This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History


Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From imperialist feminism to the meaning of ideology, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Imperialist Feminism and Liberalism

Deepa Kumar
Open Democracy

Colonial feminism is based on the appropriation of women’s rights in the service of empire and has been widely utilised in justifying aggression in the Middle East. But is it liberal? In a recent CNN interview, religion scholar Reza Aslan was asked by journalist Alisyn Camerota if Islam is violent given the “primitive treatment in Muslim countries of women and other minorities.” Aslan responded by stating that the conditions for women in Muslim majority countries vary. While women cannot drive in Saudi Arabia, elsewhere in various Muslim majority countries, women have been elected heads of states 7 times. But, before he could finish his sentence pointing out that the US is yet to elect a woman as president, he was interrupted by co-host Don Lemon who declared: “Be honest though, Reza, for the most part it is not a free and open society for women in those states.”

How is it that people like Camerota and Lemon, who very likely have never travelled to “free and open” Turkey, Lebanon or Bangladesh, or read the scholarship on women’s rights struggles in Morocco, Iran and Egypt, seem to know with complete certainty that women are treated “primitively” in “Muslim countries”? On what basis does Lemon believe that he has the authority to call Aslan out for supposed dishonesty? How is it that with little or no empirical evidence on women’s rights in Muslim majority countries (which vary widely based on country, regions within a country, social class, the history and nature of national liberation movements, the part played by Islam in political movements etc.) Western commentators routinely make such proclamations about women and Islam? [continue reading]

Misremembering Yitzhak

Yair Rosenberg
Tablet Magazine

Nineteen years ago today, on November 4, 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a far-right extremist. In a yearly ritual, he is being remembered as a peacemaker and as someone whose death “changed history.” Rabin, it is widely said, could have ended the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, something the Anti-Defamation League vividly portrayed in its alternate history viral video, “Imagine a World Without Hate.”

But if you read Rabin’s final speech to the Israeli parliament, delivered just a month before he died, the picture seems more complicated than this narrative. On October 5, 1995, Rabin laid out his vision for peace, telling the Knesset (italics ours):

We view the permanent solution in the framework of State of Israel which will include most of the area of the Land of Israel as it was under the rule of the British Mandate, and alongside it a Palestinian entity which will be a home to most of the Palestinian residents living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. [continue reading]

100 Years Later: Lessons for the US in Syria

Max Reibman
Fair Observer

On the afternoon of March 20, 1919, only months after the end of World War I, the leading statesmen of the allied powers gathered at the Paris residence of British Prime Minister David Lloyd George. The order of the day was the Middle East. For weeks, Britain and France squabbled over Syria. Each pursued diverging political and economic aims and, by March 20, the negotiations stalled.

Suddenly, it was US President Woodrow Wilson who broke the deadlock by offering a bold solution: An international commission should go to Syria to “elucidate the state of opinion” and “soil to be worked on” by any government. What ensued is the now-forgotten story of American involvement in the creation of modern Syria . . . . The First World War was a transformative moment for the Middle East but in ways that are misunderstood today. Wilson’s plan for a fact-finding mission to Syria in the spring of 1919 nearly altered the course of modern Middle Eastern history. It remains an instructive episode for policymakers struggling to respond to events in Syria almost a century later. [continue reading]

The Meaning of Ideology

Michael J. Kramer
U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Clifford Geertz famously claimed an Indian friend told him when asked what stood below the turtle upon whose back the universe rested, “it’s turtles all the way down.” Might we also say that it is ideology all the way down. And also all the way up?

That famous saying about turtles itself had a rather sneaky ideological interior within its shell of asserted truth, so it is a good one to appropriate. We should also pause to remember that Geertz was, wink wink, playing sly in making a widely-circulated folktale about turtles and cosmology seem like a single illuminating encounter he had. The anthropologist took the destabilizing cosmological remark of his friend and transposed it into a stabilized context in which to examine not the symmetry of fully realized systems of thought, but rather the messy rings upon rings of cultural expression. That was, in its way, an ideological move: it smuggled within its protective covering of seeking to understand “the other” an ideological drive, perhaps colonial and imperial, to reconstruct ordered interpretative ballast in the face of perceived chaos and multiplicity and bottomless mystery.

This is what we do with the term ideology—we peel back layers, burn holes in the bark, find the cracks in the armor, see through to the tender body of thought within the carapace of rhetoric. Ideology lets historians perform the tasty ironic gesture of aha, you thought it was that, but it was in fact this! Yet underneath it there is still that nagging sense of historical mystery rather than clear ideological motives. [continue reading]

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