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Elliott Colla


BDS Is Professional Solidarity

[Logo of MLA Members for Justice in Palestine]

[This article first appeared on the author’s blog. The Modern Language Association (MLA) will be voting on a resolution calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions at its upcoming convention, to be held 5-8 January 2017 in Philadelphia.] I endorse BDS as a strategy because it is one of the very few ways to use our position as educators to act in solidarity with Palestinian colleagues who have lived under military occupation for fifty years. Fifty years. That’s ...

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An Open Letter in Solidarity with Muhammad Al-Ajami

[Muhammad Al-Ajami; Photo from PEN America]

An Open Letter to Participants in the Seventh Annual International Translation Conference In light of the continued imprisonment of Qatari poet Muhammad Al-Ajami we urge you to consider the ethical dimensions of your participation in the upcoming conference on translation sponsored by the Translation and Interpreting Institute of Hamad bin Khalifa University (TII). Like other Gulf autocracies, the State of Qatar has tried to promote the idea that the region produces more ...

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'The Thing Is to Be Light as Air': An Interview with Mai Al-Nakib

[Mai Al-Nakib. Photo: Omar Nakib]

Last spring, Bloomsbury published Mai Al-Nakib’s debut work of fiction, The Hidden Light of Objects (released in the US this January). Since then the collection of short stories has won praise and acclaim from across the globe, including the First Book Award at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2014. The Hidden Light of Objects is not so much a collection but rather, to borrow from the language of Gilles Deleuze, an assemblage of fictions whose themes, characters ...

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Jabra Ibrahim Jabra: Ramparts

[Image of Jabra Ibrahim Jabra from al-Quds al-Arabi]

Beneath the walls, walls. And beneath them, walls. Ur, Jericho, Ninevah, Nimrud— On the debris where the sighs of lovers went to die Where chattered then vanished the teeth of captives, stripped bare There, now are hills that bloom each spring Now home to crickets and ants, Refuge to sparrows in the late morning Feeling the last traces of the evening dew Through tattered feathers Beneath their tails lies a head Before which millions once kneeled Which ladies’ ...

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Samih al-Qasim: The Last Train

[Image of Letter from Rashid Hussein to Samih al-Qasim, May 18, 1970]

[The late Palestinian poet, Samih al-Qasim, was also a talented essayist, writing regularly in the Arabic-language press of Palestine/Israel. He was also a compelling orator and correspondent. The collection of his letters with Mahmoud Darwish is a uniquely great accomplishment of modern epistolary literature. Al-Qasim's correspondence with Rashid Hussein is slim by comparison, yet this 1990 "letter"—addressed on the thirteenth anniversary of Hussein's tragic ...

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Samih al-Qasim: Two Poems

[Mahmoud Darwish (l.) and Samih al-Qasim (r.) with Muhammad Mahdi al-Jawahiri, c. 1968-9, image from Isqineeha]

  1. “RAFAH’S CHILDREN” (1971) To the one who digs his path through the wounds of millions To he whose tanks crush all the roses in the garden Who breaks windows in the night Who sets fire to a garden and museum and sings of freedom. Who stomps on songbirds in the public square. Whose planes drop bombs on childhood’s dream. Who smashes rainbows in the sky.   Tonight, the children of the impossible roots have an announcement for you, Tonight, the children ...

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The Military-Literary Complex

[Navy Reserve Cmdr. Kathleen Toomey Jabs autographs a copy of Operation Homecoming; image from]

Poetry cannot serve as an emotional bandage for the blood and guts of warfare; such an industry is doomed to dishonor the dead as well as the living. — Yusef Komunyakaa Not so long ago, American corporate media willingly accepted a set of new conditions and limitations in exchange for the privilege of reporting on the frontlines of Iraq, such as they existed. The military bed was a place of censorship, where reports underwent military review prior to publication. But ...

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Saadi Yousef: At Kerak Citadel

[Saadi Yousef: Image from Wikimedia]

 At Kerak Citadel   Always, at sunset, the castle walls begin to breathe. The war is over—it has been two or twenty centuries now. But then suddenly when night falls, the war comes back. Soldiers in their towers light their candle, far from the gusting wind And alone, they cry to themselves. The Messenger will come. Most definitely he will come, carrying his head on the tip of a spear. Perhaps he was exhausted and, in his long wait, forgot that spears ...

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Watching ISIS on TV

[al-Sistani spokesperson, Abdul Mehdi Karbala’i, 13 June 2014. Image from Alrasheed Television]

I spent the last few afternoons and evenings with my wife's cousins---dynamic, generous, and patient people from Baghdad who only recently---after eight years of one war, ten years of sanctions, and ten years of violent occupation---decided to permanently resettle in Amman. Besides eating and drinking tea, and talking about the beauty of Ali's sermons, for the most part, we wandered through a labyrinth of Iraqi satellite television. Like most Iraqi households these days, the ...

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Still in Bed

[US Soldiers, Iraq, December 2008. Image from Department of Defense via Wikimedia]

Now that ISIS is rattling across Iraq's provinces, we can expect the cheerleaders of US military intervention to return to the podium. Some will say that military actions need to be backed up with political pressure. Some will say this is what we get for not 'finishing the job'. Others will suggest, in a hushed and wise tone, that limited continued US military presence would have helped (and might still help). Others will repeat an absurd claim, floated by the likes of John ...

