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Ethics from the Margins: Ethical Decision-Making, Performance, and Identity Practices Amongst Marginalized Groups in the Middle East

Panel XII-9, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, November 5 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
This panel explores the diverse ways in which ethical frameworks impact decision-making, performance, and identities of marginalized groups in Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, and Kurdish refugees in Iraq. A central question in this panel is querying how external factors come to influence the ways that people construct, contest, and navigate ethical discourses. As such, this panel, by drawing upon stories from Palestinian peace activists, Jordanian gay men, Kurdish refugees, and disabled activists in Lebanon, complicates the theories that describe ethics as regimented systems of power (Foucault 1988, Mahmood 2005), or elements of the subconscious (Keane 2016), that subtend and imbue one’s subjectivity. These papers, however, also resist the urge to label ethics as haphazard spheres (Schielke 2010, 2015), which invariably lead to a fractured subjectivity and the inconsistent application of ethical frameworks (Ewing. 1990). Rather, the authors in this panel demonstrate the ways in which ethical frameworks become constructed through group discourse as well as outside intervention (Marsden 2005). In other words, these papers show how ethical frames are not stagnant but, as one author describes, “adapt” to changing circumstances. These adaptations, however, are created in dialogue between stakeholders and external actors and events. As such, this panel draws on a more Laidlawian (2014) approach to ethics wherein humans are understood to be inherently valuative. By focusing on marginalized voices, these papers uniquely demonstrate how such valuations are reached under duress. Examples include how groups construct ethical frameworks as a response to intermittent government suppression, changes to ethical decision-making amongst disabled activists due to economic and political factors, and the relationship between ethics and performance as a result of living under occupation.
  • Dr. Noa Shaindlinger -- Discussant, Chair
  • Mr. Johnathan Norris -- Organizer, Presenter
  • Dr. Karol Kaczorowski -- Presenter
  • Alyssa Paylor -- Presenter
  • Kaziwa Dylan -- Presenter, Co-Author
  • Samee Sulaiman -- Presenter
  • Mr. Johnathan Norris
    This paper investigates the various ethical frames and emotions that gay men in Jordan draw upon when responding to internal conflicts and governmental interventions that occur in queer spaces in Amman. By visualizing queer spaces and places through the prism of ethics and emotion, it becomes possible to study how gay Ammanis understand, cope with, and harness personal and political tensions, both as individuals and as a community, across multiple scales. Based on a year and a half of ethnographic fieldwork between 2022 and 2023, including 20 formal interviews and numerous informal interactions, this paper explores the ways in which gay men in Jordan employ and transgress the ethic of “safety” as they seek to “protect” the queer community at large from government intrusion. Safety measures include, for example, ostracizing other queers, especially those identifying as trans or gender non-conforming, because their presence increases government surveillance and intervention. However, it is also not uncommon for gay men to intentionally transgress boundaries of safety as way to retaliate against other members, thereby deliberately risking the safety of community members and the spaces in which they meet. As such, by extrapolating the uses and meanings of “safety,” this paper extends the often-bifurcated research on ethics and emotion. By using safety, I show how an emotion can function simultaneously as an ethical framework and how emotio-ethical decisions subtend queer spaces across Jordan.
  • Alyssa Paylor
    This paper examines how Palestinian peace activists draw upon place, space, and material performance to present themselves as ethical individuals while working with Israeli activists. Israeli-Palestinian cross-border interactions have largely been examined for their pacifying and de-politicizing impacts, and are widely discredited in Palestinian society as taṭbīʿ, or normalization. Palestinians who engage in these activities are deemed to be naive or traitorous. I examine the materiality of internationally-funded projects and programs of reconciliation, and demonstrate how political claims are made through mundane objects such as sticky notes, photocopies, and chairs. This research draws upon eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork and interviews conducted on the Palestine-Israel border from 2018 to 2023. I use performance theory and the management of front and back stages to reconciliation programs to posit a theory of material performance and demonstrate how Palestinian activists make citational use of location and landscape, materials such as clothing, the number of people present, and poetry to engage in political claim-making and present themselves as ethical individuals. This paper also examines the public and private discourse that Palestinians employ in relation to geographical location, current events, and national ideals such as the bereaved mother, to present reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis as fundamentally political, and tied to the project of Palestinian statehood and national identity.
