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Anti-Colonial Resistance Across the Arab Gulf

Panel IV-23, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 3 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
Anti-Colonial Resistance Across the Arab Gulf Rather than being codified in canonical texts, anti-colonial revolutionary theorization often emerges in the path of on-the-ground political practice. In the Arab Gulf of the 1950s - 1970s, a diverse array of revolutionary parties, movements, and ideas precipitated seismic shifts in the political and social structures of the region. This political environment unfolded through a network of connections to struggles in an internationalist anti-colonial milieu. The written record of the Arab Gulf’s revolutionary moment emerges from the pens of many activists writing in various venues. In this record, the literary form–through novels, translations, and periodicals–recurs as a vessel of revolutionary theory and analysis. This panel seeks to consider anti-colonial literary production of the Arab Gulf as a political and theoretical corpus that captures this history of the region and its role in the global history of revolution. In Oman, Abdullah al-Tai and Ahmad al-Zubaidi used the novel to capture anti-colonial revolutionary histories and deconstruct the social base of resistance through their work published throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Al-Tai and al-Zubaidi used the novel to galvanize political consciousness as anti-colonial revolution unfolded. Decades later, Sonallah Ibrahim’s novel, Warda (2000), struggles with the long shadow of the Dhufar revolution. Ibrahim uses the literary form to grapple with the remembrance of this revolutionary period and to understand its ghost in the present. The global fabric of twentieth-century anti-colonial struggle reflects in the winding paths of literary production through translation. The 2014 Malayalam translation of Ghassan Kanafani’s Rijal fi al-Shams [Men in the Sun] (1962) –which captures the plight of Palestinian refugees in the Arab Gulf–brings a new readership to a revolutionary novel already bound to its political stakes both through shared anti-colonial resistance and experiences of labor migration into the Arab Gulf. Migration into the Gulf brought political subjects and organizational forms which became integral to the revolutionary path of the region. In Kuwait, the Palestinian political subjects built some of the region’s strongest opposition movements, relying heavily on published literary production and theory. The literary record of anti-colonial revolution in the Arab Gulf reveals the political and social fabric of the region. The revolutions and activism that rocked the region in the mid-twentieth century sprung from a regionally and globally integrated population and environment. The legacies of this period continue to shape historical memory and imagined futures for the region.
  • From the 1950s to the 1970s, waves of revolutionary movements and organizations reverberated across the Arab world as a whole and the Arab Gulf in particular. A spectrum of broadly left-wing political organizations that ranged from Arab nationalism to Communism fed into this electric environment which posed serious challenges to Arab Gulf regimes. These challenges took various forms, including the armed revolution against British colonialism in Oman’s Dhufar revolution, labor organization across Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and the region-wide dissemination of revolutionary theory and cultural production. Within this context, the rapidly expanding economic activities of these petrostates attracted labor migration from across the Arab world and beyond. Palestinian migration across the Arab Gulf region played an important role in left-wing revolutionary activity. Palestinians in the Arab Gulf participated in the political environment through education, publishing, and organizing. In this political environment, activists and intellectuals relied heavily on periodical publications to build political consciousness and community. These periodicals covered regional and international events, provided political analysis and theory, and published literature and art. Literary production and theory, in particular, became central to revolutionary publications. In Kuwait, critical political subjects emerged out of the large Palestinian community. This political milieu saw the founding of Fatah—a key organization in the path of Palestinian national liberation. Palestinians in Kuwait also involved themselves in the Movement of Arab Nationalists (MAN)—founded at the American University of Beirut by George Habash and brought to Kuwait largely by Ahmad al-Khatib. In Kuwait, many prominent Palestinian political figures were affiliated with MAN. The publications connected with MAN in Kuwait became critical organizational centers for opposition movements across the Arab Gulf region. Most notably, al-Tali’ah—then a weekly journal—which institutionalized opposition publishing. Al-Tali’ah, like many publications, included cultural and literary production on its pages. In the mid-1960s, Ghassan Kanafani—who was involved with the publication during his time in Kuwait—recruited famed Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali to serve as an editor and artistic director of al-Tali’ah. This paper aims to uncover the political engagement of Palestinians in the Arab Gulf. This paper focuses on the political projects of Palestinians in Kuwait, particularly as they were expressed through published literary production using the pages of al-Tali’ah during the 1960s.
