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Travelogues and Intellectual Networks across the Modern Middle East and Its Diasporas

Panel XII-19, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, November 5 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
  • Dahlia El Zein -- Presenter
  • Mrs. Israa Alhassani -- Presenter
  • Dr. Lacy Feigh -- Chair
  • Dr. Matthew Sharp -- Presenter
  • Evan Alterman -- Presenter
  • Dr. Matthew Sharp
    When news spread in Arabic and Ottoman Turkish periodicals in the 1890s about gatherings of new converts to Islam in cities like Liverpool and New York there was immediate excitement coupled with a significant level of skepticism about the “orthodoxy” of those who claimed to be Muslims. ‘Abd al-Rahim al-Ilahai al-Tabrizi al-Ahari (dates unknown), inspired by the news of the American Islamic Propaganda (AIP) led by Mohammed Alexander Russell Webb (1846-1916), visited Webb in New York in 1893. After returning to Egypt, he published al-Islām fī Amrīkā (1893; later translated into Ottoman Turkish as Amerika’da İslamiyet, 1894). Al-Ahari promoted the work of AIP and sought to galvanize the Muslim world to aid Webb’s efforts to spread Islam in America. A few years later, Yusuf Samih Asmay (d. 1942), a Turkish scholar and journalist living in Cairo, traveled to Liverpool to evaluate the Liverpool Muslim Institute (LMI) founded by William Henry Abdullah Quilliam (1856-1932). In stark contrast to al-Ahari’s glowing appraisal, Asmay expressed grave concerns about the health and reputation of Islam in England after observing the LMI and Quilliam. Shortly after returning to Cairo, he published Liverpool Müslümanlığı (1896). Thus, inspired by rihlah (travelogue) literature tradition, these two traveling scholars embarked on a mission to acquire knowledge about the authenticity of these fledgling communities of converts to inform fellow Muslims about their co-religionists outside the Muslim world. While the two travelers expressed similar observations, their conclusions and optimism about the spread of Islam differed considerably. This paper compares the two travelogues published in the 1890s, which are the earliest known lengthy appraisals by fellow Muslims of the convert communities. It argues that al-Ahari’s naivety clouded his judgment of Webb’s character. Additionally, his overconfidence in his knowledge of American culture and society also hindered his assessment of Webb’s ability to persuade the American public of Islam’s superiority over Christianity. In contrast, Asmay was more astute because of his investigative approach. His negative appraisal of Quilliam and the LMI reveals a critical mindset that allowed him to correctly predict the downfall of both. The two works and their authors demonstrate the increasing connectivity, transnational encounters, and global entanglement of Muslims in the late nineteenth century during the age of steam and print.
  • Dahlia El Zein
    Lebanese Syrian migration to Afrique Occidentale Française (AOF) or French West Africa (1895–1958) increased significantly during the French mandate in Syria and Lebanon (1920–1946). Kamel Mroueh, a Lebanese Syrian publisher, expressed concern in his 1938 travelogue Nahnu fi Ifriqya (We Are in Africa) that at least fifty percent of migrant children from his community in Dakar and the rest of Senegal didn't know Arabic. Instead, they understood French, English, and some languages spoken by Africans, such as Wolof, Serer, or Mande. Mroueh's lamentation points to the layered relationship between race, empire, and migration between the Levant and West Africa, as well as the intersections and divergences between his racial ideology and French colonial racial orderings. While French and European colonial ideas of race and raciality were influential in the Levant and broader Middle East in the early twentieth century, this paper argues that they are only part of the story of race in Nahnu Fi Ifriqya. Through a close reading of Mroueh's travelogue, the paper contextualizes French and European influences on Lebanese Syrian ideas of race and raciality in the 1930s by showing how these ideologies fit into local histories of racial identity-making by Lebanese Syrians, Arabs, and Middle Easterners in the global diaspora. Mroueh's racial ideas were not representative of all Lebanese Syrians of the period but analyzing his observations of African cultures and the Lebanese Syrian community in West Africa in the 1930s provides an opening into how the processes of race-making unfolded amongst Lebanese Syrians under French imperialism. The paper highlights how the Lebanese Syrian community in West Africa negotiated their racial identity within a complex web of colonial and local discourses of race. By shedding light on the experiences and perspectives of Lebanese Syrian migrants in West Africa, this paper aims to enrich our understanding of the dynamics of race, empire, and migration in the early twentieth century.
