UNDERGRADUATE JOURNAL OF
Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations
Undergraduate Journal of
Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations
Staff & Credits EDITORS-IN-CHIEF Mahdi Chowdhury John P. Zabbal EDITORS Farida Rady Abdelmeguied Mark Wissam Chamoun Angus Lee Jordan Lucas Morello Tristan McGrath-Waugh Stephanie Adel Yaacoub THANK YOU Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations Students’ Union Arts & Sciences Students’ Union
“Yemeni Houses, Al-Hajjarah,” Anthony Pappone/Flickr
Table of Contents 5
Letter from Editors-in-Chief
Rethinking Agency: Muslim Women, Piety, and the Veil Judy Androsoff
The Osiris-Re Myth: An Analysis of the Use of Metaphor to Convey Ritual Thought and Meaning Gabriela Lichtblau
Transgressing the Nation-State: Democratic Confederalism and the Rojava Project in Syria Anastasia Katsoupa
The Late Bronze North Levantine Regional-Centers: Their Status and Interactions From an Archaeological Perspective Jason Silvestri
Historical Nostalgia and European Knowledge Production in Philip Manselâ€™s Aleppo: The Rise and Fall of Syriaâ€™s Great Merchant City Nourhan Hesham Moustafa
Letter from Editors-in-Chief
Dear Reader, It is our honour to present to you the tenth edition of the Undergraduate Journal of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations. We received an unprecedented number of submissions this year, reflecting the intellectual diversity and rigour present within the Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations Department. This journal would have not been possible without our diligent and meticulous editorial team. The five articles published herein have been written by our fellow undergraduate colleagues. Spanning both ancient and modern departmental streams, their articles testify to talent of the research community present here at the University of Toronto. We hope you enjoy the tenth edition of the Undergraduate Journal of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations! â€“ Mahdi Chowdhury & John P. Zabbal
Rethinking Agency: Muslim Women, Piety, and the Veil
SOURCE: Shirin Neshat, Women of Allah (1997). 6
The last few decades have seen feminists and anthropologists debate about how cultural and historical distinctiveness informs the analysis and politics of any “feminist” subject. When religion is integrated with political identity, particularly Islam, the resulting triumvirate becomes exceedingly complicated, intensifying the degree of contestation among scholars and their subjects of study. One could suggest that Western academics struggle to find common ground with Islam, particularly with Muslim women who veil and pursue modesty and piety. Their veil remains the obvious visual cue or identity marker for Westerners, although the veil’s significance runs much deeper for Muslim women. The veil’s attachment to Islam presents a conundrum for Western educators and secular Muslim scholars alike. The veil is often viewed as a symbol of oppression imposed on women by a patriarchal interpretation of Islam. Reconciliation with the veil, therefore, is often associated with reductionist theories such that women in Muslim societies do not have agency and require salvation. Lila Abu-Lughod, an anthropologist at Columbia University, responded to Western discourses emanating from the September 11 attacks. Abu-Lughod refutes the patronizing religious-cultural narratives that have re-ignited the West’s obsession with and perception of Muslim women and their apparel, in this case, Afghan women and the burqa. She took exception to President Bush and Laura Bush’s “war-on-terror” rationale that saw the U.S. also “fighting for the rights and dignity of Afghan women,”1 followed by claims that their military efforts liberated women from the burqa and Taliban terror.2 Abu-Lughod’s observations and subsequent challenge to the long-held “us” needing to save “them” post-colonial rhetoric remains relevant. Muslim women, their veil, and their piety remain under relentless scrutiny in the West. Gendered Orientalism is a larger, existing narrative among scholars, liberal feminists, NGOs, and the media that has also penetrated the general zeitgeist. De-historicizing the heterogeneous political identities of Muslim women creates simplified and uninformed narratives; a lucrative humanitarianism produces misguided “otherings.” Academia can apply pressure upon Muslim women to represent the entire Islamic civilization; the contentions centered mostly on piety and head covering. Anchored in Lila Abu-Lughod’s question regarding whether Muslim women require saving, this paper will examine the tenacious roots of colonial feminism which still serve as the underpinning of the dominant, hegemonic discourses and salvation narratives that besiege Muslim women and their various forms of cover. Further ethnography by Leila Ahmed and Saba Mahmood appraises 1 Lila Abu-Lughod, “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others,” American Anthropologist 104, no.3 (2002): 784. 2 Abu-Lughod argues that assigning religious and cultural explanations for this intervention neatly absolves the U.S. from its historic, Cold War role in the Middle East region. 7
the vigorous and heterogeneous exchanges about veiling and commitment to Islam by and among Muslim women who are embracing Islamic feminism, which offers new tools and thinking, grounding its findings in recent studies of the Qur’an and sacred texts. Ahmed states that Muslim women were the cornerstone of colonial feminism and anthropology, and their legacy “lives on” in constructed and static narratives, predicated by narrow ideas about civilization. Situating the foundations of colonial feminism in late 19th century Egypt, Ahmed’s exploration of Muslim women returning to the veil from 1970 onward supports the historical, political, and religious context of the roles women played in the Egyptian Islamic revival as well as the impetus to carve out new roles for themselves. Mahmood joins the conversation by introducing the “vexed relationship between feminism and religious traditions,”3 mostly with Islam, likely a result of its increasingly unstable relations with the West. Mahmood offers insight into agency among the “women of the mosque” in Cairo who embark on a highly contested journey of piety and modesty. Her controversial findings provide a stark contrast to the secular liberal theories with which we are familiar and challenges Western feminists and scholars to venture outside of their safe zone. A History of Colonial Feminism The historicity of colonial feminist roots provides context for a Western obsession with the veil that spans several centuries. Islam has endured racist and “othering” discourses from 17th-century ethnocentric colonial authorities and European traders across the Near and Middle East. The “unusual” practices associated with Islam, especially those with veiled Muslim women, have always “formed part of Western narratives of the quintessential ‘otherness’ and inferiority.”4 Western traders and travellers through these regions were the “credible” sources, relaying “what they saw,” and initiating what Edward Said refers to as authoritative discourses that develop over time.5 Said employs Foucault’s theory about how power and knowledge shape each other and the emerging narrative is strengthened through Western hegemony. The ability to produce knowledge about a place gives you power over the people who reside there, and hegemony is a result of this authoritative discourse.6 3 Saba Mahmood, “Feminist Theory, Embodiment, and the Docile Agent: Some Reflections on the Egyptian Islamic Revival,” Cultural Anthropology 16, no. 2 (2001): 203. 4 Leila Ahmed, Women and Gender in Islam (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 149. 5 Authoritative discourse: “I went there, this is what I saw, and that makes me an authority about ‘those’ people.” 6 Michel Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge (London: Routledge, 1989), 180; These misrepresentations have created false, authoritative discourses among scholars supporting post-colonial tropes regarding Muslim women and the 8
By the 18th century, notions about Islam and Muslim women were defined by patterns of male dominance, but simultaneously “confused specific content and meaning of customs and assumed Islam practiced in Muslim societies to be the only possible interpretation of the religion.”7 19th-century Muslim women became the central focus of colonialism’s narrative on Islam, as Great Britain and France had expanded their respective domains throughout the Middle East and North Africa. A narrative that mostly “othered” Islam in previous centuries had been reorganized to focus on Muslim women, and “appears to have been a compound created out of a coalescence between old narratives of Islam and the broad all-purpose narrative of colonial domination regarding the inferiority, in relation to the European culture.”8 Combined with ethnocentric observations from colonial anthropologists and Christian missionaries, the language of Western feminism would evolve during this time as well. Ahmed relays that colonizers regarded Victorian womanhood and its accompanying social mores as the “ideal measure of civilization legitimizing its domination over other societies.”9 At the same time, anthropologists substantiated Victorian theories regarding women’s inferiority in general, as the Victorian establishment confronted a women’s movement that desired more than a prescribed domesticity. Ahmed notes that the Victorian male establishment created theories opposing and contesting a burgeoning feminism on the home front, which “captured the language of feminism and redirected it, in the service of colonialism, toward Other men and the cultures of Other men.”10 Integrated colonial and feminist discourses fused over the concerns of women are subsequently used against these seemingly “oppressive” cultures categorized as inferior, with the mission to civilize or eradicate. Islam was the enemy and “colonialism had a rich vein of bigotry and misinformation to draw on.”11 Islam was inherently oppressive to women, characterized by the veil and segregation – customs that supported its inherent backwardness.12 Spurred on by Lord Cromer, Egyptian intellectual Qasim Amin’s 1899 book, The Liberation of Women, “marks the entry of the colonial narrative of women and Islam in which the veil and the treatment of women epitomized veil, resulting in the all-too-familiar the “other” is weak and must-be-civilized narrative, still hard at work today. 7 Ahmed, Women and Gender, 150. 8 Ibid., 150. 9 Ibid., 151. 10 Ibid., 151. 11 Ibid., 152. 12 Ibid., 153; “Feminists on the home front and feminism directed against white men was to be resisted and suppressed; but taken abroad and directed against the cultures of colonized peoples, it could be promoted in ways that admirably served and furthered the project of the dominance of the white man.” 9
Islamic inferiority in mainstream Arabic discourses.”13 Amin, echoing British colonial discourse in his bourgeois and privileged voice, opposed veiling because “it constituted a huge barrier between a woman and her elevation and a barrier between the nation and its advance.”14 Amin’s disturbing musings about lower-class, Egyptian, women reinforces his support for colonial discourses and, essentially everything European. Amin appears to be embarrassed to be associated with an “uncivilized” people and culture, which produces weak men who oppress their women by veiling them. To Amin, this substantiated “the backwardness of Islam and became a target of colonial attack."15 Amin’s support for this narrative underscores the debate about class and race. This narrative also situates the colonial paternalistic battle with feminism, which had triggered a major controversy in the Arabic press.16 Despite the furor instigated by Amin, his work had a profound influence, as Egyptians hastened to westernize their lives, homes, and clothing. Egyptian women, embracing the Europeanization of their society, began to unveil, especially in major urban centers. Ahmed claims that the act of Europeanization held the dream of modernity and the assurance of education and employment. In 1967, Egypt experienced a seismic political shift following Gamal Abdel Nasser’s devastating loss to Israel in the Six Day War. Many devout Muslims considered this loss to be a punishment from God for adhering to secular pan-Arabism. After Nasser’s death in 1970, the Muslim Brotherhood, which had previously been banned, enjoyed a surge in popularity. Anwar Sadat, the new president, encouraged the rise of these radical Islamist groups because he considered them to be an effective countermeasure to communism. Nevertheless, the Muslim Brotherhood were only allowed to operate within the religious sphere. Ahmed claims that there was no initial increase in religious observance; however, by the mid-1970s, young university women began to veil and then society at large. In the span of a couple years, “an entire era of Muslim women going bareheaded was quietly erased from Muslim memory.”17 The Muslim Brotherhood “who had always affirmed the veil as a foundational Islamic requirement,” envisioned this Islamic revival as their modernisation strategy in Egypt.18 “Just as Qasim Amin had called for Egyptian society to transform, the Muslim Brotherhood believed they were doing the same by demanding increased piousness among Egyptians and a return to the veil.”19 Renewed religiosity, although initially confined to universities, was a 13 Ibid., 163. 14 Ibid., 166. 15 Ibid., 162. 16 Ibid., 163; “The opposition it generated marks the emergence of an Arabic narrative developed in resistance to the colonial narrative.” 17 Leila Ahmed, A Quiet Revolution (Yale: Yale University Press, 2011), 47. 18 Ibid., 48. 19 Ibid., 65. 10
source of “internal transformation” for young women who took up wearing the veil making them feel “separated psychologically and intellectually from mainstream society.”20 The goal of the new observance was to “bring about the ideal Islamic society based on the Qur’an and the Sunna.”21 Whereas the traditional role for women, in the Muslim Brotherhood, was to educate other Muslim women, female students were now active alongside men.22 “Egypt was one of the first countries in the 1970s in which the veil and Islamic dress reappeared,” providing scholars and researchers an opportunity to discuss this new trend with Muslim women.23 Ahmed offers a compendium of this research spanning a decade, with some typical results entrenched in post-colonial feminist rhetoric. Alongside the Islamic revival, the return to the veil was initiated by and for Muslim women, “driven by their own needs, choices and volition,” although it is important to note that men tried to enforce veiling and segregation from the 1980s onward.24 Additionally, veiling was not, initially, driven by anti-western sentiment as “veiling was primarily the women’s idea and decision and its spread was unrelated to militant or oppositional Islam.”25 In their view, the veil afforded them with a higher sense of professionalism in their work, brought families closer together, and provided a way for Muslim women “to conform to the conservative Islamic notions of women’s roles,” although many feminists would disagree.26 The significance of these extraordinary occurrences appears to have become lost because as time passes, scholarly and humanitarian discourses of the 21st century seem to still have trouble recognizing that Muslim women can be comfortable within the tenets of Islam and that they may like their veils and burqas.27 Abu-Lughod sees colonial feminism as still existing as feminists and NGOs endeavor to find genteel ways to “save Muslim women from Muslim men,” especially following the September 11 attacks.28 Retaliatory wars-on20 Ibid., 79. 21 Ibid; Egyptian youth were embracing what Sayyid Qutb referred to as the indigenous heritage. Egypt was always looking outside for models to emulate. After Nasser’s failures, youth began to observe their own indigeneity, reclaim their history, and recognize that Islam played an important role in the realm of social values. In the later years of the revival, this became an anti-colonial tract. 22 Ibid., 80. 23 Ibid., 118; This return to the veil was puzzling for “modern” parents and fodder for feminists, both rejecting this new trend. 24 Ibid., 125. 25 Ibid., 124. 26 Ibid., 122. 27 Abu-Lughod, “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?,” 784; Liberals were surprised when Afghan women did not seem to be burning their burqas in the post-liberation period, returning to “belly-shirts and blue jeans.” 28 Ibid., 784; In this period Mahmood Mamdani responded to George Bush’s 11
terror which “saved” Muslim women in Afghanistan and Iraq presents Western feminists and anthropologists with a formidable conundrum: “how to counter anti-Muslim prejudices and neo-Orientalist representations of Muslim women, without getting caught in an apologetic or self-denying defence of Islamic gender practices or a justification of the oppressive discourses and actions of Islamist ideologues and rulers,” such as the Taliban in Afghanistan.29 At the other end of the “feminist” spectrum are scholars whose ideas about Muslim women situate them in history as social and political agents, “not despite Islam but because of it.”30 Despite the victimization of Muslim women, they are emerging as independent, gender-conscious subjects who participate in the social and political life of their societies. They have adopted the veil as a symbol of their piety and are vigorously challenging the interpretation of the sacred texts.”31 This space, Islamic feminism (IF), is as discursive as it is polemical, hosting a broad range of ideas and practices. Both feminism and Islam are “contested concepts that mean different things to different people and in different contexts,”32 so it should not be surprising that the pursuit of rights within this space is hardly monolithic. Secular feminist Fatima Mernissi, for instance, has researched the sacred texts and hadith to dispel, what she considers, the centuries-old, patriarchal-generated myths regarding Muslim women’s inferiority, whereas Islamic feminist Amina Wadud historicizes what she considers to be misogynist Qur’anic verses and may even outright reject them.33 Muslim women worldwide are engaged in these dynamic and “good Muslim/bad Muslim” discourse by introducing the term “culture talk,” which explains every thing Muslims do is reduced to Islam. Mamdani is critical of culture talk because when Islam is diminished to the cultural, it does not allow for the contextualization of geographical, historical, and cultural registers. Culture talk also defines individuals from “traditional” cultures homogeneously, which essentially de-historicizes the construction of political identities. In this case, culture talk reinforces the post-colonial tropes regarding Muslim women – they are oppressed because their culture and religion force them to wear a veil. Orientalism fits comfortably into culture talk; when the “other” is explained by these essential characteristics, it’s easier to “understand” that culture. 29 Haideh Moghissi, Feminism and Islamic Fundamentalism: The Limits of Postmodern Analysis (London: Zed Books, 1999), 37. 30 Ibid., 37. 31 Ibid., 41. 32 Ziba Mir-Hosseini, “Beyond Islam vs. Feminism,” IDS Bulletin 42, no. 1 (2011): 1. 33 Mir-Hosseini, “Islam vs. Feminism,” 5; “Although Muslim women saw no contradiction between their faith and desire for gender equality, political Islam provided them with the language to criticize the gender bias found in Muslim family laws in ways which were previously impossible. This created a 12
