Arab Studies Journal
VOL. XXIV, No.1
The Arab world and the broader Middle East offer profound lessons on the inextricability of knowledge and power. In the midst of civil war, foreign intervention, and ongoing occupation, those of us who study the Middle East or call it home confront two realities at once. On the one hand are the conditions of everyday life that range from the constrained to the unbearable. On the other are the increasingly confined possibilities of producing knowledge on these conditions.
To grasp these two realities, we have only to glance at the kind of fire, sometimes live, scholars and students have come under in the last few months alone. In January, the Turkish Higher Education Council condemned a petition that scholars in solidarity with the Kurdish region signed as “terrorist propaganda.” University rectors immediately began taking punitive measures: launching investigations against and suspending scholars who were signatories. This is in addition to the prosecutions and criminal investigations scholars are facing for expressing their opinion on social media.
In Egypt, presidential decrees impinging on academic freedom (including the president’s power to appoint presidents and deans of public universities) have been the backdrop for the containment of critical academics. These have included unlawful detentions and travel bans of academics, as well as most recently the torture and murder of an Italian PhD student.
However, the threat of knowledge is not confined to some easily dismissed authoritarian other. It also scares the long celebrated bastions of liberal democracy, the United States and Israel. In the United States, Wheaton College suspended the first female African American scholar it tenured for wearing a hijab and drawing commonalities between Christianity and Islam. In the occupied West Bank at the Palestine Technical University-Khadoorie, students are surrounded by the Annexation Wall, a permanent checkpoint, an Israeli industrial zone, and a firing range. The Israeli army built this firing range on twenty-three dunums of university land that it confiscated.The firing range stands 200 meters from the university’s library. Incursions on campus are a daily affair. In the last months alone, the Israeli army has also raided Birzeit University and Al-Quds University, confiscating student and university property.
Is producing knowledge of and in the present, and pondering what this labor will look like in the future a luxury? It may seem so, in comparison to the torn lives of people in places like Syria and Yemen. It may seem so, in the face of the daily realities of thousands braving cold waters to seek an elusive refuge. It may seem so, but it is not. Anyone who has experienced running for refuge knows that you can kill a people twice: once in the physical act and once again when you erase their story
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