HOSAM ABOUL-ELA is Associate Professor in the University of Houston’s Department of English. He is the translator of three Arabic novels and the author of numerous critical articles in the areas of literature of the Americas, Latin American cultural studies, and Arab cultural studies. He is the author of Other South: Faulkner, Coloniality, and the Mariátegui Tradition (2007), and co-editor with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak of the series “Theory in the World.” His current research project focuses on the particular character of U.S. imperial culture after World War II read through the lens of cultural critical theory from the Global South.

NEGAR AZIMI is a writer and the senior editor of Bidoun, an award-winning arts and culture magazine and curatorial project. Her writing has appeared in ArtforumFriezeHarpersThe New Yorker, and the New York Times Magazine, among other venues.

FADI A. BARDAWIL is Assistant Professor in the Department of Asian Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. His research, at the crossroads of political anthropology and intellectual history, focuses on contemporary modernist Arab thinkers and the international circulation of social theory. Currently, he is working on a book manuscript provisionally titled In Marxisms Wake: Disenchanted Levantine Intellectuals and Metropolitan Traveling Theories. His writings have appeared, and are forthcoming, in the Journal for Palestine Studies (Arabic edition), Boundary 2, Jadaliyya, Kulturaustausch, and al-Akhbar daily (2006–2012).

ORIT BASHKIN is Professor of Modern Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago. Her publications include twenty-five book chapters and articles on the history of Arab-Jews in Iraq, on Iraqi history, and on Arabic literature and the Nahda. She has also edited a book Sculpturing Culture in Egypt [le-fasel tarbut be-mitzrayim] (1999) with Israel Gershoni and Liat Kozma, which included translations into Hebrew of seminal works by Egyptian intellectuals. She is the author of The Other Iraq: Pluralism and Culture in Hashemite Iraq (2009) and New Babylonians: A History of Jews in Modern Iraq (2012).

JOEL BEININ is the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History and Professor of Middle East History at Stanford University. In 2002 he served as president of the Middle East Studies Association of North America. His most recent books are Social Movements, Mobilization, and Contestation in the Middle East and North Africa, 2nd edition (2013), co-edited with Frédéric Vairel, and The Struggle for Worker Rights in Egypt (2010).

ROBYN CRESWELL is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at Yale University, and poetry editor of The Paris Review. He is the translator of Abdelfattah Kilito’s The Clash of Images (2010) and Sonallah Ibrahim’s That Smell and Notes from Prison (2013).

YASMEEN DAIFALLAH is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where she teaches courses on classical and modern Islamic political thought. Prior to joining the University of Massachusetts in 2014, Yasmeen taught at and earned her PhD in political science from UC Berkeley.

YOAV DI-CAPUA is Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin, where he teaches modern Arab intellectual history. He is the author of Gatekeepers of the Arab Past: Historians and History Writing in Twentieth-Century Egypt (2009). He is currently at work on a new book, tentatively titled No Exit: Arab Intellectuals, Jean Paul Sartre and Decolonization. His research is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the University of Texas Humanities Research Award.

YASSIN AL-HAJ SALEH is a former political prisoner, a Syrian writer, activist, and academic. He is the author of many books, including Al-Sayr ʿala qadam wahida: Suriya al-muqala (2012), Bi-l-khalas ya shabab: 16 ʿaman fi al-sujun al-suriyya (2012), al-Thaqafa ka-siyasa: al-muthaqqafun wa-masʾuliyyatuhum al-ijtimaʿiyya fi zaman al-ghilan (2016), and, most recently, The Impossible Revolution: Making Sense of the Syrian Tragedy (2017). He lives in Istanbul and is currently a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin.

JENS HANSSEN is Associate Professor of Arab and Mediterranean History. He received his DPhil in Modern History from Oxford University in 2001 and joined the University of Toronto the following year. His dissertation has been published by Clarendon Press as Fin de Siècle Beirut (2005). He has authored two co-edited volumes: Empire in the City (2002) and History, Space and Social Conflict in Beirut (2005). Parallel to his research on German, Jewish and Arab intellectual relations, he is studying the Arab Left. His writings have appeared in The New Cambridge History of IslamThe Routledge Reader of Fin de Siècle HistoryCritical Inquiry, the International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies and – Zeitschrift für Politisches Denken.

ROSA YASSIN HASSAN is a Syrian writer, journalist, and activist. She is the author of several novels, including Hurras al-hawaʾ: riwaya (2009), Brufa: riwaya (2011), and, most recently, al-Ladhina masahahum al-sihr: min shazaya al-hikayat (2016). Currently she lives in Germany.

ELIZABETH SUZANNE KASSAB is a Lebanese scholar based in Beirut. Trained as a philosopher at the American University of Beirut and at University of Fribourg in Switzerland, her work is focused on the philosophy of culture, both Western and Postcolonial, with a particular interest in contemporary Arab thought. Over the course of her academic career, she has taught at the American University of Beirut, the Lebanese American University and Balamand University in Lebanon, as well as Columbia, Yale and Brown. She has also been a research fellow at the German Orient Institute in Beirut, Erfurt University, and the Berlin Free University. She is currently a fellow at the Kaete Hamburger Kolleg of the University of Bonn. Her latest book is Contemporary Arab Thought: Cultural Critique in Comparative Perspective (2010). She is currently writing a book on Arab intellectuals and the uprisings tentatively entitled Critique, Enlightenment and Revolution.

ELIAS KHOURY was born in Beirut in 1948 and is the author of eleven novels (including, among those translated into English, Little MountainThe Journey of Little GandhiGate of the Sun and Yalo), four volumes of literary criticism, and three plays. In 1998, he was awarded the Palestine Prize for Gate of the Sun, and in 2000, the novel was named Le Monde Diplomatique’s Book of the Year. Khoury is a Global Distinguished Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University and editor-in-chief of Majallat al-Dirasat al-Filastiniyya.

ELLEN MCLARNEY is Assistant Professor in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University, where she teaches Arabic language and cultural studies. Ellen received her PhD from Columbia University and also was an Andrew W. Mellon post-doctoral Humanities fellow at Stanford’s Department of Religious Studies. Her book Soft Force: Women in Egypts Islamic Awakening was published in 2016.

ABDEL RAZZAQ TAKRITI is Associate Professor and Arab-American Educational Foundation Chair in Modern Arab History at the University of Houston. He previously held a Junior Research Fellowship in Political History at St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, and a Lectureship in International History at the University of Sheffield. He is the author of Monsoon Revolution: Republicans, Sultans, and Empires in Oman, 19651976 (2013), which was shortlisted for the Royal Historical Society’s Gladstone Prize.

NATALYA VINCE is Reader in North African and French Studies at the University of Portsmouth, UK. Her subject area is modern Algerian and French history, and her research interests include oral history, gender studies, and state- and nation-building. Her monograph Our Fighting Sisters: Nation, Memory and Gender in Algeria, 19542012 was published in 2015.

MAX WEISS is Associate Professor of History and Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. He is author of In the Shadow of Sectarianism: Law, Shiism, and the Making of Modern Lebanon (2010), co-editor (also with Jens Hanssen) of Arabic Thought Beyond the Liberal Age: Towards an Intellectual History of the Nahda (2016), and translator, most recently, of Mamdouh Azzam, Ascension to Death (2017). He is currently writing an interpretive history of Syria in the twentieth century, to be published by Princeton University Press, and translating Nihad Sirees, States of Passion. He earned his PhD from Stanford University.


This is a companion volume to our previous book, Arabic Thought Beyond the Liberal Age: Towards an Intellectual History of the Nahda (Cambridge University Press, 2016). Both books have their origins in a conference we organized at Princeton University in October 2012, “Arabic Thought Beyond the Liberal Age: New Directions in Middle East Intellectual History.” We are delighted to reiterate our profound gratitude to the various institutions and individuals that made our original conference the enjoyable success that it was. We are particularly indebted to those sponsors at Princeton who made the conference possible financially: the David A. Gardner ’69 Magic Fund, the Council of the Humanities, the Program on International and Regional Studies (PIIRS), and its then-director Mark Beissinger. Patricia Zimmer orchestrated the conference proceedings; Joy Scharfstein graced us with posters and promotional materials; Barb Leavey in the history department gave us timely logistical support.

In addition to the contributors to this volume, we would also like to recognize the attendance and participation of the following colleagues: Roger Allen, Abbas Amanat, Cemil Aydin, C. A. Bayly, Marilyn Booth, L. Carl Brown, Elliott Colla, Michael Cook, Leyla Dakhli, Omnia El Shakry, Israel Gershoni, Amal Ghazal, Michael Gilsenan, Ellis Goldberg, Molly Greene, Bernard Haykel, Rashid Khalidi, Dina Rizk Khoury, Lital Levy, Zachary Lockman, Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid Marsot, Hussein Omar, Roger Owen, Thomas Philipp, Khaled Rouwayheb, Adam Sabra, Sherene Seikaly, Fawwaz Traboulsi, and Eve Troutt-Powell. At Cambridge University Press, Maria Marsh cheerfully shepherded our manuscript through the various stages of review and revision. To the professional and thorough production staff – James Gregory, Catherine KuruvillaJacob, and Hillary Ford – we are most grateful. We also thank the anonymous reviewers for Cambridge University Press, who provided us with bracing and thought-provoking questions; the volume is stronger for their labor. Of course, all responsibility for the arguments presented in the essays included here are those of the authors alone.

Note on Transliteration

Throughout this book Arabic has been transliterated according to a simplified version of the system employed by the International Journal of Middle East Studies. For the benefit of non-specialists, all diacritics have been omitted, with the exception of ʿayn (ʿ) and hamza (ʾ). Common English forms of places, names, and terms are used when it seems commonsensical or expressly requested by an individual (i.e., Beirut not Bayrut or Beyrouth; Elias Khoury not Ilyas Khuri; and Rosa Yassin Hassan not Ruza Yasin Hasan). All translations, unless otherwise noted, are those of the chapter author(s).


Introduction: Arabic Intellectual History between the Postwar and the Postcolonial

Max Weiss and Jens Hanssen

[T]he struggle with tyranny that the Arab revolutions attempted … is fundamentally an intellectual struggle (siraʿ maʿrifi), a struggle that desires to return history to its historicity, to engage with the present in its contemporaneity, and to look towards the future as though it were a development accumulated from its pasts.1

Each generation must out of relative obscurity discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it … We must rid ourselves of the habit, now that we are in the thick of the fight, of minimizing the action of our fathers or of feigning incomprehension when considering their silence and passivity. They fought as well as they could, with the arms they possessed then: and if the echoes of their struggle have not resounded in the international arena, we must realize that the reason for this silence lies less in their lack of heroism than in the fundamentally different international situation of our time.2

How might practitioners of modern Arab intellectual history find new ways to dispatch historical narratives predicated upon Eurocentric discourses, practices, and modes of being that have been too simplistically tracked as they were transmitted in some modular fashion to other parts of the world, including the Middle East? Is modern Arab intellectual history consigned to only ever amount to a derivative discourse? To what extent have Arab intellectual engagements with questions of politics, society, and culture been integrated into local, regional, and global discourses? How have these currents been transformed in the crucible of the twentieth century Middle East? What are the key moments of rupture and the abiding trajectories of continuity in the intellectual history development of the postwar Arab Middle East? In what ways might historians find other means for interrogating the relationship between the secular and the religious in the production of intellectual discourses in the modern Middle East?