heterogeneous exchanges about veiling, their commitment to Islam, and their place in the world. Egyptian Women of the Mosque To demonstrate the breadth of Islamic feminism, Saba Mahmood offers insight into space where “female seclusion, sex segregation, and the veil, traditional or revived, should not be viewed as symbols of male control over female sexuality and moral conduct, but as tools of empowerment.”34 In this two-year study, Mahmood explores agency among pious, Egyptian women in an ethnographic chronicle of an urban women’s mosque movement which was part of the larger Islamic revival in Cairo during the late 1990s. Her study pursued: “women from divergent socioeconomic environs provide lessons to each other that focus on the teaching and studying of Islamic scriptures, social practices and forms of bodily comportment considered germane to the cultivation of the ideal virtuous self. The mosque movement represents an unprecedented engagement with scholarly materials and theological reasoning that to date had only been the purview of learned men.”35 She insists that this study deserves more than an anthropological report and that her findings must “speak back to normative liberal assumptions about freedom and agency against which such a movement is held accountable,” dispelling earnest, well-meaning Western-secular, Orientalist responses in academia to which Abu-Lughod refers.36 Mahmood argues agency is contextual and has multiple meanings outside of a Western, post-modernist lens. Religious and feminist differences “remain unexplored in scholarship and focus mostly on Islam, due in part to the historically contentious relations between Muslim countries and the West, and due to the tensions between different modern Islamic movements.”37 Post-colonial feminism appears to have claimed ownership of agency’s definition and of its parameters, which on the surface seem progressive, but upon closer examination is like “old wine in a new bottle.” Current “feminism offers a diagnosis of women’s status across cultures and a prescription for space for an internal critique of patriarchal readings of the Shari’a that was unprecedented in Muslim history.” 34 Saba Mahmood, “Feminist Theory, Embodiment, and the Docile Agent: Some Reflections on the Egyptian Islamic Revival,” Cultural Anthropology 16, no. 2 (2001): 203. 35 Ibid., 202. 36 Ibid., 203. 37 Ibid., 202. 13
fixing the lives of women deemed marginalized and oppressed.”38 Mahmood views women of the women’s mosque movement as active social agents, stressing the urgency to contextualize their desires and commitments because it represents something important to them – their desire to be closer to God. Their outward expressions reflect their internal, intimate experiences. Perhaps the most difficult element to appreciate is the notion of agency bound up in the cultivation of shyness. Shyness, or what Mahmood refers to as “docility,” and agency are not mutually exclusive. Deconstructing theories of subjectivization, which is an emotional response based on an inner experience rather than a fact, Mahmood offers that one’s capacity to define their subordination is not the result of an act or experience, but the recognition of it. She argues, “such a conceptualization of power and subject formation encourages us to understand agency not simply as a synonym for resistance to relations of dominance, but as a capacity for action that specific relations of subordination create and enable.”39 Mahmood uses the example of a musician who submits themselves to arduous practice; their agency rests on their capacity to be taught, or docility. Whereas we have been taught to understand docility as an “abandonment of agency” the term, here, implies the willingness to be instructed. It is not a passive act. Instead, “it draws our attention to the specific ways in which one performs a certain number of operations on one’s thoughts, body, conduct and ways of being in order to achieve a state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection or immortality.”40 As women of the mosque cultivate piety and docility, they acquire agency by subverting a different set of norms. In their study of the Islamic doctrine and Qur’anic exegesis, Mahmood notes none of these women hailed from particularly religious families, and they waged vigorous familial tensions in their pursuit of personal piety and veiling. The study reveals that their devotion was more than just simple acts of prayer: “piety entailed the training of the body, emotions, and reason as sites of discipline until the religious virtues acquired the status of embodied habits such as modesty or shyness,”41 all of which allowed these women to eventually feel closer to God.”42 A sense of shyness, even if manufactured, can eventually become part of one’s internal wiring. Wearing the veil evokes the same feeling and experience. Furthermore, “it is not a civilizational choice, it is a command from God. One does not veil to express an identity but as a condition for attaining the goal internal to that practice, the creation of a shy and modest self. The veil means both being and becoming a certain kind of person.”43 Mahmood suggests that Western feminism explores these “traditions 38 Ibid., 207. 39 Ibid., 210. 40 Ibid. 41 Ibid., 211. 42 Ibid., 212. 43 Ibid., 215. 14
in relation to the practical engagements and forms of life in which they are embedded so that we can come to understand the significance of that subordination to the women who embody it.”44 Even if the practices are objectionable, by some, it is still critical to take pause and consider the impulses, determination, dedication, and desires of the women who deem these practices essential. Mahmood’s inquiry also tells us that if we are to explore the experiences unique to women located in distinct historical and cultural circumstances, it does not suffice to suggest that a “tradition of female piety or modesty serves to give legitimacy to women’s subordination.” Rather, “it is only by exploring these traditions in relation to the practical engagements and forms of life in which they are embedded that we can understand the significance of that subordination to the women who embody it.”45 Mahmood acknowledges that this is a momentous undertaking and a critical rethinking of established discourses, and that academia takes umbrage with her findings, but insists that “an openness to exploring non-liberal traditions is intrinsic to a politically responsible scholarly practice, one that departs not from a position of certainty, but one of risk, critical engagement and willingness to re-evaluate one’s views in the light of “Other’s.”46 It may not succeed in changing one’s mind, but such critical deliberation creates an opening, a possibility that one may begin to answer questions that seemed long settled.47 Conclusion Whereas both Western and elements within Islamic feminism may consider this apologist rhetoric for a patriarchal Islam, Mahmood goes the extra mile to redefine and expand the parameters of agency. While this experience of women of the mosque does not speak for all Muslim women, it is a significant space that must be explored and included under the umbrella of agency and empowerment for Muslim women – even if we cannot initially understand or appreciate it. Agency is not a monolith. This may be what Abu-Lughod meant fifteen years ago when she sardonically pondered if Muslim women require saving – critically calling into question the colonial roots of contemporary feminism and anthropology’s historical, ethnocentric complicity, and current deficits of cultural relativism, the latter which Abu44 Ibid., 208. 45 Ibid., 225. 46 Ibid., 225. 47 Islamic feminism (both Muslim and Western feminists also love to hate the term for numerous reasons) is not a controlled set of ideas or prescriptions. It is just as varied and flavourful as Western feminism although the latter endeavors to contained Islamic feminism in a nice, neat box. It is also a very young movement (from the 1990s) and should be given the same patience accorded to Western feminism, which has been evolving for more than a century. It is a movement in its infancy that lost legitimacy after the 9/11 attacks. 15
Lughod considers may be too passive. Cultural relativism, along with feminist theory, does not always create the possibility to understand that people may want different things, and is likely outdated for these turbulent, political climes as Abu-Lughod warns it is now “too late to not interfere.”48 Instead, what is required is a deconstruction of the various moral crusades involving Muslim women because “their cultures are just as much as part of history and interconnected with the world as ours.”49 She concludes by encouraging all those obsessed with the veil, set aside their white saviour prescriptions, and instead offer concrete and material aid to the real issues that face Muslim women and men across the Near and Middle East, such as access to proper nutrition and clean water, education, healthcare, and poverty reduction. For those bound up in the colonial feminist and NGO realm – Abu-Lughod insists it is imperative for a robust academia and the health of our planet to consider that women who inhabit diverse geographical, historical, and cultural registers have multiple physical and social desires, which have yet to be fully validated.
48 Abu-Lughod, Lila. “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?,” 789; “The reason respect for difference should not be confused with cultural relativism is that it does not preclude asking how we, living in this privileged and powerful part of the world, might examine our own responsibilities for the situations in which others in distant places find themselves in.” 49 Ibid., 787. 16
Works Cited Abu-Lughod, Lila. “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others.” American Anthropologist 104, no. 3 (2002): 783-790. Ahmed, Leila. A Quiet Revolution: The Veil’s Resurgence from the Middle East to America. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011. Ahmed, Leila. Women and Gender in Islam. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992. Foucault, Michel. The Archeology of Knowledge. London: Routledge, 1989. Mahmood, Saba. “Feminist Theory, Embodiment, and the Docile Agent: Some Reflections on the Egyptian Islamic Revival.” Cultural Anthropology 16, no. 2 (2001): 201-225. Mamdani, Mahmood. “Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: A Political Perspective on Culture and Terrorism.” American Anthropologist 104, no. 3 (2002): 766-775. Mir-Hosseini, Ziba. “Beyond ‘Islam’ vs. ‘Feminism’.” IDS Bulletin, 42, no. 1 (2011): 1-11. Moghissi, Haideh. Feminism and Islamic Fundamentalism: The Limits of Postmodern Analysis. London: Zed Books, 1999. Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Vintage, Books, 2003.
The Osiris-Re Myth: An Analysis of the Use of Metaphor to Convey Ritual Thought & Meaning
SOURCE: “Re-Osiris,” Wikimedia Commons. 18
Ancient Egyptian mythology is imbued with complex meanings and seemingly contradictory ideas, none more so than myths regarding life after death. The Egyptian conception of the world of the afterlife is multifaceted and the various descriptions of the realm of the dead add to the already complicated structure of their mythological systems. However, within this apparent havoc, there are two consistent elements in the eschatology of ancient Egypt’s entire history: Re and Osiris. These two figures have played principal roles in the realm of the afterlife from the pyramid texts of the Old Kingdom to the books of the underworld of the New Kingdom. This paper will discuss the significance of these two figures in the ancient Egyptian conception of life by discussing their roles in the afterlife. A major mythological event depicted in New Kingdom tombs is the merging of Re and Osiris in the underworld. This event is a pivotal moment as it is fundamental to ensuring the continuation of the Solar God’s journey to the next sunrise. According to ancient Egyptian religious ideology, the Egyptians conceived of the sun setting in the West as the Solar God descending into the realm of the underworld in his Solar Barque. The Solar God travels through the underworld down to its very depths, where he merges with Osiris – the king of the underworld. Upon this union, Re becomes revitalized, attaining renewed strength to defeat his enemies who would threaten the continuity of his solar journey. This is a significant event in ancient Egyptian eschatological thought as it is intrinsically related to the Egyptian’s cyclical conception of life and acts to reinforce funerary ritual. I would argue that the union of Re and Osiris in myth functions to represent and reaffirm religious ideology in eschatological thought related to funerary ritual; specifically, the union between the Ba and the Body after death as well as the transfiguration of the deceased into their Ax (Akh). The occurrence of these two events is integral to ensuring that the deceased is admitted into the afterlife, and is therefore a significant myth in representing ancient Egyptian conceptions of life as cyclical. The prevalence of these two deities within eschatological thought is rooted in the structural system of their mythologies being cyclical. The repetition of the protagonist’s death and rebirth is the key structural element which elevates the significance of their mythologies in Egyptian thought. For Re, the structural cycle is expressed through the solar cycle, whereas for Osiris, the structural cycle is expressed in his death and resurrection. The solar cycle was one of great importance in ancient Egypt as it was understood to provide energy that gave life and vegetation. Therefore, all life was dependent on the continued rising and setting of the sun. The Solar God had various forms depending on the personality he was meant to exhibit at a specific point in time. The Litany of Re lists the 75 possible forms of the Solar God.1 For the purposes of the Osiris-Re myth, the most important forms of the Solar God are Re, who is his manifestation during the day, Khepri, his manifestation in 1 Erik Hornung, The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife (Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press, 1999), 137. 19
the morning represented as a scarab beetle, and Atum.2 When evening arrives, the sun sets in the West and it is understood that the Solar God has entered the afterlife. The Solar God’s journey to the afterlife is representative of the natural course of life. Death is imminent and necessary for the continuity of the existential cycle.3 When he enters the afterlife, he is depicted in a ramheaded form which is also interpreted as his Ba.4 Therefore, his entering the afterlife in Ba form could be interpreted as symbolic of his death. For the sun to rise in the morning, it must die in the evening. The continuity of the Solar God’s cycle of perpetual death and rebirth was an indication of his victory over his enemies. Thus, Re’s union with Osiris was necessary to ensure the continuation of the cosmos and all existence. The continuity of the solar cycle is the fundamental cyclical aspect of the mythology of Re. The myth of Osiris is just as steeped in cyclical structure as Re’s. Osiris’ cyclicality is related to the act of his reanimation. Upon being killed by his brother Seth, Osiris is resurrected and made king of the underworld and Judge of the dead.5 A key element of his mythology is his association with the land of Egypt and the cycle of vegetation that was the staple of ancient Egyptian society.6 The principle elements of the Osirian myth – death and resurrection and Osiris’ association with the land – account for the metaphorical association that is made between the god and the vegetation cycle. Therefore, through his connection with the land and his association with rebirth, Osiris’ mythology also demonstrates a cyclic structure. Osiris’ association with the agricultural cycle and rebirth, and Re’s association with the solar cycle are both powerful metaphors alluding to the ancient Egyptian’s conception of life as a continuous cycle of death and rebirth.7 Associating with both gods would have been believed to be paramount in securing one’s own rebirth into the afterlife. By closely associating with both gods and equating to their form, the devotee would invoke their power, thereby emulating their cyclical existence and ensuring their rebirth and renewal in the afterlife as well as their continued existence. I clean myself and receive for myself my clean place in the 2 Geralidne Pinch, Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 153. 3 Ibid., 185. 4 The significance of the Solar God taking on this form upon entering the afterlife will be discussed later in the paper. 5 Pinch, Egyptian Mythology, 178. 6 Ibid., 179. 7 It is also important to note that agriculture being an integral part of Ancient Egyptian economy and society, Osiris and Re’s association with the agricultural cycle and solar cycle, respectively, may have made them important deities in the socio-economic sphere as well as the religious. 20
sky. I endure, and my perfect places endure, and I receive for myself my clean place in the prow of the Sun’s boat. And the crew who row the Sun, they are the ones who row me; and the crew who conduct the Sun around the Akhet, they are the ones who conduct me around the Akhet.8 This text is an excerpt from Pyramid Text spell 407, found in the tomb of King Teti, Dynasty 6. It demonstrates how the deceased kings equated themselves to the gods whom they wished to emulate by adopting certain characteristics associated with those deities. In this context, King Teti is equating himself with Re for the purposes of taking part in the solar cycle. Therefore, in equating himself with Re, he is able to emulate Re’s continuous cycle of rebirth thereby ensuring, not only his place in the celestial realm among the gods but his continued existence. As Re goes through his process of nightly regeneration, so does the deceased king. There are two dominant themes in the Osiris-Re myth that are related to the funerary cult and eschatological ideology; the relationship between the Ba and the Corpse, and the transfiguration of the deceased into the Akh (Ax). The union between the Ba and the Corpse is an integral part of ensuring not only that the deceased is able to inhabit the realm of the afterlife, but also to guarantee their continued existence in the cosmos. The ancient Egyptians conceived of the individual as having five main parts; the Ba (bA), the Ka (kA), the Corpse, the Shadow and the transfigured self, known as the Akh (Ax).9 The important elements of the self, pertaining to this myth, are the Ba, the Corpse and the Akh. The ancient Egyptians believed that the Ba inhabits the body until death, when it becomes separated from the Corpse.10 Each aspect of the individual serves a different function in preserving the deceased’s existence after death, therefore this dissociation of the various forms is necessary.11 The Ba is a relatively more mobile aspect of the individual, being able to freely 8 James P. Allen, The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts. 2nd ed. (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature Press, 2015), 97. 9 Jan Assman, Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt. Translated by David Lorton (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005), 87-88; John H. Taylor, Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 16. 10 I use the terms “Body” and “Corpse” in reference to the deceased’s physical entity. Here “Body” is used in reference to the physical body while the individual is alive, whereas, “Corpse” is used to refer to the physical body when the individual is deceased. Both terms are referring to the same aspect of the individual and can therefore be used interchangeably. However, I wish to maintain the distinction between living and dead in their connotative use; Assman, Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt, 87. 11 Assman, Death and Salvation, 87. 21
move between the realm of the living and the dead.12 However the continued connection between the Ba and the Corpse was essential to maintaining the individual’s existence.13 It was imperative that the Ba be reunited with the Corpse each night. These relational conditions between the Ba and the Corpse also reflect a cyclical structure. The existence of both the Ba, and the individual, is dependent on it returning to the Corpse every evening. This cyclical structural pattern parallels that of Re, continuously returning to the afterlife every evening to merge with Osiris. Numerous spells aimed at ensuring the return of the Ba to the Corpse demonstrate the importance of this reunion. Let this ba-soul of mine come to me From wherever it is. If there is delay in bringing this ba-soul of mine to me From wherever it is, You shall find the eye of Horus stood against you Like those beyond.14 The importance of this relationship is also reflected in its emphasis in the Osiris-Re myth, in which it is exemplified on a greater scale where the existence of the cosmos is at stake. This exaggeration of circumstance serves to reaffirm the notion that this union was a pivotal event in the mind of the ancient Egyptians. In the Osiris-Re myth, Re is representative of the sun-god’s Ba while Osiris is representative of the Solar God’s Corpse.15 This interpretation is also alluded to in the previously stated fact that the Solar God enters the underworld in the form of a ram-headed figure. The Ram form is interpreted as the Ba of the Solar God.16 Therefore when the Solar Barque reaches the depths of the underworld to unite with Osiris, it is the Ba of the Solar God that is taking part in this union. Within his own myth, Osiris is represented and interpreted as a corpse, having died and been resurrected in a mummified form. Therefore, his form in the Osirian myth is used as a metaphor for the deceased’s Corpse. Within the Osiris-Re myth, Osiris represents the Solar God’s Corpse. 12 Taylor, Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt, 20. 13 Ibid., 90. 14 Stephen Quirke, Going Out in Daylight: prt m hrw - The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead: Translations, Sources, Meanings (London: Golden House Publications, 2013), 205. 15 Andreas Schweizer, The Sungod’s Journey Through the Netherworld: Reading the Ancient Egyptian Amduat, ed. David Lorton (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010), 120. 16 The Egyptian term for “Ba” and “Ram” are the same, therefore, the use of the ram is a play on words; Hornung, The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife, 27. 22
