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Identity, Ethnicity and Nationhood before Modernity: Old Debates and New Perspectives

Posted by dianamuir on September 12, 2014
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Medievalists, classicists sharpen lances to overturn modernist paradigm at Oxford conference.

Steven Salaita’s Strange PhD dissertation

Posted by dianamuir on September 10, 2014
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There is a strange kind of disrespect in pretending to analyze the soul of a people without knowing the language in which they think, speak and write.   Steven Salaita, currently the center of a minor tempest in the academic teapot, has founded his career on this peculiar brand of hubristic disrespect.

Salaita’s PhD dissertation, written for the Department of English at the University of Oklahoma, is entitled: The Holy Land in Transit: Colonialism and the Quest for Canaan.  In the preface, he describes it as, “a comparative analysis of Native Americans and Palestinians, with attention to how politics influence literary production.” (p.1)  He chose the topic, he tells us, because he, “was never much interested in work that failed to ground itself into pragmatic contexts relevant to the activist…” (p.2)  He wrote it for the, “reader interested in issues o f justice for Indigenous peoples, especially if they are concerned with formulating resistant strategies.”(p.3)

The thesis was published without change of title by  Syracuse University Press in 2006.  It received scant attention from reviewers and has been cited only a handful of times since publication.  In 2010, however, the Iraqi poet, novelist, and scholar Sinan Antoon reviewed Salaita’s book for the Journal of Palestine Studies.

Antoon considers Salaita’s decision to largely ignore poetry in favor of fiction,  “unfortunate;”  in Antoon’s view Salaita would have judged better to give poetry and, in particular, Mahmoud Darwish’s poem “The Penultimate Speech of the Red Indian,” an entire chapter.

Antoon skims over Salaita’s first three chapters, deeming them, “a prelude to the literary reading readings,” on which both reviewer and author are focused.   In Antoon’s opinion, Saliba “could have done a better job, analyzing Emile Habiby’s novel, The Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist.  In addition to other inadequacies,  Antoon objects that, ” Salaita is confident about, “Habiby’s supposed ‘intention’ in writing the novel but does not cite a single interview with him.”

Overall, however, he judges that Salaita’s, “decisions to exclude poetry, which is viscerally important culturally and politically, especially in the Palestinian case, and to limit the bibliography to works in English (or translations), narrow it’s scope.”  Indeed.

It is hard to imagine an analysis of any Arab literature that omits poetry, so central is the poem to Arabic literary endeavor.  But it is impossible to understand how a scholar can write a doctoral dissertation drawing broad, sweeping conclusions about the literary ouvre of an entire people whose language he shows no evidence of knowing.   There is, to express just one caveat, no reason to suppose that the literature by or about Palestinian Arabs in English is a representative selection of what is published and read in Arabic.  This is, after all, true of no other people or language.

Salaita, however, exhibits no reluctance in writing about that which he does not know. In 2011 he published an entire book about the Israeli soul, without giving the least evidence that he can read Hebrew.

Spillover from Iraq into the streets of Sheffield and Herford

Posted by dianamuir on August 26, 2014
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Wars spill over into emigre communities.  With IS, the self-proclaimed Islamic Caliphate in the former Iraq, attacking the Kurdistan Region (the former Kurdish autonomous region in erstwhile northern Iraq it is perhaps unsurprising that partisans of the two groups have clashed in parts of Europe where there are both ardent Salafi Islamists, and Kurdish migrants.

Sheffield saw a minor skirmish, in which Kurds wrested the black-and-white flag of IS from the hands of immigrant Salafists of Pakistani origin.

Larger scale street fights have happened in several German cities.  Germany is home to an estimated 700,000 Kurds (mostly from eastern Turkey) and their descendants, as well as to unknown numbers of sympathizers and supporters of Salafi Islamism, facts that make the street-fighting that broke out recently in Herford, North Rhine-Westphalia seem almost inevitable.

