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Activism, Resistance and Rebellion

Session XI-06, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, December 4 at 8:30 am

Panel Description
  • The Zanj Rebellion (869-883) is, on the surface, a rich focal point for discussing the intersection of religion, class, and race/ethnicity in the late antique Near East. The rebellion besieged a geographically sensitive area, was undertaken in the name of a slave class, and lasted for over a decade. Few studies have been undertaken about it directly. Even less work has been done on its historiography—how it is conceived and written about by Muslim historians, especially of the pre-modern and medieval period. How do these texts approach the question of race/ethnicity, class, and messianism in the Zanj rebellion? Through examining the historiography of the Zanj rebellion, we can study how Muslim historians—and the Muslim polity—dealt with uncomfortable questions present in their own time. This paper examines Islamic history writing and how it struggles to comprehend the Zanj rebellion. The rebellion changes as it moves from one historian to the next—not in events, but in motivations, makeup, and significance. Issues and elisions then become baked into records and retellings of the rebellion, such that disentangling the stereotypes from the narrative itself has taken up the focus of most modern academics—without them realizing that these issues and elisions are there. For al-Tabari (d. 310/923), the question of race/ethnicity is a struggle, and terminology is used to blockade the role of race in the rebellion. For al-Masudi (d. 345/956), the revolt comes side by side with the hardening of geographic and racial stereotypes. With Ibn Khaldun’s (d. 808/1406) history, racial tension is set aside for the more familiar, and blameworthy, story of sectarianism and a false messiah. These are only some of the ways in which historians dealt with uncomfortable questions of what
  • Recent historical scholarship has reappraised the impact of the Lebanese Crisis of 1958, casting it as a partial origin story for the sectarian populist militancy that spiraled into an internationalized 15-year civil war while also sparking escalating Cold War tensions. However, while these studies have largely relied upon a combination of United States archival declassifications and Lebanese press archives, the perspective of activists who participated in the events of the crisis has been comparatively neglected, leaving the legacies of the conflict for grassroots political mobilization out of the English-language historical record and casting the events of 1958 as an exclusively Lebanese story. Instead, this paper draws upon a combination of oral histories, memoirs, and political party documents to examine how popular uprisings during the Lebanese Crisis of 1958 reshaped norms and subjectivities that endured through the counterrevolutionary restorations of the subsequent decade, while also demonstrating the nascent Palestinian national movement’s potential as a potent guerrilla force. The twin case studies discussed within this paper are rooted in social biographies of activists affiliated with the Arab Nationalists’ Movement (ANM), the Pan-Arabist precursor of the Palestinian national movement’s leftist wing and much of the Arab New Left. The first case study focuses on the port area of Tripoli, where Palestinian ANM activist Salah Salah forged political coalitions while coordinating resistance strategies and weapons smuggling across the border with Syria. The second case study centers the ANM-controlled Solidarity Sports Club of Tyre and its leader, Muhammad al-Zayyat, whose projects of state building from below and armed resistance deepened the Movement’s social bases while reshaping the gendered boundaries of the local political community. Collectively, the case studies explore how grassroots political mobilization during the brief civil war of 1958 facilitated new revolutionary coalitions that would fuel Palestinian armed resistance into the 1960s and beyond, while also empowering popular institutions that would play central organizing roles well until the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Further, the paper examines the role of the Lebanese security state, whose violent repression of activists and besiegement of the port areas of Tripoli and Tyre foreshadowed the functional siege placed around Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon between 1959 and 1969.
  • This research paper offers a poetic discourse with Arab women’s activism in the 19th century. The author considers the conception of Arab feminist activism, its challenges, obstacles and role in society, and inquires into portrayals, dichotomies and differences within women’s activism. Throughout this inquiry, poetry is used to explore, question, and engage with the history (Leggo, 1999). This process of inquiry constructs and interrupts knowledge taken for granted; it enables exploration with depth of experience and expression; it allows researchers to make sense of their observations, raising questions that could help fill in inevitable cracks of misunderstandings when reading history (Pavlenko, 2002; Clandinin & Connelly, 2000). The author engages with the works of five prominent writers who publicly articulated activist thought in the 19th and early twentieth centuries: Aisha al Taimuriya, Zeynab Fawwaz, Huda Shaarawi, May Ziadeh, and Malak Hifni Nassif. Turning their writings into found poetry, the author dialogues with the women, juxtaposing their experiences with the present realities of Arab women, showing parallels and contradictions between the past and the present. In so doing, the author reveals an intimate window into the lives of these pioneers, whose voices and activism have largely been ignored and omitted from Arab history textbooks. Clandinin, D. J. & Connelly, F. M. (2000). Narrative inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Leggo, C. (1999). Research as poetic rumination: Twenty-six ways of listening to light. In L. Neilsen, A. L. Cole, & J. G. Knowles (Eds.), The art of writing inquiry (pp. 173–195). Halifax, NS: Backalong Books. Pavlenko, A. (2002). Narrative study: Whose story is it, anyway? TESOL Quarterly, 36(2), 213-218.