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Modernity, Identity, and Technology in Palestine Before the Nakba

[Cover of Arab Studies Journal (Vol. XXIII No. 1), Fall 2015] [Cover of Arab Studies Journal (Vol. XXIII No. 1), Fall 2015]

Noah Haiduc-Dale, Arab Christians in British Mandate Palestine: Communalism and Nationalism, 1917-1948. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013.

Wasif Jawhariyyeh, The Storyteller of Jerusalem: The Life and Times of Wasif Jawhariyyeh, 1904-1948. Edited and introduced by Salim Tamari and Issam Nassar, translated by Nada Elzeer, foreword by Rachel Beckles Willson. Northampton, MA, and Beirut, Lebanon: Olive Branch Press and Institute for Palestine Studies, 2014.

Anbara Salam Khalidi, Memoirs of an Early Arab Feminist: The Life and Activism of Anbara Salam Khalidi. Translated by Tarif Khalidi, foreword by Marina Warner. London: Pluto Press, 2013.

Andrea L. Stanton, “This Is Jerusalem Calling”: State Radio in Mandate Palestine. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013.

[This review essay was originally published in the Fall 2015 issue of Arab Studies Journal. For more information on the issue, or to subscribe to ASJ, click here.] 

‘Anbara Salam and Wasif Jawhariyya (Jawhariyyeh) were both born in 1897, the former in Beirut and the latter in Jerusalem. Salam was born into a notable Beiruti family—her father, Salim ‘Ali Salam, was an Ottoman parliamentarian, president of the municipality of Beirut, and a prominent Arab nationalist, and her brother Sa’ib served as Lebanon’s prime minister six times between 1952 and 1973. She married into a notable Jerusalemite family, wedding Ahmad Samih Khalidi and moving to Palestine in 1929. Active in women’s organizations throughout her youth, ‘Anbara Salam Khalidi was also a literary figure, translating Homer and Virgil into Arabic. Jawhariyya, a musician and civil servant, came from somewhat less elite origins: his father was mukhtar of Jerusalem’s Eastern Orthodox community, but his connection to the city’s notables was largely through patronage networks. Both Khalidi and Jawhariyya fled Jerusalem in 1948 and resettled in Beirut, and both wrote memoirs that have recently been translated into English. The parallels between the lives of these two individuals, as well their differences—serious and scholarly ‘Anbara is quite a contrast to Wasif the flâneur—make reading their memoirs in concert a rewarding experience, yielding a rich composite of Levantine life in the late Ottoman and Mandate periods.

Published in Arabic in 1978, ‘Anbara Salam Khalidi’s memoirs are translated by Tarif Khalidi, who is the author’s son, a scholar of Arab and Islamic history, and translator of an English-language publication of the Qur’an (Penguin Classics, 2008). In a style that reflects certain norms of Arabic memoir and autobiography, the text combines and intertwines personal reflection, historical narrative, and short biographical sketches of family members, associates, and acquaintances. These biographical sketches may interest historians seeking to reconstruct networks of Arab women activists and literary figures in the Mandate era, as well as scholars of Arabic and Islamic traditions of biography and autobiography. Generally, though, the most revealing and lively material comes when Khalidi recalls her own experiences.

One is immediately struck by the importance of family in the course of Khalidi’s life, and she prefaces her memoirs by stating, “I cannot separate the days I spent in my particular environment throughout the various stages of my life from the family milieu in which I grew up.” Her dedication to education and literature finds a precedent in her mother, who “read religious and historical works as well as the Arabic novels published in her days, and knew much about Arab and Islamic history.” Khalidi’s father, too, supported her education and her active engagement in philanthropy and other forms of public engagement.

Family was not only an institution of support, however, but also a structure through which social restrictions on women played out. At the age of ten, Khalidi was for the first time publicly shamed for not veiling. She recalls the verbal harassment she suffered: “Go home to your family and tell them to veil you” and “What is the name of your family so we can go and complain about you to them?” Later, when she is invited (and receives her father’s permission) to attend a lecture at the Sunday School Club of the American University, she decides against entering after men threaten to publicize the fact that “the daughter of Abu ‘Ali Salam [is] attending mixed clubs!” Khalidi recalls: “I did not sleep a wink that night, and cried and cried. I had missed out on a wonderful adventure because I preferred to stay home rather than cause any criticism to be directed at my father.” At the very same club in 1927, Khalidi—again with the support of her father—became the first woman in Lebanon to unveil in public before an audience of men and women. She describes the resulting furor, in which she, her family, and women throughout the city were subject to verbal and physical attacks.