Why We Can and Should Arm Kurdistan

Posted by dianamuir on August 12, 2014
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The reason why we can and should help the Kurds, while we have not figured out an effective way to help end the horrific bloodletting in Syria, is that the Kurds are fighting for nationhood, while Syria is a morass of Alawis, Shia, Sunnis, and Islamists fighting as tribes or as jihadis while, as in every civil war, the moderate are helpless and voiceless.  Our great and not ill-placed fear is that munitions and training offered to moderates, or to any group fighting in Syria, will wind up being used against one of the region’s few decent governments, or strengthening violent bad actors including Hezbollah and ISIS.

By contrast with Syria, Kurds in the northern provinces of the former Iraq have governed themselves since 2003, in an autonomous region under one of the few relatively decent governments in the Near East.  Kurdistan is a nascent nation state.  Since 2012/3 Kurds in the northeastern corner of the former Syria have governed themselves in an autonomous region that is doing what looks to be a decent job of putting together a government.  The status Kurds in eastern Turkey is, of course,  still contested by the government of Turkey and Kurdish separatists.  Kurds can be trusted with arms in a way that militias cannot, because they have a functioning national  government already in place.

The world’s attention has been riveted on the Yazidi, a Kurdish religio-ethnic minority some 40,000 of whom were stranded in the mountains dying from lack of food or water after being driven form their homes and farms by ISIS, the self-described Islamic Caliphate.  A Caliphate is not a nation state because it has no notional border.   Even in the imagination of the most ambitious irredentist, a Kurdish nation state can extend only as far as the furthest Kurdish community.  Jihadis and Islamists committed to the Caliphate would like it to expand to the furthest horizon.

Kurdistan is  a nation, and because it is, America did have to not send in the Marines to rescue the stranded Yazidis.  They were saved by the combined efforts of the pesh merga (the army of Autonomous (former Iraqi) Kurdistan), Kurdish fighters from Syria (People’s Protection Units), and Kurdish fighters from eastern Turkey (Kurdistan Workers’ Party – the PKK,  a group better known for its resort to violent terrorism).

In 1776, Americans needed help to win independence from a great Empire, not an evil empire, just an Empire that did not recognize our right to self-determination.  The Declaration of Independence was a splendid document, but it was only an idea.  To make it effective we needed a lot of French money, a little Dutch money, big shipments of French munitions, and the French Navy.

The Kurds don’t need large numbers of American boots on the ground.  They have the right to defend themselves and the right to retake Kurdish territory recently overrun by Caliphate jihadis.  They need what we needed: money, munitions, and (not naval, but) air support.  We should give it to them.

 

 

Enemy teeth as a trophy of war and Steven Salaita’s hate-tweets

Posted by dianamuir on August 07, 2014
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Time was, the most riveting object you could show a 10-year-old at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts was a bowl from Hawaii studded with human teeth, the teeth of slain enemies.  10-year-olds are bloodthirsty little ghouls.

You can’t do that anymore because Peabody Essex protected our delicate sensitivities by hiding their human tooth bowls in storage when they renovated in 2003.  They don’t even seem to have photos of the bowls on their web site.  You can still see such bowls on display at the Bishop Museum in Hawaii, or, if you’re not in Honolulu, in this photo from the British Museum.  As conceptual art, it’s pretty compelling.

Like rinking from a cup made of a dead enemy’s skull, serving punch from bowls  studded with human teeth has gone out of style.   We still fight wars – sometimes for just cause, and sometimes not – but we no longer post the heads of dead enemies on city gates or wear necklaces made of their teeth.  For the  curious here’s  a photo of such a necklace from the website of the Museum Victoria and the Fiji Museum.

All of this came to mind today when I read a tweet by anti-Israel activist Steven Salaita written on the second day of the recent Israel-Hamas war:

At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised? #Gaza

Such a thing is inconceivable, as Salaita certainly knew when he sent his vicious tweet.   To its credit, the University of Illinois today withdrew an employment offer after following his hate-filled tweets.

