World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Travel Narratives (354) - Panel

· Date: THU, 22 / 2.30 - 4.30 pm

· Language: English

· Description:

Chair: Maria Dolors Garcia Ramon (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)

Paper presenter: Rosa Cerarols / Maria Dolors Garcia Ramon (Associate, Professor, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona), “Women and colonialism. Imagined geographies of Spanish Women’s travel accounts in Morocco”
The “cultural turn” in geography has allowed us to analyze the intersections between literature, travel and geography. At the same time, postcolonial and feminism revisions of the imperial period shows that the relation between the West and the East was one of power based on a very andocentric positioning. Travel narratives are not merely descriptions of geographical itineraries but a complex topography of alterity that was neither neutral nor innocent. Spain’s foreign policy reoriented its overseas colonial strategies from the middle of the 19th century and focused on Morocco. Therefore the “interest” for this region increased dramatically and many travellers wrote their experiences there. Within the study period we have accounted about sixty men travellers and only four women. We have chosen for our presentation two of them (Carmen de Burgos and Aurora Bertrana) because their outstanding personalities and pioneering roles in the Spanish society of their time. Carmen went there at the beginning of the study period in 1909 during one of the so called Melilla wars, and Aurora at the end of it that is in 1936, just before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Their imagined geographies clearly illuminated Spanish travel writings with a gender perspective. Key words: women travel narratives, gender, colonialism, Morocco, feminist geography, alterity.

Paper presenter: Naila Kaidbey (Lecturer, American University of Beirut), “Nineteenth Century Mount Lebanon: Facts and Perceptions”
Foreign travellers to the Orient in the nineteenth century have shown great interest in Mount Lebanon on an unprecedented scale. Besides the beauty of the landscape Mount Lebanon with its Christian community was viewed as both an inviolate sanctuary and an ideal site for the reformation of the Ottoman Empire. In addition their works contributed to the notion that the people of Lebanon Christian and Druze were waiting to be redeemed from Ottoman inequity by the intercession of the civilized world. David Urquhart was such a traveller. As a British diplomat, Urquhart travelled extensively in Turkey and visited Lebanon in the 1840s. Urquhart gave special attention to such issues in his work: The Lebanon (Mount Souria): A history and a diary. Urquhart was writing about the political and social events of 1840 that marked a turning point in the history of Lebanon and precipitated the tragic civil war of the 1860s. Foreign intervention, as he stated, has withdrawn Lebanon from an existence of insignificance, tranquillity, and prosperity and raised it to a station of highest importance in the affairs of mankind. In his view a ?gentle crusade? was taking place with England and France as the major players; a crusade to liberate Christians who having escaped the persecution of Muslims were now subject to the hateful Druze. This paper will examine the perceptions of David Urquhart against the accounts of two Lebanese historians: Shahin Makarius (1855-1920) a Christian Greek Orthodox and the Druze Abu Abbas Husain Ghadban Abu Shaqra (1840?-1903). Makarius described this era in a work entitled: Hasr al-litham an nakabat al-Sham. Abu Shaqra recounts the same events albeit from a different perspective. His experience was documented at a later date by a close relation Yusuf Khattar Abu Shaqra (1876-1904) in the manuscript: al-harakat fi lubnan and finally edited by Arif Abu Shaqra in 1952. The fact that this monograph passed through three generations is worth noting. It reveals the significance of this period to the Druze and the close connection it reflects about history and identity. The accuracy of historic events becomes irrelevant when compared with the salient message such monographs were meant to convey. In addition, this paper will retrace through careful reading and comparison of the texts, the major issues they dealt with; issues of identity, the socio-economic changes among the sectarian communities in Lebanon, and changes in their role in the politics of the Mountain. Special attention would be also be given to the responsibility of the Ottoman state vis-à-vis these communities; keeping in mind that this was the pre-tanzimat era where the Sultan was pressured for reforms along the European model. In conclusion it will indicate that while Urquhart saw in foreign intervention the actions of a benevolent modernity, indigenous observers recognized it as harbinger of Lebanon's destruction. The truth remains mid way between the two.

Paper presenter: Günther Windhager (Research fellow, University of Vienna, Austria), “Religion, Travel, and Politics: Muhammad Asad's Journalistic Writings from Saudi Arabia, 1927-1932”
In 1927 the Austrian journalist and Jewish convert to Islam Muhammad Asad (born in 1900 as Leopold Weiss) left Europe for his first pilgrimage to Mecca. Subsequently to the Hajj Asad lived in Saudi Arabia as a foreign correspondent for leading German, Swiss, and Dutch newspapers as well as for a number of journals and magazines. Asad’s Saudi period is characterized by the formation of an Arab-Islamic identity and an increasing shift from a European to an Islamic network. He became a confidant and an informal adviser of King Abd al-Aziz Al Saud, who unified the Kingdom of Hijaz and of Najd and its Dependencies and declared the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932. In that year Asad went to (British) India where he contributed to the establishment of Pakistan. He was appointed as Pakistan’s Minister Plenipotentiary to the United Nations in 1952. Asad also became an influential Islamic scholar and author. His most important works include “The Road to Mecca (1954)” and “The Message of the Qur’an (1980)”. Muhammad Asad died in Spain in 1992. The significance of Asad’s journalistic work in Saudi Arabia can be measured by the fact that he was one of the very view Europeans, who witnessed the final phase of the emergence of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the spot. At a time when non-Muslims were not allowed to move beyond Jeddah, Asad travelled widely on the Saudi territory and probably was the only European foreign correspondent, which had access to the king’s court in those years. Giving a voice to the Saudi viewpoint in the European press and opposing British policy in the Middle East, Asad was not a mere observer but an anti-colonial minded mediator of Saudi interests. However, most of Asad’s newspaper reports and travel accounts are not approachable bibliographically and have not been taken into consideration in research yet. Based on a comprehensive research on Asad’s life and work my paper gives new insights in his Saudi period and examines Asad’s writings as a source on the ethnography and the social and political history of Saudi Arabia.