But Khalidi’s political engagement should not be reduced to her struggle against the veil. Initiated into nationalist politics at a young age through the activism of her father, she recalls: “I would stand behind the door of the men’s salon and eavesdrop on their discussions, torn as I was by various emotions: hatred of injustice and warm support for the activists. At times I felt like bursting through that door.” Such enthusiasm led the young ‘Anbara to various forms of involvement: she helped form an organization called the Awakening of the Young Arab Woman; she involved herself in charitable and relief activities during World War I; she helped found the Muslim Girls’ Club in Beirut; she joined a women’s delegation to the King-Crane Commission; and she wrote. As a firsthand perspective on women’s—particularly elite women’s—roles in the development of nationalist movements in the period bridging the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the emergence of independent Arab nation-states, this memoir dovetails nicely with Elizabeth Thompson’s Colonial Citizens (Columbia, 2000) and Ellen Fleischmann’s The Nation and Its “New” Women (University of California, 2003), both of which reference Khalidi’s Arabic-language memoirs.

In many ways, the axis around which the book revolves is a two-year period (1925–1927) Khalidi spent in England. The transformational voyage to the West is a classic trope in Nahda and post-Nahda Arabic writing— from Rifa‘a Rafi‘ al-Tahtawi’s journey to Paris to al-Tayyib Salih’s Season of Migration to the North—and thus Khalidi’s account feels familiar. She delights in a newfound sense of freedom and at the same time recoils from the permissive norms of London: “despite my overpowering desire to see women free and advancing, I would also feel revulsion against the vulgarity, loose morality, and drunkenness of some English girls.” Meanwhile, Khalidi has nothing but praise for the National Union of Women, a British women’s group that she finds a source of unwavering support for the Arab cause.

The decades since the original Arabic publication of Khalidi’s memoirs have seen a proliferation of studies calling into question the collusion between Western feminist organizations, colonial power, and orientalist knowledge production. Scholars have also examined popular forms of activism and resistance among Arab women, moving away from conceptualizations of Arab feminism that adopt elite Western feminist movements as a model. (In addition to the works by Thompson and Fleischmann mentioned above, recent examples include Saba Mahmood’s Politics of Piety [Princeton, 2005] and Rabab Abdulhadi, Evelyn Alsultany, and Nadine Christine Naber’s edited collection Arab and Arab American Feminisms: Gender, Violence, and Belonging [Syracuse, 2011].) That these memoirs offer little in the way of engaging with such issues should not warrant their dismissal. Rather, they provide a nuanced portrait of elite Arab feminism, one that adopts certain aspects of Western feminist discourse but remains rooted in Arab culture. In a lecture to inaugurate the “women’s program” on the Palestine Broadcast Service (PBS) radio station, for example, Khalidi chooses as her topic Sukayna, “daughter of al-Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, whom I considered to be a pioneer of feminism and refinement” (147). Similar broadcasts are mentioned by Andrea Stanton in “This Is Jerusalem Calling”: State Radio in Mandate Palestine. Stanton mentions a “night of women” program on the PBS, as well as “serialized or one-off talks on particular topics…most notably, the women’s movement pioneer and writer Qudsiyya Khurshid, who covered religious topics, for example, ‘The Muslim Woman during Ramadan,’ and a series on the history of Islam.”

Unfortunately, we are not privy to the development of Khalidi’s thinking on these or other subjects after 1948 and the family’s flight to Beirut. A mere two pages take us from 1948 to 1978, in which Khalidi states: “During those years in Beirut, I rarely took part in any social or feminist activity.” Despite this withdrawal from public life, such an active intellectual and literary mind surely had much to contribute to our understanding of these turbulent decades. The double impact of the loss of Palestine and of her intellectual partner and husband, who died in 1951 at the age of fifty-five—compounded with the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War, which threatened “to obliterate all my sense of pride in my country’s progress and in its being a so-called beacon of reason and enlightenment, all my joy at the great strides towards liberation made by its women”—is made clear through the title of the last chapter: “Exile.” That this word is chosen to describe a return to the Beirut where Khalidi spent the heady days of her youth may bespeak an alienation deeper than geography.

