• Review Essay: The Transforming Landscape of Turkey’s Alevi Politics

    Review Essay:

    Elise Massicard, The Alevis in Turkey and Europe: Identity and Managing Territorial Diversity. New York: Routledge, 2013. 255 pp.
    Necdet Subaşı, Alevi Modernleşmesi: Sırrı Faş Eylemek. İstanbul: Timaş, 2008. 320 pp.
  • What about Levantinization?

    This essay was written originally in English but it is only now that it is published in its original form. Kahanoff, born in Egypt to parents from Tunisia and Iraq, was a Western-educated polyglot who saw herself as a child of the Levant. Her article reflects the inherent ambivalence of the Armenians, Copts, Jews, Greeks, and Italians who in the pre-nationalist era regarded, as she did, the entire region as their home. Kahanoff asks why Levantinism threatens Israeli society and Sabra culture, which claims to be authentically indigenous, but in truth was created by relatively recent immigrants from Europe. She exposes the inherent hypocrisy of “authentic” Israeli culture and the Sabra’s fear of “a cultural mutation.”

    The Levantines relinquished cultural authenticity because it did not serve them well and adopted modern Western characteristics and values. The price of this survival strategy was a loss of authenticity and of relations with the surrounding hegemonic society. The Sabra’s contempt for the newly arrived Levantines did not prevent them from absorbing the newcomers, which seemed preferable to isolating themselves within the small Jewish community in Israel. The question of cultural mutation as opposed to indigenous authenticity is presented in the essay in a broad historical context, both spatial (the vernacularization of Latin) and temporal (the host of empires that conquered the region and left their mark on its various peoples).

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    Hasan and Marika: Screen Shots from a Vanishing Egypt

    This essay analyzes an Egyptian comedy film from the late 1950s as a window—one of the last cinematically—into the vanishing world of Egypt’s minority populations in the aftermath of the Suez Crisis and in the midst of nationalization and Egyptianization. Hasan and Marika (1959) focuses on one particular community, Egyptian Greeks. It borrows heavily from ethnic/religious minority tropes from the long-standing canon of Egyptian film and theater, in particular several classic works that deal with Muslim-Christian-Jewish pairings. It speaks to broader issues of what some scholars have noted to be a shifting or narrowing Levantine ethos. Concurrently, it raises questions about social and cultural transformations in the immediate postcolonial moment. This essay reads the film within the contexts of Egyptian social and cultural history, the position of the Greek community, ongoing limitations to true social integration, and historical questions about the Greek community’s demise. It also reads the film as a deliberate, if at times whimsical, commentary upon Egypt’s changing social landscape, comparing it to other works and later nostalgic depictions of Egypt’s lost multiculturalism.

  • Tomer Levi, The Jews of Beirut: The Rise of a Levantine Community, 1860s–1930s New York: Peter Lang, 2012. 230 pp.

    Tomer Levi, The Jews of Beirut: The Rise of a Levantine Community, 1860s–1930s. New York: Peter Lang, 2012. 230 pp.

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  • Milka Levy-Rubin, Non-Muslims in the Early Islamic Empire: From Surrender to Coexistence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 267 pp.

    Milka Levy-Rubin, Non-Muslims in the Early Islamic Empire: From Surrender to Coexistence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 267 pp.

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  • The Palestinian Historiography of Family Leadership during the British Mandate

    This article seeks to expand the study of Palestinian Arab women’s self-identification and social and political activism by examining how Arab Christian women viewed, shaped, and managed their participation in the project of defining Palestinian national identity during the period of British colonial occupation. During the Mandate period, elite Christian women made particular use of mission schools and Christian women’s charitable organizations as platforms for promoting a vision of Palestinian nationalism as modern, nonsectarian, and politically progressive, in hopes of creating a Palestinian national identity in which they could claim a central role. As the Mandate wore on, though, it became increasingly evident that the presentation of Christian women as central to the expression of a broadly based, nonsectarian, modernizing, Westernizing Palestinian national identity was belied somewhat by the communal and class consciousness that education in elite Christian schools and membership in charitable organizations engendered. The way in which this purportedly middle-class, nonsectarian nationalist vision was developed and articulated in highly class- and communally conscious venues ultimately limited its purview and linked it with oppressive colonial practices in the eyes of much of the Palestinian Arab population.

  • “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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  • Rediscovering the Mediterranean: Political Critique and Mediterraneanism in Mohammed Arkoun’s Thought

    The article explores the works and the thought of Muhammed Arkoun, one of the most prominent Muslim intellectuals in the West, and a representative of liberal Islam. Since the 1970s, Arkoun’s major intellectual critique was directed at “Islamic reason.” He endeavored to deconstruct the “regimes of truth” of Islamic medievalist dogmas, which still function as orthodoxies among contemporary Muslims (Sunni, Shiʿi and Khariji). According to his analysis, this medievalist perception of Islam fulfills a function in the modern era of political ideology. His works not only deconstruct and reassess Islamic traditional epistemology but also posit a counterpoint to the common perception of Islam among both Muslim believers and western scholars.

    The article contextualizes Arkoun’s works in the intellectual and political history of the Arab-Muslim countries of the southern and eastern Mediterranean. The first section presents a general overview of Arkoun’s oeuvre since the 1960s, with special emphasis on the foundation of his political critique. The second section sheds light on the role of the Mediterranean as a concept of mental and geo-cultural space in Arkoun’s thought.