One plausible challenge to the unsatisfying linear narrative of a singular European modernity that diffused from Europe towards its peripheries in a modular form can be found in the form of global studies, a broad scholarly field that has captivated the humanities and social sciences in recent years. But the present ubiquity of “the global” in scholarly and popular discourse demands an engagement with and problematization of its emergence and ascendancy.3 Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori interrogate the stakes and possible futures of a field of intellectual historical inquiry gone global.4 They hail the arrival of this new global intellectual history as potentially “transformative” for the disciplines of history, politics, philosophy, and so on, as “a threshold moment in the possible formation of an intellectual history extending across geographical parameters far larger than usual.”5 At the same time, they are careful to subject “the global” to a painstaking critique, unpacking three levels at which scholars employ the term: “as a meta-analytical category of the historian”; “as a substantive scale of historical process”; and, finally, “as a subjective category used by historical agents.”6

Any adequate assessment of global intellectual history must be situated within the broader context of the professional historical discipline as well as the political-economic conjuncture within which it operates. Otherwise, the global is prone to (however unwittingly) re-inscribing modes of universal rationality that are oblivious to or unconcerned by historical difference.7 Another problem concerns the subtle (and, often, not-so-subtle) iterations of Eurocentrism that accompany this pursuit of a global intellectual history that is distinguished by its interconnectedness if not always its singularity; even if globalization proceeds at multiple scales and in divergent directions, the figure of “Europe” haunts the arrival of “the global.”8 As Frederick Cooper cautions in Global Intellectual History, “The path to an intellectual history that takes in most of the world will lead us to a less-than-global intellectual history.”9

What are the implications, then, of such a global history that may be always already “less-than-global”? How should scholars of the Middle East and other world-historical regions traditionally set apart from, or even sometimes against, the mainline narrative of world and global history respond to the challenges set forth by these methods and concerns? In this rush to synthesize new narratives of everything – from the most mundane to the most universal – have historians of the global obviated the need for local- or mid-range historical research and scholarly analysis?10

Critics of overreaching narratives of global history point to the hubris embedded in the triumphalist claims about the inevitability of globalization and its attendant histories, narrative framing devices, and ideological repertoires.11 To put the critical question most simply: must all history now be global?12 Certainly the answer to this question must be a qualified yet emphatic no. Emphatic in the sense that historical research and analysis will never be able to abandon altogether the local: events, structures, and movements; individual actors, social groups, institutions, and even non-human agents. Qualified, too, though, in the sense that, just as historians can no longer justifiably overlook hitherto marginalized sectors of society such as women, workers, peasants, children, and other subaltern groups ever since the emergence of social history and history from below, historians are no longer free to ignore the insights of those proponents of diasporic or transnational or global histories that rely upon polycentric and multiscalar historical analysis.13

Other critical intellectual historians employ a centripetal or “outside-in” approach to globalization in an effort to decenter the West. Historians of the Haitian revolution, for example, identify the birth of the modern world in the Atlantic slave trade and Caribbean slave rebellions.14 Not only did such events in the colonial periphery inspire radical traditions of thought concerning concepts of self-determination and national unification that would challenge liberal platitudes and leftist mobilization. They also fundamentally transformed and recast European Enlightenment thought in the process.15 What Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi has called “genesis amnesia” in the (post)colonial encounter with Western modernity echoes the argument of Timothy Mitchell that modernity ought to be conceived as a product of both the West’s dialectic interactions with the non-West and the violent forging of that geo-cultural dualism in the first place.16

Edward Said referred to the “voyage in” in order to describe an intellectual journey of empowerment and anti-imperial thought that would continue to shape and reshape European Orientalism as well as other scholarly ventures throughout the postwar period even as events in the Middle East and elsewhere galvanized new European intellectual trends.17 For example, the French-British-Israeli invasion of Suez in 1956 played some part in catalyzing the New Left in Britain, while the Algerian Revolution (1954–1962) profoundly polarized French intellectuals.18 In turn, Algerian marks on French thought later migrated across the Atlantic as French political philosophy was reconstituted as “theory” and post-structuralism on U.S. campuses.19 The student revolts of 1968 in France and West Germany, meanwhile, also had strong connections to Thirdworldist political and intellectual movements.20 In addition, anti-fascist and anti-totalitarian intellectuals in Europe and North America have often come into conflict with anti-colonial and anti-racist thinkers and activists over the question of uncritical support for Israel.21

In his contribution to this volume, literature scholar and translator Hosam Aboul-Ela addresses the legacies of Orientalist scholarship, Eurocentric epistemologies, and colonial intervention in their portrayal of the Middle East and North Africa as a “no theory producing area.” For a variety of reasons, the most influential centers – intellectually and institutionally – for the development of “Arab theory” have not been in the Middle East itself. Despite widespread debates over Orientalism that had gone on for decades, if not centuries – in France, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere – the publication of Edward Said’s Orientalism in New York in 1978 was far more impactful in catalyzing a scholarly discussion of the politics of knowledge production vis-à-vis the Middle East and the Islamic world on a global scale.22

Fadi Bardawil and Samer Frangie, among others, explore the historically contingent tensions between postcolonial thinkers in the metropole and Marxist intellectuals in the Middle East. At the heart of the “broken conversation” between what are often, unfortunately, apprehended as disparate problem-spaces lies the question of what constitutes an effective critique of global capitalism and Western imperialism as well as enduring Orientalist forms of knowledge production. Various methodological solutions have been proposed and explored, from international political economy, critical race theory, and critical sociology to discourse analysis, hermeneutics, and postcolonial historicism, just to name a few salient approaches.23 In the war-torn Middle East of the mid- to late twentieth century, the economic and, indeed, existential stakes were high; they urgently demanded a more engaged form of political praxis, which seemed unlikely to emerge out of the turn to ethics and epistemology that informed a good deal of critical theory and other postcolonial approaches.24 Lebanese Marxist philosopher Mahdi ʿAmil (d. 1987), for example, was assassinated by the very forces of sectarian reaction that he had struggled to critically diagnose and politically overthrow.25

Since Said’s untimely death in 2003, the academic conversation may have shifted from his preferred mode of secular criticism and contrapuntal reading of empire towards a broad and incisive critique of secularism inspired by the work of Talal Asad (b. 1932) and others. Both of these approaches, in their own ways, push towards the provincializing of Judeo-Christian and Eurocentric conceptions of humanity. All the same, the universal(izing) claims of a Saidian critique of Orientalism as well as an Asadian critique of the secular must be subjected, in turn, to the kind of intellectual-historical inquiry that can offer an account of their epistemology, political economy, and political commitments and biases. The fact that these genealogies are primarily to be found in North American and European academic discourses does not render them suspect or make them inauthentic per se, of course, but it does demand a more critical engagement with their arguments and their ideological underpinnings. If Said and Asad remained, for different reasons, skeptical of de-politicized postcolonialism and reductive materialism, they were both praxis-oriented in their own ways. Whereas Said famously deconstructed “the counterrevolutionary zealotry” of Anglophone Orientalists,26 Asad casts a dark eye towards the possibility of universal human freedom within the framework of the secular modern, calling into question the ostensible virtues and emancipatory potential of “a liberal democratic, or a revolutionary society.”27

The arguments gathered together in this volume participate in these important debates – without claiming to arrive at a single consensus conclusion – while also striving to challenge, complicate, and push ahead the field of modern Arab intellectual history. As Omnia El Shakry reminds us, scholars must resist the temptation to view a given “intellectual agenda as epiphenomenal to political developments in the Arab world or read postwar Arab intellectual thought as essentially a political allegory for decolonization.” Instead of a predetermined, declensionist metanarrative arc from the Nahda’s “awakening” to postcolonial “defeatism,” therefore, intellectual historians, political philosophers, and cultural critics ought to place greater attention on “the substance of Arab intellectual thought” in a given historical moment.28 No doubt, this daunting task of historical reconstruction has been bedeviled, in part, by the opaqueness of state archives around the region – especially as compared to the relative transparency and openness of colonial archives – which “has often masked the precise nature of the political and social debates that went into the consolidation of regimes in the aftermath of decolonization.”29 Such research obstacles have only proliferated in the aftermath of the Arab uprisings, whether due to chaos and destruction or the increased obstructionism of current regimes, but they also make the pursuit of contemporary Arab intellectual history all the more urgent.

Modern Arabic Thought in the Shadow of Global Intellectual History

The oddity of the terms “East” and “West” is that they allude both to the Cold War and to an imperial divide of race and civilizational conquest.30

Ever since Albert Hourani (d. 1993) published his magisterial Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 17981939 in 1962, the book has remained a touchstone for modern Arab intellectual history.31 Arabic Thought examined the origins and early effects of the nineteenth-century Arabic literary revival and cultural renaissance known as the Nahda (awakening or Enlightenment). Primarily focused on Christian intellectuals from the mountains of Lebanon and Islamic modernists from Cairo, Hourani proposed a chain of intellectual transmission (isnad) spanning three generations that became the backbone of mainstream narratives of Middle East political, intellectual, and religious history. “An age passed away in 1939,” Hourani famously concluded about the Arab Middle East, “and with it there went a certain type of political thought.”32 This type of political thought was epitomized by the pragmatic alliance building among nationalist politicians under colonial rule as opposed to the search for ideological and theoretical purity of radical party politics during early independence.

Inasmuch as the Nahda serves as the Archimedean point around which competing claims about Arab modernity are staked, Arabic Thought remains an indispensable reference and teaching tool.33 Although Hourani made a strong case for punctuating the end of the liberal age in 1939, we argue that the Nakba, the Palestinian Disaster, the dispossession of over 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and their lands in the midst and aftermath of the War of 1948 signified at least as great of a political and social as well as – it needs to be stressed – cultural and intellectual rupture for Arab writers, poets, political activists, and ordinary people as did the experience of World War II: the piecemeal evacuation of French and British imperial presence in the Middle East; decolonization struggles and their consequences; the ascension to power of a new class of Western-educated political elites; and the increasingly interventionist juggernaut constituted by U.S. military, political, and economic power. Struggles for national independence and decolonization – in Egypt, Syria, and Iraq, just to name a few of the most salient regional cases – proceeded both alongside as well as in relation to the struggle for Palestine. Palestine remains one of the last countries on earth to have not yet undergone decolonization, to say nothing of achieving its national independence. As Edward Said, Joseph Massad, Ella Shohat, and Ann Laura Stoler have argued, the long-standing scholarly silencing of Palestinians is unmistakably political, even in the soi-disant radical field of postcolonial studies.34

The tangled intersections of the postwar and the postcolonial in Arab intellectual history can be tracked within the dynamic context of the evolving Cold War, shifting battlefields of (counter-)insurgency, and the dramatic reconstitution of the global economy.35 In his autobiographical Re-Reading the Postwar Period, the prominent Egyptian world-systems theorist and economist Samir Amin (b. 1931) offers a useful three-part periodization for tracking these developments. Between 1945 and 1955, the forging of a new global economic system allowed the United States to establish monetary and industrial hegemony over European markets devastated by the war. Amin characterized the next phase, “The Bandung Era” (1955–75), not in such familiar terms as a global anti-colonial and anti-racist spirit but rather as a moment in which “the world system was organized around the emergence of the third world.”36 The Soviet Union, Amin argues, “escaped from its isolation by allying itself with the rising tide of third world national liberation,” as a variety of developmentalist alternatives to the mantra of “free trade” were attempted. The limits of productivist notions of economic growth were exemplified by successive crises of capitalism that ushered in the third postwar phase (1975–92). The de-linking of the U.S. dollar from the gold standard in the early 1970s and the concomitant collapse of the Bretton Woods system may have seemed to threaten the foundations of American hegemony, but the petro-boom that occasioned the improbable rise of the Gulf monarchies not only resulted in renewed dynamism in the oil sector on a global scale – forcing Western European economies into recession while also raising the specter of stagflation throughout the 1980s – but also created opportunities for the United States and its Western allies to build new relationships with emergent autocracies around the Gulf region.37

The establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 was a disaster around the region, not only for the 750,000 Palestinians forced from their homes but also for the humiliated Arab military forces that had failed to unify in the face of the Zionist-cum-Israeli enemy. This, in turn, led to diplomatic, military, economic, and cultural support for the new state from across the political spectrum in Europe, North America, and the Soviet Union. Stalin’s surprising recognition of Israel presented a challenge to Communist parties and other progressive forces throughout the Arab world.38 Among other things, this triggered the regional search for more radical alternatives, as the Arab political fields were captured, in large measure, by military officers who launched coup d’états in Syria (three times in 1949 alone; 1954), Egypt (1952) and Iraq (1958).39 Meanwhile, the outbreak of the Algerian Revolution in 1954 represented a foundational moment in the rise of Thirdworldism but also in the transformation of radical anti-imperialist Arab politics.40 For example, this period witnessed the emergence of the clandestine and vanguardist Movement of Arab Nationalists (MAN), led by George Habash and fellow students from the American University of Beirut, which sought to upgrade the Palestinian resistance from sporadic acts of vengeance and sabotage against Israel into a more nimble and better-organized guerilla force.41

But this combustible mixture of progressive and anti-imperialist forces were confronted, and in many instances contained by rival powers in what Malcolm Kerr memorably termed the “Arab Cold War”: a contest between pro-Western monarchies, on the one side, and independent republics and pan-Arabist and Arab Socialist forces, on the other side. For much of this period, the main battleground was Syria.42 Along with “soft power” tactics of the global cold war such as censorship, libeling, funding and defunding – not least by the CIA-funded Congress of Cultural Freedom and Soviet Cominform affiliates43 – the “hard power” of coups, torture, imprisonment, exile, and assassination hampered political developments in the Middle East in general and curtailed the Arab intellectual field in particular.44 It was in this evolving context that Arab intellectuals would search for ways out of the post-Nakba aporia while also pursuing greater recognition on the stage of international politics in the context of the global Cold War.45

When the 1955 Afro-Asian Conference convened in Bandung, Indonesia, in order to launch a series of Thirdworldist political, economic, and cultural solidarity initiatives, many of its African representatives came from Arab countries, and later Arab writers were well-represented in the affiliated Afro-Asian Writers’ Association, which published the influential journal Lotus beginning in 1968.46 Armed anti-colonial struggle in Vietnam, Algeria, and Cuba would inspire the Arab Left as much as Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal and his victory against the ensuing joint British, French, and Israeli assault on Egypt in 1956. In the journalistic field, Suhayl Idris’s al-Adab magazine, founded in Beirut in 1955, was spearheading an Arabic littérature engagée– inspired by the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre – against the old guard of liberal thinkers, even as intellectuals who refused to be enlisted in the Nasserist project of state-corporatist pan-Arab nationalism – Egyptian Communists, for example – faced imprisonment, torture, and even worse fates.47 In the final months of the short-lived Syrian-Egyptian United Arab Republic (1958–61), Nasser released leftists from prison, and the Egyptian daily al-Ahrams editor Muhammad Hasanayn Haykal summoned Arab Marxists and liberals to Cairo in order to absorb internationalist intellectuals into the Egyptian state fold.48 In subsequent years, even as the remaining Communists trickled out of prison, the Party found itself adrift.49 Indeed, Communist and other leftist forces across the Arab world found themselves pinched between the Scylla of post-populist authoritarian regimes and the Charybdis of political Islamist opposition groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and other avatars of the so-called Islamic Revival. Meanwhile, secular as well as religious elements from the liberal center all the way to the extreme right embraced varieties of “nation-state nationalism” in order to carve out positions of influence in a matrix of postcolonial rule that preserved little space for independent political activity.

The 1967 Arab-Israeli War has long been considered the defining watershed in postwar Arab politics and intellectual history.50 Indeed, 1967 has loomed so large that historians have explored very little of the intellectual life of the Arab world between 1945 and 1967. If that crushing Israeli military victory over Egyptian and Syrian forces decisively interrupted the Nasserist project, it simultaneously opened the door to the regional influence of Saudi Arabia and other conservative Gulf monarchies while also contributing to the consolidation of dictatorships in Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, Hafiz al-Asad’s Syria, and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.51 However, the intellectual and cultural effervescence that characterized the 1960s did not simply vanish in the aftermath of the 1967 defeat (al-naksa). On the contrary: if the Nakba of 1948 had elicited relatively little Thirdworldist solidarity, by the early 1970s the Palestinian cause was fast becoming a broad-based cause célèbre within global anti-colonial and anti-imperialist circles. Meanwhile, even as this period witnessed a proliferation of daily newspapers, political magazines, and books often associated with militant Marxism, experimental schools of thought also began to crop up around the region: some built upon the discourse of linguistic authenticity spearheaded by the Syrian modernist poet Adonis from as far back as the 1950s; new engagements with the problematic of Islamic tradition (turath) inspired by the work of the Moroccan philosopher Muhammad ʿAbid al-Jabiri’s generated wide-ranging debates around the nodes of “contemporaneity (muʿasara) and “modernity” (hadatha); and ʿAbdallah Laroui’s historicist criticism of Arab thought after 1967, to name only a few crucial examples.52 Many Arab intellectuals now focused their attention on the internal contradictions of their own societies.53 They complained that Arab intellectuals “trivialized the defeat” either by insisting on foreign conspiracies or claiming deviation from the “proper Islamic path,” in the words of Syrian Marxist Yasin al-Hafiz.54

In the political-economic field, especially with urbanization and state-led industrial development increasing apace, revolutionary momentum accelerated a process of working-class consciousness-raising and activism. This activity proceeded alongside and often in relation to radicalization on university campuses across the region, as “students published a multitude of wall-magazines, organized numerous student societies and held frequent conferences,” leading to mass protests in Beirut and Cairo in 1968 and again in 1972–1973.55 Signal episodes in the history of anti-imperialist struggle such as the Battle of Karamah in March 1968 and the events of May 1968 in Paris, Prague, and Hanoi inspired Arab students in their rebellion against what they viewed as the reactionary bases of increasingly authoritarian regimes.56 Governments responded with particular force to crush the revolutionary idealism springing up in Lebanon and Egypt, among other places. Rather than reverse the policy of liberalization (infitah), however, the government of President Anwar al-Sadat turned increasingly rightward, a tendency that was decried by nation-wide demonstrations that broke out in early 1977 in protest against austerity measures taken under the instruction of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Egypt was isolated further still in the Arab world after Sadat normalized relations with Israel.57 Sadat’s peace treaty with Israel empowered what Edward Said memorably called “the Arab Right-Wing.”58 In Lebanon, workers’ and students’ uprisings contributed to the unleashing of long-institutionalized demons of a sectarian status quo in 1975. The long civil war in Lebanon – or, better, the interconnected series of civil, regional, and international proxy wars that are often reduced to “the Lebanese civil war” – led some Lebanese socialist intellectuals to argue that in a sectarian society, “the people” could not serve as the mantra of political emancipation. Instead they shifted from radical praxis to a diagnostics of root causes of Arab culture and sectarianism and replaced Marx and Mao with Ibn Khaldun and Hannah Arendt.59

A confluence of seismic events during the late 1970s and early 1980s shook not only the foundations of the Arab intellectual field but also those of the global cold war and the world economy. First, the election of Deng Xiaoping as leader of the People’s Republic of China in late 1978 inaugurated a series of gradual economic reforms. In Rome, the selection of a Polish pope politicized Catholicism against the global left. The election of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom and President Ronald Reagan in the United States set the stage for an all-out war on the welfare state in the West through austerity policies and the language of personal responsibility, on the domestic front, and a new doctrine of counterinsurgency and imperial “force projection” through their militant reinterpretation of foreign policy, in the global south generally, and towards the Middle East, in particular.60 The American and British governments launched a military and economic assault on the disenfranchised and their leftist champions both at home and abroad during the 1980s.61

Meanwhile, in the Middle East, the Iranian revolution (1978–79) began – it is often overlooked – as a broad-based social movement with socialist, Communist, Islamist, and liberal democratic intellectual reference points, all of which championed social justice and human rights in the face of the brutal repression of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi’s Western-backed regime. The outcome of the struggle over the revolution’s victory, however, facilitated the instantiation of Khomeinism as both an ideological framework and an institutional reality. Subsequently, a new mode of Islamic government aligned with Ruhollah Khomeini’s vision of velayet-i faqih (the guardianship of the jurist) led the way for a revolutionizing of Shiʿi political Islam both at home in Iran and around the world. What had once been a pliant, authoritarian client monarchy was transformed into the Islamic Republic of Iran.62

At the same time, the radicalization of politics and intellectual life around the region was reflected in the intensification of clashes between repressive Arab regimes and increasingly militant Islamist opposition movements. The bloody siege of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, and the Soviet invasion of the Republic of Afghanistan, sent instant shockwaves throughout the world in 1979.63 The long-term effects of putting out this fire in Mecca in what was fast becoming a brushfire of an insurgency in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and beyond, to say nothing of the grinding, decade-long conflict in Afghanistan, took shape in the “blowback” of September 11, 2001.64 As a consequence, the West allied itself more and more seamlessly with the reactionary conservatism of the Kingdom, which not only “made possible the profits of the oil industry,”65 but also, unwittingly, allowed various entrepreneurs of political Islam to position themselves as moderate and conciliatory forces.66 Muslim “centrists” and salafis increasingly sponsored by philanthropic organizations in the Gulf would fill the social services gap and transform the courts, schools, and universities across the Middle East; a similar privatization of social services throughout the Shiʿi Arab world, funded locally or by the international agencies of the Islamic Republic, dovetailed with the mantra of “exporting the revolution” (sudur-i enqilab).

Western strategic and commercial interests benefited from the destruction of two of the largest oil producing states’ national infrastructures during the Iran–Iraq War (1980–88). This conjuncture of regional war, structural readjustment programs masterminded by the IMF, and deepening authoritarian rule depleted the Arab state’s social welfare systems and pauperized their educational sectors. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the persistent failure to beat back the authoritarian regimes crusting over in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere contributed to the apparent abandonment of leftist organizations and movements across the region. The Arab intellectual field would be energized, however briefly, when the first Palestinian Intifada broke out in 1987, but sputtered to a halt with the advent of a protracted “peace process” that was initiated in Madrid in 1991.67 The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, which triggered the First Gulf War – Operation Desert Storm – and a barrage of successive American military interventions in Iraq and the Gulf throughout the 1990s precipitated even more regional destruction, splintering intellectual life. When the United States invaded and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the resultant “Global War on Terror” effectively sanctioned Arab dictators to neutralize any remaining dissent at home. Dazed by all these challenges, Arab leftists adopted a defensive human rights struggle and many became progressive liberals dependent on international NGO funding and its attendant organizational constraints.68 Leftists and Islamists united to embrace Hizballah’s armed resistance against foreign intervention (until successfully dislodging the Israeli occupiers from South Lebanon in May 2000), which helped to foster and brand a “culture of resistance” that would appear as the last bastion of Arab anti-imperialism standing up to American, Israeli, and salafi aggression.