A similar, perhaps expected, chronological weight characterizes the memoirs of Wasif Jawhariyya, 237 pages of which are devoted to the four decades from 1904 to 1944, another twenty pages to the half-decade preceding the Jawhariyya family’s flight from Jerusalem to Beirut in 1949, and a mere three pages to life in Beirut thereafter. Formal parallels aside, however, the two memoirs could not be more different in tone: where Khalidi’s is reserved and respectful, Jawhariyya’s is irreverent and revelrous. A number of factors are certainly at play: gender, social status, and family, individual personality, and the fact that Khalidi published her memoirs in her own lifetime, while Jawhariyya’s were published after his death, removing from his hands choices of editing or withholding sensitive material.

Jawhariyya’s memoirs were originally published in Arabic in two volumes (Institute for Palestine Studies, 2003 and 2005). Here they have been abridged and condensed into a single volume. A foreword by Rachel Beckles Willson discusses the rich musical world of late Ottoman and Mandate Palestine, something to which Jawhariyya—a multitalented musician noted for his oud playing—devotes much of his memoirs. From describing his first musical instrument, a makeshift contraption that he built from a can of Easter-egg dye, to his collection of “seventy-two Western and rare Eastern musical instruments,” and back to a cheap, rented oud in Beirut, these memoirs are filled with music and musicians both local and regional. Commentary often comes in the form of biographical sketches of those with whom Jawhariyya comes into contact.

Jawhariyya’s vibrant depictions include unflattering remarks alongside praise and illustrate individuals’ characters with anecdotes and jokes. Jerusalem notable Muhammad Yusuf al-Khalidi, for example, is described as “an honest and just judge,” but also “addicted to drinking”: “When he got ready to go to his house near al-Haram al-Sharif, he would ride a mare that had got used to him swaying on its back drunkenly, so she would help him by swaying in the opposite direction lest he fall to the ground.” Though “he had a temper,” Jawhariyya also illustrates the judge’s sense of humor through a colorful anecdote involving a prostitute before the court.

In fact, drinking and women take pride of place throughout these memoirs. In a section devoted to the Egyptian singer Badi‘a Masabni, for example, Jawhariyya describes a performance: “Badi‘a was dressed in a see-through costume made for the purpose of dancing on stage only and was holding finger cymbals. As she danced among us, every part of her body shook while various musical instruments were played, particularly the qanun….We sat on a mattress on the floor, with all kinds of food and various alcoholic drinks laid before us.” Such scenes recall Salim Tamari’s reminder to the reader in his introduction: “We must remember that Jerusalem was a city of religion, but not an excessively religious one.”

Certainly this was the case for young men of Jawhariyya’s social status, with income to spend and the liberty to spend it. Yet, if we are to believe Jawhariyya, it was also a product of the times, a sort of collective release, “people’s longing to celebrate and be joyous after the humiliation, disease, hunger, and separation suffered during the First Great War, under the rule of the tyrannical Turkish state.” To some extent, the proliferation of venues for such revelry contributed to this more festive atmosphere, too, but Jawhariyya managed to find (or instigate) the party in any location, from his brother’s café in the Russian Compound on Jaffa Road to the offices of the British military government. Of the latter, he recounts: “I used to play the oud and dance the dabkeh among my colleagues of the first and second grades, and you could hear us playing the darbuka and singing at the top of our voices day or night in that stately building.” Still, despite his love of music, Jawhariyya did not make it his profession, instead drawing a salary as a civil servant.

Jawharriya received several government positions as a result of his family connections with Jerusalem notables. Under Ottoman rule, Raghib al-Nashashibi, then Jerusalem’s representative in Istanbul, put him on the rolls of the Regie Department. Under British military administration, Husayn al-Husayni, mayor of Jerusalem at the time, interceded to have him appointed a clerk in the central court. Later, Musa Kazim Pasha al-Husayni, who had succeeded Husayn al-Husayni as mayor, called on Jawhariyya: “He reproached me for not keeping in touch since the death of Hussein Effendi and asked me how I was and how my family was doing, especially my mother. Then, he appointed me as an assistant inspector for a salary of twenty-four Egyptian pounds.” Jawhariyya continued in the civil service for the remainder of the British Mandate, assessing taxes in the Finance Department (a short appendix details the procedures of this work) until he was appointed the financial manager for Jerusalem.