  • Evan Alterman
    How do empire and its unraveling shape travel, its writing, and its images? To answer this question, my work examines late Ottoman and Turkish Republican travelogues about the Russian Empire and Soviet Union (and vice versa). In travel texts, perception and representation are closely intertwined with authorial and political power: specifically, with negotiations of the onto-epistemological status of both travelers and “travelees.” Consequently, travel accounts – with their active constructions of visited objects and of visiting subjects – present fecund opportunities for mapping continuities and ruptures between empires and their successors. I analyze the generation and maintenance of expansionist, imperialist-tinged discourse in four twentieth-century texts: Ivan Bunin’s “Ten’ ptitsy” (Bird’s Shadow, 1908), Celal Nuri’s Şimal hatıraları (Recollections of the North, 1912), Falih Rıfkı Atay’s Yeni Rusya (New Russia, 1931) and Lev Nikulin's Stanbul, Ankara, Izmir (Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, 1935). As both Bunin and Nuri interrogate the prospects – if not feasibility – of Ottoman progress, they also highlight networks of exchange and influence belonging to one territory but located in the other. Even after the fall of empire, Nikulin establishes the Soviet Union’s cultural, creative, and industrial positionality over the Turkish Republic, while Atay maintains empire’s mimetic and diegetic registers through discussions of Soviet public space and cinema and through reprisals of Ottoman discourse on development. My work brings literary studies into dialogue with comparative Ottoman/Russian and Turkish/Soviet historiographies, specifically by assessing distinct deployments of imperiality and orientalism within and across literary traditions and cultural-political paradigms. Such attention helps identify consistencies and dislodgments in a textual corpus itself premised upon continual displacements while shedding light on the dynamic, if not volatile, relations that have existed – and continue to exist – between these two spaces.
  • Being Modern: A Case Study of Muh̖ammad Abd-al-֤Husayn’s Writings Between 1917-1947 Among the intellectuals of Hashemite Iraq who contributed to Arab press, Muh̖ammad Abd-al-֤Husayn (1898-1952) stands out as a journalist, an author, a teacher, and a historian. His writings in newspapers such as al-Istiqlal, al-shaab, al-lisan, and Dar asslam, and books such as alma’arif fi aliraq alaa A’ahd alihtilal (1922), Mihnat Al-Arab (1935), and others have revealed not just maturity in political modernity but commitment to social change through print media. Though raised and educated in a traditional environment, he like the generation of Iraqi intelligentsia, have been shaped in a multilingual culture. His “Efendification” throughout his travels to Iranian cities during WWI, and European travels just before WWII had prepared him to observe missionary schools and Western institutes and identify ills in the Mandate education system. Furthermore, his interactions and his readings of different cultures sharpened his awareness of social transnational issues and modern political discourse. Between 1917 (first known published articles) and 1947 his lasts’, Abd-al-֤Husayn, focused on education and reforms, citing history as an important factor in nationhood, and publicized the public debate on political and social issues. However, a distinction between modernity and Westernization, between traditions and modernity, and between democracy and authority surfaced often in his writings. He promoted European modern thoughts while rejecting colonialism. He preached on ethical issues, citing European thinkers. He documented 1920’s revolution and King’s Faysal’s reign, aiming to conceptualize an Iraqi identity. He battled the colonial British treaties through publicized discourses, while supporting a monarchy. Scrutinizing the writings of Muh̖ammad Abd-al-֤Husayn, the research answers questions such as: What it means to become a modern Shia intellect in an emerging Hashemite Iraq? Who influenced or shaped Muh̖ammad Abd-al-֤Husayn’s writing and assessments to social issues? How did his writings permeate his audience? How intellects like him grappled with national identity issues? And how education and writing history was used to shape the Iraqi identity? This paper highlights Muh̖ammad Abd-al-֤Husayn’s published and unpublished work such as the novella Muthakarāt Jundy Basil (1926), articles in magazines, personal notes (1921-1922), and a collection of books. The research consults the works of Keith David Watenpaugh, Michael Eppel, Hoda Yousef, and Orit Bashkin on Arab modernity and Iraqi middle class. The research examines the work of Peter Wein, Phebe Marr, and Roger Owen on colonial and post-colonial Iraq.