These events across the Arab world as well as in Iran and Afghanistan effectively put an end to the Afro-Arab orientation of the Bandung era, but also marked what might also be considered an epistemic shift in the political and intellectual history of the Arab world. It seems apt to follow Enzo Traverso’s invocation of Reinhart Koselleck’s notion of Sattelzeit (“saddle time”) in making sense of the period “from the end of the 1970s to September 11, 2001 … [as] a transition whose result was a radical change of our general landmarks, of our political and intellectual landscape.”69 At the same time, the intellectual problem-space of “Islam and modernity?” or “Islam versus modernity?” that had been suppressed- though by no means entirely absent-since the Nahda was revived. An ensuing discourse on authenticity and tradition sustained the popularity of the work of Moroccan scholar Muhammad ʿAbid al-Jabiri, Talal Asad, and other former leftists, some of whom now had to accommodate themselves to a new cultural and political-economic reality, one that was influenced by Saudi largesse, for example, in myriad and not always predictable ways.

The U.S./U.K.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 devastated the country; NATO’s ouster of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 consigned Libyans to a fate of intractable civil strife; and a Saudi Luftkrieg is pulverizing Yemen, a country suffering from famine as we write. But perhaps no other event so dramatically divided the Arab intellectual political field in the post-2001 period as the Syrian revolution that emerged in March 2011.70 Initially animated by an unprecedented and inspiring outburst of political organizing and creative expression, the brutal, unflinching government response forced activists to consider the potential limits of nonviolent resistance. The ensuing war – not only a civil war, not only a proxy war for geostrategic hegemony among regional and international forces, not only a sectarian conflict – has resulted in over half a million Syrian casualties (and counting) as well as a refugee crisis afflicting millions of people, a global catastrophe unparalleled since World War II. In this context, doctrinaire leftists who saw imperialist malfeasance behind any opposition to the axis of resistance (al-mumanaʿa) ostensibly represented by the Baʿthist regime in Syria and its staunch Lebanese ally Hizballah (to say nothing of their Iranian backers) increasingly questioned the sincerity and authenticity of those who rose up to call for freedom, justice, and dignity in Syria. The Syrian revolution has partially clarified divisions among Arab intellectuals that have not always been salient. A broad range of people drew on (and continue to fight in the name of) an indigenous tradition of constitutionalism and local commitments to democracy in addition to more radical anti-authoritarian polices exemplified by the Local Coordinating Committees (LCCs) and some elements of the Kurdish democratic forces even as an ever greater number affirmed that Syrians are entitled to struggle for their rights to life, liberty, and dignity. Some nationalists and leftists see reason to fear the disintegration or dissolution of Syria as yet another sovereign Arab nation-state to buckle under the thumb of untrammelled imperialist intervention, and are therefore willing to condone the Syrian regime’s atrocities as the lesser evil. Other leftists point out that the regime and its allies are responsible for many more atrocities than the Islamist and jihadi militias, insisting that Syria’s future cannot begin before President Assad is gone. As in other modern Arab intellectual contexts, there is broad disagreement about the appropriate place of religion in Syria’s political future. The question of how to interpret and respond to the Syria calamity is mirrored in the fractious Arab intellectual sphere, which is now less committed than ever before to a single cause, let alone a regional strategy of political alliance against imperialism from abroad and authoritarianism at home.

Furthermore, the culture of violence glorified by al-Qaeda and Daesh – the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – has framed the debate on Islam and “the war on terror.”71 Some point to the phenomenon as “irrefutable evidence of the ‘true face of Islam,’” while another camp “insists that ISIS has nothing to do with ‘real Islam’ and reduces it to a telltale backlash against imperialism and Western policies in the Middle East and North Africa.” Amal Ghazal and others argue that “both camps of the ISIS debate … are Eurocentric, revolving around Islamophobia, with the first camp promoting it and the second fearing and battling it, thus turning the ISIS debate into one about the West and its own battles and polemics.”72 Unencumbered by these polemics in the West, Arab intellectuals have developed critical perspectives on the theological foundations of ISIS and its affiliates. These debates are not sui generis: fissures among partisans divided by geography, conflict over the secular and the religious, and struggles among anti-imperialist and anti-authoritarian activists are familiar features in the contemporary Arab intellectual field in this Arab age of fracture.73

Problem-Spaces of the Postwar Arab Intellectual Field

[A] theory of ideologies depends in the last resort on the history of social formations, and thus of the modes of production combined in social formations, and of the class struggles which develop in them. In this sense it is clear that there can be no question of a theory of ideologies in general, since ideologies (defined in the double respect suggested above: regional and class) have a history, whose determination in the last instance is clearly situated outside ideologies alone, although it involves them.74

For a long time the field of modern intellectual history was the story of liberal thought unfolding. Specifically, it was concerned with the systematic analysis of historical texts so as to uncover their original meaning and attendant ideas. Consecrated by Arthur O. Lovejoy (d. 1962) in his canonical programmatic statement launching the Journal of the History of Ideas, the task of the historian was “to investigate widely and to analyze searchingly, through their expression in words, the kinds of ideas that have actually appealed to men, to note upon what grounds beliefs have seemed to those who held them to have been based, how they have changed from generation to generation, and under what conditions these changes have taken place.”75

It was in the wake of the linguistic or cultural turn as well as the turn towards hermeneutical approaches to the study of texts that modern intellectual history would be most substantially transformed. Quentin Skinner re-oriented intellectual history around the notion of performative contextualism, in order “to shift the emphasis of the discussion off the idea of the text as an autonomous object, and on to the idea of the text as an object linked to its creator, and thus on to the discussion of what its creator may have been doing in creating it.”76 Subsequent generations of intellectual historians have endeavored – through but also against the traditionalism of Lovejoy and the contextualism of Skinner – to deal with how statements and propositions are articulated as well as to consider the ground upon which certain questions are posed in the first place.77

Intellectual historians, moreover, have long grappled with what Quentin Skinner calls the “coherence of doctrine,” according to which thinkers were measured by how fully they approximated a theoretical ideal-type, and, conversely, the “doctrine of coherence,” which measured their intellectual steadfastness in changing contexts.78 As we elaborate below, anthropologist and historian David Scott engaged, and then abandoned, Skinnerian New Historicism in order to understand the shift from romantic anti-colonialism to postcolonial tragedy in the 1960s.79 Similarly, in her critical examination of Talal Asad’s theorization of Islam as a discursive tradition, Nada Moumtaz distinguishes between “coherence as an aspiration for both practitioners and traditions, whereby coherence for practitioners is the molding of the self into the ideals of the tradition … and coherence for the tradition as the attempt to define and enforce best practice.”80 All of these conceptions of tradition call for an engagement with the literary, religious, and political construction of intellectual practice.

Contemporary intellectual history – including much of the scholarship included in this volume – draws inspiration from David Scott’s conception of the “problem-space.” An interpretative method borrowed from R. G. Collingwood who taught his students at Oxford – including a young Albert Hourani, it is worth remembering – to “never think you understand any statement made by a philosopher until you have decided … what the question is to which he means it for an answer.”81 Scott deploys this method for a fundamental critique of those anti-essentialists “who are not interested in what constellation of historically constituted demands may have produced the supposedly ‘essentialist’ formulations.” Moreover, instead of “determining what the strategic task at hand was … they are only interested in establishing their epistemological superiority.”82

If some anti-colonial activists and intellectuals treated “theory as a weapon,” then a certain strain of postcolonial theory sought to disarm anti-colonialism.83 In a significant move, Scott proposes to overcome “the enormous condescension of posterity” – to borrow E. P. Thompson’s evocative phrase – not by merely retrieving the original meaning of anticolonial thought but by recognizing that the postcolonial present was not the future that past intellectual “prophets” had envisaged. This gesture towards layered temporalities is reminiscent of Reinhardt Kosellek’s Futures Past, whose juxtaposition of different generations’ spaces of experience to their horizons of expectation continues to inform the collective examination of modern Arab intellectual history that we began in our previous volume.84

But Scott’s intervention is also significant for our purposes because he points to different conceptions of the speeds and modalities of change, and what constitutes a radical position – the premature optimism of revolutionary praxis or soul-searching epistemologies of “perennial doom”:

If Fanon is the revolutionary architect par excellence of anticolonial liberation, Foucault is the paradigmatic agon of settled fictions and normalized modes of identity and community. If Fanon’s is a demand for an immediate resolution of the normative question of political community, Foucault’s is a demand for an indefinite deferral of any such resolution in order to gain space – to buy time – for the work of ethicality.85

Refashioning Futures: Criticism After Postcoloniality ends with an unabashed appeal to re-ignite “the question of the political” from the Bandung era. In Conscripts of Modernity: The Tragedy of Colonial Enlightenment, by contrast, his highly influential book that followed, Scott questions the viability of a Fanonian alternative. Following the insights of Talal Asad, he posits that colonial societies, even their anti-colonial vanguards, remained confined by the epistemological prisons of Western civilization.86 In his gloss on C. L. R. James’s 1963 revisions to his 1939 historical opus The Black Jacobins, Scott discerns a narrative shift from “vindicationist romanticism” to postcolonial tragedy.87 Even if Scott excises James’s commitment to Leninist and Trotskyist theories of revolution, his reading of The Black Jacobins enjoins us to treat the tragedy of past struggles as an inheritance bequeathed to us for our times.88 Significantly for our probing of the space between Arabic literature and history, his readings required him to break with Skinnerian New Historicism. For all the good work he had done,

when Skinner goes on to suggest, as he does, that the upshot of this reconstructive exercise is that the reader can now “like a cow” go and “ruminate” on the “neglected riches of our intellectual heritage” put on “display” for them I confess to feeling a twinge disappointment … The image is not altogether unfamiliar: the historian, having discharged her or his duty of reconstructing the past, bows and exits just at the point at which the question arises of determining and judging the stakes in the present of the rehistoricizing intervention.”89

The question remains whether there has been space for a radical Arab intellectual tradition to develop outside the confines of liberal secularism and Islamic hermeneutics that does not fall back into an Orientalist framework. The very idea that a tradition could be radical would appear to rest on contradictory propositions: evolution versus revolution; authenticity and conformism versus rupture and transgression; “lateral” affiliation versus “vertical” cultural filiation.90 Furthermore, is the “Arab” in “Arab intellectual tradition” here denoting an ontological, epistemological, or linguistically determined category of belonging? Is there another way of imagining the Arab postwar intellectual field beyond the concepts and categories of Arabism and Arab nationalism? If all too often “sociological analyses of tradition are negative,” ʿAbdallah Laroui reminds us that where “tradition means traditionalisation,” as in the case of Morocco, for example, dominant regimes may invent and enforce the moral authority of a religious past or an ethnocentric imaginary as a nationalist tool of repression even as they pursue a postcolonial or post-independence political economy that had been set up under the auspices of colonial rule.91

Against the Illiberal Age

There is a secret agreement between past and the present one. Our coming was expected on earth. Like every generation that preceded us, we have been endowed with a weak Messianic power, a power to which the past has a claim.92

