• Masquerade and the Performance of National Imaginaries: Levantine Ethics, Aesthetics, and Identities in Egyptian Cinema

    Egyptian films from the 1930s through the 1950s reflected the diversity of Egypt’s cities. This article argues that a subtle but notable shift in the semiotics of otherness—from a Levantine idiom to a less fluid construction of ethno-religious identity—occurs over this period in Egyptian cinema. Analysis of the films Salamah fi khayr [Salama is Fine] and al-cIzz bahdala [Mistreated by Affluence], both released in 1937, reveals what the author identifies as a “Levantine” idiom. These films articulate an ethics of coexistence, adopt a visual language of inclusion, and represent identity as fluid and mutable. Postwar “ethnic comedies” such as Faṭimah wa-Marika wa-Rashil [Fatima, Marika, and Rachel, (1949)] and Ḥasan wa-Murqus wa-Kohayn [Hasan, Marcus, and Cohen (1954)], continue to take Egyptian diversity for granted. However, as this article demonstrates, the characteristics that had defined Levantine cinema—ethics, aesthetics, and fluidity of identity—are no longer present. All the films under discussion treat ethno-religious and national identity as performance. However, that being said, the valences attached to the comic appropriation of an identity not one’s own via role play, assumed identities, and sudden, disorienting class mobility shift over time in nuanced but significant ways. In establishing the idioms of “Levantine cinema” and “ethnic comedies,” this article also takes as a counterpoint the 2008 film Ḥasan wa-Murqus [Hasan and Marcus] which draws upon these earlier Egyptian cinematic traditions in constructing its own discourse of coexistence.

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  • Between Cultural and National Nahda: Jewish Intellectuals in Baghdad and the Nation-Building Process in Iraq

    This article focuses on the role of Jewish intellectuals in defining a national and cultural identity for their coreligionists in Iraq during the establishment of the state by the British in the years 1921 until 1932. Based primarily on their contributions in the press, their poetry and memoirs, this article discusses the responsibility that Iraqi Jewish thinkers and writers took on themselves in order to participate in the national and literary revival, the Nahda, from which they hoped the entire Jewish community would benefit. Their responses to anti-imperialist debates in Iraqi intellectual circles and stance on sectarianism and secularism is examined through analysis of the themes and terminologies used by three Baghdadi Jewish intellectuals: Nissim Susa (1900-1982) Anwar Sha’ul (1904-1984), and Mir Basri (1911-2006). Is there a common trend among these three regarding their perception of the nation? How is writing employed to foster national consciousness?

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  • “The Mediterranean Option”: On the Politics of Regional Affiliation in Current Israeli Cultural Imagination

    The growing appeal of Mediterraneanism or “the Mediterranean option” (ha-opt’sia ha-yam tikhonit) as it is often referred to in Israel, can be at least partially understood in relation to the Oslo peace negotiations and their  promise of replacing Israel’s isolated position in the region with a model of economic, political, and cultural integration. Perhaps it was the apparent difficulties involved in reaching a peace agreement, rather than the promise of peace itself, that drove many Israelis, including key public figures and intellectuals, to embrace the “Mediterranean option.”

    This paper closely examines the ideological stakes involved in the intellectual and cultural endeavors of making Israel “Mediterranean.” What, I ask, is the appeal of Mediterraneanism for Israelis at this particular time and juncture? How is it that an ethno-national culture, which for the most part has until recently rejected or ignored the Mediterranean (as both “sea” and “region”) as a site of cultural identification, negating it in favor of ethno-national territorial centrality, has suddenly so embraced the sea and its regional promise? And more precisely, what does this promise entail? How does the Israeli-Palestinian conflict prefigure within it? Finally, and most central to my investigation, is the relationship between yam tikhoniyut as a geo-cultural regional affiliation, and mizrachiyut as an ethnic Israeli-Jewish classification. How are we to understand these different articulations of Israeli/Jewish locality and collective identity, and how are we to further understand their distinct rendition of politics vis-à-vis the Zionist national project?

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  • Ali M. Ansari, The Politics of Nationalism in Modern Iran. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. 327 pp.

    Ali M. Ansari, The Politics of Nationalism in Modern Iran. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. 327 pp.

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    We can’t understand ourselves without the Arabic: Dreams in Cambridge (2009)

    In this paper I discuss the question of Jewish-Arab identity, its intergenerational differences, its different definitions in Hebrew and Arabic, and the differences in its usage in modern times and earlier periods. In Jewish-Arab identity, as in every identity, there is a mixture of self-identification and outer-identification. Whatever one’s reason for identifying as an Arab-Jew—whether related to the historical and cultural background or because one’s family identified this way prior to Zionism and immigration or in defiance of today’s national identities in Israel and the Arab world—it does not “have” to create as strong an objection as it does. However, the objection is understood when it is an outer-identification that flattens differences between historical periods, regions, or differences between the Jews of the Muslim world. In the late nineteenth century, Jewish-Arab identity was an identification with the Nahḍa movement, with the awakening of Arabic literature and language, and it sought to reweave Jewish-Arab identity, written culture, and memory into the Arab revival, or at least into the Arab literary imagination. Later, in the first half of the twentieth century, Jewish-Arab identity was an identification with local Arab nationalism in the different Arab lands, seen as a potential for a large-scale project, started by the intellectual elite, that would make Jews an integral and equal part of their societies. In the second half of the twentieth century, after 1948 and after immigration, mostly to Israel, Jewish-Arab identity was an identity that expressed criticism of both national projects, Jewish and Arab, their marginalization and nonacceptance of the Arab-Jews, and their exclusive and oppressive nature.

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