 

 

 

 

Best Review I’ve read yet of Nicholas Wade’s A TROUBLESOME INHERITANCE: Genes, Race, and Human History

Posted by dianamuir on June 20, 2014
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A TROUBLESOME INHERITANCE: Genes, Race, and Human History

Gezellig, Gezelligheid and other Stuff Dutch People Like

Posted by dianamuir on May 08, 2014
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Words and customs that don’t translate.

Æthelstan, King of the All Britain

Posted by dianamuir on May 08, 2014
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An interesting argument for 10th century English nationalism.

“to ensure the safety of individual representatives”

Posted by dianamuir on March 26, 2014
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Yesterday evening, at the end of a week-long sit-in at the student union,  the University of Michigan student government, acting under special rules designed “to ensure the safety of individual representatives“, voted against urging the university to divest from corporations doing business with the government of Israel.

“To ensure the safety of individual representatives.”  Not to insure decorum, or open debate, or to protect against rancor, or invective.  “To ensure the safety of individual representatives.”   On an American campus.  In 2014.

I am not a journalist, nor am I writing from Ann Arbor.  One of the journalists covering this story, Adam Kredo of the Washington Free Beacon drew attention to a Facebook post  by a student activist at Michigan that sheds light on why student government leaders and Jewish students at the University of Michigan may have reason to worry about their personal safety.  Two months before the vote on divestment, an Ann Arbor student named Yazan Kherallah posted a selfie on his Facebook page.  Kherallah is a vocal, public supporter of the movement to divest form Israel at the university.  The photo showed Kherallah wrapped in a keffiyeh that concealed his face so that only his eyes are showing,  holding a pineapple in one hand and a knife in the other as though he was about to stab the knife into the pineapple (ananas in French.)   Kherallah’s message reads: “It’s on. Kareem Hakim Hassan Hamid Mazen Abbas Youssef Ahmad Bazzi Omar Attalla Hussein Fardous @the rest of team ananas”

Team ananas?

The reference is to the French Holocaust denier and Jew-baiting French political activist and anti-Semite, Dieudonné M’bala M’bala.  The reference is to  Dieudonné’s Holocaust mockery song, Shoah-nanas.   The title blends Shoah, the Hebrew word for the Holocaust, with the French word for pineapple, and is wildly popular with anti-Semites across the French-speaking world and beyond.  The video has circulated in several languages.   Here, at and following 4:13, you can see the jovial Jew-hater  Dieudonné  laughing, dancing and singing while an actor  dressed in the grey pajamas of  Nazi death-camp inmates (complete with yellow star) dances with pineapples.   Sample lyric, “You take me by the Shoah, I’ll take you by the pineapple.”

Purile?  Certainly.  But also part of the rising drumbeat of anti-Semitism that has led to a wave of violent attacks and murders targeting Jews in France.

I doubt that many University of Michigan students have ever heard of Dieudonné.  Certainly few Americans equate pineapples with Holocaust denial or with Jew hatred, in fact I doubt that many people in Michigan can identify an ananas. For most American students, a picture of a guy in a keffiyeh stabbing a pineapple is merely weird.

But 42 of Kerallah’s Facebook friends recognized the Jew-hating imagery, they “liked” Kerallah’s  knife-stabbing  Shoah-nanas photo, they thought it was funny, “you crack me up man,”  and mildly daring, “you on the list now ain’t ya.”  None of his friends wrote anything along the lines of: Man, are you out of your mind?  You think murdering 6 million innocent people was a comedy routine?

As it is, and even though many of Kerallah’s “friends” are not in Ann Arbor, the members of the student government and University of Michigan security have reason to be concerned about the atmosphere of Jew-hatred found among at least some students in Michigan.

