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Questioning Social Inequality and Difference in the Arab Region
Selected Presentations from ACSS Conference
Sandy Tolan on Music under Occupation
Interviewed by Malihe Razazan

Whitewashing Colonialism

[Cover of Sharon Rotbard,

Sharon Rotbard, White City, Black City: Architecture and War in Tel Aviv and Jaffa. Translated from Hebrew by Orin Gat. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015. As the “enlightened public” and guests from Dessau’s Bauhaus Institute celebrated UNESCO’s recognition of Tel Aviv’s “Bauhaus” White City as a World Heritage site in 2003, police brutally attacked the city's migrant workers. At the same time, the IDF executed Operation Rainbow in Rafah, destroying residential tower blocks, and causing fifty-eight Palestinian casualties. Sharon Rotbard, in White City, Black City: Architecture and War in Tel Aviv and Jaffa, thinks the relationship between these episodes. He constructs, ...

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Leila Sansour’s Open Bethlehem: Making Palestine Legible and Bethlehem Accessible

[Leila Sansour/Open Bethlehem]

Open Bethlehem. Directed by Leila Sansour. Palestine, 2014 Towards the end of her new documentary Open Bethlehem (Palestine, 2014), filmmaker Leila Sansour discusses her aim to make Palestine “more important and palatable” to the White House and to US citizens. She stands outside the gated capitol of the United States, knowing that the future of her hometown of Bethlehem is directly connected with policies that are in some ways more significantly determined, not in Ramallah, but in Washington. Sansour’s ambition extends a long lineage of Palestinian documentaries that have appealed for broad international support since the Nakba of 1948. Establishing a place for ...

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The Moroccan Non-Exception: 'Much Loved' and Realism, Colonialism, and Pornography in Moroccan Cinema

[Screenshot of the trailer for the film

[The following is the second installment in "The Moroccan Non-Exception" Jadaliyya roundtable. Read the introduction here.] A wave of contentious reactions have dominated the Moroccan media landscape following the release of Nabil Ayouch's new film Much Loved, a fictional story about three Moroccan prostitutes in Marrakech. The reactions to the film are based on several extracts and a trailer that emerged online, some of which contained sexually explicit scenes. The excerpts were released just before the film’s screening at the Quinzaine des Realisateurs in Cannes. The reaction culminated with the Moroccan Ministry of Communications' illegal ...

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A Theory of the Drone

[Cover of Grégoire Chamayou,

Grégoire Chamayou, A Theory of the Drone, translated by Janet Lloyd. New York: The New Press, 2015. Since the turn of this century, armed drones (that is, unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs) have become a weapon of choice for the United States. Drone strikes started during the Bush administration with the “war on terror.” Under the Obama administration, drone warfare has been elevated to the pinnacle of counter-terrorism strategy, a shift driven by the combined effects of the draw-down of US forces from Iraq and Afghanistan and the administration’s political distaste for capture operations (itself a reaction to the Bush era torture program). The official justification ...

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Daoud’s Camus Fanfiction Is More of the Same

Kamel Daoud, The Meursault Investigation. Translated by John Cullen. New York: Other Press 2015. Algerian journalist Kamel Daoud’s debut novel The Meursault Investigation, recently translated into English, retells the story of Albert Camus’s The Stranger from the point of view of Harun, the brother of the unnamed Arab that Camus's hero, Meursault, murders. The Meursault Investigation has garnered great praise in American media, sparking multiple articles in the New York Times, Washington Post, and New Yorker. The portrait we are left with in all of these profiles is the same: Daoud is a brave writer, taking Camus to task for his blind spots (while still paying ...

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Planning Beirut during the French Mandate: The Construction of a Modern City and its Legacy

Marlène Ghorayeb, Beyrouth sous mandat français, construction d’une ville moderne. Paris: Karthala, 2014.   This is a wonderful addition to our knowledge of Beirut’s early days of modern planning, during the transition from Late Ottoman to French Mandate, and later. In the lineage of Jens Hanssen’s Fin de Siècle Beirut, Eric Verdeil’s Beyrouth et ses urbanistes, Carla Eddé’s Naissance d’une capitale, and Robert Saliba’s Beyrouth architectures: Aux sources de la modernité, the book is a must-read for those interested in the key spatial transformations of Beirut during the first part of the twentieth century. It nicely complements and enriches earlier texts by ...

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Un portrait de la jeunesse des banlieues populaires de Tunis aujourd’hui

Recension: Olfa Lamloun et Mohamed Ali Ben Zina (dir.), Les jeunes de Douar Hicher et d’Ettadhamen. Une enquête sociologique (Tunis: Arabesques, International Alert, 2015) Depuis les « printemps arabes », les jeunes du Monde arabe attirent volontiers l’attention des chercheurs. Dans la littérature scientifique de langue française, on pense notamment à Jeunesses arabes. Du Maroc au Yémen: loisirs, cultures et politiques sous la direction de Laurent Bonnefoy et Myriam Catusse et paru aux éditions La Découverte en 2013. C’est aussi le cas de cet ouvrage collectif dirigé par la politologue Olfa Lamloum et par le démographe Mohammed Ali Ben Zina, intitulé Les ...

