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"Now is the Turn of the East": Pan-Easternism in the Middle East and Asia

Panel VIII-11, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
The proposed panel explores the ideas of the East (pan-Easternism) during the late 19th century and the 20th century in the context of the transition from a world of empires to that of nation-states, colonialism, and decolonialism. The panel includes case studies covering Iran, Ottoman Empire, modern Egypt, Palestine, and East Asia, and engaging in multiple historical sources in Arabic, Ottoman Turkish, Persian, English, French, and German. These will allow paying attention to the engagement of various peoples of the East: Persians, Ottomans, Turks, and Arabs in constructing the pan-Easternism idea. Ideas and platforms of Eastern relatedness and solidarity gained considerable popularity during the late 19th century and even greater intensity during the 20th century. In Asia and the Middle East, intellectuals, scholars, writers, poets, clerics, and politicians championed the idea of unity of the Eastern people and Eastern internationalism. Pan-Easternism, however, was not a unified movement. Instead, it gave rise to a variety of political, cultural, and intellectual trends that sometimes pulled in contradictory directions. This concept developed in several political and intellectual's centers, such as: Teheran, Istanbul, Cairo, and Berlin. Different catalysts, in other words, enabled the growth of the idea of the East, and the 20th century's violent atmosphere created further connections and interface points between them. We will expose the main trends, platforms, ideas, and peoples the pan-Easternism; examine the ways in which people from the Middle East and Asia imagined the East and its futurities; sketch the political, social, and intellectual origins of pan-Easternism, and analyze the cultural productions and expressions of Eastern internationalism. Participants in the panel will shed light on the networks and the inter-regional relations which shape the idea of the East, and, drawing on methods in comparative history, comparative literature, and transnational history, will facilitate newer understandings of pan-Easternism. The panel will illuminate different sources of inspiration, similarities, and interaction and cultivate a broader discussion of the intellectual and cultural history of the Middle East and Asia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • This paper examines the origins of pan-Sharqism (pan-Easternism) as adopted and promoted by members and activists affiliated with the Egyptian organization known as al-Hizb al-Watani (The National Party) between 1919 to 1924. A great deal of scholarly interest in the pan-Sharqism, most studies analyze these networks of ideas as a response to the colonialism and Western hegemony. But, until recently no real attempt has been made to examine connections between their pan-Ottomanism activities, in the late Ottoman period and the formulation of pan-Sharqism idea, in the post Ottoman period. The main argument of this paper is that the various expressions of Pan-Ottomanism which characterized members of al-Hizb al-Watani embraced were deeply connected to their Pan Eastern visions. Following after al-Hizb al-Watani's member, who stayed in Berlin between 1919 to 1924, such as ‘Abd Al-Aziz Jawish (1872-1929), 'Aziz 'Ali al-Misri (1879-1965), and Mansur Rif'at (1883-1926) the paper sketches the Eastern, pan-Ottoman and pan-Islamic scene in Berlin, and the city's many contributions to the formulations of pan- Sharqism idea. I will examine how and why people who supported in the Ottoman Empire in Ottoman Egypt adopted pan-Sharqism in the post Ottoman period. Analyzing the activities of al-Hizb al-Watani's members in the Eastern scene in Berlin, I suggest, sheds light on the continuities between the Ottoman and post Ottoman periods and presents pan- Sharqism in its full complexity, namely not only as a response to Western hegemony but also, and more crucially, as an attempt to preserve the imperial framework that disappeared with the end of the First World War as a regional vision, an anticolonial strategy, and an active regional network.
  • Focusing on the writings of Ahmed Midhat Efendi, this paper asks how Turkish-speaking intellectuals used insights from comparative philology to support an Easternist cultural orientation for the Ottoman Empire. From the 1880s onwards, ideas about the kinship of ‘Turanian’ languages reinforced a growing conviction that the ‘Western’ Turks of the Ottoman Empire shared a history with the ‘Eastern’ Turks of Central Asia. While this Turanian hypothesis failed as a project of political unification, this paper argues that it helped shape the development of various fields of late Ottoman knowledge production such as history-writing, mythology and musicology. The paper takes as its point of departure Ahmed Midhat Efendi’s ‘Ahmed Metin ve Şirzat’ (1892), described by the author as ‘a novel based on historical facts’. The work follows the Mediterranean sea voyage of Ahmed Metin, a young man intent on retracing the journey of Şirzat, a fictional Seljuk prince. Midhat Efendi uses the novel to educate the reader about the Eastern roots of the Turkish people, claiming that the Turks founded Chinese civilisation, and that Turkish ancestry went back to the days of the Prophet Noah. I examine the novel’s historical digressions in light of Midhat Efendi’s personal engagement with the nascent discipline of Turcology, notably at the Eighth International Congress of Orientalists in Stockholm (1889), where he met the Hungarian scholar Arminius Vambery. Through the character of Ahmed Metin, Midhat Efendi also discussed the importance of Eastern peoples recovering their own mythological traditions, paralleling his advocacy of an ‘Eastern music’ in his journalistic output. However, the scope of this East shifted depending on context, synonymous at times with the Muslim peoples of the region and at other moments stretching to all colonised peoples. Midhat Efendi's colleague Necip Asım, for instance, criticised European notions of classical literature that excluded Eastern works from Egypt, China, Persia and Turan. At the same time, though, he wrote of the need to cultivate a national Turkish music free from Arabic, Persian and Byzantine influence. In exploring how Midhat Efendi and others reconciled this philologically driven recovery of a distinctly ‘Turkish’ cultural heritage with a commitment to the revival of the ‘East’ as a whole, this paper draws attention to how comparative philology supported competing projects of identity politics in this period.