 

Addendum: Kerallah has now posted a denial of anti-Semitic intentions in his ananas-stabbing selfie on his Facebook page.  He claims that the post was part of his participation in an intramural sports league in which his team played against a team called the ananas, which means pineapple in many languages, including, Kerallah points out, Arabic.

I remain skeptical because Kerallah is active on social media, and the Shoah-ananas photos have been making the rounds on social media for a long time.  I find it difficult to believe that, for example, the Facebook friends who cannot possibly be members of an intramural Ann Arbor basketball team because they are studying in Ireland and other parts of Europe, but who recognized the symbolism of Dieudonne’s ananas stabbing and wrote “ha, ha” had failed to send the video around when it was ricocheting through anti-Israel social media circles  in January 2014.

But even if Kerallah failed to see it then, he could hardly have missed it after footballer Nocholas Anelka sparked a a frenzy of media coverage about  Dieudonneand his anti-Semitic, Holocaust-mocking song on December 28, 2013 by celebrating a goal with an anti-Semitic gesture popularized by Dieudonne.   Kerallah posted his selfie on January 28, at a time when student activists following the politics of the Middle East as they play out on Western campuses could hardly be unaware of the Shoah-nanas symbolism.

2nd Addendum: Kerallah appears to have taken the offensive post down, closing the barn door after the horse has escaped.

Dieudonné
Dieudonné

3rd Addendum  on “Holocaust pineapples”:   A tweep who has stepped forward to defend Kerallah’s use of ananas as innocent fun points out that the intramural team was named ananas way back in 2010.    This makes a great deal of sense since the video of the song went viral in 2009,  including versions with English subtitles.

The tune is upbeat and catchy, like a jovial children’s song.  It has been subtitled in many languages, used as the background music in scores, possibly hundreds, of anti-Semitic videos, and a cottage industry has developed in which individuals, commonly young men, pose holding a pineapple while giving Dieudonne’s signature salute, the quenelle.

And a some UMich undergrads apparently thought it a was good joke to name their team ananas.

Lyrics:

 

Shoah pineapple, sho sho sho pineapple, you take me by the shoah, I take you by the pineapple, Shoah pineapple.

We mustn’t forget. There’s a way to make money. Sho sho sho pineapple.

Shoah pineapple, shoah apricot. Shoah anise, shoah maggot, shoah artichoke. Shoah strawberry, shoah ice cream. Shoah chocolate. Shoah.

Shoah pineapple, sho sho sho pineapple. You take me by the shoah, I’ll take you by the pineapple, sho sho sho pineapple.

Darling pineapple I’ll never forget you. You’ve suffered so much. And for everything that you’ve suffered we want to give you reparations. We want you to be given a country in the sun, and millions of dollars for the millions of pineapples that were deported: for the millions of pineapples who lost their families let’s sing forever. Sho sho sho pineapple.

Addendum # 4.  I have been having second – and third and fourth thoughts about this post.  On one hand, I do not know and cannot prove what Kerallah was thinking.  On the other hand, would a group of college boys really name their basketball team the pineapples?  Really?

But perhaps I have been jumping to conclusions.  A lot of people have.   On twitter and Facebook, many people who perceive Israel as being under assault readily accepted the knife and keffiyeh selfie as a violent threat.   People who perceive Palestinian Arabs as being under assault form Israel were equally ready to deny that this was so and to label supporters of Israel as racist bullies.

For my part, I have been having trouble seeing past the symbolism of Ananas among young people with a hatred for Israel.

Then there are the unreliable stories coming from Kerallah’s defenders.

A student government representative at UMich named Jacob Abudaram posted on Facebook  that he “can attest that the accusations made in this article are untrue,” and went on to assert that, “The actual picture is a joke from his high school– he was about to play a basketball game against a team called ‘Team Pineapple’.” 

Two misstatements there.  This is not a high school photo.  Kerallah played in an intermural league at UMich for a team called “The Kefiyyehs.”  The team they are said to have been scheduled to play against was not called the pineapples, it was called the Ananas.   Abudaram cannot know Kerallah very well if he didn’t know that this was not a story from his high school years.   And if he doesn’t see the difference between a team called pineapple and one called ananas, then he does not understand why this photo seems problematic.