The relationship between Osiris and Re in this event is a symbiotic one. Like the two aspects of the deceased that these gods are representing, both Osiris and Re are dependent on each other for their own individual process of regeneration. The role of Re is to reawaken Osiris, while the role of Osiris is to revitalize and transform Re. As Re passes through the underworld, his solar light carries the power to give life. As he passes the dead, they are awakened by the touch of his light and they live their lives in the afterlife for the duration of his presence.17 Upon leaving, he takes the life-giving force of his light with him and the dead return to their sleeping state.18 This is the course of events for Osiris as well. He is only temporarily reawakened in the presence of Re’s light and returns to his mummified state after Re’s departure.19 Osiris, for his part, is the principle component to Re’s transformation and renewal. Due to his association with the power of rebirth and resurrection, Osiris uses his powers of renewal upon merging with Re to induce the Solar God’s transformation into his rejuvenated form, Khepri. The common interpretation among scholars is that this dynamic between Re and Osiris metaphorically alludes to the relationship between the Ba and the Corpse. Much like the deceased’s existence, the continuity of the solar cycle, and by extension cosmic order, is dependent on upholding that relationship. Therefore, the condition of the relationship between the Ba and the Corpse also reflects this cyclical structure. Andreas Schweizer presents a slightly different interpretation of these events, arguing that the myth reflects a psychological renewal as opposed to a spiritual or eschatological renewal. His analysis is based on the Book of the Gates which describes the Solar God’s journey through the underworld with a greater emphasis on the idea of the renewal of light.20 In his analysis, Schweizer adds another layer of metaphorical allusion to the already symbolic narrative of Osiris and Re’s union. Agreeing that it is indeed a representation of the union of the Ba and Corpse, he takes it a step further by arguing that the Ba and Corpse themselves are metaphorical allusions to various forms of consciousness existing simultaneously in Egyptian society. Drawing from the notion that out of admiration and respect for their past and ancestry the ancient Egyptians tended to preserve and build on structures and concepts of the past, he conceives of the union of the Ba and the Corpse as a symbolic expansion of individual consciousness renewed in the depth of the collective consciousness.21 In his analysis, the Ba represents the individual’s consciousness whereas the Corpse is representative of the collective unconscious.22 The reasoning for equating the Corpse to the collective unconscious is related to 17 Schweizer, The Sungod’s Journey, 120. 18 Hornung, Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife, 41. 19 Ibid. 20 Ibid., 124. 21 Ibid., 126. 22 Ibid., 124. 23
the religious ideology of deceased kings becoming Osiris after their death and judgement. Therefore, Osiris is not only symbolic of the Solar God’s corpse, but of the consciousness of all former rulers of Egypt. The collective unconscious, personified as Osiris, is therefore made up of the collective memory and thought of ancient Egyptian ancestry.23 When the Ba enters the depth of the underworld, the emphasis on darkness reflects a darkness of psyche. When Osiris is reanimated by the light of Re, it is a representation of the power of collective thought.24 The collective unconscious is revived by the consciousness of the individual. In uniting with the Corpse and the collective unconscious, the individual psyche experiences a renewal of consciousness derived from the renewal energy of the collective. Through this act of renewal, collective thought is reaffirmed in the individual psyche and the collective is interpreted to have the power to drive away the darkness and restore life to the individual. Schweizer’s interpretation implies that the OsirisRe myth functioned to reaffirm social cohesion as it metaphorically alluded to conformity to collective consciousness and thought. This interpretation also emphasises the sociality of ancient Egyptian culture and assumes that social existence was a very important aspect of ancient Egyptian life and society.25 The second dominant theme of the Osiris-Re myth is transformation. In funerary ritual, the concept of transformation is an integral part of ensuring the deceased’s continued existence in the afterlife and is significantly alluded to in the Osiris-Re myth. The conception of the Akh is how ancient Egyptians were able to conceive of life as continuous.26 When a person dies, they are judged to determine whether they had lived life justly.27 If it is decided that they have, they are admitted into the afterlife. However, before they can access the afterlife, a transformation of self must take place in which, through funerary ritual, the deceased is transformed into the Akh.28 It is this aspect of the individual that inhabits the realm of the afterlife, therefore, this transformation is viewed as essential to continued life after death. Pyramid Text spell 264 is an example of this, demonstrating that the ancient Egyptians believed that once transfiguration into the Akh occurred, one’s continued existence was ensured. 23 Which, I would argue, could be interpreted as a metaphorical allusion to ancient Egyptian social norms. 24 As Assman has demonstrated in Death and Salvation, the ancient Egyptians were a socially driven culture. Therefore, collective thought and social norm would most likely have been a significant influence in daily life. 25 The sociality of Ancient Egyptian Society, particularly in the Middle Kingdom period, is reflected in the Middle Egyptian text “The Debate between a Man and his Ba,” in which a man contemplates suicide. The text addresses the social implications of such an act. 26 Henry Frankfort, Ancient Egyptian Religion: An Interpretation (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961), 101. 27 Ibid., 100. 28 Ibid. 24
For he has taken me from that which is below and does not give me to Osiris. I cannot truly die, having become Akh in the Akhet and stable in Djedut.29 The cycle of transformation and rebirth that is represented in the merging of Re and Osiris is similar in principle. Re merges with Osiris and the two inhabit the same space in which Osiris’ powers of resurrection result in the rebirth of Re as Khepri. Your Ba-soul rejoices, you are bodily transfigured, The ba-soul of Ra is high in the west, Its bandaged one (?) is extolled, With rejoicing at their strikes (?) on the bolt, For the Ba-soul of Ra, the one who is in the underworld. Body and ba-soul are at rest in the underworld, The ba-soul that raged is at rest in the underworld of his ba-soul.30 When Re merges with Osiris, he does so in his ram-head Ba form. Following his “resurrection”, Re’s Ba is transfigured and, upon his separation from Osiris, appears in the form of Khepri. The significance of this form is in the name of the manifestation of the Solar God. The name of the god Khepri comes from the word xpr which means “to come into existence”. Therefore, the manifestation of the Solar God as Khepri is interpreted as the initial form of the Solar God in his cycle. Re enters the afterlife figuratively dead, having assumed the form of his Ba, and it is upon this transformation that his life is renewed. It is only through this process of transformation that the Solar God’s life cycle can continue. However, in both the eschatological ideology and the mythical representation, the transformation event can only occur if the Ba has been reunited with the Corpse following its initial dissociation after death.31 Therefore, much like the restoration of the solar cycle is dependent on the union of Re and Osiris, the deceased’s continued existence is dependent on the union of the Ba and the Corpse. The Osiris-Re myth reflects these three principal aspects of the individual that are central characters in funerary ritual and vital to emulating 29 This is an excerpt from Pyramid Text spell 264, part of the “Spells for Leaving the Duat” found in the tomb of King Teti, 6th Dynasty (Old Kingdom). For the full text see James Allen, Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, 83. 30 This is an excerpt from the “Litany of Re” (Chapter 180) the version of the papyrus of the chisel-bearer Neferrenpet dating to approximately 1250 BCE, 19th Dynasty (Quirke, Going out in the Daylight, 459). For the full text see Stephen Quirke’s Going out in the Daylight– prt m hrw: The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead (2013): 458-460. 31 Assman, Death and Salvation, 91; Frankfort, Ancient Egyptian Religion, 18. 25
the cycle of rebirth associated with the gods. The ram-headed form of the Solar God is a representation of the Ba and reflects the Ba’s role in the funerary cult. While Osiris is a representation of the deceased’s Corpse, and Khepri represents the deceased’s transfigured Akh. The Corpse provides protection and houses the Ba, and the Akh is the “renewed” living aspect of the deceased. This demonstrates that the Osiris-Re myth is a metaphorical allusion to the ancient Egyptian’s conception of the human life cycle. They die in the land of the living, but are resurrected or reborn to live life anew as transfigured versions of themselves in the afterlife.32 The importance of this event in mythological thought parallels the importance of this union in eschatological thought. Without the repeated union between the Ba and the Corpse, the deceased would lose all form and cease to exist. Much like, without Re and Osiris’ union, the solar cycle would cease and darkness and chaos would ensue. This myth gives scholars a glimpse into the ancient Egyptian’s conception of their own lives and existence. The events of this union demonstrate a metaphorical union between life (Re) and death (Osiris).33 The merging of life and death results in a renewal of life in a new form thereby transcending death as an end. Therefore, the Egyptians conceived of life as continuous and death as a momentary event like any other life changing experience.34 Although their conception of what constitutes the afterlife changed overtime, the cyclicality of their eschatological ideology was constant.35 The association of the human life span to the life span of Re and Osiris allowed them to conceive of their own existence as never-ending. In Pyramid and Coffin texts, there are repeated allusions to Osiris and Re and their individual roles in eschatological mythology. Evidence of Re and Osiris’ roles in the afterlife are attested as early as the Old Kingdom but no union between the two is ever mentioned or implied. Any references to their respective roles in the afterlife are independent mythemes36 related to their independent roles and not to any union of the two. This physical dissociation37 between Re and Osiris is demonstrated in Pyramid Texts spells 219 and 302. 32 Frankfort, Ancient Egyptian Religion, 109. 33 Alison Roberts, My Heart My Mother: Death and Rebirth in Ancient Egypt (Rottingdean, East Sussex: Northgate Pub., 2000), 36. 34 Assman, Death and Salvation, 164. 35 The only exception to the eschatological norm of a cyclical existence was during the religious revolution of the Amarna period under Akhenaten. 36 Mytheme refers to the mythical elements that constitute the overarching mythical narrative. 37 In saying physical dissociation, I am referring to the lack of a physical relationship between Re and Osiris which is represented in the union myth, as opposed to a relational dissociation which would be the absence of an established relationship. The relationship between the two is repeatedly expressed in Pyramid and Coffin texts so there is no relational dissociation. 26
Atum, this Osiris here is your son, whom you have made revive and live: he lives and this Unis lives, he does not die and this Unis does not die.38 My seat is with you, Sun, and I do not give it to any other. So, I go up to the sky by you.39 Spell 219 is part of the greater “Litany of Identification with Osiris” in which the deceased equates himself with Osiris as the Corpse. Since they emulate the same state of death as Osiris before his resurrection, Osiris can be used as a metaphorical representation of the deceased. Therefore, since they are Osiris they too follow his cycle of resurrection and rebirth. Spell 302 is part of the “Spells for Leaving the Akhet” in which the deceased’s ascent to the sky with the sun as it rises from the horizon is described. Akhet (Axt) is the term for “horizon”, therefore, the imagery of the sunrise is that of the first sunrise with the Solar God’s rising above the primeval mound. Here the deceased is associating himself with the Solar God in the hopes that he will rise to the sky and journey in the Solar Barque along with the Solar God. In this way, the deceased ensures continued life after death by taking an active part in the solar cycle. The event of Re and Osiris merging is only depicted or referred to in the New Kingdom period. Whether the myth of this union existed before the New Kingdom cannot be confirmed as it is possible that it existed but not in a written form. Sun Atum, this Unis has come to you—an imperishable akh, lord of the property of the place of the four papyrus-columns. Your son has come to you, this Unis has come to you. You shall both traverse the above, after gathering in the netherworld, and rise from the Akhet, from the place in which you have both become akh.40 38 This is an excerpt from Pyramid Text spell 219, “Litany of Identification with Osiris”, a spell part of the rebirth ritual found in the tomb of King Unis, 5th Dynasty (Old Kingdom). For the full text see John Allen, Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, 37. 39 This is an excerpt from Pyramid Text spell 302, “Spells for Leaving the Akhet”, describing the ascent towards the sky also found in the tomb of King Unis, 5th Dynasty (Old Kingdom). For the full text see John Allen, Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, 60. 40 This is an excerpt from Pyramid Text spell 217, “Commendation to Atum at Dawn”, a spell part of the resurrection ritual found in the tomb of King Unis, 5th Dynasty (Old Kingdom). For the full text see John Allen, Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, 36. 27
This excerpt from the tomb of Unis, 5th Dynasty ruler, demonstrates that the end goal of transformation into the afterlife was to reside in the celestial sky with the gods. This text describes an aspect of the deceased king’s journey in which he meets Atum41 in the Netherworld and then ascends to the sky with him in their Akh forms. This passage demonstrates that even in the Old Kingdom, the Egyptians believed that at some point of its journey, the sun passed through the Netherworld. Therefore, the Solar God was believed to travel within Osiris’ Netherworld and, for a period, the two inhabited the same realm at the same time, yet there is no reference to a union between the two. References to the Osiris-Re myth is principally found in the New Kingdom’s Books of the Underworld, which are a collection of myths that focus on the nightly regeneration of the Solar God.42 It includes the Amduat, the Spell of Two Caves, and the Book of Gates to name a few. The Amduat and the Book of Gates are the earlier works that constitute the Books of the Underworld.43 The Amduat was widely used well into the Ptolemaic Period, whereas, the Book of Gates was found to be used less and less by the end of the New Kingdom.44 This was probably due to its focus on the journey of the king, and therefore it was not applicable to the general population.45 These are the two main sources on the Osiris-Re mythology as they provide the most detailed description of how the Egyptians conceived the underworld and life after death. Following the Amarna Period came the Books of the Sky which also describe the events of the Solar God’s journey through the afterlife, but it is transposed onto the sky which is personified as the body of Nut.46 The structure of the narrative is similar to what is described in the Books of the Underworld; however, there is more of an emphasis on cosmology than eschatology. Therefore, the Books of the Underworld are the best New Kingdom sources for determining how the ancient Egyptians understood the relationship between Osiris and Re and how it related to their conception of 41 It is important to note that in James P. Allen’s translation of Pyramid Text spell 217 he refers to the manifestation of the Solar God in this spell as Sun Atum, whereas, in Miriam Lichtheim’s translation she refers to the manifestation of the Solar God as Re-Atum. Both Lichtheim and Allen are referring to the same deity, as Re, Re-Atum, and Atum are all manifestations of the same deity. In the context of mythology, as long as the structural relationship that the myth is alluding to remains intact, it does not matter which manifestation is used; Lichtheim, Miriam. Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume I The Old and Middle Kingdoms. California: University of California Press, 2006: 30. 42 Hornung, The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife, 27. 43 Ibid., 26. 44 Ibid., 30-31; 56. 45 Ibid., 56. 46 Ibid., 112. 28
the afterlife. While there is a distinct difference in eschatological thought between the Old Kingdom and the New Kingdom, it may still be possible that the union did exist as a myth before the New Kingdom and was only emphasised in the mortuary cult later. If this is the case, then the question arises as to why it was only depicted in the New Kingdom period. Alison Roberts suggests that the increase in its depiction in tombs is due to an increased emphasis on the Osirian cult following the Amarna period. She argues that the re-emergence and emphasis of Osirian mythology in the 19th Dynasty and the increased use of the Union myth in tomb inscriptions was a way of restoring Egyptian conception of the afterlife following the reign of Akhenaten.47 The changes made to the traditional conception of the afterlife during the Amarna period undermined the certainty previously associated with the Osirian afterlife, resulting in a slight shift in eschatological thought.48 The prevalence of the Union myth in the New Kingdom is therefore, a product of the religious restoration movement and an attempt to reassert the Osirian cult in ancient Egypt, since the Osirian conception of the afterlife was eliminated during the Amarna period.49 However, it can be argued that this is not necessarily the case because there have been references to the union in tombs that predate the Amarna period, such as in The Litany of Re found in the tomb of Thutmose III,50 and the Amduat, the oldest fragment being found in the tomb of Thutmose I and the oldest complete narrative found in the tomb of Thutmose III.51 This paper has attempted to discuss the significance of the Osiris-Re myth in the context of funerary ritual and eschatological thought, arguing that the function of this myth was to reaffirm funerary cultic practice. This premise is supported by the works of other scholars, such as Alison Roberts who argue that the reaffirmation of funerary cultic practice was necessary as an act of religious restoration following the Amarna period. The fact that the full Osiris-Re myth is only attested in the New Kingdom indicates some sort of shift in perspective and conception of the world. Whether that shift is a product of religious restoration or simply a natural change to the world view brought on by one thousand years of socio-political economic changes, is something that should be further considered. Scholars agree that the structural emphasis on cycles expressed in the association drawn from Re and Osirisâ€™ respective mythologies, reflect a cyclical conception of life. However, the cyclicality of the mythical narrative is not its only point of significance. The myth also alludes to the importance 47 Roberts, My Heart My Mother, 1-6. 48 Rosalie David, Religion and Myth in Ancient Egypt (London: Penguin, 2002) 247-248. 49 Roberts, My Heart My Mother, 1-6. 50 Quirke, Going out in the Daylight, 460. 51 Hornung, The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife, 27-28. 29
