From The Editors
Spring 2009 (Vol. XVII No. 1)
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This latest issue of the Arab Studies Journal features scholarship that illustrates the complex processes by which various societies in the Middle East have both grappled with, and sought to control, different forms of Western or international encroachment and contact. Ranging from missionary education projects for women and depictions of male Bedouin in British travel journals, to the construction and deployment of new forms of knowledge for state-building projects, and the manipulation of international opinion on Palestinian resistance, the articles address issues that are pertinent to both scholarship and the daily lives of millions.
In his article, “Hydropolitics, Economy, and the Aswan High Dam in Mid-Century Egypt,” Ahmad Shokr investigates the building of the Aswan High Dam as an illustration of how post-colonial nation-building projects and economic development regimes employed twentieth-century ideas and practices in resource and economic management. He rereads the works of colonial experts and Egyptian hydrologists, engineers, and civil servants, among others, to more comprehensively elucidate the transnational networks of expertise that helped shape early conceptions of the High Dam project. Shokr follows the trajectories of the most influential forms of knowledge— river-basin development and economic statistics—and their convergence in the High Dam project in order to delineate the “transnational linkages underlying Nasserist state expansion,” which he argues have been absent from previous accounts of hydropolitics and the Nile River.
In a different study of knowledge production and dissemination, Ellen L. Fleischmann explores the complicated and contentious history of the establishment in 1927 of the American Junior College (AJC) for Women by the American Presbyterian Syria Mission. She illustrates that the very process by which a college for women was founded reveals both the limits and possibilities for the relationship between the Syria Mission and its constituency in its last thirty years of existence. The AJC was a site of contestation for multiple visions of female education and modernity, as well as a locus for exploring the ambiguous American Protestant educational vision for the Middle East writ large.
Jeffery Dyer, in his article “Desert Saints or Lions without Teeth?”, analyzes journals of nineteenth-century British travelers to the central Arabian Peninsula as a way to explore British self-conceptions of masculinity and their influence on portrayals of foreign masculinities in an imperial context. Deploying literature on British boys’ boarding schools and literary archetypes of Victorian masculinity, Dyer assesses how depictions of Bedouin men conformed to British views of sporting, hunting, self-sufficiency, and sense of fair play as essential elements in an idealized Victorian masculinity. Dyer concludes that British travelers and administrators used these representations in later periods to justify sponsorship of particular elites and rulers.
While Dyer discusses British portrayals as a tool to enact future colonial dominance, Lori A. Allen addresses the ways in which Palestinians in the West Bank, who live in what she calls “one of the most media-saturated conflicts in the world,” are cognizant of, and manipulate, such international preconceptions— specifically, the relationship between women, politics, and Islam. Against the history of Palestinian women’s activism within the anti-colonial nationalist struggle, Allen demonstrates how a “keen awareness of international audiences helped shape women’s activities and their self-representations.” Her analysis of the interplay of Palestinian and Western representations, arguments, and assumptions about women and politics demonstrates the effects of transnationally circulating discourse on, and symbolism of, modes of political expression.
This issue of ASJ also reviews books that take us across the globe, from Syria, Palestine, and Egypt, to Europe and North America, in so doing reminding us of the complex ways that ideas, technologies, and peoples travel across different contexts and inviting us to consider how new scholarship takes up the challenges posed by this complexity. Three of the books under review treat Arab and Muslim communities outside of the Middle East: Theresa Alfaro-Velcamp’s So Far from Allah, So Close to Mexico: Middle Eastern Immigrants in Modern Mexico offers one of the first English-language studies of early twentieth-century Arab migration to Mexico, tracing developments in identity formation as different communities staked out a place for themselves within Mexico’s changing economic and political landscape. Similarly, the volume edited by Willem B. Dees and Pieter Sjoerd van Koningsveld includes essays from both scholars and educators on various factors affecting the practices of Islamic theological institutions in Europe, past and present. For the United States, Race and Arab Americans Before and After 9/11: From Invisible Citizens to Visible Subjects, edited by Amaney Jamal and Nadine Naber, foregrounds race as a theoretical category as it offers a multi-disciplinary examination of Arab American communities in the post-9/11 atmosphere of heightened discrimination and official harassment.