I have a problem with a team named pineapples.  I am trying – and failing – to imagine a bunch of college boys calling themselves the pineapples.  The other teams in the league weren’t the naranjas and the manzanas.  They were named Fiji (I have no idea why), Five Guys, One Ball, and Mary Court (a street on the UMich) campus. Those sound like intramural league names, pineapples does not.

Kerallah’s team, on the other hand, is said to have been called the Keffiyehs.  Now there’s a plausible, in-your-face adolescent name choice.  So is Ananas.

The symbolism of keffiyehs is a matter of perspective.  The kefiyyeh has gone past it’s moment as a hipster fashion statement, but it continues to symbolize both a radical stand against authority and support for Palestinians.  Certainly the students wearing keffiyehs as they occupied the student union at Michigan last week saw it this way.  To many others, however, the keffiyeh, especially the keffiyeh worn to cover everything except the eyes, is associated associated with violent terrorist attacks not only on Israelis, but on passengers traveling on cruise ships and airplanes.  They upset and even frighten people.  If this were not so, hipsters and radicals would not take so much pleasure in wearing them.  At the very least, Kerallah knew that his selfie would get a rise out of people.

After thinking about this deeply about this post while I washed my hair, I continue to think that both the pineapple-stabbing selfie and the choice of Ananas (with which Kerallah was apparently not involved, other UMich students appear to have made that choice,) as a team name can best be understood as an inside joke in terrible taste, the kind of  “joke” that Dieudonne deliberately and calculatingly creates for his worldwide following.   Until recently, you could you could make a selfie of yourself standing inside a synagogue, at the gates of Auschwitz, or with your arm around the shoulders of a Jew in front of the Western Wall while making the quenelle, the anti-Semitic gesture Dieudonne invented.  The museum guards, police officers, and orthodox Jews standing next to you allowing you to take a snapshot with them simply didn’t know what you were doing.   Here is a video of quenelle selfies at Jewish sites, obviously compiled by an editor outraged by anti-Semitism.  The three pineapple-heads at 1:04 appear to be standing at a Nazi concentration camp.  The two at 1:19 are in front of a Holocaust Memorial.  Shoahnanas.

Dieudonne is making antisemitism cool again.   The BBC says that “Dieudosphere” skyrocketed to the top of the social media charts in January, in the wake of Nicholas Anelka’s Dec. 28 quenelle.   This pineapple selfie was posted at a moment when anyone following hatred of Israel and Jews on social media could hardly have avoided thinking about Dieudonne.   You may not be be friends with people who send around the myriad video versions of Shoahnanas, or selfies of themselves doing the quenelle in front of Holocaust Memorials, but  with millions of (correction: selfies and hits on the) versions of this song circulating, I find it impossible to believe that the members of Michigan’s Divest from Israel community had not seen any.

This is why I think that Dieudonne’s  song is the most plausible explanation of why a young man active in the anti-Israel movement on his campus posted, in Janyary 2014,  a selfie of himself wearing a keffiyeh and stabbing a pineapple.    It was an inside joke.   Team Keffiyeh was going to murder team Ananas in a basketball game.  And  the insiders among Kerallah’s Facebook friends would get a chuckle out of the Shoahnanas.

 


 

 

 

 

“Nation-states are an almost necessary basis for democracy.”

Posted by dianamuir on March 23, 2014
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“Nation-states are an almost necessary basis for democracy. A common language and culture, a common allegiance to national institutions, a common sense of destiny, all within a defined territory, with equal rights for all citizens—these seem to be the conditions that enable people with different opinions and interests to accept political defeat and the passage of laws to which they strongly object.”

The Case for Nationalism, John O’Sullivan, March 21, 2014, Wall Street Journal