting to the landscape of Europe. It also propelled me from a scholastic setting predominantly immersed in the Arabic language to a multifaceted research environment brimming with linguistic diversity. These shifts impacted my research pursuits.
J: What audiences would you like to reach, and what kind of impact would you like your research and writing to have?
MM: I believe in an ethical duty to amplify awareness regarding the gravity of deceptive rhetoric and to counteract the dissemination of misleading information. This includes addressing the manipulation of immigrant issues to sway attitudes within Sweden. In the current era, we find ourselves amidst an expansive data revolution. This is evident in the massive influx of digital information and the utilization of advanced analytics in various sectors, which underscores the urgency for intensified efforts in scrutinizing, processing, and imparting data impartially. My current focus is on engaging a wide-ranging audience—those who partake in the consumption of knowledge. In a landscape besieged by counterfeit news and spurious scientific claims, as well as artful yet deceitful political and media discourses, the demand for authenticating these messages, sometimes skillfully concealed, is paramount.
Nevertheless, my connection remains rooted in the Middle East, particularly Yemen. A moral imperative compels me to contribute to the advancement of my homeland and foster the cultivation of knowledge therein. This extends to Arabic-speaking communities in Sweden and Europe. Analyzing the discourses emanating from this demographic is of particular interest to me. I hold that such endeavors serve as a catalyst for harmonizing perspectives and dispelling ambiguities—a conduit to constructive dialogues and understanding across cultural divides.
J: What other projects are you working on now?
MM: I am currently committed to a more in-depth analysis of the creative output of Arabic-speaking authors in Scandinavia. My aim is to uncover the inherent strengths within these bodies of work while also investigating how such creativity can effectively engage with universal values like freedom, equality, human rights, and other principles aligned with multiculturalism.
I am also advancing a series of small-scale projects designed to foster research capabilities and practical skills for higher education in Yemen. I am actively engaged in communication with stakeholders within Yemeni universities with the goal of collaborating on a range of practical, research-oriented, and cultural undertakings.