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Revisiting Middle Eastern Political Thought

Panel XII-21, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, November 5 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
  • The proposed paper critically examines the intellectual history of Jabal Amel (South Lebanon) during over half a century, from the late 1920s through the early 1980s. I seek to explore the subject by exploring the role played by Hussein Muruwwa in the interaction between Islamic heritage and secular and progressive ideas and concepts. Through this paper, I will show the intellectual and discursive processes of shaping a Lebanese Shiite political discourse by Muruwwa. First, I will elicit how the principles of Islamic turath, Socialism, liberalism, citizenship (muwatna), nationalism (wataniyya), democracy (dimuqratiyya), and feminism interacted through his ideas. Second, I will explore the modes through which Muruwwa understood these ideas and practices and how he helped assimilate them into the local culture. Finally, I will answer why he assumed these ideas/practices were critical to bringing about progress and modernity for the Shiites in Jabal Amel, in particular, and for the entire Arab world.
  • This paper examines the engagement with Marxism in the political thought of the Iranian revolutionary Ali Shariati (1933-1977), who is widely considered to be the seminal theorist of the Iranian Revolution. Shariati’s intellectual engagement with Marxism has hardly been examined in depth by English-language scholarship, but is deeply insightful for both the theoretical analysis of colonialism and for illuminating the novel ways in which Marxist theory was transformed by non-European thinkers theorizing in contexts markedly different from Western Europe. My paper reconstructs Shariati’s analysis of colonialism as an economic and social regime which turns the colonized into mere “consumers” of Western commodities as well as social values and culture. Under the colonial division of labor and the accompanying social hierarchies, Shariati argues, colonized peoples are unable to engage in the free and conscious act of creation. Reconstructing his critique of colonialism as a homogenizing system of forced consumerism, which destroys the particularity of colonized communities, I situate Shariati in a global genealogy of Marxist humanism, while foregrounding his links with African anti-colonial thought and Catholic liberation theology. The concept of the colonized as a “consumer” articulates a distinctive critique of colonialism which places the human ability to create at the forefront. I pursue a methodology combining an examination of intellectual lineages of concepts and theories (typical of intellectual history) with close reading and textual interpretation of primary texts, particularly Shariati’s untranslated writings.
  • This paper provides a conceptual analysis of the ideas around political community and governance emerging out of Nablus prior to the Nakba, focusing on the important but understudied figure of Muhammad ‘Izzat Darwaza (1888-1984). Darwaza was part of the a’yan, as a member of a prominent textile family, as well a historian, politician, and educator, who was present at the writing of what many consider the first Arab democratic Constitution of 1920 and the Declaration of Independence that preceded it (Thompson 2020), as well as a founder of the Independence (Istiqlal) Party, the Young Arab Society (al-Fatat) and an-Najah National School, which later became an-Najah National University (ANNU), the largest Palestinian university. Darwaza’s earliest writings offer accounts of Arab and Islamic history for dissemination to the generation that was the focus of his educational efforts. As such, even as they offer just one iteration, Darwaza’s writings articulate a fairly clear, if evolving account of the visions and goals of nationalist thinking of the time. So too, returning to Darwaza’s early vision allows a critical examination of how his perspective evolves in his later works, after he faced expulsion from his homeland, multiple imprisonments and ultimately is prevented from continuing directly political work, even as his body of written work continues to grow until the end of his century-long life. Ultimately, my aim is not to merely reproduce what Philip Khoury (1990) famously termed the “urban notables paradigm,” a top down account of politics (and political ideas) that proliferated after Albert Hourani’s 1966 analysis of the lives and ideas of local notables with some measure of power independent of the central Ottoman authority who had come to occupy an important mediating role between the local population and the government. Rather, I suggest that situating Darawa’s early works in the context of his work as an educator and remaining attentive to bot the way in which his thinking evolves in response to changing circumstances and the way in which it was received (discerned, albeit imperfectly, by attention to what ideas are taken up and what are challenged by the generation that follows), we can gain a better—a more discerning—sense of his intellectual heritage. As such, this paper attempts to carve out a reasonable starting point for multigenerational study of Nabulsi political thought.