Modern Middle East history – including the narrative we present here – has been saturated with crisis talk, so much so that entire methodologies are being developed in social history and political economy, for example, to avoid the reification of the crisis paradigm. And yet, we have no idea yet about the genealogy of the term “al-azma,” etymologically or discursively. The Nahda texts we have studied do not generally invoke “crisis,” or define crisis in political terms.93 Even Constantine Zurayk’s epoch-defining The Meaning of Disaster frames the loss of Palestine as a catastrophe (nakba), not a crisis (azma).94 The term seems to have been used only sporadically and inconsistently in Arabic prior to the publication of Clovis Maksoud’s influential The Crisis of the Arab Left (1960), which articulated the structural challenges for Arab intellectuals after independence.95 Certainly, imperialism and colonial rule generated an ample degree of self-criticism as far back as the Nahda. But colonial rule, and particularly the temporalization built into the logic of the Mandate system – the promise of impending independence – clearly obstructed the movement from criticism to crisis. As Reinhart Koselleck reminds us, in the cases of eighteenth-century France and Germany, “while the progressive bourgeoisie provoked a political decision through its rash criticism and rigorous morality [its liberal] philosophy of history served to paper over … crisis awareness.”96 In some contexts national independence may have even hastened the spread of an aporetic consciousness as Arab intellectual life came to be hamstrung under postcolonial military regimes.97

The search for an etiology of “the crisis of Arab intellectuals” only came to a head at the aforementioned Cairo conference that Haykal called on Nasser’s behalf in 1961.98 If Nasser’s adoption of Arab socialism became the juste milieu for competing intellectual and political trends in the mid-twentieth century Arab world, the moment also marked a departure from the romanticism of the late-Nahda and early independence periods.99 In thinking about punctuated “crisis” between ever shorter intervals in the postwar Middle East into fixtures of modern Middle East history we prefer to contend, with anthropologist Janet L. Roitman, that “crisis is not a condition to be observed (loss of meaning, alienation, faulty knowledge); it is an observation that produces meaning.”100

Historians seeking to make sense of this fractured postwar Arab intellectual field need to hold in view the contradictory consequences of the Nahda. Here we draw attention to three important and interrelated – but regularly overlooked – phenomena: first, the anti-fascist alliance between Arab liberals and leftists put their anti-colonial struggle on hold temporarily;101 second, the predominance of the Nahda project until 1948, and its continued relevance thereafter;102 and, third, the wide-spread intellectual opposition to Arab authoritarianism throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In some ways, the struggle over the memory and promise of the Nahda parallels the debate over the virtues as well as the dangers of the European Enlightenment; on the other hand, the particular historical trajectory of the Nahda and its afterlives need to be considered on their own terms as well. One view, held by certain liberals, Islamists, and neo-conservatives alike, for example, is that the Nahda was an inauthentic experiment, an imposition of foreign concepts, cultures, and practices. In this view, the pursuit of freedom, constitutionalism, cultural revival, technological modernization, and so on would be understood as a source of alienation from an autonomous and authentic “Arab” or “Islamic” self, subjectivity, and set of sensibilities. The Nahda, in other words, was a failed project from the start. But there are others who depart from the same understanding of the Nahda as a failure in a way that might be analogized to the conclusions of disillusioned Marxists – the Frankfurt School, which György Lukács famously dubbed the “Grand Hotel Abyss,” comes to mind – for whom the seeds of Auschwitz were planted in the soil of Enlightenment rationality and nineteenth-century European Idealist philosophy.103 This approach would suggest that the stubborn persistence of authoritarian regimes and anti-democratic politics across the Arab world is living proof of a darker side to the Nahda.104 Another leftist narrative of Arab modernity thinks of the Nahda in terms of its thwarted revolutionary potentiality. Liberal intellectuals emphasize what high hopes there had been for building a constitutional order in the Arab world, founded upon some combination of Enlightenment principles with local traditions of government, social relationships, and cultural life.105 One might think of the Habermasian conception of European modernity and Enlightenment as unfinished or incomplete projects, or one might return to such liberal scholars as Albert Hourani himself.106

In this unsettled context, intellectual historians of the postwar Arab world confront unique challenges. Compared to the wealth of studies concerning pre–World War II Arab intellectuals, even prominent statesmen, nationalists, political thinkers during the postwar period have eluded serious study. Until recently an outsized share of scholarly attention has been directed towards the contributions of liberal intellectuals and Islamic modernists to political, philosophical, and cultural debate.107 The rise of neoliberal modes of thought, action, and political practice – both inside and outside the academy – has also enabled a widespread and necessary critique of liberalism and its attendant categories and practices – the state, the individual, rationality, the market, culture, and so forth. However, this performance of critique sometimes tends to conflate liberalism and secularism with authoritarianism and imperialism, and thereby obscures alternative critical narratives and the particular times and spaces of their articulation What is to be done, then, when the mainstream of modern Arab intellectual history has focused (and continue to focus) primarily on liberals (and, to a lesser extent, in recent years, the left)? What are intellectuals historians to do with other, wide-ranging intellectual and political figures, from Islamists such as Zaynab al-Ghazali (1917–2005), Mustafa al-Sibaʿi (1915–64) and Saʿid Hawwa (1935–89) to nationalist-socialists (also known as Baʿthists) such as Michel ʿAflaq (1910–89), Zaki al-Arsuzi (1900–68), and Buthayna Shaʿaban (b. 1953); from conservative thinkers such as Charles Malik (1906–87) and Saʿid ʿAql (1912–2014) to neo-liberal technocrats such as former Egyptian and Palestinian Prime Ministers Ahmad al-Nazif (b. 1952) and Salam Fayyad (b. 1951), just to name a few? Should they be relegated to historical footnotes, reduced to simple descriptors such as fundamentalist, reactionary, “illiberal,” or neo-liberal ideologues?108 And what about if and when they should happen to migrate across the political spectrum? What are scholars to make of “hybrid types”: say, a “feudalist-socialist” such as Kamal Jumblat (1917–77) or an “Islamist leftist” such as Hasan Hanafi (b. 1935)?109

It is important to remember that a great deal of conflicting “theory” emerged out of leftist and pan-Arab nationalist as well as Islamist circles. In their quest for ideological coherence and for the production of theory, Arab intellectuals remained skeptical at best regarding the prospects for liberal democracy. It is necessary to bear in mind, moreover, that these figures did not only act as individuals. The Arab postwar era was dominated by nationalist and pan-Arab parties, by populist postcolonial regimes and mass politics, as well as by the rise and spread of new social movements: the Muslim Brotherhood; the Baʿth party; the Arab Socialist Union in Egypt; the Movement of Arab Nationalists and their Palestinian nationalist offshoots; trade unions; the Progressive National Front in Syria; and the League of Arab States.

There also remains the hoary political science debate over democracy versus authoritarianism, with the latter typically standing in as the hegemonic form of political organization across the region. But there is little evidence to suggest that what political scientists call the “persistence” and “resilience” of Arab authoritarianism emerged in any simple fashion out of any of the postwar Arab intellectual traditions. Rather, authoritarianism in the postwar Arab world was a decidedly anti-intellectual phenomenon whose sharpest critics and first victims were liberal Arab writers, Leftist vanguardists, and Islamic dissidents.110

Hannah Arendt distinguishes authoritarianism’s “pyramid-like” power structure with its “restriction of freedom” from totalitarianism, which abolishes almost any kind of differentiated structure of hierarchy, margin of freedom, or even spontaneity.111 During the Arab Cold War, the search for legitimacy had pitted what might be called “modernizing monarchies,” with their emphasis on continuity, patriarchy, personal piety, and kinship obligation in return for economic benevolence, against the “radical republics” that based state authority on anti-colonial rupture, social progress, popular participation, and economic redistribution.112 Over time, the republics came to operate much like the monarchies as the army and the security services instilled fear and all but eliminated critical thinking.113 This process culminated in hereditary republics, or what the Egyptian sociologist Saʿd al-Din Ibrahim (b. 1938) publically criticized as “gumlukiyyas” (a portmanteau that might be translated as “republarchies”).114 It is fairly clear-cut that this evolving form of authoritarianism had arisen in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Iraq, and Libya, more often than not aided and abetted by Western democracies.115 Thus, the Arab uprisings of 2011 were unlikely social movements against the combined forces of authoritarianism at home and liberal imperialism from abroad.116

A range of Arab intellectuals (primarily, although not exclusively men) from across the ideological and political spectrum chose different paths of resistance to authoritarianism throughout the twentieth century, and into the twenty-first. Even a cursory mournful glance at those who have passed away recently demonstrates the density of the Arab intellectual field: Muhammad Arkoun (1928–2010), Muhammad ʿAbid al-Jabiri (1935–2010), Nasir Hamid Abu-Zayd (1943–2010), Jamal al-Banna (1920–2013), Radwa ʿAshur (1946–2014), Idwar al-Kharrat (1926–2015), Muhammad Hasanayn Haykal (1923–2016), Clovis Maksoud (1926–2016), Shahenda Maklad (1938–2016), Jurj Tarabishi (1939–2016), and Sadiq Jalal al-ʿAzm (1935–2017).117 Marxists, Communists, and Baʿthists sought to develop their own methods to interpret and apply the insights of Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Bergson, Lenin, and Freud, and – after 1980 – their mainly French interpreters as they charted new trajectories for political change, social transformation, and intellectual life. Others sought revolution through Afro-Asian solidarity work; a few organized strikes and peasant resistance; and some mobilized Islamic heritage (al-turath) as a living tradition against liberal, Marxist, and fundamentalist cultures of alienation.

The contingencies of history require the consideration of other kinds of intellectuals, a broader array of intellectual activity, and more capacious understandings of mobilization – horizontalism, contentious performance, and fraternization, to name just a few that scholars have begun to explore – in order to adequately address the interplay among intellectual life, social movements, and political mobilization in the postwar Arab Middle East.118 Despite the wide range of critical orientations held by these various thinkers and the hardships many endured, they appeared to embrace Gramsci’s pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will in their common view of a Middle Eastern modernity yet to be completed. Their lives, arguments, and legacies deserve much more careful consideration and critical analysis.119

The trouble is that historians of the contemporary Middle East also have to contend with ahistorical and ideological claims regarding Arab intellectual and religious inclinations towards fascism and anti-Judaism in the “post-liberal” age. Western scholars were long obsessed with the warm reception of Fichte and the völkische idea among some Arab nationalists. Thus the conservative political historian Elie Kedourie could see in Kant and Hegel – indeed, the entire history of philosophical idealism – the roots of both Nazism and Nasserism.120 In a short, foundational article, Sylvia Haim argued that the locus of Arab anti-Semitism – as the prototypical form of illiberal politics – is not to be found among Islamists, but rather with Christian Arab intellectuals who imported European anti-Semitism into the region during the early twentieth century.121 In Semites and Anti-Semites, Bernard Lewis differentiated between the institutional inequality Jews suffered in Islamic history and “pathological” Arab discrimination after the creation of the state of Israel.122 In Germany and elsewhere, the concept of “Islamofascism” has come to overshadow the public debate as evinced in the rise of the far right and its strong support for Israel.123 Israeli historians Esther Webman and Meir Litvak have taken a more scholarly approach to downplay the hysteria and show that historically Arab intellectuals have made distinctions between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism and have expressed solidarity with the plight of Jewish Holocaust victims. But these historians conclude, somewhat disingenuously, that contemporary postcolonial scholars such as Edward Said and many others, who recognize the Holocaust and envisage a common future for Jews and Arabs in Palestine, are merely instrumentalist. The comparison with “the Palestinian tragedy” – not Scott’s use of the term – they argue constitutes a “minimalization and relativization of the Holocaust.”124

More recently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s absurd and unsubstantiated claim that Hajj Amin al-Husayni (1895–1974), the Palestinian Grand Mufti who held a bureaucratic religious office invented by British Mandate colonial policy, persuaded Hitler to imagine and perpetrate the Holocaust is only the most shameful attempt to delegitimize Palestinian resistance to Zionist settler colonialism while simultaneously spewing poisonous invective at the Arab intellectual milieu.125 An important and growing body of scholarship demonstrates the fallacies of such false analogies and ideological fantasies regarding the tangled skein of fascism, Nazism, and other forms of illiberal politics in the Middle East.126 What each of our contributors have demonstrated in their research, by contrast, is that intellectuals of different and even opposing persuasions have shared a concern to mobilize Arabic thought in a variety of ways against the different manifestations of authoritarianism and colonialism in the postwar Middle East.

