From The Editors
Fall 2007/Spring 2008 (Vol. XV No.2/XVI No. 1)
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The articles in this issue of the Arab Studies Journal underscore the diversity of political and cultural practices ranging from Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and Turkey. The contributors analyze and critique how parties, states, and individuals are grappling with neo-liberal policies, global markets, and post-9/11 economic shifts that threaten regime stability, the welfare of different socioeconomic classes, and state cultural politics.
In “Images of Openness, Spaces of Control: The Politics of Tourism Development in Tunisia,” Waleed Hazbun traces the connections between income from tourism and the politics of state building. He elaborates how Tunisia’s expanding tourist industry has helped sustain President Ben Ali’s increasingly authoritarian rule over the country. Tourism served to integrate Tunisia more definitively into global markets while simultaneously expanding state power over society and the economy, partly by projecting an image of openness and stability to Western tourists that belied growing internal repression.
Tackling ongoing debates about who will replace President Husni Mubarak, Jason Brownlee analyzes political succession in contemporary Egypt by examining Gamal Mubarak’s “heir apparency.” Brownlee challenges cultural explanations that understand father-son successions as particular to the Middle East or Arab world by invoking comparisons to Syria, Togo, and Azerbaijan, where elites pursued similar strategies to extend their power. Gamal Mubarak is being groomed to take over Egypt’s political leadership while an autocratic ruling class simultaneously marginalizes the opposition by manipulating the constitution, restricting elections and, less frequently, incarcerating dissidents.
By focusing on Kutlu Ataman’s video installations, Alisa Lebow interrogates two contemporary developments in visual culture: the so-called “global” circulation of video art and the incursion of documentary into the art world. Ataman’s video installations are made to be seen in the galleries and museums of Europe and the United States, and only belatedly, if at all, in Istanbul. The images travel on a one-way trajectory westward, raising serious questions about how global the circulation of art really is. The article also addresses how these images translate in a transnational art world setting, the art world’s impact on the potential political effectivity of these images, and how the classification of “contemporary art” influences the interpretation of these documentary images.
In his article “The Western Imposition of Sectarianism on Iraqi Politics,” Reidar Visser shows how the media relentlessly impose a sectarian framework on political events in Iraq. Analyzing press coverage from Europe and North America, Visser details a sloppy disregard for, or intentional misapprehension of, a complex political universe in which sectarian identity does not consistently play a determining role. He argues that a nuanced and more accurate picture of the current political situation in Iraq would emerge if sectarianism were not “invented” as a lens through which to view current events in Iraq.
K. Luisa Gandolfo examines the impact of a series of economic measures on Jordan’s middle class. Long the bastion of professionals, academics, and members of the military, this class is facing fragmentation and impoverishment. Gandolfo assesses its imminent future, predicting absorption by flanking socioeconomic groups and escalating unemployment. She also explores related and complex social transformations, along with evolving modes of class survival.
We also proudly present two exclusive sections in this issue. The first is a discussion of Talal Asad’s new book, On Suicide Bombing, by Asad, Harry Harootunian, and Gil Anidjar. This section is adapted from a roundtable held at New York University in February 2008. The three scholars painstakingly untangle the multiple, knotted strands of liberal democratic, racial, and civilizational discourses to lay bare the ahistorical, counterfactual, and fallacious construction of culture as a root cause of terrorism. The authors explore meanings of life and death, paying particular attention to the way that Judeo-Christian tradition has deployed the latter and moving beyond the insidious binary between terrorism and war to critically examine the issue of killing in contemporary global politics.
The second section is an opinion piece by Aksu Bora and Koray Çaliskan that explores the historical context and political setting of the headscarf debate in contemporary Turkey. Bora and Çaliskan cogently argue that the central issue is not a simple confl ict between secularism and Islamism. It is instead a politics of “symbolic mobilization” that both Kemalist and neo-liberal Islamist elites manipulate to maximize their own political capital. The authors contend that the distinction between Islamism and neo-liberalism is rather specious in this case, and show how elite policies are operating to the extreme detriment of working-class men and women, with dire implications for Turkey’s economic and cultural politics.
This issue of Arab Studies Journal also includes book reviews covering a wide range of subjects, from Ottoman court history and the fortunes of the Palestinian Istiqlal party in the 1930s to the contemporary dynamics of Arab life in the banlieues of France. Many of the books reviewed share a concern about our imperial present and the use of history to forward particular social or political projects. While most evident in Marilyn Young and Lloyd Gardner’s Iraq and the Lessons of Vietnam, or, How Not To Learn from The Past, this concern also appears in reviews of two very different books on sexuality in the Middle East: Joseph Massad’s Desiring Arabs and Brian Whitaker’s Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East. Another sub-theme in this issue’s review section concerns popular expressions of Islam and Islamist politics. We include reviews of Charles Hirschkind’s The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counterpublics, Lara Deeb’s An Enchanted Modern: Gender and Public Piety in Shi‘i Lebanon, and Kamran Scot Aghaie’s The Women of Karbala: Ritual Performance and Symbolic Discourses in Modern Shi‘i Islam. Finally, as the United States and Israel—and police states across the Middle East—continue to practice torture and produce legal justifi cations for doing so, we are proud to include Lisa Hajjar’s review of Darius Rejali’s voluminous and comprehensive study, Torture and Democracy.
Finally, we go to print with heavy hearts because of the sudden, tragic passing of one of our newest and brightest review editors. Falak Sufi, aged twenty-three, died on 19 March 2008. From Pakistan, Falak was an M.A. student at the Department of Near Eastern Studies at New York University. She was an enthusiastic, insightful, conscientious, and unforgettably warm-hearted member of our team who cared deeply about the Journal, scholarship, politics, and the world. Her untimely death is a tremendous loss. We dedicate this issue to her.