From The Editors Spring 2012
Spring 2012(Vol. XX No. 1)
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This issue marks the passage of twenty years since the founding of Arab Studies Journal. In 1992, our editors prepared the first issue for publication at Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. Eight years later, in 2000, the journal became a fully peer-reviewed publication. By 2002, ASJ was operating its book review section out of New York University. This coming spring in 2013, we will be producing our official anniversary issue, exactly two decades after our first edition appeared.
This issue features martyrs, angels, a Nazi criminal, and the Islamist thinker behind the Muslim Brotherhood. All four articles take innovative and nuanced approaches to situate aspects of the Middle East in comparative frameworks, covering geographic spaces such as Afghanistan, Egypt, and the Indian Ocean; an international trial; and finally theoretical discussions of what defines the “secular.”
In one of the few scholarly works to theorize transnational Islamist activism, Darryl Li examines how “Afghan Arabs”—Islamist activists drawn to Afghanistan in recent decades—reconciled their pan-Islamist commitments with the experience of doctrinal and cultural difference. Afghan Arabs struggled to understand, evaluate, and respond to these differences in ways that often defied the conventional juxtaposition of Salafi Arabs to Sufi/Hanafi Afghans. Diverse and longstanding discursive traditions in Islam—including debates over miraculous events and visitation of saints’ tombs—provided common terms of reference that Arab activists and their Afghan counterparts invoked to ensure that even contentious disputes could contribute to a shared project. Li’s research illustrates that pan-Islamist projects should not be understood as attempts to erase intra-Muslim differences, but rather as endeavors to process them.
In a similar vein, Wilson Jacob takes us to the Indian Ocean in his critical reading of the writings of Sayyid Fadl bin ‘Alawi two decades into his exile. Fadl was one of the Ba-‘Alawi Hadhrami sayyids who made the Malabar region of South India their home from the eighteenth century until their exile at the hands of the British in 1852. Against the backdrop of shifting notions of empire during the nineteenth century Ottoman Tanzimat era, Jacob interprets Fadl’s reconceptualization of the notion of sovereignty. An inquiry into Fadl’s “form-of-life,” his article juxtaposes Fadl’s writings on political sovereignty to his works on mysticism, which illuminated a heterogeneous domain of active humans, nonhumans, miracles, and the paranormal. This juxtaposition affords a rare glimpse at an effort to reconcile colonial modernity and a state-centered sovereignty with a prior world of movement in which angels, spirits, and baraka were contiguous with zamorins, rajas, and caliphs.
The next two articles have Egypt as their focal point while each engaging broader debates. Gilbert Achcar’s article examines al-Ahram’s coverage of the 1960–62 capture, trial, and execution of Nazi official Adolf Eichmann. It illustrates the attitudes of writers, political activists, and journalists toward Israel, Zionism, Jews, and Nazism at a particular historical juncture of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s regime. Achcar asks specifically whether hostility to Israel—then Egypt’s main national enemy—transcended nationalist sentiment to become the anti-Semitism and Nazi sympathy that a wide-ranging literature has consistently accused Nasserism of containing. Achcar’s painstaking research reveals a much more complex landscape, in which Egyptian writers condemned Israel’s violations of international law while repudiating both Nazism and Zionism as racist ideologies.
Finally, Mohammad Salama and Rachel Friedman’s article builds on and extends an existing body of work on the secular by investigating the Egyptian Islamist Sayyid Qutb’s interpretation of that notion. The authors pay particular attention to Qutb’s concepts of jahiliyya and hakimiyya in his works Hadha al-Din, al-Mustaqbal li-Hadha al-Din, and Ma‘alim fi al-Tariq. Their article helps to broaden understandings of secularism, not only by studying an influential figure from outside of Europe, but also by finding tenable connections between the definitions of the secular in the so-called Third World and the consequences of colonial modernity. Salama and Friedman’s examination of Qutb’s writings reveals negotiations over the secular in noninstitutional discourses, a point they argue is missing from some of the dominant historiography on the subject.
We are pleased to present this issue’s expansive review section, which covers over twenty notable new titles. Its diverse subjects include the relationship between the Tehran bazaar and “the contingent dynamics of state policy” in Iran; cultural capital in turn-of-the-century Damascus; the “dreamtime of oil” in Bahla, Oman; Palestinian social history; and the central role of the Gulf Arab states in twentieth-century capitalism. Many of the books reviewed focus on the formation of political subjectivity, especially during the interwar period. Through this focus, these works also address, inter alia, gender, ethnic and religious affiliation, class, concepts of modernity, colonial legacies, and changing modes of political activism. Especially timely is John Chalcraft’s review of Joel Beinin and Frédéric Vairel’s edited volume, Social Movements, Mobilization, and Contestation in the Middle East and North Africa, as well asreviews of a selection of recent studies of Egypt, including Samah Selim’s review of Mara Naaman’s Urban Space in Contemporary Egyptian Literature, which examines literary representations of downtown Cairo, with its “sometimes utopian, sometimes brutal and bloody history of dreams, desires, and struggles.”
This issue also features three extended review essays. Reflecting on the “extraordinary resurgence of politics” that 2011 has brought, Aaron Jakes looks at three recent works that “reintroduc[e] politics into the story of the nahda.” Chris Gratien reviews two new monographs in the emerging field of Ottoman environmental history, whose themes and intersection with other fields he charts. This issue closes with Anthony Alessandrini’s guide to two very different approaches to the legacy of Edward Said, both of which “maintain the questioning spirit that marked Said’s unsparing engagement with the antinomic positions that a worldly criticism must find ways to address.”
Finally, we wish to announce that we are developing the relationship between Arab Studies Journal and its sister organization, Jadaliyya. These publications will be collaborating on various projects under the rubric of the common umbrella organization, the Arab Studies Institute (www.ArabStudiesInstitute.org). ASI’s Knowledge Production Project will be the first to bind the two publications together. This project aims to gather, organize, and analyze the past three decades of studies, primarily produced by US-based scholars, on the region. The outcomes of this project will be featured in the near future on the pages of both Arab Studies Journal and Jadaliyya.