From the Editors
[The following article was translated from Arabic to English by Mark Marshall and Assaf Kfoury.]
The idea for this journal emerged from our growing desire to be present and take an active role in the development and reinvigoration of an agenda for the Left in the Arab world. The final impetus for this journalistic venture was the outbreak of the popular Arab revolutions, with all the new beginnings that they contain and inspire.
We believe that despite the inundation of “social networks” and the tyranny of the electronic media, there is still a place for periodical publications. That place lies somewhere on the continuum between the intellectual “fast food” that is served up on op-ed pages of daily papers on the one hand and scholarly academic periodicals on the other. It is a place that calls for sustained intellectual and cultural efforts that are governed not by transient and hasty considerations, but by the production of knowledge and the addressing of shortfalls in thought and culture.
These aspirations are reflected in the pages of this experimental issue. Most of its material deals with the popular Arab revolutions. We have tried to address as many of their aspects as we can: youth, women, sexuality, language, the economy and politics, political programmes, and intellectual and artistic production. To that end, we have given the podium to young activists who give their testimony from the streets and city squares. The pages of this journal will remain open to the youth to spread their various messages.
The revolutionary wave sweeping through Arab countries has shaken ingrained ways of thinking about the region, both globally and locally. It makes it imperative to engage in a critical review of these received ideas and to provide answers to the many new challenges regarding critical thought and the practice of change.
The popular uprisings have raised the alarm about the close relationship between neoliberal economics and the problems of unemployment, poverty, corruption, and the high cost of living. They have exposed the close correlation between economic neoliberalism and tyrannical Arab regimes. We hope to stimulate study in the field of political economy about the region’s place in the global capitalist order over the past quarter-century. We want to encourage a close examination of the Arab energy sector and the means by which its profits have been appropriated and recycled to deal with global financial crises. And we welcome a critical study of the parasitic rentier economies, the exacerbation of consumerism, the widespread corruption and waste of natural resources, and, last but not least, how oil and gas have been effectively expropriated from the peoples of the region, largely divorced from issues of regional development, and made irrelevant to their struggles and aspirations.
At a time when the social sciences are dominated by concerns about encoding and representation and the analysis of “discourses,” our concern is for the rehabilitation of the study of social relations, their transformations, and the discrimination and hierarchization they imply.
Criticism of orientalism has been practiced a great deal in our countries, to the exclusion of criticism of occidentalism. But criticism of the prevailing representations and images about the West is not an academic luxury; it is a practice with a double function: on the one hand, the production of knowledge about “the self,” and on the other, more accurate practical knowledge about the “the other.” Such knowledge facilitates engagement and debate on the basis of Arab interests, rights, and aspirations, which strengthens our capacity to liberate ourselves from dependency and exploitation.
In this first issue of Bidayat, we publish an article kindly contributed by Noam Chomsky in which he surveys aspects of American hegemony in light of the global financial crisis. It is accompanied by a study of the “landless movement” of Brazil, the largest social movement in the Third world. At this juncture, two concerns are raised. The first is cultural continuity within the lands of the Global South, which we open here with an assessment of the work of Eduardo Galeano, one of Latin America’s most brilliant writers. The second is a perusal of the experiences of the peoples of the Global South in the field of popular organization, the limits of the representational character of popular associations and trade-unions and political parties, and the need for innovative methods of activism and communication and forms of organization and representation.
Ideologies have not ended in our globalizing era. The strongest indication of that is the hegemony of the “theology” of the market and its politicized “priesthood.” Nor has the role of theory ended in the creation of knowledge or as a guide to revolutionary practice. In this issue, we publish a critical review entitled “Non-Marxist Marxist masks” and an introduction to the British Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm as well as writings on settling accounts with the Soviet experiment. We hope that these items and others provoke the discussion they deserve.
We have chosen for review books that relate to the popular revolutions. It happens that they were published in English. That is not to be wondered at, because the world pumps out a great many books and writings about the region written by non-Arabs or expatriate Arabs. Many of them include scholarly raw material and other valuable information. We will endeavor to follow similar works and make them known.
The Wikileaks revelations have aroused interest in government documents – including American ones – as valuable sources for modern historiography and information about policies in the making. In this issue we publish a number of US State Department and National Security Council documents that relate to the Syrian military intervention in Lebanon in the spring and autumn of 1976. And a section on “remembrance” will deal with memoirs, testimonies, diaries, documents, recordings of oral history, and suchlike sources related to history and memory.
Regarding culture, we have chosen to concentrate on the visual arts in this issue, because that artistic sense is still weakly developed in Arab cultural life. In future issues we intend to add sections on other aspects of culture. One aspect is about the two faces of popular culture – culture produced directly by the people and culture that is directed towards the general public. Another aspect also deserving special attention is the art of letter-writing.
A world of friends disappeared before the appearance of Bidayat. We miss their participation and we compensate for it by publishing previously unknown texts and drawings by Samir Kassir, Joseph Samaha, Maroun Baghdadi, and Mohieddin Ellabbad, accompanied by one of Mahmoud Darwish’s short poems in prose, “On this land there is that which deserves life,” in his own handwriting. We will not stop evoking them.
When all is said and done, it is left to the readers to judge the journal. Because we aspire to an ongoing relationship of interaction and solidarity with them, we rely on them to nourish Bidayat with writing, support, discussion, and criticism, just as much as we rely on them to play a part in ensuring our financial independence.
[This is the introduction to the inaugural issue of Bidayat. Visit the magazine's website here.]
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