Even when offered the opportunity to leave the civil service for a job as a musician at the newly launched PBS, Jawhariyya declined, “preferring to remain in administration rather than becoming a professional artist.” He explained, “I decided to consider art as a religion, which I would follow solely for the love of it.” Jawhariyya praises the impact of the PBS on Jerusalem’s musical scene, though, and offers detailed descriptions of the musicians involved in the station’s musical programming.

Meanwhile, music features rather marginally in Stanton’s history of the PBS, “This Is Jerusalem Calling,” which may explain why it does not reference Jawhariyya’s memoirs. Still, it seems that they would contribute to Stanton’s goal, which is to show how the introduction of radio in Palestine involved the interplay between consumerism and the colonial project, and between nationalist politics and the development of what Stanton calls “a self-consciously modern Arab middle class.”

The book’s first two chapters, which are its most compelling, focus on radio sets as commodities and the attempts by the PBS to reach rural listeners, respectively. In the first, Stanton analyzes advertisements for radio sets in the Palestinian press and then looks in depth at the T. S. Boutagy and Sons firm, which owned several stores in Palestine and was the most prominent seller of radio sets to Arab consumers during the Mandate. Stanton deftly weaves social history together with economic history, and gives due attention to radio’s practical and symbolic value. As she insightfully notes, by the 1930s and 1940s, radios were no longer strange yet remained beyond the price range of most Palestinians, thus managing to represent both the fruits of modernity realized and the promise of that which remained aspirational: “This familiarity coupled with their continued economic inaccessibility for the majority of people helped them signify modernity for both their purchasers and the many Palestinians who saw or heard radio sets only in the homes and businesses of others.”

“This Is Jerusalem Calling” thus complements recent work that gives proper recognition to both the physical/technological and ideological underpinnings of “modernity” and “development” in Mandate Palestine, including Jacob Norris’s Land of Progress (Oxford, 2013) and Ronen Shamir’s Current Flow (Stanford, 2013). The significance of technological innovation is made clear by the attention it garnered from memoirists like Khalidi and Jawhariyya. Khalidi describes the excitement of seeing her first motorcar in Cairo, and of driving for the first time in one to travel with her father to Haifa. She also remarks on the introduction of electricity to Beirut. Jawhariyya likewise comments on the introduction of the Primus stove, the gas lantern, electricity, and the phonograph. Later, as radios began to appear in Jerusalem, he went to listen to one at the monastery of Abu Tur: “We were lucky to be able to listen to songs and music broadcast from Athens and Cairo with perfect clarity. I was pleased and enchanted by this invention, and I thanked the Lord for giving me the chance to listen to it. The radio spread slowly to shops, cafés, and homes in the majority of Jerusalem’s neighborhoods.” Jawhariyya himself eventually purchased a radio and installed it in a decorative cabinet, inscribed with the PBS’s Arabic-language station identification: huna al-Quds (“This Is Jerusalem”).

In addition to being a commodity linked to a growing sense of bourgeois modernity, radio was seen by the state as holding a previously unimaginable capability to communicate, particularly with the rural and illiterate, and to educate. The PBS was shaped by Britain’s colonial experience in India, where rural broadcasting was seen as serving a double function, serving both “as a means of keeping villagers from succumbing to the lure of the cities and abandoning the land” and “a way to maintain the cultural ‘purity’ of Indian villagers.” Radio would improve rural lives by “educating” the indigenous population in better farming techniques and better hygiene. At the same time, it would strive to “preserve” (colonial notions of) indigenous culture, maintaining its valuable foundations and keeping at bay “corrupting” (read: politically volatile) influences. As Beckles Willson points out, this “question of development versus preservation” was a point of contention in Palestine’s musical world, too, including with regard to the musical programming for the PBS’s Arabic section. Radio was thus one of many domains that reflected the colonial double imperative of “modernizing” and “preserving tradition.”

Stanton does not limit her comparisons to the colonial world, however, and her discussion of rural broadcasting in the United States is equally enlightening. There, too, during the same period, radio was seen as a tool that could serve practical, social, and political purposes. Not only would radio help keep rural American youths from succumbing to the lure of the cities, but it would mold citizens, bringing isolated rural communities into the body politic. Stanton concludes: “There is nothing unusual or inherently Middle Eastern or even especially colonial about the British mandate government’s rural broadcasting efforts—other than, of course, officials’ persistent blindness to what rural Arab Palestinians really wanted.” But what did rural Arab Palestinians—or urban Arab Palestinians, for that matter—really want?

