At this particularly transformative period in the life of the region, to be able to see and address accordingly the intersectionality that belies the collective struggles currently gripping communities across the Middle East is as urgent as it is important. In this latest issue of Status, we traverse geographic locales—from New Orleans to Sana’a—on a quest to unsettle the increasingly placid waters of theoretical, conceptual, and political interpretation on the region and its peoples. Unlike published text, the audio form allows interlocutors to meditate, reflect, deliberate, and conjure expressive explanations that capture the nuances and intricacies of their experiences, research, and life-worlds. While there is no single theme that permeates the content of this very special issue of Status, one underlying current to much of this installment is “Lives Under Duress.” Each of the interviews, lectures and panels—often curated apart from one another—are incidentally either a response to or a product of acute and/or systemic threat, constraint, or violence.
Duress in the contemporary Middle East and as minoritized groups in the global north are both functions of systemic inequalities, overt disenfranchisement, and unrelenting dehumanization. Whether it manifests through militarized interventions or doctrinal intransigence, living under this duress is the unfolding of catastrophe parsed out in daily rations. This issue of Status ventures into the crevices of these catastrophes, always locating and examining lives lived in the afflicted marginal spaces.
For instance, one interview with Shoba Wadhia delves into the legal structure being erected by the United States’ Muslim bans and how they render Muslim lives. Another interview that discusses duress from the dual angles of militarized conflict against civilian populations and political standoffs is a discussion with Yemeni journalist and commentator Sama’a Al-Hamdani on Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen and the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) diplomatic crisis. And while the collective dispossession of Yemeni people gets limited press attention, a smaller scale yet no less catastrophic situation continues to unfold in the Syrian city of Afrin which is currently facing a Turkish military invasion. In this issue’s Syria Now segment, Cengiz Gunes of The Open University discusses this conflict and the duress caused by the confrontations in and around this border city, which has had unthinkably disastrous outcomes for its inhabitants. With the Syrian crisis far from abating, the sheer human toll—both collective and individual—has been immeasurable.
But under the duress of dehumanization, displacement, and dispossession, lives are forged with a will to survive and to surmount. In this issue of Status, we continue to highlight the pulsating voices of creative expression on Syria. Whether it is the award-winning Syrian poet and writer Omar Youssef Souleiman on his major work “The Little Terrorist” or Etab Hrief on exiled Syrian art in America, withstanding is the mantra of these interventions in response to duress. Few peoples in the world have been subjected to the kind of political, economic, social, cultural, and emotional duress as the population of Gaza who have demonstrated indescribable power in the face of collective punishment. In this issue of Status, we include an important interview with Noura Erakat on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) about Israel’s overt violence and killing of unarmed civilian protesters during the March of Return.
Living under duress also means perseverance against the material intricacies of structural inequality and institutionalized discrimination. In this issue we speak to Tabitha Mustafa and Max Geller, who are organizers of New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity Committee, about the landmark resolution before the New Orleans City Council that restricts investment in initiatives that render the city complicit in human rights abuses. A significant stride for BDS, both the inception and the fallout of the resolution are examined closely. And at a time when there is a premium on silence in the face of gross injustice, some members of professional sporting communities have broken the seal and committed themselves to causes otherwise rejected by their clubs, leagues, associations, and corporations. Our discussion with National Football League (NFL) defensive lineman Michael Bennett about his February 2017 refusal to become part of Israel’s NFL propaganda machinery is an important one as it addresses the potential scale and scope of activism in sports.
With every issue of the audio magazine, we bring you segments which explore the interplay between art and politics, particularly in the realm of informality. In this installment we are delighted to be bringing our listeners closer to artistic collectives and creative communities in the region who are laying down the foundations of such creative informality. Featured here isan interview with Lebanese multimedia artist David Habchy who is the founder of WARAQ, an NGO dedicated to the arts in Beirut. One of the objectives of WARAQ is to depart from the idea that the artist is a solitary agent and move towards a recognition of collective creativity.
In our continued interest in the independent music scenes across the region, the program Status Beats features an interview with Lebanese sound engineer Fadi Tabbal who founded Tunefork Recording Studies to promote music production against the mainstream commercial grain. The focus on melodies is the thrust of our conversation with Lebanese guitarist, composer and producer Anthony Sahyoun about his band Kinematik and Sahyoun’s musical alter-ego Madame Chandelier.