Moving to the Arab world, this issue reviews two important contributions to a growing literature on the social history of Ottoman Syria. Elizabeth Sirriyeh’s Sufi Visionary of Ottoman Damascus: ‘Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulusi, 1641-1731 and Governing Property, Making the Modern State: Law, Administration, and Production in Ottoman Syria, by Martha Mundy and Richard Saumarez Smith, offer in-depth studies of their respective subjects that contribute a wealth of new material for scholars of the field.
Further, new scholarship on Egypt examines cultural production and knowledge, often with emphasis on the interconnection between the Arab world and Europe. Richard Jacquemond’s Conscience of the Nation: Writers, State, and Society in Modern Egypt draws on Pierre Bourdieu to tender a sociology of Arab literary production. Omnia El Shakry’s study of the social sciences in colonial and postcolonial Egypt rethinks the relationship between Egyptian and European modes of knowledge production.
This issue’s review essay looks at two extensive and detailed surveys of modern Arab theater--The Egyptian Theatre in the Nineteenth Century, 1799- 1882 by Philip C. Sadgrove and Poetics, Politics, and Protest in Arab Theatre: The Bitter Cup and the Holy Rain by Mas‘ud Hamdan—which also consider the question of European influence on changing theatrical forms.
Humanitarianism comes under scrutiny in two books under review. Peter J. Bloom’s French Colonial Documentary: Mythologies of Humanitarianism explores the intersection of humanitarian discourse, medicine, and visual culture in the French colonial project. Human Rights at the UN: The Political History of Universal Justice, by Roger Normand and Sarah Zaidi, presents a history of the international system of human rights with critical attention to the geopolitical context in which human rights are defined and defended. We also are pleased to present reviews of two new works on the Israel-Palestine question for a more general readership: Joel Kovel’s Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine and Tikva Honig-Parnass and Toufic Haddad’s edited collection, Between the Lines: Readings on Israel, the Palestinians, and the U.S. “War on Terror.”
Finally, in this issue, three authors mark the life and death of a great poet, Mahmoud Darwish. Sinan Antoon, guest editor of this special “In Memoriam” section, remarks on the true bearers of death’s pain, those of us Darwish has left behind. As Antoon puts it, “If Darwish’s political and cultural importance can hardly be overestimated, neither can his artistic mastery or uniqueness.” Antoon fills the gaping void of Darwish’s absence as witness and narrator of the latest assault on Palestinian life by reminding us of the poet’s words on Gaza. In “The Poet is Dead,” Elias Khoury bids farewell to his friend; he recounts moments of the poet’s battle with his explosive aorta. In the folds of this intimate journey, Khoury reflects on Darwish’s poetic intuition, his mastery of and interventions in poetry (Arabic and world), his equivocal bonds to power, his crystallization of the Palestinian story into a “lyrical epic,” and, perhaps most resoundingly, his simultaneous creation of and estrangement from the homeland. Khoury ponders the poet’s last ruse in which he used the dual Arabic voice to split the self and explore beginning and end. It is precisely these oppositions between creator and created, living and dead, interior and exterior, Jeffrey Sacks rejoins, that Darwish dismantled. In “On Decolonization,” Sacks ponders Darwish’s linguistic battle to dismantle the barbed wires of separation, interweaving throughout texts by Etel Adnan, Frantz Fanon, Jean Genet, and Hannah Arendt. He reminds us of the poet’s lasting lesson: “what Darwish teaches us are futures … [he] has taught us how his poetic word may be read: to return to the words of the poet, to read and reread them, is to lend one’s ear to tomorrow.” In reading and rereading Darwish, we are given to persist, Sacks points out, to persist, steadfastly with the dissonance of words and the idioms of others. It is through holding up such a future that the editors of Arab Studies Journal bid farewell to the great poet, Mahmoud Darwish.