From the Editors:
Spring 2020 (Vol. XXXVIII No. 1)
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This issue features a wealth of historical and contemporary insights on comedy, art, music, land, and labor. Carmen Gitre traces the vaudeville and comedy of the playwright Najib al-Rihani in early-twentieth-century Egypt. Reformers charged Rihani and his Everyman character, Kishkish Bey, with endangering the patriotic health of the newly independent nation. Gitre traces Rihani’s alternative moral and ethical vision of the nation, unfolding the Egyptiana theater as a shared liminal space of catharsis and imaginative transformation. Sarah Johnson takes us to mid-twentieth- century Iraq, where the work of artist Hafidh Druby married archeological practice with representational painting. Tracing Druby’s rise and fall as a pinnacle of art and theory, Johnson excavates blind spots in the history of modern Iraqi art, bringing to light multifaceted interpretations of modernity in Baghdad. Weaving performance ethnography, geography, and sound studies, Leila Tayeb explores post-Qaddafi Libya. She reveals how music is one of many quotidian sonic practices that produce militia power. Interrupting the conventional narration of Libya’s statelessness and its ostensibly bereft institutional landscape, Tayeb shows the audible and palpable ways that militias claim sovereignty. By detailing the dispossession of the villages of al-Kabri, al-Naher, Umm al-Faraj, and al-Tall in the western Galilee, Lily Eilan offers a new way to think about the Nakba. Reading mechanisms of negotiation, survival, and resistance to the Zionist state, Eilan illustrates a mode of transience in which Palestinians and Mizrahim accommodated, undermined, and exploited a new social order. The issue also features our stalwart book reviews section, anchored in an incisive review essay on Algeria.
With this issue, I step down as Editor of Arab Studies Journal (ASJ) after thirteen years of leading the team—as Co-Editor with Nadya Sbaiti from 2007 to 2013 and as Editor for the last seven years. Nadya recruited me to ASJ in 1998 at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University. The basement office became a refuge. There, Nadya, Bassam Haddad, Sinan Antoon, and Chris Toensing taught me about forging spaces for producing knowledge. We were graduate students committed to volun- teer labor, radical approaches, and collaboration with scholars grounded in the Arab world. The faith and generosity of our mentors, Judith Tucker and Michael Hudson, allowed us to imagine the impossible.
Since its first issue in 1992, the journal has been a space for collabo- rative thinking and practice. I have witnessed ASJ in different formative moments: when it became fully peer reviewed in 2000; when the book review section moved to New York City and a whole new flock of graduate students joined the team; and through the present day when interdisci- plinary content and biannual publication have made ASJ a resource for publishing, research, and teaching. ASJ gives access to young scholars by inviting submissions, being transparent about our review process, and working closely with authors to let their work reach its full potential. The journal also provides scholars with experience in the world of publishing. Graduate students have joined ASJ and stayed on board long after their defenses and tenure.
ASJ was the brainchild of Bassam Haddad. Through the ideas and practices of the journal, Bassam began crafting the institutional force that gave birth to Jadaliyya, Quilting Point, the Forum on Arab and Muslim Affairs, and Tadween Publishing, all under the umbrella of Arab Studies Institute. ASJ is the mothership of these organic and collective bodies that produce textual, aural, and visual knowledge committed to the Arab world as far more than an object of study. What holds us together is solidarity and commitment.
My two closest companions on this journey have been Nadya Sbaiti and Ziad Abu Rish. Nadya taught me how to trim the excess to let the argu- ment shine. Ziad has the power to bring together the minute details and the broader stakes. As book review managing editor, Leili Kashani mobilized me in an ongoing battle against the passive voice. Allison Brown modeled editing as a political practice that necessitates generosity and resilience. Dina Ramadan’s insistence on the highest of standards has elevated the journal.
ASJ is a place where long time comrades like Charles Anderson become dedicated scholarly leaders. It is also a place where former students become peers. Owain Lawson has infused life, persistence, and rigor into ASJ and my own writing practices. Taylor Moore and Amy Fallas have deepened and honed the content of these pages.
In 1999, in a collective copyediting session, Ranya Ghuma asked what in fact was the significance of implementing em-dashes when the people we were writing about were under force of fire. Some years later Anthony Alessandrini wrote Nadya and me apologizing for his request to edit a piece on nineteenth-century Beirut when the Beirut of the present was under the Israel army’s high-tech fire. In each instance, these colleagues asked: why does this work matter?
Nineteenth-century Beirut was a refuge. It was also a way to under- stand the present and envision the future. But there is more. Through those em-dashes and serial commas, we have built a new grammar. Grammar matters to what and how we know. Writing is not the end product of thought. Writing is a way to think. Writing is a collective endeavor. The emphasis on single authorship hides the labor, insight, and innovation of peer reviewers, copyeditors, designers, and printers. The single author you see on any piece of writing is a mask. One common tradition of masking is when academics claim to coin a term—the “what I call” routine. But, ideas are not private property. They are the fruit of collective labor. Care, rigor, and collectivity produce the best sort of knowledge.
As this issue goes to print, people the world over are still on lockdown in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. We are all struggling to imagine a future in the midst of a global escalation of uncertainty and precarity. We are mindful of what this escalation has and will mean to the already besieged people and spaces of Iraq, Palestine, Syria, and Yemen. Producing knowledge, collectively, will be more crucial than ever in the years to come.