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Anticolonial and Anti-imperial Mobilizations

Session XI-11, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, December 4 at 8:30 am

Panel Description
  • In 14 Octobre 1914, the French Ambassador in Istanbul informed his Minister of Foreign affairs of a panislamist pamphlet by Germany in which the German Emperor declared not to be in war against the Muslim world and ordered that all Muslims war prisoners from the French, British and Russian Empire to be released and sent to the Ottoman Sultan, in his quality of “Calif of the Mahometan world.” This message was to cause much disruption and distress for the colonial powers. Most evidently, through declaration of peace to Muslims, while the colonial empires were relying on them at the very front of the war. Moreover, by calling the Ottoman sultan the Caliph of the Muslim World, by recognizing him this title and sending him Muslim war prisoners, Germany was disrupting the fragile pillars of international law. The processes of extradition of Muslim prisoners threatened the nation-state order and its principle of citizenship, colonial subjecthood by suggesting that Muslims independently of their imperial status are subjected to the Ottoman Sultan. The German proclamations were pointing toward a transnational politico-religious order that overflows the recently erected borders of national belonging and imperial affiliation. It blasted open questions of sovereignty, by pointing toward the discrepancy between territorial sovereignty and a jurisdictional sovereignty (over people) and reopens the Pandora box of questions that follow from it: what does it mean to have sovereignty over Muslim subjects? Can a Christian empire, even when redeemed through secularization ever claim or achieve such sovereignty? How did concepts of Islamic political jurisprudence influence such debates? This paper explores, through diplomatic archives, how the colonial powers, Great Britain and France, faced the issue that territorial conquests, national borders, military power, law and violence do not guarantee the control over people sense of belonging, affiliation, allegiance and loyalism and how they sought to remedy to such a discrepancy in the postwar legal and diplomatic order. It also attends to how Muslims subjects of the empires mobilized the concepts of the Muslim world and performed their allegiance to the Ottoman empire in it their anti-colonial struggles and self-determination claims.
  • There are two underlying assumptions driving both scholars’ and activists’ approaches to Palestinians’ engagement with international audiences. The first is that travelers who are sympathetic to Zionism can be convinced to support Palestine through witnessing the occupation. The second is that growing Jewish criticism of Israel stands to radically undermine Israeli oppression. This paper looks at both of these presumptions from the perspectives of Palestinian tour guides and activists who work to educate predominately Jewish visitors to Palestine. My data include six months of participant observation and 25 interviews with Palestinian guides about their work to transform travelers’ opinions and generate activism abroad. COVID-19 and subsequent drops in tourism to Palestine have raised questions surrounding tourism’s viability as a tactic for social change. In light of these concerns, my research takes on the question of how awareness-raising initiatives advance (or detract from) wider strategies of resistance in Palestine. Past studies of Jewish support for Palestinians tend to center Jewish individuals’ experiences and identities over how this group’s attitudinal shifts tangibly contribute to ending Israeli settler colonialism. My paper shifts the focus away from internal processes of change within the Jewish community, and instead interrogates the political utility of Jewish opposition to the occupation, and more broadly - ideological conversion, in liberating Palestine. My preliminary findings suggest that initiatives to generate solidarity from tourists often perpetuate racialized conceptions of power and violence due to institutional constraints on funding, marketing, and capacity-building. I argue that the political narratives presented on these tours must be made palatable to the “clients” that sustain them, which inevitably reproduces colonial paradigms of thinking. Palestinian tour guides are incentivized to assert the legitimacy of Zionism, affirm Jewish suffering, and emphasize nonviolence. By encouraging the softening of Palestinians’ anger and obfuscating violent anti-colonial resistance, Palestinians’ humanity becomes conditional upon their adherence to nonviolence, which in turn, reinforces the power of the colonial state. While these tours challenge tourists’ unequivocal support for Israel and deepen their sense of empathy with the Palestinian people, they can also function to legitimize the Israeli state and propagate the assimilative forces of settler colonialism. Given these outcomes, my paper explores how Palestinian guides navigate the contradictory processes of movement building and allyship in alternative tourism. Specifically, I detail the ways Palestinian activists are working to unravel Jewish support for Israel while simultaneously resisting the settler colonialism embedded within Israeli tourism to Palestine.
  • The recourse by some Muslims to both licit and illicit forms of violent action have been the subject of innumerable scholarly and popular discussions over recent years. By contrast, comparatively little attention has been devoted to the theme of principled pacifism and nonviolence within Islamic traditions. The present paper argues not only that this neglected field is worthy of greater study, but furthermore that it calls for deep engagement across disciplines in order to be most effective. In particular, it is argued that reciprocal contact between Islamicist scholars and secular moral philosophers offers an double opportunity. To scholars of Islam, it presents a nuanced widening and deepening of the over-simplified ethical categories which too often dominate discussion of Islamic (non-)violence both within and without the academy. To moral philosophers, it offers an under-explored avenue for the exploration of normative ethics in religious traditions – fruitfully paralleling existing scholarship on other faith traditions. Furthermore, it is argued that this interdisciplinary dialogue offers meaningful opportunities to constructively challenge and redress the persistent tendency to privilege and universalise what are in fact historically contingent and parochial ideas of modern Euro-American provenance. Significantly, it does so not by simply rejecting these as inherently colonial but rather by parochializing them as potentially equal voices in an open and dynamic moral discussion more characterised by awareness of heteroglossia than by aspirations to hegemony. The paper draws upon a range of specific examples from the modern history of Islamic thought so as to illustrate the possibilities and the challenges faced by this project – both for Islamicists and for ethicists. Finally, this paper will express the hope that a this research agenda will produce benefits which extend beyond the halls of academe. At a time during which both outright Islamophobia and the distrust of ethical perspectives articulated in conspicuously Islamic terms are rife, scholars carry a social obligation to offer paths to understanding and the easing of tensions. When those festering antipathies give rise to dangerous developments – from discriminatory legislation to unequal policing to military action, all of which we witness today in regions around the globe – that duty is all the more pressing.
  • This paper is situated in French-occupied southern Tunisia during World War I. It takes the ambiguous perspective of the Jewish Tunisian photographer Albert Samama-Chikly, who served with the French Army’s Section Photographique de l’Armée (SPA) during the war. In early 1916, before his longer stints at the Western Front, Samama was sent to southern Tunisia, close to his home country’s border with Tripolitania (part of Italian Libya). There he captured the blurry lines between French conscription centers and the prison camps built alongside them to house dissidents and deserters. Expanding wartime conscription measures were in part to blame for the rebellions. But Samama, having traveled in the region as a photojournalist just a few years earlier during Italy’s 1911-12 invasion of Ottoman Tripolitania, was positioned to understand that many of the rebels came from the very communities and tribal confederations who straddled the Tunisia-Libya border. Now, in 1916, their ongoing resistance to Italian rule had begun to merge with anti-colonial sentiments in French-occupied Tunisia. This paper therefore uses photographs, military and colonial documents, and personal documents to weave together two interrelated layers of the colonial experience in North Africa: 1) the complicated position of elites such as Albert Samama-Chikly, caught between the suffering of fellow North Africans and the Francophone upbringing that had landed him a coveted position in the French Army; and 2) the transnational origins of anti-colonial movements in and around Tunisia, long obscured by nationalist narratives but now revealed by the unique lens of Samama. The first, an intimate microhistory, offers a means of understanding the second, a transnational phenomenon not always visible to states, empires, or their histories.