Cultural Production and Structures of Feeling in the Arab Uprisings

It is true. Perhaps we will be burned by the flames and become ashes. But perhaps the fire will make us more mature and we will rise from it like prophets … or loaves of bread!127

As important as political ideology and philosophical investigation may have been for postwar Arab thought, it is in the literary and cultural fields that writers and artists performed generational consciousness most conspicuously as markers of political distinction. Woven into global economic, political, and cultural transitions, modern Arabic literature shifted from the Nahda-era ideal of artistic autonomy to Sartre-inspired “committed literature” in the mid-fifties.128 Encouraged by this trend, Palestinian literature reemerged in the sixties from under “the cultural siege” of the Israel state. Ghassan Kanafani, whose own early short stories transformed Arab narrative form, coined the term “resistance literature,” which in his analysis acquired spatial rather than generational attributes: texts written under occupation and those written in exile.129

The expansion of the postwar Arab intellectual field was predicated on a number of factors: state education programs increased literacy, new universities were founded and old ones expanded, cultural associations and trade unions blossomed even as radio, television, and subsequently satellite networks reached into the living rooms of ever more households. But the Cold War made the intellectual field a hostile place for female intellectuals even though joint struggles for national independence had opened up universities, the press, and other professions to an increasing number of women around the Arab world. Many of these figures – from Egyptian Communist student activist turned English literature professor and writer Latifa al-Zayyat (1923–96) to Syrian feminist academic turned Baʿthist regime hack Buthayna Shaaban (b. 1953) – initially became visible through women’s rights associations and popular movements even as conservative and radical men would brand them liberal and elitist. Arab women’s activism did not always readily fit into the male-dominated ideological trench wars, and many feminists opted to work for international, regional, and national organizations in which they traded revolutionary activity for improving social and economic conditions in their home countries.130 While some women played leading roles in the Algerian and Palestinian resistance, others decided to participate only indirectly in party politics as they devoted their energies to Arabic cultural production and academic careers, increasingly in Europe and North America.

The place of Arab intellectuals in public life has been dynamic and, at times, tempestuous. On June 14, 2011, for example, barely three months into the popular uprising against the dictatorial rule of Bashar al-Asad and the Baʿth Party in Syria, the poet ʿAli Saʿid Ahmad Isbir – better know by his nom de plume, Adonis – published an “Open Letter to President Bashar al-Asad” in the Lebanese daily newspaper al-Safir.131 The “open letter” consisted of ten sections, calling upon the regime at once to respect the rights of protestors and citizens while also encouraging the authorities to do whatever was necessary in order to protect the country. “Neither reason nor reality believes that democracy is going to be achieved in Syria immediately following the fall of the current regime,” Adonis wrote. “But, on the other hand, neither reason nor reality believes that the violent security regime in Syria will remain standing. That is the conundrum.” Regardless of reason or reality, and to the chagrin of many supporters of democratic transformation, the Syrian regime still stands, however damaged and discredited, even as the country burns and its people die or flee.

In addition to being the author of an influential three-volume study of the dialectical relationship between “tradition” and “modernity” in the history of “Arab civilization,” Adonis is a central figure in the development of free verse in the mid-twentieth century Arab world, and considered by many to be the greatest living Arab poet, whose name is regularly batted about in discussions of the Nobel Prize and other international awards.132 His political interventions have been far more controversial.133 Born into an ʿAlawi family in northwest Syria, his identity has often been used against him, whether among members of the opposition who identify him as incapable of truly breaking with what is misrepresented all too often as an “ʿAlawi regime” or among those within the regime itself who see his relative independence as a threat to their control of “national culture.” One year after the publication of the open letter it was reported on Facebook that Adonis had been charged by the Syrian regime with “being sectarian and assaulting the Islamic religion.”

In his open letter Adonis comes across as a pragmatic, muscular liberal, yet also curiously ambivalent about the matter of political change in Syria. Among the “requirements” Adonis identifies for democratization to succeed in the Arab world is the “complete separation of what is religious from what is political and social and cultural.” Adonis reserved his harshest critique for the various groupings that loosely constituted “the Syrian opposition.” In an interview with an Austrian magazine in 2012, Adonis accused the opposition of collaborating with Western powers. He has also assailed Islamist movements throughout the Arab world, those that long struggled against authoritarian secular nationalist regimes and more recently managed to take power in places such as Egypt and Tunisia.134 But there was widespread frustration that the people had been abandoned by one of the Arab world’s foremost cultural critics, a potentially valuable ally and even spokesperson in the struggle for freedom in Syria.135 Here was a high-profile public intellectual diverting the wind from the sails of the nonviolent Syrian opposition, muffling their cries for democratic transformation, and replacing their demands with highfalutin rhetoric about the revitalization of state secularism.136

This anecdote conjures the “betrayal of the intellectuals” narrative, the abandonment of the people or popular movements with a substantial social base by elite writers and thinkers who fail to act as organic representatives of the people, who seem to be out of touch with the collective mood. If Adonis catalyzed some controversy by virtue of his public positions towards the Syrian uprising, this was by no means unique to the Arab world. Egyptian novelists and one-time icons of dissent Alaa al-Aswany and Sonallah Ibrahim, for example, shocked young readers and activists alike when they embraced the counter-revolutionary regime of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.137 Such acts of betrayal by public intellectuals have driven some to hasty declarations about the death of the intellectual. Certainly many activists of 2011 – the nineties generation – grew impatient with the intellectual-as-prophet, and bypassed the established sites and rules of the intellectual field. Nevertheless, they consciously built on the rich tradition they subverted.138

There are more pressing matters for most activists, intellectuals, and ordinary people who animated the Arab uprisings than the antics and betrayals of certain prominent figures. Too many have been silenced by states of emergency. As in previous generations, they have been abducted, exiled, imprisoned, and assassinated by the regimes they challenged or, in some cases, helped to bring to power in the first place. Many others find themselves demonized by state media. If it is inaccurate or at least incomplete to characterize the Arab uprisings entirely in terms of a catalogue of defeat and betrayal, it is also much too reductive to explain the role of Arab intellectuals during this period exclusively in terms of powerlessness. The assumed impossibility of an effective political philosopher such as Thomas Paine, a vanguardist of Lenin’s stature, or an anti-totalitarian “dissident” à la Václav Havel – three types of intellectuals that the New York Times invoked in an early article on the “Arab Spring” – is not sufficient evidence to conclude that Arab intellectuals are irrelevant historical actors in the contemporary moment.139 The upsurge in political activity and revolutionary fervor – from Tahrir Square in Cairo to Pearl Square in Manama and the Baba ʿAmr neighborhood in Homs – kindled new kinds of hope in and a renewed sense of possibility for the transformation of the Arab world. The poetic tradition collided with social media; highbrow intellectuals mingled with ordinary people; and ideas both new and old about social justice, political transformation, and cultural flourishing brought together different generations of struggle working along the grain of what Walter Benjamin famous called “the tradition of the oppressed.”140

Thus many of the nonviolent protesters who repelled Egyptian government forces and took over Tahrir Square in 2011 chanted the Tunisian national anthem as well as verse by the early-twentieth-century poet and anti-colonial icon Abu al-Qasim al-Shabbi (d. 1934).141 Another bard of the Egyptian revolutionary spirit, colloquial versifier Ahmad Fuʾad Nigm (d. 2013), provided further inspiration, reprising his role as a public intellectual and conscience of the nation who had become a legend for his biting satirical poetry of the rich and powerful and his unwavering support for the poor and downtrodden as well as his storied musical collaboration with legendary oud player and singer Shaykh Imam.142 Those residual forms of musical expression that had exploded during the 1960s constitute a fount of inspiration for contemporary Egyptian activists. There are many other examples of artistic creativity that overflowed the streets of Damascus, Tunis, and Cairo – to say nothing of the ever-expanding vitality of social and cultural media online – that have yet to be comprehensively examined.143 Visual artists from Egypt such as Ganzeer (dubbed “the Banksy of Egypt”) have achieved international fame and recognition in documenting the Egyptian uprising;144 film and video production collectives such as Masasit Mati with their hilarious puppet satire and Abou Naddara with their powerful short films continue to skewer the political and humanitarian costs of the Syria conflict;145 and anonymous taggers are physically remaking the urban landscape of the contemporary Middle East.146

With or without identifiable intellectual architects, re-coding can go a long way towards institutionalizing revolutionary culture. Graffiti and flags in revolutionary Cairo featured portraits of Shahenda Maklad, the intrepid feminist peasant and labor organizer.147 And it was not only icons of the left that surfaced during the exuberant days of the uprisings. In Homs and Aleppo, for example, activists launched a public art campaign using the likenesses of populist as well as bourgeois nationalist heroes such as Ibrahim Hananu (d. 1935), Sultan al-Atrash (d. 1982), and Shukri al-Quwwatli (d. 1967), populist and elite leaders who fought for Syrian national independence during the 1920s and 1930s, drawing an unmistakable line between the struggle against French colonial rule and the fight to overthrow the Baʿthist regime.148 Some protestors staged the theater of the oppressed by invoking works of Saadallah Wannous and his most famous line: “we are condemned to hope.”149 When Palestinians set up tent villages throughout the occupied West Bank in January 2013 to resist imminent Israeli settlement construction there, they announced the name of the first tent village on twitter: “#Bab al-Shams.”150 The activists’ reference to the celebrated 1998 novel, Gate of the Sun, by Elias Khoury, in which the memory of the loss of Palestine in 1948 is rehearsed in ever-recurrent narrative beginnings, was not lost on the author.151

In the Translations section of this volume, we present three pieces originally written in Arabic that have never before appeared in English. Elias Khoury is one of the most prominent Arab intellectuals of his generation. One of the best-known novelists from the Middle East, Khoury’s fiction has been translated extensively. One hallmark of his prose is the tendency to write dialogue in colloquial Lebanese dialect. His writing is deeply marked by the experience of and multifarious attempts to come to terms with the Lebanese Civil War. His political and social commentary, by contrast, is less often discussed outside of Arabophone circles even though he was the stalwart editor of the Sunday cultural supplement in the Beirut daily an-Nahar newspaper. Born in the same year as the Nakba, Khoury represents not only one of the foremost Arabic novelists and literary critics of his “generation of ruins,” as Halabi puts it, but also “a guardian of collective memory” for whom the writer bore the “responsibility of rescuing his community from forced erasure.”152 To that end, we include a short piece in which Khoury calls for a “Third Nahda.”