of specific funerary rituals, mainly the union of the Ba and the Corpse as well as the transformation of the deceased into their Akh. The extensive spells found in Pyramid texts, which continue to be used in the Coffin texts and the Book of the Dead, reiterate the importance of these two rituals in Egyptian eschatological thought. It is evident that the Osiris-Re mythical narrative acted as a metaphorical embodiment of these two rituals. Associating these two practices with the gods reaffirmed the necessity for these practices and the ideology behind these rituals in the minds of the Egyptians. The myth demonstrates that the ancient Egyptians conceived of “Life” and “Existence” as two distinct states of being. “Life” as being specifically existence on earth, and as such had an end. Their mode of dealing with that notion of end was through the conception of “Existence”, as opposed to life, as continuous. Life is finite; however, Existence has the potential to continue outside of time. Instead of viewing existence and time as a linear progression, the Osiris-Re myth demonstrates a conception of time as circular and without end. Therefore, as long as the individual conformed to religious ideology and practices of funerary ritual, cyclicality of existence would be ensured and the individual would transcend the end that constitutes Life. As opposed to simply living, the ancient Egyptian existed, in all space and time.
Works Cited Primary Sources Allen, James P. The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts. 2nd ed. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature Press, 2015. Quirke, Stephen. Going out in Daylight: prt m hrw - the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead: Translations, Sources, Meanings. London: Golden House Publications, 2013. Secondary Sources Assman, Jan. Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt. Translated by David Lorton. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005. David, Rosalie. Religion and Myth in Ancient Egypt. London: Penguin, 2002. Frankfort, Henry. Ancient Egyptian Religion: An Interpretation. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961. Hornung, Erik. The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife. Translated by David Lorton. Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press, 1999. Pinch, Geraldine. Egyptian Myhtology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. Roberts, Alison. My Heart My Mother: Death and Rebirth in Ancient Egypt. Rottingdean, East Sussex: Northgate Pub., 2000. Schweizer, Andreas. The Sungodâ€™s Journey Through the Netherworld: Reading the Ancient Egyptian Amduat. Edited by David Lorton. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010. Taylor, John H. Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.
Transgressing the Nation-State: Democratic Confederalism and the Rojava Project in Syria Anastasia Katsoupa
SOURCE: Ahmet Sik/Getty Images. (2017) 32
The Middle East is fraught with tensions between different cultural, ethnic, and religious groups. Oftentimes, groups that do not comply with majoritarian nationalistic narratives experience alienation and isolation from the dominant political body. Perhaps, none can relate to this more than the Kurds, who have yet to have their own nation. After World War I, Western powers, specifically Britain and France, did not take the Kurds into consideration when they divided the Middle East into nation-states and the Kurds now belonged to four different nations: Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria. Throughout the decades, conceptions of Kurdish liberation and independence took on a different form in each of these respective nations. This paper will examine the case of the Kurds in Syria and their current radical project of democratic confederalism in Rojava (Democratic Federation of Northern Syria). I will examine the philosophies surrounding this democratic project, specifically the works of Murray Bookchin and Abdullah Öcalan, in order to demonstrate how the Kurdish movement in Syria was able to unite into a powerful force backed by a new political system. Following my survey of the principles upholding democratic confederalism, I will investigate the application of democratic confederalism in Rojava, including the contradictions, problems, and the international backlash that its implementation has posed. Furthermore, I will examine the issues of communes, women and gender, ecology, economy and resource management, the judiciary, and ethnic diversity to demonstrate how the revolution has had a diverse impact. Finally, I will conclude with a brief discussion of the development of the situation in Rojava. I will argue that this new form of radical democracy, despite its shortcomings, has proven to be a viable alternative political system for the Kurds. Historically, the Kurds were disenfranchised in Syria. In 1962, approximately one hundred and twenty thousand to one hundred and fifty thousand Kurds were deprived of Syrian citizenship as a result of the Hasaka Census.1 This negligence from the state led to the increased poverty of the Kurds in Syria.2 In the beginning of the Syrian Civil War, the Syrian Arab Army withdrew from Northern Syria, where the majority of the country’s Kurds live, neglecting the community once again. However, this time, the Kurds were presented with an opportunity to take matters into their own hands. This new power vacuum along with the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2014 forced the Kurds to arm and mobilize themselves in order to survive. Furthermore, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) began to receive weapons and air support from the American-led anti-ISIS coalition. In this context, two Kurdish political parties, the Kurdish National Council (KNC) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD), formed a temporary 1 Harriet Allsopp, The Kurds of Syria: Political Parties and Identity in the Middle East (New York: I.B Tauris, 2014), 150, 153. 2 Ibid., 159, 163. 33
alliance in which they aligned themselves against the state as well as the opposition parties.3 The PYD were able to gain dominance in Northern Syria due to their status as an armed group, which allowed them to move into Kurdish towns, take over government buildings, and establish a Kurdish administration.4 As of July 2012, the PYD has been in power in the region of Northern Syria, otherwise known as Rojava.5 The PYD began a social revolution known as the “Rojava revolution,” which intends to abolish the nation-state and bring about a “Renaissance in the Middle East.”6 Creating a new political system that is not dependent on the paradigm of the nation-state is a difficult task. In fact, even political systems that actively avoid nation-state paradigms often end up being entrenched in a system of top-down governance. Having said that, the Rojava model has thus far proven to be successful. The model is local, anti-authoritarian, anti-hierarchal, and communitarian.7 Specifically, there has been cooperative production and trade, an implementation of radical gender equality, and local forms of direct democratic political rule.”8 The philosophical underpinnings to this revolution can be traced back to the works of Murray Bookchin. Bookchin, an anarchist libertarian, believed that a stateless, decentralized society based upon “communal ownership of the means of production” should be the foundation for a revolution. He worked to synthesize aspects of both anarchism and Marxism in the creation of his own personal philosophy, which he called “social ecology.”9 Bookchin argued that hierarchy was the root of all issues in society and that true freedom is achieved in overcoming these power dynamics. According to Bookchin, direct democracy should be used at the most local of levels, thereby allowing the creation of a “confederation of municipalities that are, just like members of organic societies, interdependent and cooperative.”10 Bookchin argued that combating hierarchal rule is only achievable by the dismantling of all of its 3 Ibid., 199, 201. 4 Ibid., 206. 5 Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila al-Shami, Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War (London: Pluto Press, 2016), 73; Bill Weinberg, “Syria’s Kurdish Revolution: The Anarchist Element and the Challenge of Solidarity,” in To Dare Imagining: Rojava Revolutions, ed. Dilar Dirik, David Levi Strauss, et al. (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 2016), 13. 6 David Levi Strauss, “Hope in Rojava,” in To Dare Imagining: Rojava Revolutions, ed. Dilar Dirik, David Levi Strauss, Michael Taussig and Peter Lamborn Wilson (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 2016), 12; Cemgil, “Model for Development,” part 1. 7 Cemgil, “Model for Development,” part 1. 8 Ibid. 9 Murray Bookchin, The Murray Bookchin Reader, ed. Janet Biehl (Montreal, Black Rose Books: 1999), 4. 10 Cemgil, “Model for Development,” part 2. 34
“manifestations,” especially that of male domination. Thus, it is argued that in order to achieve true equality, women must free themselves of their “domestic roles.”11 Inspired by this line of philosophical thought, PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan aspired to transform the strategic positioning of the Kurdish Liberation Movement. This, in turn, influenced the PYD, who decided to implement these ideas in Syria.12 Öcalan saw the nation-state as the root of all Kurdish problems. He believed that the Kurds had been fighting to no avail within the four separate nation-states, with their struggle only resulting in continued discrimination and subjugation. Therefore, he argued, the solution to the Kurdish problem was outside of the framework of the nation-state.13 In Democratic Confederalism, Öcalan suggested that the “unregulated accumulation of capital” allowed state exploitation; meanwhile, alienation within communities was created through the domestication of society done “in the name of capitalism.”14 The nation-state, he posited, creates divisions within society, as it necessitates the presence of a unified national identity, which inherently fractures society into “majority” and “minority” communities (or alternately, “advantaged” versus “disadvantaged” communities).15 Öcalan proposed that democratic confederalism could be the solution to the Middle East’s problem of a “democracy deficit.”16 This “democracy without a state,” as Öcalan put it, would be based on a collective consensus, direct elections, and voluntary participation in all forms of governance. He wrote that democratic confederalism is “flexible, multi-cultural, antimonopolistic, and consensus oriented.”17 Key to this concept are the dual needs of feminism and ecology. In fact, Öcalan also called for “killing the dominant male” in order to transcend capitalist state oppression.18 In his work, Öcalan also outlined the structure he envisioned for such a project. Local meetings, general conventions, and councils would serve as avenues for open expression. Furthermore, the democratic process would be seen at all levels, both local and global. He writes that even “villages and urban neighborhoods require confederate structures.” All areas of society need to be 11 Ibid., part 2. 12 Ibid., part 2. 13 Ibid., part 2. 14 Abdullah Öcalan, Democratic Confederalism (London: Transmedia Publishing Ltd., 2011), 10-12. 15 Ibid., 12-13. 16 Ibid., 20. 17 Ibid., 21. 18 Öcalan, Democratic Confederalism, 21; Brecht Neven, and Marlene Schäfers, “Jineology: From Women’s Struggles to Social Liberation,” ROAR Magazine, November 25, 2017, https://roarmag.org/essays/jineology-kurdish-womenmovement/. 35
given to self-administration, all levels of it need to be free to participate.”19 Öcalan’s work was oriented at solving what he identified as a problem within the Middle East: namely, that capital fuels wars and the nation-state is the root of this system. His solution to this problem sounds simple: simply replace capitalism with communalism, and follow the principles of democratic confederalism. These principles are the right to self-determination, a nonstate social paradigm, grassroots participation, and the dismemberment of the capitalist system.20 These ideas are the ideological basis for the Rojava project. However, how well does this radical political philosophy work once it is implemented on the ground? Is this utopian vision of an equalitarian, feminist, and ecologically conscious system actually viable? In 2014, the Constitution of Rojava, officially titled the “Charter of the Social Contract” was ratified by “the people.” It defined democracy as both a rejection of centralized power systems, specifically the nation-state, and as the interconnectedness of people through community organizations.21 The Charter is an attempt to implement democratic confederalism in Rojava. Although small details may be amended in the future, its core purpose is to secure and institutionalize a democratic system that values secularism, gender-liberation, and multi-identity.”22 The Preamble to the Charter states: “We, the people of the Democratic Autonomous Regions of Afrin, Jazira and Kobane, a confederation of Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Arameans, Turkmen, Armenians and Chechens, freely and solemnly declare and establish this Charter, which has been drafted according to the principles of Democratic Autonomy.”23 The statement lists the various ethnic backgrounds of those living in the Rojava region, and, by establishing this multicultural presence in the opening statement of the charter, it establishes a “spirit of reconciliation, pluralism and democratic participation.”24 Furthermore, egalitarianism is emphasized in the Charter. For example, Article 6 states, “All persons and communities are equal in the eyes of the law and in rights and responsibilities,” while Article 9 states, “The official languages of the Canton of Jazira are Kurdish, Arabic 19 Öcalan, Democratic Confederalism, 27. 20 Ibid., 33-35. 21 Michael Knapp and Joost Jongerden, “Communal Democracy: The Social Contract and Confederalism in Rojava,” Comparative Islamic Studies (2016): 967. 22 Ibid., 96. 23 Democratic Autonomous Regions of Afrin, Jazira and Kobane, “Charter of The Social Contract,” 2014, https://peaceinkurdistancampaign.com/ charter-of-the-social-contract/. 24 Ibid. 36
and Syriac. All communities have the right to teach and be taught in their native language.” The entitlement to express one’s “ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and gender rights” is complemented by the ability to live one’s life within a “healthy environment, based on ecological balance.” Similarly, values such as the freedom of expression, the upholding of international human rights treaties and declarations, as well as the rights of women and children are also emphasized.25 These details in the Charter suggest a genuine attempt to create an equal society that enjoys both ethnic and cultural diversity. The specific functionality of administrative bodies is also discussed. The legislative assembly has duties that span from enacting legislation and regulations for local councils and institutions, to exercising control over administrative and executive bodies, declaring a state of war and peace, adopting a budget, establishing a policy and development plan, and even adopting laws for the common governance of the provincial councils. The Charter also institutes rules to define and regulate the behaviour of government bodies. After a direct democratic election, the assembly must be kept in governance for four years, forty percent of the assembly must consist of females, and the Syriac community must be represented. Further stipulations that limit individuals from gaining unrestrained power are also included. For example, Article 48 dictates that no member of the Assembly can run for more than two consecutive terms (with one exception that could only extend the period by six months), and Article 51 states that no member of the assembly is allowed to have another profession, whether it be public or private, during their term in office. This stipulation ensures that their main duty is their job. Likewise, the duties of offices and bodies such as the canton governor and the executive council are outlined, with the latter being described as the “highest executive and administrative body” that is responsible for “implementing laws, resolutions, and decrees as issued by the legislative assembly and judicial institutions.”26 The party that wins the majority of seats in the legislative assembly forms the council. The head of the council is permitted no more than two consecutive terms, spanning four years each, and the head has the authority to choose their advisors among the elected members of the legislative council. In the executive council, as well as the provincial administrative councils, there is an emphasis on the regulation of actions by law, including, in the case of the provincial councils, the canton’s supervision of budget and finance, public services, and mayoral elections.27 The level of detail paid to these duties and roles, the stipulations meant to limit the power of individuals, and the terms surrounding gender and ethnic equality all point towards an earnest effort at faithfully implementing Öcalan’s principles of democratic confederalism. Turning to judicial matters, the Charter defines the judiciary as a 25 Ibid. 26 Ibid. 27 Ibid. 37
separate and independent component of the law. The principle of “innocent until proven guilty” is followed. The Charter also emphasizes the importance of a fair democratic process through the establishment a specific body, the higher commission of elections, which is supposed to act as an independent actor that oversees and runs the election process. The supreme court and observers from the United Nations and civil society organizations may observe this body, presumably for absolute trust and security in its functionality. The Charter overall is based upon the concept that politics develops “from relations among (territorially defined) groups of people,” and not the sovereign state.28 The Charter also avoids processes of individualism, favouring collective rights instead.29 For example, the property that was formally part of the Syrian state was given to city councils and now operates as “ownership by use.” This policy gives those using the property the rights to the lands and buildings, but it does not grant the power to sell or buy them. This is meant to prevent the “concentration of wealth into the hands of a few.”30 Yet, despite the symbolic importance of the Charter, it is not necessarily indicative of how a system functions. In order to properly examine the implementation of Öcalan’s theories and the Charter’s promises, I will next examine the operational capacities of the commune system, how gender equality is actually realized, ecological preservation efforts, the state of the economy, the law, and finally, the realities of ethnic equality and diversity in the region. Communes People’s councils and communes are important vehicles of selfadministration. These units are the smallest in the system and are indicative of how the bottom-up approach truly relies on these localised structures.31 Michael Knapp and Joost Jongerden wrote that these communes included anywhere between seven to three-hundred households. In their research, they studied Hasaka, which had a pre-war population of approximately twohundred thousand people; they found fifty households per commune in sixteen quarters. This translates to about one-hundred and one individuals from the sixteen quarters, with thirty active in the city council. The party make-up within this body is also interesting to note; there were five members each from the PYD, the Liberal Party, the “civil institutions of families of martyrs,” the women’s movement Yekîtiya Sta, and the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement.32 Knapp and Jongerden estimate that in an average of twenty communes per thousand adult inhabitants, fifty or so actively partcipate in 28 Knapp and Jongerden, “Communal Democracy,” 97. 29 Ibid. 30 Ibid. 31 Ibid., 98. 32 Ibid., 98-9. 38
