King of the Whole Fatherland of the English

Posted by dianamuir on February 09, 2015
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Offa, King of Mercia 757-96, styled himself rex totius Anglorum patriae; King of the Whole Fatherland of the English

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.





Sufi, Hindu populations eroded by steady coercion.

Posted by dianamuir on July 17, 2014
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Culture of southern Pakistan changes in slow, steady campaign on violent Sunni Islamist coercion.

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.