Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan

By Brand, Laurie A. | The Middle East Journal, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan


Brand, Laurie A., The Middle East Journal


Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan, by Joseph A. Massad. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001. xiv + 278 pages. Notes to p. 351. Works cited to p. 370. Index to p. 396. $45 cloth; $18.50 paper.

Reviewed by Laurie A. Brand

Political scientists have taken an increasing interest in the role and the sources of national identity in recent years. While not drawing his theoretical inspiration from the constructivist school, Joseph Massad has produced a detailed and provocative study of Jordanian identity. Massad's primary purpose is to demonstrate how colonial administrations, in particular the legal system and the military, have shaped the formation, evolution, and practice of national identity in post-colonial settings. Massad contends not just that the colonizers' institutions had a major impact on postindependence institutions, but rather that certain markers imposed or reinterpreted by the colonial administrators (from ways of defining citizenship and boundaries to military dress and performance) were later appropriated by indigenous nationalists and incorporated into an identity, an intrinsic part of which was anti-colonialism.

Massad is at his best discussing the direct effects of British colonialism. The first three chapters, which focus on how nationals (and non-nationals) were defined, how territories were incorporated, and how Sir John Bagot Glubb's ideas about the identity and traditions of the Bedouin, shaped the most basic institutions that have defined "the nation," are replete with insights into an emerging Jordanian identity. The chapter on Glubb is especially well-written, telling us as much about him as about Jordanian identity. Drawing on the works of Louis Althusser, Jacques Derrida and especially Michel Foucault regarding the intrinsic relationship between law and the state, Massad's broad argument concerns the role that both law and institutions of discipline like the military have in producing national identity.

After this discussion of what he terms the "colonial moment," he moves on to consider what he terms the other two transformative moments that define national identity: "the anti-colonial moment" and "the expansion and contraction of the nation." While the exposition of the historical material and descriptive material is detailed, and there is much that is new, the theoretical argument about the participation of the law and the military in producing national identity in these second and third moments is not clearly woven into the presentation; nor, does the author reprise it in the short conclusion.

Instead, while continuing to focus on the importance of the military, Massad shifts to tracing the evolution of the marginalization of a majority of Palestinian-Jordanians from the national identity. Here the presentation raises as many questions as it answers.

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