commune meetings. This is indicative of high political participation; indeed, even lower numbers than this would put participation at approximately twenty to fifty percent, which Knapp and Jongerden found remarkably high for local politics.33 However, these statistics do not provide a clear representation of how these communes function in reality. One of these witnesses visited a Rojava commune, the Commune Sehîd Kawa C, and described the process of deciding new borders for the commune. The eyewitness asked those present some questions and discovered that the issues generally raised in these meetings ranged from “dealing with marital issues, getting rides to and from health clinics, shopping, and whatever else was urgent.”34 The group consisted of eighteen members – ten men and eight women. The men were older and primarily Kurdish, although there were “one or two” Arabs, and interestingly, the women and men sat apart due to “the empowerment of women not yet extending to the predefined Middle East cultural space.”35 Women and Gender As I have demonstrated, the issue of gender equality is a major tenet within both Bookchin and Öcalan’s work. Its importance cannot be overstated; in the words of Anja Flach, one of the authors of Revolution in Rojava, “You cannot abolish capitalism without abolishing the state, and you can’t abolish the state without abolishing patriarchy.”36 While significant steps have been taken in Rojava to implement this ideology, traditional aspects of patriarchal institutions still remain, as seen in the aforementioned case where women and men sat in separate areas. However, it seems like major progress has been made in regards to the issue of gender equality. This model for this gender equality is not based on Western feminism but rather on Jineology37 (the science of women), which asserts that without the freedom of women and a “real consciousness surrounding women,” there can be no such thing as freedom.38 There are many instances were gender equality is being implemented. 33 Ibid., 99. 34 El Errante and Paul Z. Simons, “Dispatches from Rojava,” in To Dare Imagining: Rojava Revolutions, ed. Dilar Dirik, David Levi Strauss, Michael Taussig and Peter Lamborn Wilson (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 2016), 89. 35 Ibid., 88-9. 36 Anja Flach, “The Revolution in Rojava: an eyewitness account,” interview by Janet Biehl, ROAR Magazine, October 20, 2016, https://roarmag.org/ essays/revolution-rojava-pluto-book/. 37 (Kurdish: jineolojî) 38 Meral Düzgün, “Jineology: The Kurdish Women’s Movement,” Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies 12 no. 2 (July 2016): 285. 39
There are many women in positions of authority such as the prime minister of the Afrin Canton, Hêvî Îbrahîm, a Kurdish woman of Alevi origin. When she was appointed, she stated that her case was not unique and that there are plenty of other women “leading the revolution” across Rojava. One Kurdish activist estimated that around seventy-five percent of the Kurdish women in Rojava have become politically active and are “breaking the shackles of traditional society.”39 However, the statistics for non-Kurdish women are not provided, which raises concerns over who the revolution is benefitting. Having said that, some other significant leaps have been made in regards to gender equality. New laws and power-sharing practices have come into effect, which among other things, have forbidden polygamy, underage marriage, and unilateral divorce. Furthermore, in cases of inheritance, shares are split evenly between males and females.40 Arguably, the best example of female empowerment in Rojava is the YPJ.41 This female-only militia represents thirty-five percent of the overall Kurdish forces and have had a significant role in the fight against Islamist groups such as al-Nusra Front and ISIS.42 Further evidence of implementing gender equality can be found in the education of the Asayish (a police force established by the PYD in 2012). In order to get their weapons, recruits must first undergo a two week “feminist instruction” period.43 These lessons are also accompanied by courses in “non-violent conflict resolution.”44 It is clear that despite the prevalence of some traditional patriarchal notions in local society, there has been an honest and largely successful attempt to radically alter gender structures, as demonstrated through the appointment of women into positions of power, the female-only militias, and educational training on gender equality. Ecology As demonstrated in the first section of this paper, ecology, like gender equality, is envisioned as a necessary component for the dismemberment of the nation-state system in the works of both Bookchin and Öcalan. The ecological crisis is critical as nature is understood as fundamentally connected to the 39 Ofra Bengio, “Game Changers: Kurdish Women in Peace and War,” The Middle East Journal 70 no. 1 (Winter 2016): 38. 40 Ibid., 38. 41 Ibid., 39. 42 Ibid., 39. 43 Enzinna, “Secular Utopia.” 44 David Graeber, “Why Is the World Ignoring the Revolutionary Kurds in Syria?” in To Dare Imagining: Rojava Revolutions, ed. Dilar Dirik, David Levi Strauss, Michael Taussig and Peter Lamborn Wilson (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 2016), 27. 40
ability of humans to achieve self-consciousness.45 Some practical measures have been made to enforce this ideology. The preservation of ecology includes mine clearance and planting trees in forests that were destroyed by heavy artillery. Similarly, the hunting of endangered mountain goats is banned and a there is movement within the female-only militias that reject the eating of meat. Also, farmers living in the mountains are encouraged to engage in organic horticulture for production and for ecological reasons.46 Furthermore, the conference for the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement (MEM) that was held in Rojava in the April of 2016 enjoyed the participation of one hundred delegates. In this conference, several resolutions were passed, with the aim to “constitute an intellectual, organizational, and operational contribution for the global ecological movements.”47 These resolutions included the aspiration to fight urban settlements and the destruction of forests, to preserve cultural and natural sites that are facing extinction, to establish so-called “ecological academies,” and to begin a series of legal campaigns to parallel these actions.48 The implementation strategies and effectiveness of these resolutions is currently unknown. However, the participation of various provinces, as well as that of several other movements and groups such as the Green Resistance, the Black Sea in Rebellion, the Water Rights Campaign, and the International Coordination of Revolutionary Parties and Organizations, are together a promising sign of engagement in the ecological sphere.49 Economy and Resources The issue of leaving the nation-state system is that a non-capitalist economic has to be developed. The implementation of a cooperative economy is difficult for the Rojava project due to its geography. The ongoing war, closed borders, the lack of a significant labour force, and the constant need to distribute resources for the purposes of self-defence have made the development of a new economic paradigm difficult.50 In consideration of 45 Evren Kocabiçak, “The World’s First Army of Women,” in To Dare Imagining: Rojava Revolutions, ed. Dilar Dirik, David Levi Strauss, Michael Taussig and Peter Lamborn Wilson (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 2016), 69. 46 Ibid., 69. 47 Internationalist Commune, “Declaration of 1st Conference of Mesopotamian Ecology Movement,” November, 22, 2017, http:// internationalistcommune.com/declaration-of-the-1st-conference-ofmesopotamian-ecology-movement/. 48 Ibid. 49 Ibid. 50 Bülent Küçük and Ceren Özselçuk, “The Rojava Experience: Possibilities and Challenges of Building a Democratic Life,” South Atlantic Quarterly 115, no.1. (2016): 193. 41
this, Öcalan’s vision of an economy that “increases” resources as opposed to exploiting them is easier said than done.51 Furthermore, the non-state model rejects the concept of a taxation system that penalizes the ownership of private property. Instead, the project is run through a “gift economy of non-commodified exchanges and voluntary labor,” which has its limitations. Therefore, one significant challenge to this radical project is the viability and sustainability of the anti-capitalist model.52 Law The democratic confederalist judicial system envisions a society that can rid itself of judges, lawyers, and prosecutors. In applying this idealist vision, peace and justice committees have been established in conjunction with people’s and women’s houses. These bodies are attempts to employ the tactics of “conversation, argumentation, and negotiation” in law.53 While “severe criminal cases” are directed to more formal judicial courts, a study by the Mesopotamia Law School found that in ninety percent of the cases, community council’s and people’s houses were able to find satisfactory solutions.54 Members of these houses are often selected from community assemblies, while others are trained in the legal profession or are simply respected members of the community.55 Carne Ross, working for the Financial Times, visited Rojava in 2015 and described the justice system as a “remarkable feature” of the social revolution. Instead of punishment, he saw an institutionalized “community justice” that focused on the concept of “social peace.” In practice, he learnt that reconciliation took center stage. In one case, two families lunched together after one member of one family had killed a man from the other family. The lunch was seen as part of the process of “compensation, apology, and forgiveness, where the perpetrator, briefly imprisoned, publicly acknowledged his crime.”56 Naturally, this system is not perfect; the institutionalized court systems used for more serious crimes have been the subject of criticism for “prolonged detentions and unfair trials.”57 However, it is clear that in practice, there is an effort to execute the vision of a judicial system based upon reconciliation. 51 Öcalan, Democratic Confederalism, 21. 52 Küçük and Özselçuk, “Rojava Experience,” 193. 53 Nazan Üstündag, “Self-Defense as a Revolutionary Pratice in Rojava, or How to Unmake the State,” The South Atlantic Quarterly 115, no.1 (January 2016): 206. 54Ibid., 207. 55 Ibid., 207. 56 Carne Ross, “Power to the People: a Syrian experiment in democracy,” The Financial Times, October 23, 2015. 57 Cemgil, “Model for Development,” part 4. 42
Ethnic and Political Diversity Rojava is home to much more than just Kurdish peoples; as previously stated in the Charter, there are Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Arameans, Turkmen, Armenians and Chechens in the region. In order to better reflect this reality, the name “Rojava” was changed to “Democratic Federal System of Northern Syria.”58 The basis for this change was that Rojava is inherently a Kurdish name and as such went against the autonomous project’s aims are to bring equality “for all ethnic and religious factions.”59 Although grassroots system of direct democracy includes the participation of these groups, some tensions do exist.60 Many Arabs, who were brought in by the Ba’athists in the mid-20th century as a result of Arabization policies, are unhappy with this social revolution.61 According to a study conducted by the Institute for Strategic Research in Qamishli, support for the democratic project in the canton of Cizîre in 2013 was at eighty-four percent. These statistics indicate that a minority of the population is not pleased with the new political system.62 The Movement for a Democratic Society (TEV-DEM) is designed to preserve diversity. This is described as “a consultative body that deals with the relationships between the entities [a concept referring to ethnic, cultural or religious groups] and a dialogue between political parties…[with] no executive power.” It works as an “umbrella organization” and is composed of fifty-six councils and various civil society organizations as well as political parties. Within the TEV-DEM, there is the PYD, the Liberal Party, the Communist Party of Kurdistan, the National Union Party, the Peace and Democracy Party, a wing of the PDKS, and various Syriac and Arab parties.63 A system of preserving and ensuring ethnic and political diversity is in place; However, there seems to be a dominance of Kurdish parties within this structure. International Organization Responses As seen thus far, the revolutionary democratic project in Rojava has achieved some relative success, especially considering the volatile geopolitical climate of the region. Communes work as the foundation of the bottom-up approach to politics; women’s rights continue to expand; attempts at some 58 Hisham Arafat, “’Rojava’ no longer exists, ‘Northern Syria’ adopted instead,” Kurdistan 24, December, 2016, http://www.kurdistan24.net/en/ news/51940fb9-3aff-4e51-bcf8-b1629af00299/-rojava--no-longer-exists--northern-syria--adopted-instead-. 59 Ibid. 60 Yassin-Kassab and Al-Shami, Burning Country, 74. 61 Graeber, “Why Is the World,” 27-8. 62 Knapp and Jongerden, “Communal Democracy,” 102. 63 Ibid., 102-3. 43
minor forms of ecological preservation are being made; ethnic diversity is being attended to; and a functioning alternative judiciary system has been established. However, there have been serious allegations made against the project that need to be taken into consideration. Many international organizations have claimed that the Arab population is being ethnically cleansed.64 Others claim that the PYD is operating as an authoritarian party and cite accusations of suppressing political opposition and peaceful protest, closing down independent radio stations, and assassinating, imprisoning, and torturing political opponents.65 This was brought to light by an Amnesty International report titled “We Had Nowhere Else to Go: Forced Displacement and Demolitions in Northern Syria.” The report accused the People’s Protection Units (YPG) of displacing many people and demolishing the homes of villagers.66 The report called these displacements “war crimes,” and posits that they were done as a result of retaliation for the “perceived sympathies with, or family ties to, suspected members of ISIS or other armed groups.” This would be “collective punishment” — a violation of international humanitarian law.67 The Amnesty International report goes on to state that it was displeased with Rojava administrations response to these developments. The YPG stated that the cases of forced displacements were limited and only enforced if there was a “threat of terrorism” or if families were supporting and/or members of ISIS. The interviews conducted by Amnesty International found no such connections, and they maintain that “they were forced to leave despite being civilians and having no links to armed groups.”68 In another case, the YPG spokesperson maintained that the displacements were carried out in order to protect the area. However, the civilians interviewed suggested they did not pose as security threats.69 These developments are problematic and shed light on a gap between the ideology of the Rojava Revolution and its actual application on the ground. On the other hand, many have alleged that these reports are propaganda tools being used by the Syrian and Turkish governments in “an effort to pave the way for some kind of ‘humanitarian intervention’ looking to neutralize Rojava in the future.”70 In the view of these governments, the 64 Ali, B, “Eroding the State in Rojava,” Theory & Event, 19, no. 1 (2016), 3, https://muse.jhu.edu/. 65 Yassin-Kassab and Al-Shami, Burning Country, 74. 66 Amnesty International, “’We Had Nowhere Else to Go’: forced displacement and demolitions in Northern Syria,” (London: Amnesty International, 2015), 5. 67 Amnesty International, 6. 68 Ibid., 28. 69 Ibid., 29. 70 Bill Weinberg, “Syria’s Kurdish Revolution: The Anarchist Element and the Challenge of Solidarity,” in To Dare Imagining: Rojava Revolutions, ed. 44
concept of a radical democracy, which vehemently opposes the nation-state, is not only undesirable but also incompatible with the current situation in the Middle East. It is important to note that this Amnesty International report was challenged by the United Nations (UN) in a report titled “Human Rights Abuses and International Humanitarian Law Violation in the Syrian Arab Republic, 21 July 2016-28 February 2017.” This report was published two years after the one by Amnesty International counterpart. This report stated that “temporary displacement of civilians from the Tishreen Dam and Minbij areas” was “required for Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) troops to take steps necessary to safeguard the security of civilians.”71 In this case, the UN found that the displacements were carried out under “satisfactory conditions of shelter, hygiene, health, safety and nutrition, and that members of the same family were not separated.”72 Furthermore, the UN supported the claim of the YPG that their actions were necessary because clashes between ISIS and the YPG in these zones had been occurring.73 Having said that, the report also claimed that the YPG and SDF authorities did not give individuals “adequate assistance” and it confirmed allegations that the YPG barred residents from returning to their homes. The allegations of “ethnic cleansing” were not confirmed; however, the report revealed the reality of forced conscription. In one case, a 17-year-old boy described how, following his arrest on suspicion of supporting ISIS, he was subjected to “inhumane conditions” where he was “held in a bathroom instead of a cell, and tied to a metal bar with his arms above his head.” He claimed to have been “both physically and psychologically tortured during interrogation, while blindfolded, and later held with other boys aged 13 to 17 years old.”74 With these competing claims in mind, the allegations of ethnic cleansing and of forced displacements should be approached with caution. Nevertheless, there do seem to be many concerning practices being used in order to implement the Rojava revolution. Through an analysis of the political philosophies of Bookchin and Öcalan, this paper has examined social revolution in Rojava. This radical project of democratic federalism, despite its shortcomings, has proven to be a viable alternative political system for the Kurds. The system’s success has been apparent in Rojava’s communes, which facilitate a bottom-up political approach; the expansion of the roles of women in society; the efforts to preserve the environment; a law process that is based on reconciliation; and Dilar Dirik, David Levi Strauss, Michael Taussig and Peter Lamborn Wilson (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 2016), 19; Ali, B, “Eroding the State in Rojava,” 3. 71 United Nations, Human Rights Council, Human Rights Abuses and International Humanitarian Law Violation in the Syrian Arab Republic, 21 July 2016-28 February 2017, A/HRC/34/CRP.3 (March 10 2017), 20. 72 Ibid. 73 Ibid. 74 Ibid., 21. 45
the efforts towards maintaining an ethnically diverse governance. Although these areas have shown great promise, I have also identified the shortcomings of the project. Specifically, there needs to be a more collective effort to preserve ecology; there needs to be an implementation of a more sustainable economic system; and most importantly, human rights violations need to be addressed. This new form of democracy, which rejects the nation-state and vies for a utopian vision of an ecologically-friendly, anti-capitalist, and feminist society is revolutionary and should be seen as the first step towards a new political system that can potentially have a resonating impact in the region.
