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Mobility, Movement, and Belonging Across Borders

Panel III-20, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 3 at 8:30 am

Panel Description
This panel will explore mobility, movement, and belonging in the Middle East and North Africa. Our discussion of these topics will include movements both religious and secular, formal and informal, regulated and unregulated, faster, delayed, and sometimes totally blocked. These movements depend critically on the affordances, densities, and tension of very particular kinds of places (the holy city, the port city, the capital city) but also different kinds of borders and thresholds. These places, borders, and thresholds allow us to challenge normative assumptions about space, sovereignty, and belonging in the region. Departing from ethnographic work in these cities, this panel challenges and interrogates the ways in which difference and belonging are socially and temporally marked across sites of cultural and historical specificity. At the same time, we present mobility, movement, and sometimes what appears as stasis as determining paradigms of expertise, know-how, and ways of being and belonging in the world.
  • Dr. A. George Bajalia -- Presenter
  • Dr. Sumayya Kassamali -- Presenter
  • Omer Shah -- Organizer, Presenter
  • Hala Habib -- Presenter
  • Omer Shah
    Under the new Vision 2030 national transformation plan, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia seeks to increase the number of annual pilgrims from eight million to thirty million. If oil has certain limits, then pilgrimage is framed as lasting “forever.” But this exuberant claim of “forever” belies a more subtle transformation unfolding at the level of knowledge, technology, and belonging as Mecca and its crowds are made and re-made into a resource for a national economy. Yet the techno-politics of “the crowd” in Mecca remains a significant political gamble for the Saudi state. Indeed, the hajj was the scene of persistent crowd disasters throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Most of these disasters occurred during the rami al-jamarat or al-rajm ritual, where pilgrims stone representations of the devil. In this paper, I show how a range of knowledges and forms of expertise, compete and collaborate in through the re-building of the new jamarat bridge, a structure that was designed to bring crowd disasters to an end. This paper also examines an attendant logistical technique of crowd optimization (a process known as tafwij) that was to complement the new structure. In this, I am particularly interested in how Islamic law comes to be apprehended and deployed as “optimization” and crowd management “solution.” Ultimately, I argue that these strategies of crowd efficiency work to evacuate the slow, messy, and cosmopolitan logics that undergird the Islamic sanctuary. In Mecca, displacement happens through speed and intensity. This paper relies on two years of ethnographic research (2017-2019) in Mecca with engineers, consultants, tech-workers, entrepreneurs, religious scholars, and pilgrim guides.
  • Dr. A. George Bajalia
    As growing numbers of migrants wait in Morocco to continue their journeys northwards, the social consequences of this time spent "en route" should be further considered. This time spent waiting fosters new claims to belonging and political identity as would-be migrants to Europe become immigrants to Morocco. This presentation recounts ethnographically how forms of community emerge amongst im/migrants through forms of shared difference and labors of belonging that speak to the ways in which difference and belonging are particularly articulated in the Moroccan port city and former international zone of Tangier. In these borderlands, immigrants use terms such as "making boza" and "crossing al-barzakh" to describe the temporal stance of waiting. In Islam, al-barzakh refers to the firmament separating life and death. This intervention brings these concepts into discussion with anthropological conceptualizations of liminality to investigate forms of being-in-common that exist outside of, or adjacent too, categories of belonging such as migrant, immigrant, refugee, and asylum-seeker. It does so in order to bring these categories and the concept of al-barzakh into conversation with Mezzadra and Neilson's notion of "border as method," ultimately asking what "barzakh as method" might look like.
  • Dr. Sumayya Kassamali
    Over the course of the last decade, and through the ongoing economic crisis in Lebanon, increasing numbers of African and Asian migrant workers can be found working both legally and 'illegally' across multiple sectors of employment in Beirut. Together with Syrian refugees as well as diverse Lebanese citizens, these migrants have created a thriving underground layer to the city, one encompassing religious and commercial establishments, mechanisms of informal service provision, and spaces of leisure, desire, and politics. Through a consideration of everyday intimate relations within these spaces, this paper shows that contemporary Beirut cannot be understood by collapsing lived experience into the legal-administrative categories of citizen, migrant worker, and refugee. If the state provides these categories, society offers another; one to be found in that layer of the city where the three populations come together: that of exile.
  • Hala Habib
    For those who remain in Afghanistan, the emigrated resemble the departed dead. But resemblances do not result in ontic collapse. For, while the emigrated, like the dead, are expected never to be seen again, generating a similar sensorium of loss, their haunting remainders— through voice calls, requests, and wire transfers— simultaneously impose a moratorium on mourning them. What kind of experience emerges at this threshold? In this paper, I work through ethnographic material gathered over 2022-2023 on quotidian and ritualized practices of mourning in Afghanistan in the context of the escalating political conflict over im/pious veneration of the dead. As the dead become a key site of the religious conflict shaping everyday life in Afghanistan, pushing for more people to depart, how is the everyday landscape of grief re-imagined?