  • “Neither East nor West” was an important declaration of the Islamic Republic’s self-definition in the context of the Cold War. In addition to a strong body of literature that elucidates Iran’s encounters with the “West,” recent scholarship has explored how the “East,” or the Soviet Union, presented an alternative vision of modernity to many Iranians. But “East” did not always mean the Soviet Union. As Iranian intellectuals internalized the East/West dichotomy toward the end of the nineteenth century, “East” acquired multiple meanings. Using Persian treatises, memoirs, press sources, and official publications, this paper examines the malleable ideas of the “East” expressed in Iranian writings from the end of the nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. It identifies three components that expanded and contracted the contours of the East: geography, civilization, and decolonization. During the heyday of pan-Islamic movements at the turn of the twentieth century, reflecting the rise of civilizational discourse, the “East” typically meant the Islamic East, especially the Ottoman Empire, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. Following the emergence of pan-Asianism at the turn of the twentieth century, “East” also came to mean “Asia,” including non-Islamic East Asia, especially the rise imperial power of Japan. In the age of decolonization following WWII, the meaning of the “East” blended with that of Afro-Asia, while excluding Japan due to its imperial past. This multiplicity of meanings allowed Iranians to embrace various “Eastern” transnational solidarities at different historical moments to overcome Western dominance, while remaining deeply cognizant of their difference from other “Eastern” peoples. By tracing these shifts in the ideas of the East, this paper argues that Iran’s national self was defined not just in relation to the West, the Soviet Union, and Iran’s immediate neighbors such as Arab states, Turkey, and Afghanistan. Rather, Iranians constantly situated themselves globally, imagining solidarity with multiple “East”s.
  • When Mussolini’s Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, it not only shook the international system but also spurred intense debate in Egypt about the nature of politics and the question of Egypt’s supra-national identity. This paper zooms in on the activities and writings of one active section of the pro-Ethiopian and anti-fascist Egyptian reaction, namely Easternism (al-fikra al-sharqiyya), a widespread community of discourse that conceived of Egypt as belonging to ‘the East’ (al-sharq) as an Afro-Asian political space of shared anti-colonial imperatives and as an abstract topos of cultural qualities (spiritual, moral, peaceful, traditional, etc.) suitable for the collective existence of modern society. Through an analysis of Easternist writings of particularly liberal thinkers, focusing on the Egyptian lawyer Muḥammad Luṭfī Jumʿa (1886-1953) and his 1935 book Bayna al-Asad al-Ifrīqī wa-l-Nimr al-Īṭālī (Between the African Lion and the Italian Tiger), the paper approaches the liberal Easternist reaction to the Second Italo-Ethiopian War as a means to discuss the larger question about the nature of particularly liberal Easternism in interwar Egypt at large. The paper demonstrates how liberal Easternism developed as a versatile community of discourse that, all the while reflecting a local adaption to the changing contexts of interwar Egypt, simultaneously was formed in interaction with global ideas and developments beyond the Arab and Islamic world. In doing this, the paper not only intends to shed light on the importance of Ethiopia in pan-Easternist visions, but it also proposes to recalibrate the existing research’s understanding of the Egyptian liberals’ Easternism as an Egypto-centric phenomenon of liberal readjustment to the new consumer groups of the 1930s – more inclined to Islamic and Arab cultural and political visions and thus supposedly receptive to the Easternist nomenclature – and as an unstable prolegomenon to better-defined supra-national orientations towards the Arab and Islamic worlds. In contrast, the paper argues that Egyptian liberal Easternism should be understood as a distinct community of discourse that was formed within a global arena and as a project that conceived of an abstracted Eastern culture and spirituality as imperative to liberal order, all the while remaining ambivalent, even critical, about Islam and Arab nationalism as more specific cultural and political forces. Instead, the Egyptian liberal Easternists – upon observing global moments as the struggle of the Ethiopian lion against the Italian fascist tiger – proposed that the future must be strictly Eastern: spiritual in a sense broader than Islam, ecumenical and anti-imperialist.
  • “Across the shield of wind,” Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani writes in his 1965 travelogue, The Sun Rise in Asia (ثم أشرقت آسيا), “we will enter the richest, largest, most curious world. The most ancient world, where the sound of human footsteps spread out from furthest point in history that people can remember.” (Kanafani, 2015) This “ancient” and “curious” world is China, which he visited twice (1965, 1966) and which significantly inspired his literary writing and political thought. Kanafani (1936-1972) is perhaps the most important literary figure in Palestinian resistance literature, a novelist, playwright, and journalist and the spokesperson for the PFLP until his assassination by Mosad in 1972. In 1965 he was invited to attend the ceremony for the sixteenth anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. He also visited India on this trip and published an account of his travels upon his return to Palestine, which has largely been ignored by previous studies of his work despite emphasising the anti-colonial struggle in China and India and its similarities to the Palestinian cause. Kanafai’s The Sun Rise in Asia provides an important case study to explore how Kanafani envision a Palesitian-Chinese solidary through his romanization about communist China and his admiration toward Mao Tse Dung, the Chinese communist revolutionary. This paper will provide a close reading of the Chinese section of The Sun Rise in Asia and argue for it as a cultural translation, rather than a purely linguistic one. I will explore why it is important to consider cultural translation when we consider translation as an act of solidarity, and in doing so will consider what it means that this particular instance of cultural translation, despite being used for solidarity-building, contains vestiges of the very colonial/Orientalist thought against which that solidarity is being built.