Works Cited Ahram, Ariel I, and Ellen Lust. “The Decline and Fall of the Arab State.” Survival: Global Politics and Strategy 58, no. 2 (2016): 7-34. Allsopp, Harriet. The Kurds of Syria: Political Parties and Identity in the Middle East. New York: I.B Tauris, 2014. Amnesty International. “‘We Had Nowhere Else to Go’: Forced Displacement and Demolitions in Northern Syria.” London: Amnesty International, 2015. Arafat, Hisham. “‘Rojava’ no longer exists, ‘Northern Syria’ adopted instead.” Kurdistan 24, December 28, 2016. http://www.kurdistan24.net/en/ news/51940fb9-3aff-4e51-bcf8-b1629af00299/-rojava--no-longer-exists--northern-syria--adopted-instead-. B, Ali. “Eroding the State in Rojava.” Theory & Event 19, no. 1 (2016): 1-7.https:// muse.jhu.edu/. Bengio, Ofra. “Game Changers: Kurdish Women in Peace and War,” The Middle East Journal 70, no. 1 (Winter 2016): 30-46. Biehl, Janet. “Paradoxes of a Liberatory Ideology.” http://www.biehlonbookchin. com/paradoxes-liberatory-ideology/. Bookchin, Murray. The Murray Bookchin Reader. Edited by Janet Biehl. Montreal, Black Rose Books: 1999. Cemgil, Can and Clemens Hoffmann. “The ‘Rojava Revolution’ in Syrian Kurdistan: A Model of Development for the Middle East?” Edited by Mariz Tadros and Jan Selby. IDS Bulletin: Ruptures and Ripple Effects in the Middle East and Beyond 47, no.3 (May 2016). http://bulletin.ids.ac.uk/idsbo/article/ view/2730/HTML. Democratic Autonomous Regions of Afrin, Jazira and Kobane. “Charter of The Social Contract.” 2014. https://peaceinkurdistancampaign.com/charter-of-thesocial-contract/. Dirik, Dilar. “Rojava: To Dare Imagining.” In To Dare Imagining: Rojava Revolutions, edited by Dilar Dirik, David Levi Strauss, Michael Taussig, and Peter Lamborn Wilson, 99-108. Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 2016. Düzgün, Meral. “Jineology: The Kurdish Women’s Movement.” Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies 12, no. 2 (July 2016): 284-287. 47
Enzinna, Wes. “A Dream of Secular Utopia in ISIS’ Backyard.” The New York Time Magazine, November 24, 2015. Errante, El, and Paul Z. Simons. “Dispatches from Rojava.” In To Dare Imagining: Rojava Revolutions, edited by Dilar Dirik, David Levi Strauss, Michael Taussig, and Peter Lamborn Wilson, 85-98. Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 2016. Flach, Anja. “The Revolution in Rojava: an eyewitness account.” By Janet Biehl. ROAR Magazine, October 20, 2016. https://roarmag.org/essays/revolutionrojava-pluto-book/. Graeber, David. “Why Is the World Ignoring the Revolutionary Kurds in Syria?” In To Dare Imagining: Rojava Revolutions, edited by Dilar Dirik, David Levi Strauss, Michael Taussig, and Peter Lamborn Wilson, 21-24. Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 2016. Internationalist Commune of Rojova. “Declaration of 1st Conference of Mesopotamian Ecology Movement.” November, 22, 2017. http:// inter nationalistcommune.com/declaration-of-the-1st-conference-ofmesopotamian-ecology-movement/. Knapp, Michael, and Joost Jongerden. “Communal Democracy: The Social Contract and Confederalism in Rojava.” Comparative Islamic Studies (2016): 87109. Kocabiçak, Evren. “The World’s First Army of Women.” In To Dare Imagining: Rojava Revolutions, edited by Dilar Dirik, David Levi Strauss, Michael Taussig and Peter Lamborn Wilson, 63-70. Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 2016. Küçük, Bülent, and Ceren Özselçuk.“The Rojava Experience: Possibilities and Challenges of Building a Democratic Life.” South Atlantic Quarterly 115, no. 1 (2016): 184-196. Leezenberg, Michiel. “The ambiguities of democratic autonomy: the Kurdish movement in Turkey and Rojava.” Southeast European and Black Sea Studies 16, no.4. (2016): 671-690. Melton, Marissa. “Kurds in Northern Syria Vote in Municipal Elections,” Voa News, December 1 2017. https://www.voanews.com/a/kurds-in-northern-syriavote-in-municipal-elections/4146323.html Neven, Brecht, and Marlene Schäfers. “Jineology: from women’s struggles to social liberation.” ROAR Magazine, November 25, 2017. https://roarmag.org/ essays/jineology-kurdish-women-movement/. 48
Öcalan, Abdullah. Democratic Confederalism. International Initiative Edition. London: Transmedia Publishing Ltd, 2011. Ross, Carne. “Power to the People: a Syrian Experiment in Democracy.” The Financial Times, October 23, 2015. Strauss, David Levi. “Hope in Rojava.” In To Dare Imagining: Rojava Revolutions, edited by Dilar Dirik, David Levi Strauss, Michael Taussig and Peter Lamborn Wilson, 9-12. Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 2016. “Syrians vote in Kurdish-held northern region,” al-Jazeera, September 22, 2017. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/09/syrians-vote-kurdish-held-northernregion-170922142621848.html. United Nations. Human Rights Council, Human Rights Abuses and International Humanitarian Law Violation in the Syrian Arab Republic, 21 July 2016-28 February 2017, A/HRC/34/CRP.3. March 10 2017. Üstündag, Nazan. “Self-Defense as a Revolutionary Pratice in Rojava, or How to Unmake the State.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 115, no.1 (January 2016): 197-210. Weinberg, Bill. “Syria’s Kurdish Revolution: The Anarchist Element and the Challenge of Solidarity.” In To Dare Imagining: Rojava Revolutions, edited by Dilar Dirik, David Levi Strauss, Michael Taussig and Peter Lamborn Wilson, 13-20. Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 2016. Yassin-Kassab, Robin, and Leila Al-Shami. Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War. London: Pluto Press, 2016.
The Late Bronze North Levantine Regional-Centers: Their Status and Interactions From an Archaeological Perspective Jason Silvestri
SOURCE: â€œByblos (Jbeil), Lebanonâ€? Wikimedia Commons. 50
For the last several decades, the historical-textual academic analysis of the Amarna Letters has dictated much of our presumed “fact” about the political structures and inter-political relationships among the Northern Levantine polities and the regional powers in the Late Bronze Age (LB). This analysis, while carefully rooted in the letter of the text, often forsakes comparison with archaeological data from the sites discussed. This divide between textual and archaeological scholarship is not conducive to any further understanding of the complex societal interactions within this internationalized and pluralistic era of Near Eastern history. While it is important to use textual sources to elucidate the linguistic, cultural, and often personal contexts of archaeological findings, they should not be relied upon solely as the basis of a historical argument. Rather, they should be held in close comparison with their respective archaeological data to determine their accuracy and accountability as sources. The Late Bronze Age was a diverse phase of the greater Near East’s archaeological history. It was marked by a high degree of ethnic and regional pluralism and an arguably higher degree of internationalism among said pluralistic regions.1 As witnessed in the Amarna Letters, the LB Levant’s political structure was rather fluid, with various polities existing throughout the region and various strong political pressures being applied from Egypt in the South, Mitanni and later the Hittites in the North, and, towards the beginning of the Iron Age, the Assyrians in the East.2 While each of these regional pressures had an impact on the interactions and political actions of the various Levantine polities, it is certain that the extent of these pressures’ influences upon the individual polities themselves was significantly smaller than what is suggested in the Amarna Letters. Rather, it is apparent from archaeological evidence in the various polities of the LB Northern Levant that the individual polity was more-or-less free to act upon its own will in the greater region, while often choosing to subject itself to one regional power or another in an effort to gain a favored status above its peerpolities. Although various regional polities were actively competing over control of the flow of economic resources between Egypt and Syria, the sites of Kumidi (Kāmid El-Lōz) in the Beqaa and Byblos on the coast appear to be key actors in the economic network. This status can be confirmed in the textual record, as texts often designate their statuses as those of trading entrepôts. Political Structure In order to understand fully the interactions among the LB Levantine polities, one must first understand the political nature of the polities in question. 1 Nina Jidejian, Byblos Through the Ages (Beirut: Dār al-Mashriq Publishers, 1968), 52-53. 2 Hans Georg Niemeyer, “The Early Phoenician City-States on the Mediterranean,” in A Comparative Study of Thirty City-State Cultures: An Investigation Conducted by the Copenhagen Polis Centre, ed. Mogens Herman Hansen (Copenhagen: The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, 2000), 91. 51
Scholars have traditionally turned to the textual sources, namely the Amarna Correspondence, to look for linguistic markers of statehood in the text. While these letters demonstrate the ancients’ own view of their political structures, the textually-based labels found within them are rather problematic. This is because they were likely products of ancient political manipulation, either serving to bolster the status of a given polity among its peers, or to weaken its status before a regional power. Therefore, the most telling evidence of political structure comes not from texts but archaeological data. Much of our understanding of the political structures in the LB Northern Levant can be determined from studies of settlement size. Hans Georg Niemeyer examines the relationship between the size of Byblos and Ugarit and their respective textual records, both from the Amarna Correspondence and from local administrative and economic records. Niemeyer demonstrates that the size of settlements such as Ugarit, which he claims controlled up to 5,000 km2, lends them their status as city-state. In other cases, such as that of Byblos, which is argued to be significantly smaller, a greater degree of economic specialization and diversity of production also contribute to the designation of a site as a city-state.3 Niemeyer declares that such regional centers as Ugarit and Byblos held the status of city-state as early as the Middle Bronze Age, when their alleged trade networks were beginning to grow on a regional and inter-regional scale.4 His claims, while partially rooted in the archaeological site size data, largely originate in the aforementioned flawed textual sources. Niemeyer’s definition of a city state was established by the Copenhagen Polis Centre in 2000. According to their publication, a city-state is defined as a polity with the following characteristics: small size, maintaining territorial control outside of the formal bounds of the city; an average population numbering between the thousands and ten thousands; separate ethnic and political identities, using the same name for the city and the territory around it; structured according to tiered-settlement patterns with highly-urbanized central settlements; economic specialization and division of labor; exhibiting a militarily independent status; a high level of institutionalism in city government; self-government; and a lack of self-sufficiency on an economic basis.5 While Niemeyer fits the archaeological data and textual interpretation of the nature of these North Levantine polities to the Copenhagen model, there are several major discrepancies between the archaeological data not cited by Niemeyer and this model. The French colonial excavations at Byblos between 1921-1924, under the supervision of Pierre Montet, revealed large amounts of Egyptian material in the site’s public buildings. According to Montet, there were two major temples in 3 Ibid. 90. 4 Ibid. 92. 5 Mogens Herman Hansen, “The Concepts of City-State and City-State Culture,” in A Comparative Study of Thirty City-State Cultures: An Investigation Conducted by the Copenhagen Polis Centre, ed. Mogens Herman Hansen (Copenhagen: The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, 2000), 17-19. 52
the LB phase of the site: the “Egyptian Temple” and the “Syrian Temple.” These two temples used standard LB Levantine temple layouts, and contained Egyptian material, rendering these labels rather arbitrary.6 His excavations uncovered, among other Egyptian finds, hieroglyphic stelae dedicated to the King of Byblos, whose name is not legible, but whose epithets include mry ḥ3t-ḥr, nb Kpn, meaning “Beloved of Hathor, Lord of Byblos.”7 Montet claims that these inscriptions, among others, demonstrate Egyptian control over the religious and political authorities at Byblos and a temporary period of Egyptian royal presence at Byblos.8 While such an extended Egyptian royal presence at Byblos as advocated by Montet is highly unlikely, the high degree of Egyptian royal objects and fusional Byblian-Egyptian objects in ritual contexts shows a high level of bi-culturalism present at the site. It is important to note that there are no textual records from Byblos other than a few Egyptian inscriptions found in public and ritual spaces. It can safely be assumed that the inhabitants of Byblos were not ethnic Egyptians although foreigners called them Egyptians.9 It is this lack of a linguistic identity that clouds our modern understanding of the ethnic identity of the ancient Byblians, and the inhabitants of the Bronze Age Levant as a whole. There are the Amarna Letters, whose dialect of Akkadian has led some scholars to assign various WestSemitic ethnic identities of the people of the LB Levant. Yet it is more likely that the people reflected the material culture of the region insofar as they were not monolithic in nature, but rather pluralistic, with origins around the greater Near East and Eastern Mediterranean world. Certainly, there were Egyptians and other foreigners residing in Byblos and other Levantine centers. However, the notion that all Levantine inhabitants of Niemeyer’s alleged network of city-states belonged to the same ethnicity and were differentiated only on a political level is likely false. While the people of Byblos may not have been Egyptianized, the elites of the city certainly chose to project a highly Egyptianized image of themselves. For example, some monuments exhibited Egyptian titulary, such as ἰry-pʿt and ḥ3ty-ʿ, titles traditionally reserved for Egyptian regional governors and princes.10 The use of these titles coupled with the public and royal locations of the stelae and objects upon which they were inscribed demonstrates two ideas. First, these rulers understood the bounds of their power as restricted to Byblos’s immediate area. Second, they also considered themselves, in some form, culturally subject to Egyptian authority, though still powerful and semi-independent. It is this selfimposed cultural suzerainty that possibly served as a form of self-legitimization for the Byblian rulers, but that also refutes Niemeyer’s association of an independent 6 Pierre Montet, Byblos et L’Égypte: Quatre Campagnes de Fouilles a Gebeil ; 1921-19221923-1924 (Paris : Librairie Orientliste Paul Guenthner, 1928), 4-5. 7 Ibid. 39-40. 8 Ibid. 38. (Montet on the hypothetical “palais élevé à Byblos par les Pharaons.”) 9 The spelling of kpn (Byblos) on the stelae found in the “Egyptian” and “Syrian” temples includes the Egyptian sign for “foreign land”. 10 Pierre Montet, Byblos et L’Égypte, 174. 53
