From The Editors
Spring 2011 (Vol. XIX No. 1)
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The revolutions, uprisings, demonstrations and protests have unfolded in ways both exultant and heartbreaking across North Africa and the Middle East in the last several months. As individuals, communities, citizenries, and populations, tired of decades of a manipulation of history, a usurpation of resources, and a corruption of rulership, finally said “enough!”, they have been continuously shattering archaic and problematic narratives whose time has long passed. The slow construction of new visions of citizenship and society illustrate both the depth of the fissures as well as the profound resilience of people who are disgusted with monarchical power and the sacrifices that go with it, neocolonial indigenous regimes, the increasing severity of Palestinian dispossession, and emerging sub-narratives being written by non-state actors. From a thirteenth century chronicle to twenty-first century refugees, to new configurations of Islam and authority in places as different as Morocco and Lebanon, the four articles featured in this issue of ASJ attend to the manner in which historical and political narratives play out in ways that resonate with what we are witnessing throughout the Middle East and North Africa today.
In her article, “Fellahin, fida’yin, laj’in: Palestinian camp refugees in Lebanon as Autochthon,” Nadia Latif traces the transformation of the roles of Palestinian camp refugees in Lebanon in Palestinian nationalist narratives. Based on fieldwork conducted in Lebanon in 2003-2006, Latif compares representations in nationalist narratives with Palestinian camp refugees’ accounts of their own lived experience. She demonstrates a remarkable consistency in the representation of the fellah turned fida’i as belonging to the land of Palestine while simultaneously in need of an education into a different and modern sense of attachment to the potential nation-state. She traces how transformations within regional and global politics over the last three decades have transformed Palestinian refugees from symbols of revolutionary struggle to signifiers of victimhood and unending suffering.
Stacy Holden outlines the theatrics of Sultanic authority and French colonial rule in ‘Alawi Morocco by tracing the symbolic and performative aspects of the ‘Id al-Kabir sacrifice. By focusing on the Great Sacrifice in both the pre-colonial and colonial eras, Holden contributes to the study of power relations and to understandings of the interplay between Islam and political authority. In engaging how onlookers interacted with and influenced royal authority, Holden shows how public rites provided a means of popular participation in monarchical institutions that could make or break an individual Sultan as well as systems of colonial rule. Through strategies such as rumor spreading and later boycott, Holden details the debates over the nature of Morocco’s political system, and how ordinary people participated in, shaped, and challenged it.
Mona Harb and Lara Deeb identify the development, facilitation, and support by Hizballah in Lebanon of an Islamic milieu, their translation of “hala islamiyya.” In their article, they explore the production of this Islamic milieu with a focus on the party’s efforts to organize notions of culture (thaqafa) by referring to specific interpretations of history and particular understandings of nature. They investigate two sites in the south of Lebanon: the Khiam detention center and the Mleeta resistance memorial. Both sites highlight the importance of nature and history – and the sedimentation and narration of a specific history – to the party’s understandings of thaqafa. Mleeta, in particular, reveals the importance of landscape production, and the reliance on specific ideas about environmentalism, in the instantiation of the Islamic milieu. Here, landscape is incorporated as a component of Hizballah’s cultural production. Harb and Deeb discuss Hizballah’s multi-faceted production of thaqafa parallel to the party’s deployment of the concept as a rigid category divorced from politics, religion, and space.
Finally, Prashant Keshavmurthy offers an interpretation of the preface to Muhammad ‘Awfi’sLubab al-Albab, the chronicle or biographical dictionary of Persian language poets completed in 1221 CE. This interpretation foregrounds the preface’s dual archival and theoretical importance. Keshavmurthy shows that ‘Awfi not only anticipated the performance of epistemic modesty that would become characteristic of Persian chronicles in this genre for nearly half a millennium to come, but that he also anticipated and problematized the notion that “temporal distance” from a text’s empirical origins could facilitate rather than impede its understanding.
This issue’s book review section attends to the materiality of cultural production and consumption, and attunes us to local and global politics, the power of economic interests, and the persistent presence of history. The section covers such diverse subjects as nineteenth-century Tunisia, masculinity in a Uyghur community in Xinjiang China, the US military’s devastating sieges of al-Falluja in 2004, and the scholarly networks of eighteenth-century polymath Murtada al-Zabidi. Many of the books reviewed examine the connections between neoliberalism, state violence, colonialism, and anti-colonial nationalism: Laleh Khalili and Jillian Schwedler’s edited volume, Policing and Prisons in the Middle East: Formations of Coercion; Hishaam D. Aidi’s Redeploying the State: Corporatism, Neoliberalism, and Coalition Politics; Richard C. Keller’s Colonial Madness: Psychiatry in French North Africa; Erez Manela’s The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism; Jennifer M. Dueck’s The Claims of Culture at Empire’s End: Syria and Lebanon under French Rule; and Hanan Kholoussy’s For Better, For Worse: The Marriage Crisis That Made Modern Egypt. Together, these reviews show what historical and political economic analyses can bring to current understandings of the recent uprisings across the Middle East and the challenges to come. The contested terrain of culture comes to the fore in reviews of Samia Mehrez’s Egypt’s Culture Wars: Politics and Practice; Suzanne Kassab’s Contemporary Arab Thought: Cultural Critique in Comparative Perspective; Rasha Salti and Ziad Antar’s Beirut Bereft: The Architecture of the Forsaken and Map of the Derelict; and Waleed Hazbun’s Beaches, Ruins, Resorts: The Politics of Tourism in the Arab World.