Khoury was hardly alone in engaging with questions of pluralism, tradition, and liberalization. Indeed, many public intellectuals and cultural critics of his generation, including Egyptian literary critic Mahmud Amin al-ʿAlim (1922–2009); Syrian critic, novelist, and translator Nabil Sulayman (b. 1945); and Palestinian politician and public intellectual ʿAzmi Bishara (b. 1956) threw themselves into similar and related struggles.153 But intellectual historians of the Arab world must also begin to take seriously a new generation of writers, scholars, and public intellectuals claiming space within the Arab intellectual field, clamoring for their rights to voice, representation, and recognition. The second and third translations included in this volume highlight two Syrian intellectuals who have played important roles in the protest against dictatorial rule and the dangers of sectarianism in Syria since the early days of they uprising. The novelist Rosa Yassin Hassan (b. 1974) and former political prisoner Yassin al-Haj Saleh (b. 1961) – often called “the conscience of the Syrian revolution” – may come from slightly different generations – and generational outlook – but they also speak with and to one another in their respective visions for the adequate role of the intellectual in a moment of extreme violence, uncertainty, and dislocation. Al-Haj Saleh, for his part, has expressed a particularly acute sense of betrayal by doctrinaire leftists who have vilified him for his critique of the Asad regime (and its Russian and Iranian allies), which is still (almost surreally) touted as a bastion of anti-imperialist resistance in some Western quarters.154

These two short pieces – translated here into English for the first time – are significant historical documents that reflect an early moment in the Syrian struggle for liberty, justice, and dignity. It is precisely in their common project to assess and revitalize the role of the intellectual in the contemporary Middle East – across and despite generational divisions – that we include their perspectives on how to articulate a new language of intellectual engagement in a moment of instability and uncertainty. Indeed, even if this new wave of activism across the Arab world can be understood in relation to the emergence of a “new Nahda,” as Tarek El-Ariss helpfully points out, it “needs to be examined and theorized not merely as a repetition of or continuity with a particular cultural project from the nineteenth century, but rather as the adoption of new literary and political practices and techniques from which meaning and subjectivity arise.”155

It is no coincidence that both al-Haj Saleh and Hasan have written extensively about their experiences of imprisonment in the carceral archipelago of the Baʿthist regime. Their stories are part of a bloody tapestry that threads together Arab public intellectuals and oppositional figures throughout the postwar period. Syrian Communist Riyad al-Turk (b. 1930) spent seventeen years in the prisons of Hafiz al-Asad and his son Bashar, much of it in solitary confinement; al-Turk was hardly alone in this experience, as a multitude of Syrian intellectuals, writers, and political activists share common experiences of harassment, imprisonment, and torture throughout the late twentieth century. Egyptian feminist Nawal el-Saadawi (b. 1931) is distinguished, among her literary and intellectual accomplishments, for having been imprisoned by every Egyptian regime from King Faruq (r. 1936–52) through Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat, and Hosni Mubarak. Mahmoud Darwish (1941–2008) and other poets of the Palestinian resistance served long or intermittent time in Israeli prisons. The eminent Egyptian scholar of Islam and hermeneutics Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd fled into exile after being convicted of apostasy by the Egyptian Court of Cassation. Political assassinations were another important factor structuring the link between postwar and postcolonial intellectual history, one that has tended to escape the notice of intellectual historians. The Arab world also saw its share of intellectuals and political activists fall victim to American, Soviet, French, Israeli, Arab and, especially since the 1980s, Islamist assassins.156

Amid the raging regional civil wars, counter-revolutions, and political restorations that consign tens of thousands to prison even as millions of refugees are forced into perilous journeys across the Mediterranean and the Balkans towards an uncertain future in Europe, the work of ideas in the Middle East may seem to be exhausted. While it may be the case that the Arab world is at a difficult and complex impasse, and even if the memories, anxieties, and horizons of possibility within the constellation of Arab uprisings “was made of defeats: socialism, pan-Arabism, Third Worldism, and also Islamic fundamentalism,” it remains to be seen whether these setbacks and failures are indicative of “the limits of our epoch.”157 Indeed, for Yassin al-Haj Saleh and Rosa Yassin Hassan as well as intellectuals from all over the Arab world, surrendering before such conceptual and material limits – from theoretical impasse to fear barrier – has simply not been an option. This book shines light on a widespread, and expanding, testimony to the remarkable resilience of Arab intellectuals, not as apolitical sages or regime toadies but as engaged members of dynamic and endangered societies.

In reconsidering postwar, postcolonial, post-Nakba Middle East history from the standpoint of Arab intellectuals, we draw attention to the strengths as well as the limitations of contextualist intellectual history, not by beating a retreat into a traditional history of ideas, but by way of an engagement with how the consolidating forces of global history and modern Arabic literature intersect with political dynamics in the Middle East. In this introduction, we have identified a number of intersecting problem-spaces in the Arab intellectual field: critique of the secular and the religious; the geographical dimensions of theory-making, in the “metropole” and the “periphery”; diasporic, national, and global thought; materialist versus epistemological critiques; and the different temporalities of anti-colonialism and postcolonialism. The essays that follow reflect a common point of departure, oriented inwards and outwards, for a critical exploration of the unity and diversity of the modern and contemporary Arab intellectual field. The varieties of intellectual history on display in this volume focus on the diverse lived experiences of poets and writers; philosophers and academics; reformist, revolutionary, and iconoclastic thinkers and artists: their politics, their audiences, their debates. This book does not claim to be an exhaustive account of postwar Arab intellectual history. Rather, by building on the inspiring work that continues to enrich this field, the contributors to this volume collectively gesture towards new directions in scholarship even as we call for further research in multiple directions.

1Nasser Rabbat, “Siraʿat al-istibdad,” al-Hayat, May 8, 2015.

2Fanon (2004 [1961]: 145).

3Cf. Kelley (2005).

4Moyn and Sartori (2013).

5Ibid., 4.

6Ibid., 5.

7Guha (1989); Chatterjee (1993); Scott (1999); Scott (2004); Lazarus (2011).

8Chakrabarty (2000).

9Cooper (2013: 292).

10David A. Bell, “This Is What Happens When Historians Overuse the Idea of the Network,” New Republic, October 25, 2013:

11Krishnan (2007). To be fair, Mazlish (1998: 392) equivocates, arguing, “the course of this globalization is not foreordained: Global history is not Whiggish.” Still, there is clearly a sense of the inevitability of the study of the global as the new universal frame of reference.

12This argument should be tempered, of course, through an acknowledgement of the diversity of this emergent field. Consider the following exhaustive exchange: Pieterse (2013); responses by Juergensmeyer (2013), Steger (2013), Axford (2013); Pieterse (2014).

13Pieterse (2014: 168).

14James (1938). See, too, Mintz (1985); Dubois (2004); Buck-Morss (2009).

15Trouillot (1995); Ferrer (2014); Getachew (2016).

16Mitchell (1999b).

17Said (2000b).

18Bogues (2015); Le Sueur (2005); Shepard (2006); Carroll (2007); Goodman and Silverstein (2009).

19Young (1990); Cusset (2008); Wise (2009); Ahluwalia (2010). For a critique of these approaches, see Davis (2011).

20Ross (2002); Slobodian (2012).

21Lubin (2014); Doulatzai (2012); Naber (2012); Feldman (2015); Pennock (2017).

22Abdel-Malek (1963); Asad and Owen (1980); al-ʿAzm (1981); Said (1994 [1978]).

23For a recent discussion of these and other approaches in the Arab context, see Rami Abu Shihab, al-Rasis wa-l-mukhatala: Khitab ma baʿda al-kuluniyaliyya fi al-naqd al-ʿarabi al-muʿasir, al-nadhariyya wa-l-tatbiq (Beirut: al-Muʾassasa al-ʿArabiyya li-l-Dirasat wa-l-Nashr, 2013).

24Bardawil (2010); Frangie (2012: 466).

25ʿAmil (1985); ʿAmil (1989 [1986]); Frangieh (2016)

26Said (1994: 313).

27Bardawil and Asad (2016: 164–65, 170).

28El Shakry (2014: 118). For an important reconsideration of the linear Nahda narrative of progress and development, see El-Ariss (2013).

29El Shakry (2015: 924).

30Brennan (2006: 41).

31Hourani (1983 [1962]).

32Ibid., 341. Hourani later regretted that the book’s title labeled this “bygone” age as liberal, actually blaming his editor for using the term.

33Our previous volume strove to historicize the Nahda, to resist treating it as a monolithic age. Hanssen and Weiss (2016a).

34Said (1979); Massad (20002010); Shohat (2006: 233–49; 359–84). In “Raw Cute: Palestine, Israel, and (Post)Colonial Studies,” Ann Stoler (2016: 37–67) sheds light on how this problem bedevils the intellectual orientation of (post)colonial studies broadly conceived, exemplified by the disparate reception histories of Edward Said’s Orientalism as compared to his The Question of Palestine. Meanwhile, Zionist scholars express concern about an ongoing theoretical danger to Israel represented by the field of postcolonial studies. See Salzman and Divine (2008).

35Westad (2007); McMahon (2013).

36Amin (1994: 14). By shifting the focus away from the Cold War conflict in and over Europe to the broader struggle of the global South against the (neo-) imperialisms of the Northern hemisphere, Amin’s argument might be understood as a complement to Judt (2006). See, too, Maier (2000).

37Gavin (2004); Galpern (2009); Mitchell (2013); Bina and Garavini (2016).

38Krammer (1973). On the history of various Arab communist parties, see: Beinin (1990); Ismael (2005); Franzén (2011); Hanssen (forthcoming).

39Little (1990); Louis and Owen (2002).

40See Vince’s contribution to this volume; also, see Malley (1996); Byrne (2016).

41See Takriti’s contribution to this volume; also, see Sayigh (1997); Anderson (2011); Chamberlin (2012); and Takriti (2013).

42Kerr (1965); Seale (1965: 283–326); Gendzier (1997); Yaqub (2004).

43Barghoorn (1960); Saunders (2001); Scott-Smith (2002); Gould-Davies (2003): 193–214; Primakov (2009); Rubin (2012); Holt (2013); Haddad-Fonda (2014).

44Little (2004).

45Gendzier (1997); Prashad (2007); Burke (2010); Lee (2010).

46Vitalis (2013); Halim (2012).

47See Di-Capua’s contribution to this volume; also, see Idris (1992); Klemm (1998); Pannewick and Khalil (2015).

48Haykal (1961); Abdel-Malek (1962).

49Ibrahim (2013); Ginat (1997).

50Ajami (1981); Abu-Rabiʿ (2004); Kassab (2010).

51Sassoon (2016).

52Choueiri (1989: 165–88); Riecken (20122014).

53Both Fadi Bardawil and Samer Frangie highlight Yasin al-Hafiz (d. 1978), for example. Waddah Shararah (b. 1942) and Hazem Saghieh (b. 1951) as signature representatives of such an “inward turn of Arab leftists.” Bardawil (20102013); Frangie (2015).

54Quoted in Bardawil (2013: 93).