  • Dr. Karol Kaczorowski
    Co-Authors: Kaziwa Dylan
    Since 2003, an influx of IDPs from the south of Iraq to the Kurdistan region has as described in the World Bank report "imposed substantial strains on the social sector". The economic crisis, sociocultural problems, unemployment rate, and security issues turned the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which was once known as "safe haven" into a difficult place for not only the Kurdish population but also for the refugees and displaced who fled to the Kurdistan region before 2003. This interdisciplinary study uses semi-structured in-depth interviews with 20 families to substantiate the dimension of quantitative research queries regarding the politically displaced Kurds from Iran and their forcible immobilization in Iraq from 1978 to 2021. Drawing on Kerilyn Schewel's approach to studying immobility; Ibrahim Sirkeci's model of the environment of human insecurity; and Antonina Koskowska's theory of identity valence this study analyzes the complex legal and social situation of this group as immobile stateless refugees who must negotiate between multiple layers of their identity. Additionally, the paper poses a question connected to the ethical dimension for UN and international public opinion on recognizing stateless immobile refugees and addressing their concerns. This study argues that Iraq immobilized the Kurds who escaped Iran which led to ethical and legal gaps regarding their current situation. Consequently, Kurdish refugees from Iran must negotiate between various layers of their identity during everyday life. It is also argued that the Iraqi government has played a double-edged sword game with the Kurds, on the one hand forcibly deporting over 600,000 Faili Kurds to Iran, while on the other hand opening the door for politically displaced Kurds from Iran but holding them in camps without citizenship. In addition, the study indicates that their inhuman status has detrimental effects on families and causes marital dissolution within this group.
  • Samee Sulaiman
    My dissertation project, titled States of Doubt: Disability, Sovereignty, and Crisis in Lebanon, explores the myriad challenges that disability activists have faced during, and in the aftermath of, the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) which left over 120,000 dead and 100,000 permanently disabled. The disability rights movement began with the founding of the Lebanese Sitting Handicapped Association (LSHA) in 1981, the first disability organization run by disabled people in Lebanon, six years into the civil war which became a catalyst for the movement as the number of disabled by injury rapidly rose. Disability activists sought to fight against the relegation of disabled people to the private sphere – within their homes as well as private rehabilitation institutions run by the same sectarian leaders and parties who were the main belligerents of the war. Radical for its time, LSHA was founded as a non-sectarian organization and embraced all disabled Lebanese citizens regardless of sectarian or political affiliation at a time when disabled people were largely excluded from all aspects of social, economic, and political life in their own communities. Today, disability organizations like LSHA face another period of turbulence as Lebanon plunges into a set of compounding economic, financial, public health, refugee, and political crises. On top of that the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Beirut Port explosion in 2020 both have only served to exacerbate these problems. My fieldwork in 2019 corresponded with the beginnings of this crisis as the Lebanese lira began to fall in value and as protests broke out during the October 2019 revolution. Since that time, LSHA has had to make critical decisions about how to adapt its strategies and work to the circumstances of the revolution and Lebanon’s state of crisis. In this paper, I will explore some of the decisions they made and actions they took in the aftermath of the October 2019 uprising. I will also trace the processes, experiences, and values that shaped these decisions, including the one to embrace the revolution and its goals even at the risk of losing the little influence they may have had in the government. I also observe the encounters disabled people have with able-bodied people and/or the built environment in their day-to-day lives as well as in moments of explicit political agency such as participating in the revolution. My analysis of these decisions revolves around the concept of doubt.