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Reflections on Public Spaces in Revolutionary and Post-Revolutionary Tunis

[Cover of Chiara Sebastiani,

Chiara Sebastiani, Una città, una rivoluzione. Tunisi e la riconquista dello spazio pubblico. Cosenza: Luigi Pellegrini Editore, 2014. Collective, Au centre de Tunis: Géographies de l’espace public après une Révolution, available online here. The question of public space has been among the most discussed ones during the short and often tragic season of the so-called "Arab Spring." From Cairo’s Tahrir Square to the streets of Damascus, researchers and commentators have examined the logics of mobilization, occupation, transformation, and re-appropriation of the symbolic meaning of space and resistance to repression. These logics are indicators of a possible ...

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Istanbul 2023

Yoann Morvan et Sinan Logie, Istanbul 2023, Paris: Editions B2, Coll. Territoires, 2014. Les éditions B2 ont récemment enrichi leur collection Territoires par un « arpentage dans le temps et l’espace » d’Istanbul. Mais pas dans n’importe quel Istanbul. Istanbul 2023, c’est avant toute chose le choix de raconter les métamorphoses de la mégapole turque à partir de l’analyse des recompositions socio-urbaines de ses périphéries. Grands projets d’infrastructures, villes nouvelles, nouveau centre financier sont quelques exemples parmi d’autres choisis par l’anthropologue Yoann Morvan (CNRS) et l’architecte Sinan Logie (Université Bilgi d’Istanbul) pour présenter ...

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Loving the Lens: ‘American Sniper’ as Movie and Event

[Still image from

American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood. USA, 2014. There is a lull at the moment in the clamor around Clint Eastwood's controversial film American Sniper, as award season ends and the movie's powerful box office stamina pushes the DVD release into the summer. This moment perhaps offers an opportunity to consider what—if anything—might or should be said about it as a piece of cinema. Sniper, starring Bradley Cooper in the title role, has to have been the most written about movie in the United States over the winter months, scoring the hat-trick with its critical success, box office wallop (the first American film about the invasion of Iraq to achieve such success), ...

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The Vagaries of Laïcité

[Detail from the cover of Naomi Davidson,

[This is the second of three responses to Muriam Haleh Davis’ review essay of books by Joan W. Scott, Naomi Davidson, and Mayanthi Fernando. For Joan W. Scott’s response, “More on Laïcité in Historical Context," click here.] A cartoon by the French cartoonist Gil from 10 January, titled “Communion nationale,” shows a white policeman frisking an ambiguously raced man standing against the wall with his hands in the air. “Je suis Charlie,” says the man, and the policeman replies, “Yeah, yeah, me too.” In the past month, many of us have seen an explosion of items in the French press about Muslims (be they radical/homegrown/foreign/prisoners/mentally ...

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More on Laïcité in Historical Context

[Image from the cover of Joan W. Scott,

[This is the first of three responses to Muriam Haleh Davis’ review essay of books by Joan W. Scott, Naomi Davidson, and Mayanthi Fernando. For Naomi Davidson's response, "The Vagaries of Laïcité," click here.] I find Muriam Haleh Davis’ commentary on Charlie Hebdo and French secularism (by way of a review of three books, one of which is mine) to be clear and to the point. Davis insists on the importance of placing in historical context the paradoxical claim that laïcité is a universal principle peculiar to the French republic, and she does it well. In this brief contribution I want simply to add some more context to the one she has so ably set forth. My ...

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What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Political Economy?

Mandy Turner and Omar Shweiki, editors, Decolonizing Palestinian Political Economy: De-Development and Beyond. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. Anyone who visited Ramallah in 2013 would have heard a lot of talk about seatbelts. Everyone there—everyone—was talking about them, and how consistent and prevalent they had become after just a little bit of police enforcement. In 2010 it was the multi-space parking meters the Ramallah municipality had recently installed. Both events and practices were commonly ...

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Inheriting More than Loss

Siamak Vossoughi, Better Than War. Athens and London: University of Georgia Press, 2015. [Winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction] What is it like to grow up in a country that routinely threatens to wage war on the place you are from? What happens to your sense of your self in the world? The Iranian immigrants in Siamak Vossoughi’s short story collection Better Than War become Iranian American in the context of looming US military intervention in Iran, never knowing when or if war will ...