Indeed, the primary obstacle to Stanton’s research is that both the substance of the PBS’s transmissions and their reception by listeners remain obscure. One cannot blame the author on either front: on the former, the material for the most part simply does not exist; on the latter, audience reception has long been a struggle facing researchers making use of the press. Indeed, Stanton’s perseverance in the face of such obstacles is admirable, as she relies on memoirs, official correspondence and reports, press accounts, radio program schedules, and the rare reproduction of transcripts in the press. The only case of such transcripts that Stanton was able to find were reprints of a series of lectures by Salwa Sa‘id on the “new Arab house,” broadcast by the PBS and reprinted by the newspaper Filastin. These lectures are analyzed in the context of a chapter on ‘Ajaj Nuwayhid’s tenure as head of the PBS Arabic section, and Stanton emphasizes how their tone and content is clearly aimed at an imagined urban, modern, bourgeois female listener. Given the rather limited quantity of extant PBS content, however, Stanton could have devoted a bit more space to the texts of these lectures.

The final two chapters of “This Is Jerusalem Calling” deal with the role of religion in PBS broadcasts and the political struggle over the station, particularly attempts by organized Zionism to influence British broadcasting priorities in Palestine. Regarding religion, Stanton argues that “putting religion on the radio in Palestine helped transfer to the region a British concept of radio as a public good overseen by the government.” This may be the case, but it is questionable how successful this transfer was, or the degree to which such a concept of radio was particularly British. A look at religious broadcasting in neighboring Mandate territories, particularly French-ruled Lebanon and Syria, would be illuminating in this regard. Indeed, how might a different PBS, one controlled by Palestinian rather than British imperatives, have dealt with religious issues differently?

The interactions—at times quite contentious—between state, religion, and national community that Stanton sees playing out in the context of an essentially colonial broadcasting service are very much at the heart of Noah Haiduc-Dale’s recent book, Arab Christians in British Mandate Palestine: Communalism and Nationalism, 1917–1948. In fact, the second half of this book’s title does a much better job describing its content than the first half. The subject is not so much Arab Palestinian Christians as it is the discourse around religion within a Palestinian political field that was shaped by ideological and social, as well as religious, tensions. Coming quick on the heels of Laura Robson’s Colonialism and Christianity in Mandate Palestine (University of Texas, 2011), Haiduc-Dale’s book covers some of the same ground, though his treatment of communal politics in Mandate Palestine focuses less on the role played by British colonial authorities and more on internal Palestinian political dynamics.

Haiduc-Dale proceeds chronologically, beginning with the formation of the Muslim Christian Association in 1918 and then moving to the establishment of the Supreme Muslim Council and the “Islamization” of Palestinian politics in the late 1920s and early 1930s. A chapter on the 1936–1939 revolt follows, succeeded by a chapter on Christian communal organizing, especially the Union of Arab Orthodox Clubs, in the 1940s. Haiduc-Dale makes good use of British and Israeli archival sources to explore British and Zionist assessments of Palestinian communal tensions, and turns to the Palestinian press and the memoirs penned by prominent Palestinian Christians to explore how Palestinian Christian individuals and communities navigated the perilous waters of national politics under British rule.

At the outset, Haiduc-Dale describes the book’s focus as “the variety and meaning” of Palestinian Christian “actions in response to circumstances created by the onset of British rule as a way of understanding the process of identification.” Yet by forcing most interactions into the framework of Muslim-Christian relations, Haiduc-Dale forecloses certain avenues of potential identification on the part of Palestinian Christians. Arab Christians would benefit, for example, from greater analysis of the importance of denominational affiliation. Religious tension in Mandate Palestine often meant not simply conflict between Muslims, Christians, and Jews, but also inflamed tensions between different Christian groups. Haiduc-Dale does an excellent job in tracing such complex interactions in the case of the murder of Jamil al-Bahri, a prominent Melkite Christian from Haifa, in 1931. Bahri, editor of al-Zuhur newspaper and president of the Haifa YMCA, was killed in a dispute over ownership of the Mazar Cemetery in Haifa. In the wake of the murder, Haiduc-Dale notes, “The Catholic community (both Latin and Melkite) demanded Christian solidarity across denominational lines. Instead, Catholics’ defensive communalism led to a widening rift between Catholic and Orthodox Arabs.” Many Orthodox, it seemed, did not want to be viewed as taking sides against the Muslim community.