Byblos with city-state status. Rather, it seems, Byblos should be considered a regional-center, due to its political supremacy over its immediate environs and its self-imposed cultural suzerainty to the Egyptian state. While this status is clear from textual sources and their archaeological contexts, it can only be confirmed through further archaeological work at Byblos.11 Similarly, the polity of Kumidi likely acted as a regional-center for its immediate area in the southern Beqaa Valley. Hélène Sader’s examination of the political and economic networks of the Beqaa Valley in the Middle Bronze Age (MB), shows the existence of a bi-central, multi-tiered settlement network. It also reveals how various regional-centers and their tutelary settlements interacted with the greater Levantine region along the natural north-south axis provided by the Beqaa Valley’s corridor and through (at least) two parallel communication routes, one between Byblos and the Orontes Valley in the North, and another between Sidon and the Litani Valley in the south (with its center at Kumidi).12 Settlement density studies of the Beqaa Valley, as performed by the international excavation team at Kāmid el-Lōz, have determined the hypothetical bounds of ten major settlements in the Beqaa Valley in the LB I, including that of Kumidi itself. The study notes that by the end of the LB, “the number of local centres and their cells have multiplied to a possible 12,” though it is noted that by the end of the LB II, these hierarchies shrink, with each only controlling two or three tutelary settlements in comparison with previous periods’ four or five tutelary settlements per regional-center.13 See Figure 1 for the plotted settlement density data. Leon Marfoe, a member of the Kāmid el-Lōz team, also notes that the settlements of the MB II through the LB III are more often than not located at critical entry and exit points in the valley, or along major known inter-regional communication routes. The two examined by Sader are the most notable, but the extension of the southern Sidon-Kumidi route along the later Tarīq al-Shām, running from Sidon, then through the Beqaa, and then southward to its endpoint in Damascus is also significant.14 The layout of such settlement hierarchies lends itself to the designation of Kumidi as a one regional-center among a larger network of regional-centers, operating both on the Beqaa’s natural north-south axis, but also on regional established east-west axes, such as the Tarīq al-Shām and 11 It is important to note that the LB palace has yet to be excavated in Byblos. Such a find would be integral to the political categorization of Byblos as a regionalcenter. 12 Hélène Sader “Intertwined History: Lebanon’s Role in the Transmission of Egyptian Culture to Inland Syria in the Middle Bronze Age” in Qatna and the Networks of Bronze Age Globalism: Proceedings of an International Conference in Stuttgart and Tübingen in October 2009, eds. Michel Al-Maqdissi and Peter Pfalzner (Wiesbdaen: Harrassowitz, 2015), 118. 13 Leon Marfoe, Kāmid el-Lōz 14. Settlement History of the Biqāʿ up to the Iron Age (Bonn: Dr. Rudolf Habelt GMBH, 1998), 170-171. 14 Ibid. 159-160 54
the Byblos-Orontes route of communication. The posited existence of an interregional communication network grid, with a significant nexus point at Kāmid el-Lōz, coupled with the settlement density data from the immediate environs of Kāmid el-Lōz implicate Kumidi as an inland regional-center, responsible for receiving and passing forward information and goods from the port cities of the Levantine coast and the inland centers of Greater Syria. Therefore, it can be argued that textual data, when examined within its archaeological context and concurrent settlement density data, point to the regional-center model of statehood for the polities of the LB Northern Levant. Local Interaction The question of local interaction and the nature of contact among regional-centers of the LB Levant is the natural precursor to that of the nature of foreign interaction between said regional-centres and their textually-ordained feudal suzerains. To best understand the interactions of the LB Levantine network of regional-centers, one must first understand the nature of interactions within the network itself. From the settlement density data discussed in Marfoe’s assessment of the Beqaa Valley, it can be concluded that the Beqaa played a crucial role in the transmission of goods and information throughout the Northern Levant in the LB. When held in conjunction with Sader’s study of ports of entry of imported Egyptian objects in the MB Levant, a distinct network shape for the regionalcenters, appears. In Figure 2, posited communication routes are depicted, with the natural corridor provided by the Beqaa Valley serving as the main north-south axis of the network, and various mountain passes serving as east-west axes, in addition to the southern route, incorporated into the later Tarīq al-Shām route to Damascus. Hélène Sader uses Egyptian material culture as a marker for trade and communication routes from throughout MB Lebanon and demonstrates the existence of two parallel circuits of international trade, originating in two ports of entry for Egyptian objects in the Northern Levant, Sidon and Byblos. Sader notes, however, the possible existence of other subsidiary ports of entry, such as Ullaza in Northern Lebanon, and Tell el-Burak, south of Sidon.15 In Sader’s reconstruction of the route system, each port of entry is matched with an inland Beqaa Valley settlement which serves as entrepôt for its goods along the greater Syrian network, spanning from Qatna, in the North along the Orontes, to Damascus, in the south along the Tarīq al-Shām. The Beqaa Route serves as the main axis of trade and communication for the entire region of Greater Lebanon.16 It is important to note that there is recorded LB settlement at major port sites between Byblos and Sidon, most notably at Beirut,17 thus suggesting a third 15 Hélène Sader, “Intertwined History,” 119. 16 Ibid. 124. 17 Gabriella Scandone, “La Cultura Egiziana a Biblo Attraverso le Testimonianze 55
latitudinal axis between the northern, Byblos-Orontes route and the southern, Sidon-Damascus route. This hypothetical route would serve the Beqaa Valley directly, originating in one of the central Lebanese port settlements and ending in a hypothetical entrepôt settlement grouping around Tell-Hizzin or around Baalbek.18 While Sader’s reconstruction is hypothetical, it may be able to be confirmed through analysis of the ceramic records of the various ports-of-entry and entrepôts along her reconstructed network. According to Marfoe’s examination of the environmental data from the Beqaa Valley, there is a high degree of diversity in terms of clay and soil types throughout Lebanon.19 Thus, it would be possible through careful petrographic analysis of pottery sherds found in the soundings at all sites recorded in the Kāmid el-Lōz team’s survey, to determine the likely places of origin for each individual vessel. Significant movement of ceramic material from one center to another may indicate the shape of communication networks in the region. Such a study has not yet been undertaken and would be crucial to our understanding of the shape of regional communication networks throughout the Bronze Age. Due to the lack of available archaeological evidence for the communication networks of the LB North Levantine settlement network, information on the individual regional-center’s areas of control must be gained from textual sources. The Amarna Correspondence provides the names of various subsidiary settlements of Byblos as enumerated in the military strategic letters from the Byblian king Rib-Haddi to the Egyptian Pharaoh, Akhenaten. In the letter, EA 90, he mentions that the town of Baṭrôna, likely cognate with the modern Batroun, slightly north of Byblos, was overrun by the forces of the ʿapîru, and was likely along the northern border of the Byblian polity. Due to the nature of military loss, it can be understood that Rib-Haddi would not be inclined to lie about the impending defeat of his city-state in such letters as EA 90,20 which encapsulate his desperation for military aid from the Egyptian state. From a joint examination of settlement patterns, material culture analysis, and textual records, the rough bounds of the LB North Levantine regions and their centers can be hypothesized, as witnessed in Figure 3. It should be noted that the two outlier northern Beqaa sites not included in a major settlement cluster can be accounted for as possibly being associated with Qadem, an allegedly “eastern” frontier settlement mentioned in Henri Loffet’s article on Qadem and Qatna. These sites’ proximity to the Qatna route would lend to their alleged economic Materiali,” in Biblo: Una Città e la Sua Cultura: Atti del Colloquio Internazionale Roma, 5-7 dicembre 1990 (Rome: Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, 1994), 48. 18 This grouping is indicated in figure 3. 19 Leon Marfoe, Kāmid el-Lōz 14, 32. 20 The El-Amarna Correspondence: A New Edition of the Cuneiform Letters from the Site of El-Amarna based on Collations of all Extant Tablets, trans. Anson F. Rainey, eds. William M. Schniedewind and Zipora Cochavi-Rainey (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2015), 521. 56
association with Qatna, and their eastern position in relation to the major ports of the region would explain the association with the name Qadem, which means “east” or “eastern” in various Western Semitic languages.21 Foreign Interaction The nature of the initial contact between the Northern Levant and its peripheral regions, including Mesopotamia, southern Anatolia, and Egypt, has long been understood as primarily consisting of a system of gift-based political interactions at the royal or state level. Sader attests to the presence of such state gifts at Byblos and at Kumidi as early as the MB.22 By the LB, however, foreign interaction in the Northern Levant becomes increasingly more common in the material records of all social strata. The presence of Aegean and Cypriot ceramics and copper, Egyptian and African luxury goods, and various other commodities from as far as Afghanistan and northern Anatolia/the Caucasus in the LB strata of many North Levantine centers suggests a democratization of trade networks. It also lends to the idea of an increase in private agency with regard to trade, following the pattern and routes of interaction already established by the statelevel gift-correspondence as attested in the Amarna Correspondence. The Amarna Correspondence is the primary source for any discourse on the relations between Egypt and the Levantine regional-centers of the LB, though the claims made in the correspondence must be approached more critically and within an archaeological context. While Rib-Haddi, the leader of Byblos, appeals to the king of Egypt as a suzerain, politically lowering his own status to that of a minor vassal or a servant, in beginning many letters with such superfluous salutatory remarks as “At your feet I have fallen,”23 “[I am] the footstool of your feet,”24 and “at the feet of the sun god, my lord seven times and seven times have I fallen.”25 The legitimacy of his claim to be an Egyptian vassal, entirely subordinate to the Egyptian state, is called into question when he forges an alliance between Byblos and Tyre in EA 89.26 While likely primarily economic in nature, this alliance is still indicative of a higher level of political autonomy on the part of the leaders of these regional-centers. Rib Haddi alludes to the might of the Tyrian state, likening it to the powerful northern city of Ugarit, possibly in an effort to invoke a sense of local loyalty among the Levantine polities that would supersede 21 Loffet “La Qadem Levantine des Ègyptiens était-elle la Cité-État de Qatna/ Tell-Mishrifeh Syrienne?” in Qatna and the Networks of Bronze Age Globalism: Proceedings of an International Conference in Stuttgart and Tübingen in October 2009, eds. Michel AlMaqdissi and Peter Pfalzner (Wiesbdaen: Harrassowitz, 2015), 118. 22 Hélène Sader, “Intertwined History”, 123. 23 The El-Amarna Correspondence, trans. Anson F. Rainey, eds. William M. Schniedewind and Zipora Cochavi-Rainey (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2015), 439. 24 Ibid, 495. 25 Ibid, 495. 26 Ibid, 515-517. 57
any equivalent loyalty to the presumably more foreign Egyptian state. The dependency of Byblos upon the Egyptian state is further questioned when such actions as the association of Byblos with other regional-centers in the Levantine world are placed in an archaeological context. Many textual scholars have hypothesized that sites such as Byblos and Kumidi served as direct Egyptian vassals, under strict control of the Egyptian state through a system of regional garrisons, cognate with the system attested in the MB through LB phases of such Southern Levantine sites as Gaza and Jaffa.27 Contrastingly, archaeological excavations at one of these Southern Levantine garrison towns, Beth Shan, have determined how one of these Egyptian military communities appears in the archaeological record. By comparison with the archaeological record of the Egyptian presence in the North Levant, it can be determined that the material record of an Egyptian garrison town, such as Beth Shan, is not concurrent with the same Egyptian presence felt at Byblos or Kumidi.28 Concurrently with Sader’s theory of the grid-shaped trade network operating in LB Lebanon, Gabriela Scandone claims that it was a shift in economic importance and reliance in the major regional-centers of the early LB that led to the large-scale diminishing of the state-level gift trade and the rise of local and interregional trade networks among the Levantine regional-centers themselves,29 with its full attestation present even in the textual record, c.f. EA 89. Scandone’s notion of a shift in trading focus, at least for Byblos, from Egyptian imports to participation in a network with key nodes at Ullaza and Kumidi, would also serve to explain the population density patterns noted earlier, insofar as it would be understandable for more settlements to appear along the hypothesized routes from the coast inland and along the Beqaa Valley axis of communication. Therefore, through a multidisciplinary approach, considering the material cultures of various social strata of various Levantine regional-centers, it can be confirmed that the political framework of the LB north Levant was one of various regions whose centers competed at the state level for foreign luxury products. At the popular level, the various regions were highly interconnected in a grid-shaped trade network which extended primarily along the natural northsouth axis provided by the Beqaa Valley, from the Tarīq al-Shām in the south to the road to Qatna in the north, and with parallel networks interspersed between coastal port-centers. This societal structure not only reflects on what is present in the archaeological record, but also on what is concurrent with contemporary textual sources. Most importantly, this shows that the Levant was not suppressed 27 Gabriella Scandone, “La Cultura Egiziana a Biblo,” 46-47. 28 The finds at Beth Shan primarily belonged to lower-status people than the more monumental works found a Byblos and Kumidi, which can be accounted for through the gift-based state-level economy. For more on Beth Shan, see Frances W. James and Patrick E. McGovern, The Late Bronze Egyptian Garrison at Beth Shan: A Study of Levels VII and VIII. Vol II (Philadelphia: The University Museum, 1993). 29 Gabriella Scandone, “La Cultura Egiziana a Biblo,” 48. 58
by its peripheral powers, which is contrary to what has been claimed in the past several decades. Figures
Figure 1: LB Settlement patterns in the Beqaa Valley. Source: Marfoe Kāmid el-Lōz 14, 161.
