Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

Colonialism, Postcolonialism, Globalization, and Arab Culture

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

Colonialism, Postcolonialism, Globalization, and Arab Culture

Article excerpt

The Historical Context of the Modern Arab World

Learning about the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) through the study of this region's modern history and the exploration of its creative writing will illuminate some of the intricacies of the historical events that have shaped the modern Arab world. This will also shed light on the sociopolitical, economic, and international interests in the region. Inserted into the historical and theoretical discussion is an analysis of creative writing, to show that history and theory conjoin in shaping creative writing, refocusing attention on Arab culture and heritage.

In total, 22 countries make up what is referred to as the Arab world, spread across Asia and Africa. The land of the Arab world stretches from the Persian Gulf in the east and the Arabian Peninsula into the Levant, which reaches the Mediterranean coast and the Euphrates and into North Africa. Including Egypt and the Sudan, the Arab world borders Iran to the East, Turkey to the North, with the Suez Canal connecting the Mediterranean with the Red Sea. The Strait of Gibraltar, the small isthmus at the most Southern point of present-day Spain, connects Southern Europe with Arab Morocco in North Africa that stretches west to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.

Historian Albert Houraní set the date of 1798 when Napoleon invaded Egypt as the time that initiated the onset of the modern period for the Arab Middle East,1 what is usually referred to as the Nahda (Renaissance). Although acknowledging his legacy to Arabic historiography, a few scholars have recently contested his date and one of the main thrusts of his argument-that it was contact with the West that ignited the Nahda.2 Dina Rizk Khoury, for example, writes that as early as 1780 Arab intellectuals were seeking reform, rebelling against the status quo under the Ottomans. In an early manual on marriage, dated 1868, Marilyn Booth also speaks to intellectual engagement with gender issues, before Qasim Amin's controversial publication of 1899 regarding the emancipation of women (Hanssen and Weiss 120; 210).

Nonetheless, when the Arab Nahda emerged, many intellectuals, writers, journalists, lawyers, and political leaders began voicing the Arab desire for equality, democracy, and liberation from Ottoman tutelage. Then, a distinctive voice was heard, narrating the common history, language, religion, and ethnicity of the Arab people, an Arab identity whose desire was to form an independent nation-state. The Arabs found inspiration in the nationalist fervor that swept Europe in the nineteenth century, the ideology that brought about the European nation-states as we know them today. James Gelvin suggests that it was then that "the nationalist movement invented a nation."3 This is not to say that there was a unified, cohesive ideology of nationalism across the MENA, but the calls were comparable in sharing basic assumptions about society, state, land, and purpose.

It is interesting to note that the narration of the Arab nation leading up to World War I was written and disseminated in Arabic, considered a marginal language at that time. The first book written in English and targeting an English readership was George Antonius' The Arab Awakening, published in 1938.4 This is an example of how globalization could have perhaps made a difference in making Arab voices heard outside the local Arab communities and official Western circles. A comparison of early twentieth-century Arab Nahda in Arabic and the uprisings during the Arab Spring, in multiple languages and heard and seen on social media, would render interesting results regarding the benefits of globalization and modern social media.

It was World War I, however, that marked the decisive historical moment for the Arabs. According to Roger Owen, "The Ottoman Military defeat by the British and French during the First World War produced a radical change throughout the whole Middle East."5 British and French leaders secretly agreed to divide the spoils of the Ottoman Empire between them, to advance their imperialistic interests. …

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