Because the field of national politics is the focus of Haiduc-Dale’s attention, however, the local political and social disputes that form the contexts for instances of Muslim-Christian tension mentioned in the book are too often underdeveloped. The communal violence in Haifa mentioned above, for example, may have become a matter of national politics, but its origins lay elsewhere. The same is true of Christian-Muslim tensions and violence during the 1936–1939 revolt. Instead of trying to understand how and why apparent Christian-Muslim antipathy surfaced during the revolt, Haiduc-Dale is determined to prove that Palestinian society during the revolt cannot be neatly divided between active Muslims and inactive Christians. Debunking such mythology has its value, but without going beyond it, Haiduc-Dale’s conclusions come across as rather bland. Palestinian Christian “reactions to, and participation in, the revolt fall along a complex spectrum based on their individual responses to cultural, political, and communal tensions.” Yes, but the same could be said of Palestinian Muslims, or indeed of almost all colonial populations involved in anticolonial revolts. As for expressly anti-Christian sentiment—calls to boycott Christian shops, targeting of Christians for extortion or assassination—“such activity was not universally accepted.” Again, this statement is certainly true, but it fails to address more interesting questions of when, why, and by whom it was accepted.

Economics were also at play, and another provocative area of Haiduc-Dale’s investigation is the question of government employment. Christians held a disproportionate number of civil service jobs, and critics alternatively blamed the British or the Christians themselves for contributing to this state of affairs. As Haiduc-Dale notes, “Attacking Christian employment in government service without blaming Christians themselves proved to be difficult, and some Muslims were open about their disgust with Arab Christians.” Later, during the revolt, the prevalence of Christians in government posts would be used to raise questions about Christian collaboration with the British oppressors.

Meanwhile, even if ‘Isa al-Bandak, the mayor of Bethlehem, called upon Arab Christians to “be the first to recognize the rights of their Moslem Brethren over public positions and support them with the Government [even] though some Christian officials might suffer,” one can hardly blame Christian civil servants for not willingly giving up their jobs in uncertain economic conditions. Haiduc-Dale acknowledges possible tensions between elites and non-elites within religious groups, but the perspectives given the greatest attention here are those of Christian political elites and publishers. The perspectives of non-elite Palestinian Christians in this period are considerably more difficult to ascertain, but it would have been useful to include the perspective of somebody like Jawhariyya, a Christian civil servant himself. Jawhariyya seemed to have a complex view of government service: in one instance, he decries a Muslim farmer who “signed his soul away and forgot about his Arab identity, joining the Jerusalem police force and becoming a subject in the hands of the rulers, whom he served loyally and faithfully”; regarding his own service, however, he writes, “I had served my country and done my work with integrity, which was acknowledged in an official form that I still keep.” Something more complex than self-justification is at work here—Jawharriyya is not loath to praise other Palestinians employed by the government, including policemen—and a more in-depth analysis of such seemingly contradictory relationships with state employment could enrich Haiduc-Dale’s discussion.

Despite certain unfulfilled expectations, Arab Christians does contribute to a body of literature that takes religious identification seriously, neither minimizing its pull and the tension it produced within Arab nationalist movements and ideologies nor attributing to it a primordial determinism. Haiduc-Dale joins Orit Bashkin, Michelle Campos, Ussama Makdisi, and Robson, among others, who have sought to think about communal and religious conflict in the Arab Levant in all of its complexity. There remains work to be done, but this book, and increasing access to primary sources such as Jawhariyya’s memoirs, will serve as a solid foundation upon which to undertake it.

Taken together, these four books engage key issues and questions that drive studies of the Arab world: how do categories of gender and religion interact with forms of identification, in particular those broadly thought of as nationalist? Is there an Arab or Islamic feminism? Feminisms? What does it mean to be “modern” in the Arab world? How does “modernity” as a native category differ from the concepts of “modernity” used by academics to theorize about the Middle East and its people? How do economic, cultural, and ideological factors combine to shape an Arab bourgeoisie? How can histories of technologies offer new ways of thinking about the power of states, empires, and ideologies—and their limits? Further questions spring to mind and other readers will surely be led in different directions. That more questions may be raised than answered is, I think, a testament to these texts’ contributions.

If you prefer, email your comments to info@jadaliyya.com.

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