“Arab American Women: Representation and Refusal,” a collection of 19 essays edited by Michael W. Suleiman, Suad Joseph and Louise Cainkar, provides a moving and appropriate tribute to the seminal work of the late Michael Suleiman. A public intellectual whose important contributions like his book, “Arabs in America” and founding of the Association of Arab American University Graduates (AAUG), Suleiman vastly broadened Arab American studies. The collection offers essays for both the interested lay reader and the serious scholar and Suleiman’s immense founding contribution to the field of Arab American Studies can easily be seen in the frequency he is cited in the articles’ references.
Arab Audience and Critics Riled Over Controversial Film
By Naomi Pham and Elie Chalala
The controversy over Palestinian-Dutch director Hany Abu-Assad’s “Huda's Salon” will not be the last furor over an Arab film. Not long ago, the film "Amira" and its director Mohamed Diab (more on “Amira” can be found in Al Jadid, Vol. 25, Nos. 80-81, 2021) met with similar disapproval. Most of the outrage against these two films did not center on the plots, themes, acting, directing, special effects, or cinematography, but on politics and what they considered immoral elements — which in “Huda’s Salon” is female nudity. The Palestinian creative community, including in the diaspora, has not been spared from harsh, and at times treasonous, accusations. Reasonable critics dismiss this latest controversy as being uninformed, superficial, and ideological. But the long-term consequences of these "populist" campaigns against Palestinian cinema carry intellectual costs. Many Palestinian talents, whether in the diaspora or inside Palestine, may retreat or abandon creative attempts to further the interests of their communities, given the chilling treatment met by their fellow directors. Despite the opposition's reasoning, profound ideological legacies of Palestinian politics still direct and guide some activists' campaigns that continue the old tactics and direct cultural politics to agree with their rejectionist political positions.
The Lebanese scholar and poet Charbel Dagher has written over 70 books, ranging from collections of poetry, novels, and translations to literary criticism and original research. Indeed, we can clearly recognize his various and rich creative achievements. What distinguishes Dagher’s academic works is his devotion to the quality of his writing – his rigorous documentation, sound methodology, and commitment to objective analysis are a testament to the earnestness and patience with which he approaches his craft. At the same time, Dagher’s writing maintains a vivacity often missing in academic research, which can often be dry and even burdensome to the reader. Dagher’s style flows with ease, and he delivers his arguments in a logical progression of documentation. One could even argue that in his fictional works, which he has taken care to separate from his poetry – he is, after all, a poet who has built his own experimental style and language – documentation is ever-present.
Oral tradition is deeply embedded in Arab culture. One need only look at al-Hakawati, performances by skilled storytellers that enrapture the mind and imagination. Knowledge and memory have been passed down orally from generation to generation in many Arab communities throughout history, giving Middle Eastern oral history different importance and imminence than Western or European academia because of a lack of written and archival records.
A new book hopes to add more to the understanding of this “new-old” science. Jordanian researcher Maher Kiwan’s “Oral History Industry: Voice of the Actors in Society” (Abdul Hameed Shoman Public Library) examines this growing subfield of historiology. Oral history encompasses various techniques used in the retrieval and archiving of testimonies from people who have direct knowledge and experience. The field focuses on contemporary processes so that the experiences of the recent past are collected and narrated from a modern perspective. “It is the product of a progressive movement that illuminates collective and individual memory and participates in the making of societies,” according to Kiwan, as cited by Al Arab newspaper. “Oral history can contribute to bridging a gap in the level of Arab historical practice, allowing oral testimony — a direct expression of memories that were not destined to move to the stage of writing — an opportunity to become history and turn them into archives and publications, providing… alternate channels that traditional records have fallen short of.”
Syrian author Hashem Saleh has established himself as a critic, known for his searing criticisms of Amin Maalouf and other influential writers (his complaints of Maalouf’s “The Sinking of Civilizations” were covered in Al Jadid, Vol. 24, No.78, 2020). He levels his latest claim against an Arab giant, the Enlightenment thinker Ibn Khaldun, calling on scholars to examine the celebrated Arab historian, whom Saleh calls a fundamentalist. According to Saleh, we should not consider Ibn Khaldun a pioneer of free, enlightened, and tolerant thinking in the Arab Islamic heritage. Rather, Ibn Khaldun’s rejection of pluralism and support of jihad sets a tone of intolerance that offers little in today’s turbulent climate of religious wars, unrest, and the rise of Islamic extremism and Daesh.