55Abdallah (1985). Rabah (2009). On a parallel uprising in Bahrain, see AlShehabi (2013).

56Barakat (1977), See, also, Raed and Rania Rafei’s film, “1974: Reconstitution of a Battle” (2012).

57See Beinin’s contribution to this volume.

58Said (1994: 224–30). See, too, Mehrez (2010); Yaqub (2016).

59Bardawil (2010); Frangie (2012); Hanssen (2012). See, too, Jay (1996 [1973]: 279).

60Hall (1988); Brown (1999); Caryl (2014).

61Prashad (2013).

62Abrahamian (1982); Keddie (1983); Moaddel (1992); Abrahamian (1993); Halliday (1996)

63See Trofimov (2007). On the repercussions of that event on Shiʿi communities elsewhere in the kingdom, see Jones (2006).

64Cooley (1999); Johnson (2000).

65Mitchell (2013: 212–14).

66Browers (2009).

67Boullion (2004).

68Hilal and Hermann (2014).

69Koselleck (2004). Traverso (2016: 3) draws on the reading of Koselleck in Motzkin (2005).

70See Yazbek (2012); Halasa, Omareen, and Mahfoud (2014); Yassin-Kassab and al-Shami (2016).

71Creswell and Haykel (2015).

72Ghazal and Sadiki (2016).

73The term is borrowed from Rodgers (2011).

74Althusser (1971: 159).

75Lovejoy (1940: 19).

76Skinner (1972: 408). See, too, Skinner (1969); White (1969); and LaCapra (1980).

77Gordon (2013).

78Skinner (1969).

79Scott (2006).

80Moumtaz (2015).

81Collingwood (1939: 74). On Collingwood’s influence over Hourani, see Hanssen (2016).

82Scott (1999: 8–9). For a similar critique in Arabic, see Bishara (2015).

83For “theory as a weapon,” see Cabral (1979). For an example of anti-anticolonial postcolonialism, see Bhabha (2004).

84Kosellek (2004 [1985]); Hanssen and Weiss (2016b).

85Scott (1999: 200).

86Scott (2004: 8–9).

87Scott (2004: 55, 79–4). Representing Haitian history as Greek tragedy – “a broken series of paradoxes and reversals in which human action is ever open to unaccountable contingencies – and luck,” as Scott (2004: 13) puts it – does not index an early onset of anticolonial resignation in either James or Scott. On tragedy as resignation, see Schoppenhauer (2014 [1819]). Nietzsche (1987: 10), by contrast, speaks of the “pessimism of strength.”

88Scott (2004: 221). For a Caribbeanist’s critique of Conscripts of Modernity, see Henry (2007).

89Scott (2004: 54).

90See, also, Scott (2013).

91Laroui (1976: 32, 37–39). Raymond Williams (1977: 121–27) helps clarify the distinction between “archaic” cultural traditions that the dominant classes mobilize, and those “residual” traditions that may encourage alternative or oppositional forces.

92Benjamin (1968: 254).

93Al-Bustani (1870: 8) defines “al-azma” in general terms as “stricture and adversity.”

94Zurayk (1956). Of course, the “Suez Crisis” of 1956 was a crisis for the British Empire. For the Arab world Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal and subsequent survival of the Franco-British-Israeli invasion attempt was a colossal triumph.

95Maksoud (1960); Haykal (1961). Of course, the term would become much more commonly used over time. See, for example, Hanafi (2008).

96Koselleck (1988 [1959]: 137).

97Challenging the prevailing narrative of Eric Davis and others, Aaron Jakes pursues the conditions leading to and the discourse around the financial crisis of 1907 in Egypt. See Jakes (forthcoming).

98Hammuda (1985).

99Kadri (2016). On Marxist resentment of Nasser’s decision to abolish all political parties, see Idris (1992).

100Roitman (2014: 39).

101See, particulalrly, Gershoni’s contribution to Hanssen and Weiss (2016a). See also Nordbruch (2006).

102See Di-Capua’s chapter in this volume.

103Lukács (1971: 22). See, too, Foucault (1984b); Horkheimer and Adorno (2002); Keucheyan (2010).

104Similar debates have exercised modern French historiography, for example, over the extent to which liberal intellectuals collaborated with or, alternatively, resisted the illiberal ideology and politics of fascism during the interwar period and through World War II. Bayle (1969); Sternhell (1983); Wolin (2004); Winock (2008).

105Salvatore (1997); Salvatore and Eickelman (2004); Salvatore and LeVine (2005).

106Habermas (1983); Hanssen and Weiss (2016b).

107As we mentioned above, studies on the Arab left have been revived in the aftermath of the imperialist and authoritarian backlash to the Arab uprisings of 2011.

108Sing (2008); Gershoni and Jankowski (2010); Bashkin (2012a); Gershoni (2014); Sassoon (2016). By the same token, important collective research projects have been uncovering important aspects of the Arab left and its intellectual architects over the course of the postwar period. See, for example, the collection of articles in Arab Studies Journal on “The Arab Left in Egypt and Lebanon,” which includes: Frangie (2016); Hammad (2016); Hanssen and Safieddine (2016); Haugbolle (2016); Haugbolle and Sing (2016); Younes (2016).

109On Hanafi, see Daifallah’s contribution to this volume.

110“Dissent,” “dissident,” and “vanguard” are hardly self-evident categories; they demand careful historicization. For a brilliant reading of these themes in the context of Communist Czechoslovakia, see Bolton (2012).

111For Hannah Arendt (2006 [1961]: 98), authoritarianism is a “government structure whose seat of power is located at the top from which authority and power is filtered down to the base in such a way that each successive layer possesses some authority but less than the one above.”

112Hudson (1977: 24–30).

113Wedeen (1999); Owen (2012); Sassoon (2016).

114Saad Eddin Ibrahim (2000); Mehrez (2010: ch. 3).

115El-Ghobashy (2003), Ghalioun (2004).

116Vairel (2011).

117The contributors to this volume discuss a broad palette of intellectuals, including Taha Husayn and Suhayl Idris (Yoav Di-Capua), Emile Habibi and Sasson Somekh (Orit Bashkin), Ahmad al-Khatib (Abdelrazzak Takriti), Adonis (Robyn Creswell), Waddah Charara and Edward Said (Fadi Bardawil), Abdelkbir Khatibi and Abdallah Laroui (Hosam Aboul-Ela), Bu ʿAli Yasin and Burhan Ghalioun (Max Weiss), Saadallah Wanous and ʿAbd al-Rahman Munif (Elizabeth Suzanne Kassab), Hasan Hanafi and ʿAbid al-Jabiri (Yasmeen Daifallah), Muhammad ʿImara and Muhammad Jalal Kishk (Ellen McLarney).

118See, for example, Hirschkind (2012: 49–53); Chalcraft (2012: 6–11); Tripp (2013a2013b); Ketchley (2014).

119Gramsci (1994: 18).

120Kedourie (19601995).

121Haim (1955).

122Lewis (1986). For a trenchant critique, see Said (1994 [1978]: 314–20).

123Küntzel (2007). Similarly tendentious arguments are widespread in the United States as well; for two unconvincing attempts to revive this dead horse, see Berman (2004); Patterson (2011).

124Litvak and Webman (2009: 373). For different interpretations, see the works cited in footnote 125.

126Matar (1992); Wien (2006); Nordbruch (2009); Gershoni and Jankowski (2010); Achcar (2010); Gershoni (2014); Motadel (2014); Nicosia (2014).

127Radwa ʿAshur, in Hartman (2015: 216).

128Pannewick and Khalil (2015).

129Kanafani (19661968); Harlow (1987); Abu-Manneh (2016).

130Al-Ali (2000); Bier (2011); McLarney (2015).

131Adonis, “Risala maftuha ila al-raʾis Bashar al-Asad: al-insan, huququhu wa-hurriyatuhu, aw al-hawiya (An Open Letter to President Bashar al-Asad: The Human Being, his Rights and Freedoms; or, the Abyss).” Al-Safir, June 14, 2011:; also available at

132Adonis (1974); Creswell (2012).

133Sadik Jalal al-ʿAzm (2000: 234–235) characterized Adonis (among other Arab liberals) as an “Islamanic” who, after the Islamic Revolution in Iran, was “presenting as ultimate wisdom the barren tautology of Ontological Orientalism, so well brought out in Said’s critique.”

134“Adunis yantaqid al-muʿarada al-suriyya (Adonis Criticizes the Syrian Opposition),”, February 12, 2012.

135Criticism of Adonis would flare up once again when he was awarded the 2015 Erich Maria Remarque Peace Prize. See, for example, the scathing piece by al-ʿAzm, “Orientalismus der übelsten Sorte,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, September 19, 2015.

136Moreover, Syrian intellectuals (typically writing and speaking in Arabic) were actively trying to combat the regime as well as the dangers of sectarianism beginning to appear within the opposition. See, for example, Thair Deeb, “Hiwar iliktruni fi akhir al-layl: ʿan al-taʾifiyya wa-muthaqqafiha wa-l-thawra fi Suriya,” Al-Safir, August 29, 2012:

137Azimi (2014). See also Asad (2015).

138Halabi (2017).

139Robert F. Worth, “The Arab Intellectuals Who Didn’t Roar,” New York Times, October 30, 2011. On the ideological and cultural construction of “dissident” and “vanguard,” see Bolton (2012).

140Benjamin (1968: 253–64).

141Hanssen and Weiss (2016a: 8)

142Booth (1985); Mostafa (2001); Booth (2006). On re-iterations of Sayyid Darwish and Shaykh Imam in the context of the Egyptian uprising, see Ted Swedenburg, “Egypt’s Music of Protest: From Sayyid Darwish to DJ Haha,” Middle East Report 265 (Winter 2012),; Valassopoulos and Mostafa (2014).

143Tripp (2013a).

144Ganzeer’s work was featured as part of the inspired yet problematic “Arab exhibition,” Here and Elsewhere, at the New Museum (New York) in mid-2014; a captivating solo show, curated by Shiva Balaghi, was on view in at the Leila Heller Gallery (New York) in January–February 2015.

145See Halasa (2014); and the transnational revolutionary cultural clearinghouse, “The Creative Memory of the Syrian Revolution,” at

146For more on art and the Arab uprisings, see Sonali Pahwa and Jessica Winegar, “Culture, State and Revolution,” Middle East Report 263 (Summer 2012):; Smith (2015). See, too, the contribution by Azimi to this volume.

147Shenker (2016: 25–43). One of four pioneering Egyptian feminist women featured in the acclaimed documentary Four Women of Egypt (dir. Tahani Rached, 1997), Maqlad’s legacy became tainted when she endorsed the candidacy of General Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi in 2014.

148Memory of the Syrian Revolution, “O Syrian, Where Are You?,” July 1, 2012: See also Dakhli (2016).

150Drew Paul, “Art Inspiring Protest: The Case of Palestine’s Bab al-Shams,” al-Muftah July 22, 2014:

151Sacks (2015: 161–79).

152Halabi (2013: 61–62).

153Sulayman and Yasin (1974); Al-ʿAlim (2000: 447–68). See, too, Bishara (2003).

154Al-Haj Saleh (201220162017). Fadi Bardawil (2016b) points out how anti-imperialism has a long history of conceptually fitting other people’s struggles into metropolitan causes

155El-Ariss (2013: 170).

156Harlow (1996).

157Traverso (2016: 4).



If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!