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From Mosul to Guernica: Europe and its Orient, 1919-1939
What we now describe as the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia long existed in the European imagination as a vague amalgam, signified by the word ‘Orient’. It is this broad, ill-defined colonial geography which is deliberately referenced in my title. My paper seeks to integrate these ‘Oriental’ and European histories of the interwar era. In this sense it responds to the call for ‘metropole and colony…to be brought into one analytic field’, but it also moves beyond binary frameworks, to consider the emergence, during the interwar period, of transnational political and cultural networks across the colonised East, which in turn transformed the political and intellectual environment of the West. Rather than assuming Europe or the imperial metropole as the central node in a radial framework, whose influence disseminated outwards toward the colonies, I argue for the centrality of this ‘Orient’ for the evolution of politics in Europe during the twenty years which separate World War I from World War II. Expanding on Arendt’s 1951 thesis in The Origins of Totalitarianism, my research documents how new technologies of violence and increasingly dehumanised logics of control originated in colonial wars across the Maghreb and Mashreq during the 1920s, and were then gradually imported to Europe by fascist and totalitarian regimes beginning in the 1930s. At the same time, I consider the ways in which European political discourses of the left and right were received, re-invented, and re-disseminated to Europe and the world by ‘Oriental’ intellectuals, artists and activists over the same period of time. In so doing, I draw on a range of primary material concerning the RAF bombardment of Mesopotamia in 1920; the Indian Khilafat Movement; Arab and Indian activism during the Spanish Civil War and Abyssinian Crisis; global mobilisation in reaction to the Arab Revolt in Palestine; Egyptian leadership in international feminist networks; and Mussolini’s Arabic and Hindi radio propaganda campaigns. In short, this paper explores how, between 1919 and 1939, the world Europe sought to dominate in fact shaped the mounting crisis within it. Research has so far involved the consultation of the British National Archives and the British Library Asian & African Studies Reading Room; the Nehru Memorial Library in New Delhi; the Hoover Institution at Stanford University; and the Middle East Center Archive at St Antony's College, Oxford. Additional consultation of archival holdings in Cairo, Rabat, Seville, Nantes, and Rome is anticipated.
Geographic Area
All Middle East
Sub Area
World History