Sunday, February 6, 2011

Culture and Autarchy

The uprising in Egypt has been described by many commentators using geological metaphors as a tectonic shift, an earthquake, a breaking up of the glacial mass of autocracy that has weighed so heavily on Egypt in the 30 years of Mubarak's reign (and arguably longer). These images make sense, since the Egyptian regime, like many of its counterparts in other Arab countries (Saudi Arabia, Oman, Jordan, Syria, Yemen, and, until recently, Tunisia), has seemed agonizingly politically frozen in both the temporal and structural senses that geological metaphors suggest.

The events of the past fortnight have, in a related sense, produced a seismic wave of new thinking about the Middle East and North Africa that is transforming the relation between that region and the rest of the world permanently. Below are a few recent thought pieces on the crisis and articles of relevance.

--Lincoln Z. Shlensky

Elliott Colla, chair of the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, has written about how the events in Egypt can be understood as an intersection of cultural and political dynamics -- and he suggests some reasons why politicized cultural discourse has figured so prominently in the crisis:

Colla also wrote this essay on the poetics of protest:

The New York Times ran an article about Jewish Voice for Peace -- the first such article to mention the group more than in passing in the fifteen years of its existence -- that shows why JVP is succeeding in galvanizing a significant segment of Jewish Americans who feel alienated by Jewish institutional politics focused on the Middle East, and especially the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Among the notable points in the article is the comment by John Rothman, the former President of the Zionist Organization of America in San Francisco and a talk show host at KGO radio, who manages singularly well to articulate the putatively "pro-Israel" Jewish establishment's attitude toward democracy and politics in the Middle East. Speaking of Mubarak, Rothman blithely states: "He may be a barbarian, but he's our barbarian." In sharp contrast, Cecilie Surasky, of JVP, argued: "Egyptians deserve a democracy just as Americans do, just as Israelis do, just as Palestinians do." JVP is one of the few Jewish groups to have created significant links of solidarity with Arab-American activist organizations, rejecting the hand-wringing by established Jewish groups about the supposed absence of political partners.

In related news, extremist fanatics have targeted a JVP activist in LA with a poster that accuses her of "treason and incitement against Jews" and threateningly mentions the names of her niece and nephew:

The release of the Palestine Papers by the Al-Jazeera news network two weeks ago has been eclipsed by events in Egypt, but the connection to these events is an important one. The claim that there is no Palestinian "partner for peace" was exposed in as a lie by the Israeli negotiations intransigence -- and Palestinian willingness to compromise -- revealed in the Papers. But, just as importantly, as blogger Mitchell Plitnick has pointed out, Palestinian leaders in the West Bank were also shown to be emperors without clothes who haven't seriously engaged in a broad and public Palestinian dialogue about what can be expected (and what will have to be relinquished) in the name of a regional peace agreement.

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Ofer Neiman
Lincoln Z. Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News archive and blog:
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