Listen also to Lebanese filmmaker, animator and comic book writer, Fadi Baki, who produced a historic-futuristic film about the tribulations of the Lebanese nation-state. In this conversation, Fadi Baki talks about the making of his complex film "The Last Days of the Man of Tomorrow" and the many meanings audiences across the Arab world might find relatable for his protagonist, Manivelle.
Debuting this issue is a new program hosted by Managing Editor of Jadaliyya and Tadween Publishing, Kylie Broderick. In thefirst episode of Tadween Talks, author Sunaina Maira speaks of the intersection of youth culture and protest politics among Palestinian youth, which is the subject of her latest book, “Jill Oslo: Palestinian Hip-Hop, Youth Culture, and the Youth Movement”.
We are also proud to debut the video essay format on Status with Ian Alan Paul, an interdisciplinary artist and theorist, who shares his profound experimental film “The Dis/Appeared: 25 Notes on Colonial Regimes of Perception”, shot in the West Bank to address the politics of colonial aesthetics, perception, and representation.
At Status, we try to expand the audio-visual message to reflect the varying modalities of communication, from the interview format to the lecture, and from the dialogue to panel presentations. Each has its own instructive qualities and helps address the questions and issues at hand with a tone resonant for particular listeners. That is why in this issue we are thrilled to bring Status followers audio and video experiences on a wide range of topics and themes.
One of our lasting partnerships is with the Middle East and North African Studies Program at Northwestern University where we co-produce the video series MENA Dialogues. In this issue of Status, we have two timely interviews. The first is Trita Parsi, the President of the National Iranian American Council about the rise of enmity, the decline of diplomacy and what will befall the Iran nuclear deal. The second is an interview with Marc Lynch, professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University about the state of Arab media in light of the transformations taking place in the Middle East regional order especially the escalation between the Gulf media hubs.
In our attempt to shatter any boundaries that separate academic debates and public discourse about the Middle East and wider global issues, we have focused much of our energies at Status to record, archive and share many of the notable lectures, conferences, and panels that are held at universities across the world. In this issue we have a number of provocative and stimulating recordings which you can listen to here.
One of the most important panels of the last year was a special session held at the annual Middle Eastern Studies Association (MESA) Conference in Washington, DC entitled “Thinking Palestine Intersectionally” and addressed 50 years of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. The session, organized by Sherene Seikaly (UC-Santa Barbara) included a remarkable group of speakers including Judith Butler (UC-Berkeley), Angela Davis (UC-Santa Barbara), Noura Erakat (George Mason University), and Samera Esmeir (UC-Berkeley).
On the anniversary of the January 25 Revolution in Egypt, Adel Iskandar of Simon Fraser University gave a talk at the London School of Economics entitled“Egypt as Effigy: Predatory Power, Hijacked History, and the Devolution of Revolution.” The topic of authoritarian leadership in Asia and the Middle East was the subject of a talk by Michael Green and Joseph Sassoon at Georgetown University. Also at Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, a session for teachers and educators was held to discuss displacement between the Middle East and the US under the title “A Teach-In on Global Migrations and Refugees.” The speakers were Elizabeth Chacko, Rochelle Davis, Elzbieta Gozdziak, Elizabeth Ferris, Kristin Sekerci and Azza Al-Tiraifi. Experiences of Migration were shared by Aysenour Kara, Musaab Balchi, and Nana Brantuo. Georgetown was also the venue for another discussion about the complications of the political spectrum in the Arab world with a presentation by Lahouari Addi entitled “Radical Arab Nationalism and Political Islam.”
The Islamist revival movements of Turkey were the topic of a presentation by Mucahit Bilici at George Mason University (GMU) under the title “Said Nursi & Fethullah Gulen: The Rise and Fall of Post-Nurcu Messianism in Turkey.” Also at GMU, Robert Malley gave the talk “Looking Back, Looking Forward: Reflections on the United States and the Middle East” which drew upon changes to foreign policy since Trump’s election. Finally, we bring a special presentation about the “Art of Reciting the Qur’an” by Anne Rasmussen (College of William & Mary) and Indonesian reciter Hajjah Maria Ulfah where the two speakers interweave description and recitation in a remarkable demonstration.
With every issue of Status, we grow in response to the circumstances affecting the peoples and ecologies of the region. We are both in dialogue and contestation with these circumstances. Attempting to redefine them while learning from them. But the one condition is that alongside asking, inquiring and challenging, we are committed to listening. The voices from the region deserve nothing less.