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The Architecture of Nostalgia

The Invisible Landscape and Concrete Futures: A Solo Exhibition of Hazem Harb, Salsali Private Museum, Dubai. 3 March—1 September 2015 Contemporary colonialism—exemplified by Israel’s occupation of Palestine—asserts its hegemony through the manipulation of two key sites: historical narratives and physical infrastructures. The effacement of Palestinian presence on the land before 1948 constitutes a crucial part of the former strategy; the construction of walls and settlements that keep Palestinians ...

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The Settling of the United States from the Perspective of its Victims

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. Boston: Beacon Press, 2014. The Acoma poet Simon Ortiz writes in From Sand Creek that “the future will not be mad with loss and waste though the memory will.” People will not forget their past, but that should not stand in the way of change. Ortiz adds, “Be there: eyes will become kind and deep, and the bones of this nation will mend after the revolution.” Ortiz’s words are an invitation—an appeal for a shared struggle. They are ...

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If Israeli Tactics in Gaza Are Legal, No One is Safe: Response to Michael N. Schmitt and John J. Merriam

In their forthcoming paper, The Tyranny of Context: Israeli Targeting Practices in Legal Perspective, Michael Schmitt and John J. Merriam examine Israel’s targeting practices against the Gaza Strip and Lebanon. Their purpose is to scrutinize the context in which these attacks take place as well as the Israeli Army’s relevant legal standards regulating them. Their findings are based on two visits to Israel in December 2014 and February 2015. During those visits, the Israeli Army granted ...

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The Art of Posing

Zones of Contention: After The Green Line. 8 February – 3 May 2015. The Bob & Lissa Shelley McDowell Gallery, Weatherspoon Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Greensboro. In March 2015, I delivered an invited “Point of View Talk” at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Weatherspoon Art Museum on Zones of Contention: After the Green Line, an exhibit of works by Palestinian and Israeli artists, including a piece by Belgian Francis Alÿs, from which the exhibit draws its title. The ...

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The Armenian Genocide and the Politics of Knowledge

Ronald Grigor Suny, “They Can Live in the Desert but Nowhere Else": A History of the Armenian Genocide. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015. In this centennial year since the Armenian Genocide, countless conferences, meetings, and commemorations are underway across the globe. While they have all been peaceful so far, they come at the end of a century of violence. I refer not just to the events of 1915-17, but also the waves of violence spurred by memory, recognition, and denial ever since. ...

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Twelve Years After Iraq Invasion: An Interview with Rijin Sahakian, and “ A Letter to Al-Mutanabbi Street” by Sinan Antoon

On 19 March 2015, twelve years will have passed since the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Today, the country is back in the headlines because of the brutality with which ISIS has been trying to destroy what is left of Iraq’s diverse cultural and human landscape. Since ISIS has moved into northern Iraq, they have displaced over a million people and gone after the cultural heritage that makes Iraq such an irreplaceable locus of world history. They have destroyed mosques, burned thousands of books in the ...

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Imperial Consequences of Things: An Interview with Alan Mikhail

In this interview, Alan Mikhail discusses his own work on the environmental history of the Ottoman Empire, the wider intervention of environmental history, and the challenge of interdisciplinarity. The interview was initially conducted in person at the 2013 Middle East Studies Association (MESA) conference and elaborated electronically over the course of 2014. Alan Mikhail, Professor of History at Yale University, is a historian of the early modern Muslim world, the Ottoman Empire, and Egypt. ...

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A New Secularism?

[This is the third of three responses to Muriam Haleh Davis’ review essay of books by Joan W. Scott, Naomi Davidson, and Mayanthi Fernando. For Joan W. Scott’s response, “More on Laïcité in Historical Context," click here; for Naomi Davidson’s response, “The Vagaries of Laïcité,” click here.] In bringing the work of Joan Scott and Naomi Davidson together with mine, Muriam Haleh Davis demonstrates the importance of undertaking a history of the present. This history enables us to identify some of the ...

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Dead Sea Living

Dead Sea Living, directed by German Gutierrez. Canada/France/Palestine, 2013. Although the Dead Sea has no life, it provides living through the rich minerals extracted from it. Yet the flood of water into the Dead Sea is slowly receding. It has witnessed a ninety-foot drop in only thirty years on a lake that is just sixty-seven kilometers long and twenty kilometers wide. At this rate, the Dead Sea will bottom out as a small pond in about fifty years. German Gutierrez’s film Dead Sea Living depicts the ...

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‘A Distinctly French Universalism’: Translating Laïcité after Charlie

Mayanthi L. Fernando, The Republic Unsettled: Muslim French and the Contradictions of Secularism. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014. Naomi Davidson. Only Muslim: Embodying Islam in Twentieth-Century France. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2012. Joan Wallach Scott. The Politics of the Veil. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007. It was impossible to avoid the discussion, despite my repeated protests. In Lyon, as in the rest of France, there was nothing else to talk about—especially when I ...

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