Figure 2: Map of communication routes and known inter-regional trade routes based on settlement density data and later trade routes. Key: Red = Sidonian port of entry, Blue = Byblian port of entry, Green = Beqaa Valley natural corridor route. Map Source: Marfoe Kāmid el-Lōz 14, 161. Annotations made by author. Colour version availible in online edition of journal.
Figure 3: Hypothetical regional-center settlement groupings. Map source: Marfoe KÄ mid el-LĹ?z 14, 161. Annotations by author.
Bibliography Hansen, Morgen Herman, “The Concepts of City-State and City-State Culture” In A Comparative Study of Thirty City-State Cultures: An Investigation Conducted by the Copenhagen Polis Centre. Edited by Morgen Herman Hansen. Copenhagen: The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, 2000. James, Frances W., and Patrick E. McGovern. The Late Bronze Egyptian Garrison at Beth Shan: A Study of Levels VII and VIII. Vol. 2. Philadelphia: The University Museum, 1993. Jidejian, Nina. Byblos Through the Ages. Beirut: Dar An-Nahar, 1968. Loffet, Henri C., “La Qadem Levantine des Ègyptiens était-elle la Cité-État de Qatna/Tell-Mishrifeh Syrienne?” In Qatna and the Networks of Bronze Age Globalism: Proceedings of an International Conference in Stuttgart and Tübingen in October 2009. Edited by Mīšāl Al- Maqdisī and Peter Pfälzner. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2015. Marfoe, Leon. Kāmid El-Lōz: 14. Settlement History of the Biqāʿ up to the Iron Age. Bonn: Rudolf Habelt GMBH, 1998. Montet, Pierre. Byblos et lÉgypte. Quatre campagnes de fouilles à Gebeil, 19211922-1923-1924. Paris: Librairie Orientliste Paul Guethner, 1928. Niemeyer, Hans George, “The Early Phoenician City-States on the Mediterranean. Archaeological Elements for their Description” In A Comparative Study of Thirty City-State Cultures: An Investigation Conducted by the Copenhagen Polis Centre. Edited by Morgen Herman Hansen. Copenhagen: The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, 2000. Rainey, Anson F., trans. The El-Amarna Correspondence: A New Edition of the Cuneiform Letters from the Site of El-Amarna based on Collations of all Extant Tablets. Edited by William M. Schniedewind and Zipora Cochavi-Rainey. Lieden and Boston: Brill, 2015. Sader, Hélène, “Intertwined History: Lebanon’s Role in the Transmission of Egyptian Culture to Inland Syria in the Middle Bronze Age” In Qatna and the Networks of Bronze Age Globalism: Proceedings of an International Conference in Stuttgart and Tübingen in October 2009. Edited by Mīšāl Al- Maqdisī and Peter Pfälzner. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2015. Scandone, Gabriella, “La Cultura Egiziana a Biblo Attraverso le Testimonianze Materiali” In Biblo: Una Città e la Sua Cultura: Atti del Colloquio Internazionale Roma, 5-7 dicembre 1990. Edited by Enrico Acquaro. Rome: Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, 1994. 61
Historical Nostalgia and European Knowledge Production in Philip Mansel’s Aleppo: The Rise and Fall of Syria’s Great Merchant City Nourhan Hesham Moustafa
SOURCE: “Archive: Postcard views of Aleppo,” Levantine Heritage Foundation. 62
When British agent, archeologist, and traveller Gertrude Bell asked the Greek Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo in 1907 what he thought would be the future of the country, the Archbishop answered, “I do not know. I have thought deeply on the subject, and I can see no future for Syria, whichever way I turn.”1 Phillip Mansel’s book, Aleppo: The Rise and Fall of Syria’s Great Merchant City, echoes sentiments like the Archbishop’s in its melancholic tone. Perhaps the Archbishop was right, for in the present day swaths of the ancient merchant city lay pulverized. Split into two parts, Mansel’s book provides a brief general overview of the history of Aleppo from 1516 until the present day accompanied by a selection of travelogue excerpts written by European dignitaries and travellers. A brief book, Mansel’s portrayal of the ancient merchant city and his selection of primary sources reveal more about the West’s perception of Aleppo than about Aleppo itself. Mansel does not get stuck in the rose-tinted recollection of the Ottoman era; instead, he, perhaps unintentionally, produces a narrative dominated by an Orientalist ethos. One could argue that Mansel’s intention was to portray the evolution of the city over four centuries through the eyes of an outsider, but his selection of travelogues echoes a Eurocentric ideology that reinforces a fundamental inequality between such binaries as East and West and savage and civilized. In this essay, I argue that Mansel’s book provides the reader with a fixation on a European Orientalist perspective of Aleppo that seeks to merit the mourning of the city based on the city’s significance to Europe. Mansel does this by excluding local and Eastern sources, selecting travelogues that promote colonial binaries, and attributing the fall of the merchant city to poor self-governance and fervent conservatism. Focusing the bulk of the essay on the travelogue section of the book, I will be drawing comparisons between Mansel’s portrayal of the city vis-à-vis the European travellers in the second section, concluding with an exploration of the melancholic and nostalgic tone of the book as a response to the recent political situation in Syria. Mansel’s exclusion of Eastern sources centers European presence in the city as a validation of its significance. The second part of the book is a selection of travelogues written by European travellers and dignitaries that offer brief sketches into European activity in Aleppo followed by lengthier accounts of the history, mannerisms, and customs of the Aleppines. Mansel omits valuable Eastern historians such as the Syrian chronicler Mikhail Mishaqa.2 Mishaqa had served as an advisor to Emir Bashir II, the ruler of Mount Lebanon, in 1831 and later as a consular official during which he chronicled Muhammad Ali Pasha’s invasion of Syria in 1831 and the impact of the Ottoman Reform Edict on the Christian and Muslim populations of Syria in 1856.3 Yet, Mansel makes no mention of Mishaqa, but instead focuses on the accounts of European intellectuals. This de-emphasis of the perspectives of non-Europeans is clear with the discussion on consuls in Aleppo, with the presence of the former making the 1 Philip Mansel, Aleppo: The Rise and Fall of Syria's Great Merchant City (London: I.B. Taurus, 2016), 203. 2 Eugene L. Rogan, The Arabs: A History (New York, NY: Basic, 2009), 59. 3 Ibid., 76. 63
latter a cosmopolitan center which harmoniously fused East and West. Indeed, the consuls were crucial to this fusion, as seen with Mansel’s statement that “the state entry of a consul into Aleppo, like that of an ambassador into Constantinople, celebrated the bonds of respect and interest connecting the Ottoman Empire and the powers of Europe.”4 Mansel illustrates the consulates as a safe haven for European travellers to the city. In one of the travelogues, Alexander Russell writes, “[…] the people of distinction, usually treating the consuls with civility and respect, others of course follow their example; so that we live among them in great security in the city, and can travel abroad unmolested by Arabs or Curds.”5 American poet Bayard Taylor writes, “when a traveller arrived here, he was expected to call upon the different consuls, in the order of their established precedence: the Austrian first, English second, French third, & c.”6 What is perhaps most striking is that the travelogues evoke a sense of entitlement to Aleppo. This is reflected in such statements like this: “there are no windows in the street except a very few in the upper rooms, which render the streets very disagreeable to Europeans.” These kind of statements suggests the idea that Aleppo itself is a terrain to be secured and altered for the accommodation of Europeans.7 By erasing local and Eastern narratives and perspectives, Mansel leaves the readers with the European perception of Aleppo in relation to European-ness. The consequence of this perception is indifference towards the personal histories, views, and claims of the indigenous and local population. The selected travelogues are imbued with a proprietary air that seeks to subordinate the customs and mannerisms of Aleppines as beneath Europeans. Even in the most mundane observations, the European travellers spared no opportunity in which they could reinforce their culture as the benchmark of civilization. When Alexander Russell visited Aleppo in 1756, he remarked that “their usual bread is of wheat flour, not well fermented, made into thick flat cakes ill-baked [emphasis added], and for the most part soon after it comes out of the oven.” In contrast to that, Russell argues, “the Europeans have very good bread, baked in the French manner.”8 Russell’s historical account is just one of many examples in the book wherein Aleppine culture is portrayed as peculiar and deviating from Western conceptions of rationality. On the men and women of Aleppo, the travelogues portray the people of Aleppo (aside from the elite population) as two dimensional beings who are not so much people as they are props in the backdrop of a place for European intellect to display its prowess. For example, William George Brown describes Aleppine women as “rather masculine, of brown complexions, and remarkable for indulging in Sapphic affection.”9 While Francis William Newman describes the men as having “nothing in which heart and soul can gout, but family 4 Mansel, Aleppo, 16. 5 Ibid., 19. 6 Ibid., 171. 7 Ibid., 122. 8 Ibid., 102-103. 9 Ibid., 126. 64
and interests.”10 Newman attributes this to a lack of proper education, remarking, “perhaps where there is shallow an education of books, the education of life is, as in savage tribes, of greater proportionate importance.”11 In addition to this, Newman finds the importance of communal ties over profit gain as a peculiarity, reflecting the author’s own biases that stem from a liberal individualist profit driven society. This is clear when he says that “affection, seems to overpower money getting principles in the old men, and has a sort of hallowing effect. I admire the Spanish consul here for manliness, dignity and sweet frankness.” Newman’s comparative rhetoric is part of a pattern wherein every observation is almost immediately followed by a European example for contrast.12 Newman rounds up his personal observations with a final disenchanted statement: “on the whole both sexes give me a painful sense of emptiness."13 Another traveller, Alexander Russell, attributes this “emptiness” to the lack of education in Aleppo, which “seldom extends farther than just to read a little of the Koran, and write a common letter.”14 Russell, like the European travellers that succeed him in the book, conceives of the native Aleppines as unintelligible and "savage" when he contends that “they look upon what-ever they find in any book as an established fact.”15 Newman assists with the creation of such a caricature when he confidently remarks, “they have no poetry, no science, no patriotism, for in fact no country; no other care of politics than a vibration from distant France; and as the French here complain, no theatre, no public amusements.”16 This uncontested claim, which portrays one of the oldest cities in the world as ahistorical and devoid of sciences and poetry, contradicts the history of Aleppo itself. Such remarks offer interesting insight into the biases of each traveller and what they might unintentionally or intentionally overlook. For example, Leonard Rauwolff says, “though there are three colleges in Aleppo […] there be men of learning that belong to them, who have salaries to teach them grammar, and their odd kind of philosophy, with the grounds of their religion, which are the principle science to which the Turks apply themselves.”17 Rauwolff notes his observation of the colleges with the natural skepticism of a European traveller. The consequence of such a selective historical representation through the European gaze is that it produces a body of knowledge whereby the dominant voice and authority on Aleppo is a European one instead of a local one. The author promotes the dichotomies between civilized and savage without attempting to understand the complexity and significance of the institutions being criticized. Everything is observed in its proximity to Europe, with European-ness being the 10 Ibid., 185. 11 Ibid., 185. 12 Ibid., 185. 13 Ibid., 181. 14 Ibid., 109. 15 Ibid., 110. 16 Ibid. 17 Ibid., 87. 65
qualitative criterion of civilization. Mansel’s book is stocked with reactionary narratives that have laid down much of the groundwork for colonialism. The same authoritative tone that was used to position the people of Aleppo as inferior to European culture and mannerisms is used to diagnose Aleppo’s political ailments and advocate for European interventionism. Mansel himself is guilty of such claims as he makes the superficial argument that “conservatism accelerated Aleppo’s decline,” citing excess religiosity and intra-city power struggle as the dominant factors in Aleppo’s fall. He continues: “[on the plague] when more than 10,000 might die in one year, were regarded by many Muslims, both educated and uneducated, as a blessing and an opportunity for martyrdom. Only God and good conduct could save them. Unlike local Christians, they did not try to avoid catching plague by isolating themselves during outbreaks.”18 Mansel offers simple solutions to epidemics and earthquakes that have struck the vulnerable city with the expectation that had the Muslims isolated themselves, Aleppo would have avoided its own demise.19 Also noteworthy is Mansel’s lack of analysis and explanation for the root of this conservatism. In chapter 9, he dedicates five pages in his discussion of the French mandate to portray the French invasion as a saving force. Indeed, he writes that “many of the inhabitants had been so terrified of massacre and looting by Bedouins and ‘freedom fighters’ that they were relieved” that France was passionately committed to securing and controlling Syria by dividing it into smaller states to better control it.20 Such assertions are part of a wider pattern of the travelogues that employ the time-old tradition of European travel writing to exacerbate the necessity to intervene, even at the cost of contradicting their own observations in its self-willed blindness to the needs of the native population. One perfect example is that of John Fuller’s statement wherein he states that “the native population appeared also more actively happy, and in better condition, than the subjects of irresponsible despots usually are.”21 Such opinions render the native population as wholly unintelligible by nature of their denigration by the Turks (i.e. the Moors or Muslims). Gertrude Bell remarks, “it is they [Christians] who suffer at the hands of the Turk, the ecclesiastic, because of a blind and meaningless opposition that meets the Christian at every turn; the banker because if his interests call aloud for progress, and progress is what the Turk will never understand.”22 It is important to mention that Bell’s account was documented in 1920 and reflects a particularly partisan opinion as the French invasion resulted in the creation of the State of Aleppo following the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. Yet, there is little insight offered into the fervent opposition by the Syrians to French rule, as seen in the outbreak of nationalist revolts in Aleppo in 1919 and 1920. By stating that “a centralized military despotism, when native, and a 18 Ibid., 34. 19 Ibid., 34. 20 Ibid., 49. 21 Ibid., 155 22 Ibid., 203 66
standing on good will of the people is sometimes the best or almost the only sort of government possible,” Francis William Newman’s account offers an authoritative European opinion on what was necessary to remedy this Turkish Question.23 Ideas as this came to percolate in the public imagination of Europeans and in turn helped construct the necessity of an inherently colonial mission civilisatrice. Mansel’s book perpetuates the notion that the decline of the city is the fault of poor self-governance and increasing religiosity alone. While Mansel’s argument is not without merit, it overpasses the many complex factors that weave together to plunge a city like Aleppo into destitution. What it does instead is emphasize the authority of European intervention as a prerequisite for proper self-governance and prosperity—a deeply problematic narrative. Mansel employs this short book as a cautionary tale that a city as beautiful and peaceful as Aleppo is not exempt from the destruction of sectarianism and dictatorial tyranny. Selecting accounts that portray Aleppo through the realm of the European gaze, Mansel fails to acknowledge indigenous views and claims as well as the impact of the European powers. The exclusion of local sources in favour of European ones and the lack an analytical approach to confront the biases and presuppositions of these Europeans makes their perspective of Aleppo seem ostensibly indisputable. The travelogues are imbued with an air of superiority and perpetuate sweeping generalizations and stereotypes of Aleppines. This collection of uncontested knowledge gained through European travel literature demonstrates the differences between European and Eastern and civilized and savage. This knowledge has subordinated much of the Middle East and the global south to European colonialism. The consequences of this superficial presentation are exemplified through the travellers’ seemingly authoritative criticisms of the political ailments of the declining city and their advocacy for reactionary measures, such as military despotism or European rule, which is a political strategy still very much in vogue for European powers today. The book is nostalgic in its tone, echoing a sentiment of bereavement over the ravaged city. The constant reaffirmation of the significance of European-ness in the city as the mark of validation is the vehicle by which Mansel warrants the Western readers’ empathy to Aleppo’s current crisis. In a time when the situation seems destitute this book seeks a remedy by looking to a more glorious past. Works Cited Mansel, Philip. Aleppo: The Rise and Fall of Syria's Great Merchant City. London: I.B. Tauris, 2016. Print. Rogan, Eugene L. The Arabs: A History. New York, NY: Basic, 2009. Print.
23 Ibid.,155 67
By the University of Toronto's Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations Department.
Published on Apr 19, 2018
By the University of Toronto's Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations Department.