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"بحثاً عن "الثلاثة ديناري

[غلاف رواية إليوت كولا]

قبل أعوام قليلة، بدأت بالعمل على رواية تدور أحداثها في العراق. ولتحفيز نفسي على الكتابة، استعرت اسم شخصية حقيقية، محسن خضر الخفاجي. للوهلة الأولى، لم يبدُ لي الخيار ذا معنى، إذ أن الأحداث مختلقة وأي تشابه ممكن سيكون بالصدفة المحضة.  لكن وفيما كنت أراجع المسودة الأولى، شعرت أنه ينبغي عليّ كشف هوية هذا الرجل. لقد كان الخفاجي المطلوب رقم ثمانية وأربعين من بين المسؤولين البعثيين، ومُنح  في "ورق اللعب" الخاص بالمطلوبين العراقيين ورقة "الثلاثة ...

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Revolution on Ice

[Cover of Sonallah Ibrahim's al-Jalid, by Dar al-Thaqafa al-Jadida]

Sonallah Ibrahim. al-Jalid [Ice]. Cairo: Dar al-Thaqafa al-Jadida, 2011. Following the protests and coup of last summer, many of Egypt’s leading literary figures defected to the ranks of the army. As soldiers raised their guns against protesters in the streets, Leftist and liberal intellectuals cheered them on from the sidelines, explaining why the new massacres of street protesters were so different from earlier ones and why this particular bloodshed was so necessary. ...

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Revolution Bookshelf: Blacklist

[Ahmed Sabry Abul-Futuh's

Ahmed Sabry Abul-Futuh, Agendat Sayyid al-Ahl. Cairo: Dar El-Ain, 2012. Thug Revolution Again, revolutions are not stories. At the same time, societies process and frame events like revolutions by way of narrative. Stories are how we remember past events and how we understand our present moment. They inform how we act, how we strategize, how we get by. Which is to say, to grapple with the Egyptian Revolution means that at some point, we are grappling with stories about ...

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Revolution Bookshelf: Revolution is My Name

[Mona Prince's

Mona Prince, Revolution is My Name. Cairo: n.p., 2012. Reading, ’Riting, Revolution Reading Egyptian literature this week might seem odd. What does literature—even literature about revolution—have to tell us about this particular moment? After all, revolutions are not stories. They are not poems. Revolutions are not texts nor are they primarily textual in nature. Revolutions are events. They are projects and processes, made and sustained by people insisting on ...

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Roundtable on Language of Revolution: The Revolution Continues (present continuous) (Colla)


[The following article is part of a Jadaliyya roundtable on “The Language of Revolution in Egypt.” It features contributions by Paul Sedra, Robert Springborg, Joshua Stacher, Adam Sabra, and Elliott Colla. Click here to access the full series.]   The recent Jadaliyya roundtable on "The Language of Revolution" was not only long overdue, but also just the tip of the iceberg. Our manner of speaking about the Egyptian uprising of ...

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The Levant [Gone to Palestine: 10]

[Image from author]

On the way back from Kafr Qasim, we turned off the highway in Ran’ana where, we were told we’d find the best Moroccan food in the country. We went into the first gas station we saw when we came into the town, and the Iraqi attendant there told us where our restaurant was. It’d been weeks since we’d had anything but local food, and as delicious as that could be, we were getting sick of the humous and tomatoes and thyme and parsley and eggplant and rice and flat bread. What we ...

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The Keys to Birweh [Gone to Palestine: 9]


We went to visit Shatila camp where our friend Lula was teaching English. We knew the camp was important. We knew that it was a center of the struggle for many reasons. We knew that this was the place where hundreds of women, children and men were massacred over a few days in September 1982. We knew who the murderers were. We knew who trained them. We knew who supplied the weapons. We knew who promised to provide security for the camp when the PLO evacuated. We knew that the ...

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Walls [Gone to Palestine: 8]

[‘Allar Village Wall. Image from]

We went to visit our friend who was participating in the summer program for foreigners at Aida camp in Bethlehem. We were surprised that it took only ten minutes from the center of Jerusalem to get to the checkpoint at Rachel’s Tomb. There we started to take pictures. We walked through the spotless new terminal and thought of our tax dollars. On the Bethlehem side, we took pictures of a huge sign that the Israeli Board of Tourism had put up on the wall. It said “Go in ...

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Cannes ya ma Cannes Ramallah [Gone to Palestine: 7]

[Still from Annemarie Jacir's

We’d been invited to the Franco-German cultural center to see a film by a leftist Israeli filmmaker. The advance notice had said that “this was perhaps the most important film on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict ever made.” It was endorsed by a couple well-known intellectuals from abroad, and all its screenings at the Jerusalem Film Festival were sold out well in advance. I’d never seen his first film, which apparently was a autobiographical work that was “sort of ...

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Our Solidarity [Gone to Palestine: 6]

[Qalqilya: Wall in Stenciler's Shop, image from author]

A group of us activists went to Qalqilya, a town so far west that it sits not in the dry hills, but on the humid coastal plane. Though the uprising had been effectively suppressed, we felt that our trip, in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, was important. After all, the violence and dispossession of the occupation had not ceased even though the resistance had been decimated.  Our solidarity group was warmly received by local activists who were quite used to ...

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Elliott Colla


Elliott Colla is author of Baghdad Central and Conflicted Antiquities: Egyptology, Egyptomania, Egyptian Modernity. He is also translator of works of Arabic literature, including Ibrahim Aslan's The Heron, Idris Ali's Poor, Ibrahim Al-Koni's Gold Dust and Raba'i al-Madhoun's The Lady from Tel Aviv. He is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University.

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