  • One of the common presuppositions of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s many essays on translation is that translation is a necessity, at the same an impossible task, making it clear that translation, is ultimately a political practice done with a commitment to the text and the author, an idea that often appears in the theorizations of scholars such as Richard Jacquemond and Samah Selim, which they call ‘activist translation’. This paper articulates how the concept of ‘activist translation’ is manifested in Malayalam translations of Arabic literary texts written in the context of anti-colonial resistance. Palestinian literature, for example, reiterates this necessity primarily in two ways; for the shared history of colonial oppression and the ongoing resistance in the region against the Zionist forces. As much as there is a need to bring these texts into 'major languages', a need many theorists identify as means to build solidarity among the global communities, this paper demonstrates that there is a need to translate them into ‘minor languages’ as well, in order to foster affinity among the communities by bridging the linguistic and cultural gaps, especially in the Global South. Ghassan Kanafani’s Rijal fi al-Shams (1962) and Ashraf Kizhuparamba’s Malayalam translation of the novel, Sooryathaapathil (2014) are exemplary in this case, primarily because the novel’s theme of migration to Gulf region in the late 20th century resonates with the ‘Gulf boom’ in Kerala around the same time, and secondarily because the political subtext of the novel is addressing the new awareness of the Palestinian struggle among Keralites.
  • Sonallah Ibrahim’s 'Warda' builds itself, rather paradoxically, around the titular character’s absence from within the space of the textual world, making her a spectre within the text. This paper uses Derrida’s Hauntology as a key hermeneutical tool in analyzing Ibrahim’s employment of a spectre-protagonist to not just haunt the readers and “demand a response” in the process, but also to trace history with a desire to understand the present as it frames the possibilities for the future, thereby contextualizing violence within the history/ies of colonial oppression. The spectral disruption of chronology allows Ibrahim to build a disjointed narrative that shuttles back and forth in time, the effect of which is further highlighted by the epistolary form he utilizes in the form of Warda’s diary entries. Demonstrating that historical narratives do not necessarily remain faithful to historical processes, Ibrahim underscores the idea of a discrepancy between recorded history and memory, making the motif of remembering and forgetting recur throughout the novel. The doubling of histories and stories – through both the style and structure of the novel – also allows him to question as well as transcend the categories of history and fiction, raising pertinent questions about historiography as well. The paper shall demonstrate how the interweaving of history and fiction also makes an attempt to accord to the novel a function similar to what Warda’s journal fulfills- that of a ‘subaltern’ historical discourse that not just narrativizes the anti-colonial resistance of the Dhofar revolutionaries but enacts a resistance of its own in doing so.
  • Revolution in Omani Memory: Rethinking Anti-Colonial Resistance in the work of the "Green Mountain Angels" and "A Woman from Dhofar." From the 1950s to the 1970s, there was a revolutionary struggle in the Arabian Gulf region, not only in the fields of the anti-colonial revolution in mountains, canyons, and on the sea, but in other fields; The texts reflected this revolutionary struggle, and its impact on the creation of a progressive consciousness resisting British colonial expansion, which began to take new forms of control, after the discovery of substantial oil reserves in the Arabian peninsula. The writings and texts of writers such as Abdullah al-Tai and Ahmad al-Zubaidi formed pioneering literature that revealed the British imperialist project and tracked its social, political, and cultural repercussions on society and the state through literary narrative. The writings of these pioneer Omani intellectuals' vanguard highlighted revolution, struggle, and anti-colonialism in harmony with a similar momentum they experienced from their direct interaction with their counterpart intellectuals in Kuwait, Bahrain, Baghdad, Damascus, and Cairo. This paper sheds light on the thesis of the revolution in the writings of Abdullah al-Taei and Ahmed al-Zubaidi. More accurately, re-read the novels "Angels of the Green Mountain," and "A Woman of Dhofar." How has this literature been able to reflect the contradictions of an essential historical phase in the region at a time when colonial narratives have been dominant of telling the world what is happening in this region?