World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010

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THE POLITICS OF AMNESIA AND CULTURAL PRODUCTION IN THE MIDDLE EAST - 1/2: (235) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel
 

· NOT_DEFINED date: WED 21, 2.30-4.30 pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin (Germany)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Dr. Sonja Hegazy

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: The panel addresses issues of nation building, history writing and memorialisation in the Middle East. It starts from the assumption that the remembering and/or forgetting of specifically postcolonial histories in the region have been largely orchestrated by official discourses designed to unify national history and regulate other commemorative acts, as nation building involves a mixture of strategic forgetting and selective memory. The notion of amnesia in the panel’s title does not mean that history is forgotten or completely buried by the needs and exigencies of a mobile present. It means that history is streamlined into a simplifying narrative that renders alternative stories absent from national histories. Very often national amnesia is politically formalised through the granting of amnesties.

The panel explores state and popular claims on memory. With the end of the Cold War, the proliferation of new media and the pluralisation of printed media, state monopolies which intended to prescribe a unified reading of the past have broken up, with the consequence of a growing public interest in debating the variable significance of past events. By now, conflictual readings of the 20th century have forced their way into the public of a number of countries in the region.

The panel intends to bring together researchers who work on the flows between multiple personal and public memories. It aims more specifically at investigating the ways in which culture (fiction, (auto-) biographies, film, the arts as well as ritualised commemoration) collectively engages the ‘work of memory’ in the Middle East.

Chair: Prof. Bettina Dennerlein, University of Zurich

Discussant: Monika Borgmann, UMAM Beirut

Paper presenter: Dr. Sonja Hegasy, Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin, Cultural Production as Site of Memory
Until the early nineties, counter narratives and oral counter testimonies have rarely found their way into the public sphere. Many of the more controversial cultural products looking back at post-colonial Arab history were published outside the region as a result of censorship and manifold internal pressures. In the post-colonial Arab nation state, culture is even more engaged to contest the way national historiography is deployed as a pedagogic exercise in the maintenance of state power and the regulation of society. This paper will give an introduction on how cultural products are thus used as sites of memory.

Paper presenter: Dr. Andrea Fischer-Tahir, Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin, Remembrance, Amnesia, and the Journalistic Field: Narrations of 9 April 2003 in Iraqi Newspapers
The political changes after 9 April 2003 opened the space for the reorganization of the journalistic field in Iraq. Baghdad and other parts of Iraq experienced the proliferation of hundreds of new newspapers and magazines and of new radio and television stations. In order to discuss the discursive legitimization of power relations through constructing memories, this paper takes journalistic narrations of 9 April 2003 as an example in eight newspapers (five in Arabic, three in Kurdish language). It is the aim of the paper to highlight that the Iraqi printing press is not only multi-facetted while homogenous, but that there is also journalistic resistance against partisan strategies of remembering and forgetting.

Paper presenter: Karin Mlodoch, Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin, Anfal surviving women in Kurdistan-Iraq: The struggle for agency and new life perspectives against traditional gender roles and Kurdish national victimhood discourses
The presentation focuses on the situation of Kurdish women in Iraq, who have survived deportation and imprisonment during the Anfal operations of the Iraqi regime against the Kurdish areas in Northern Iraq in 1988. The uncertainty on the fate of the disappeared ones, precarious life situations and an unclear social and legal status kept the surviving women in a provisional situation and in the role of women waiting and mourning. This was reinforced by a patriarchal and traditional context, not providing life perspectives to women without men. With the fall of the Baath-regime in 2003, new social and political spaces open up for Anfal surviving women to articulate their claims for evidence, justice, reparations and social and political acknowledgement. The paper looks into the interaction between individual and collective memories, narratives and coping strategies of Anfal surviving women and their representation on the Kurdish national level.

Paper presenter: Sophie Wagenhofer, Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin, The Jewish Museum in Casablanca - memory and forgetting
The discourse about Moroccan Jewish culture and history is more recently dominated by a narrative of an age-long peaceful coexistence and a fruitful cultural exchange between Muslims and Jews in the country. Issues as anti-Semitism or the mass emigration of about 250.000 Jews are widely neglected in the public discourse. Using the example of the Jewish Museum in Casablanca this paper is tracing the question, why these issues are left out from the exhibition and also from a wider societal discourse.

Paper presenter: Alia Mossallam, London School of Economics and Political Science, Remembering Otherwise: The Aswan high-dam through Nubian lyrics
This study will explore how the experience of the building of the Aswan-high dam was preserved and continues to be remembered by the small, marginalized communities whose livelihoods were affected by it. It traces through Nubian popular culture, how every phase of the building of the dam was remembered, and the ‘contradictory consciousnesses’ experienced as a people struggle to see themselves as part of a socialist hegemony, whilst acknowledging the bitter prices they paid for a hegemony that did not serve them.
Through songs collected from Nubian communities, from workers who built the dam, families who were displaced, and others who regarded it as an industrial revolution; alternative narratives to what this great industrial, national and political feat actually entailed will be reflected.
The songs will be explored for the political discourse they draw upon and challenge, for what they represent of melancholy, bitterness, nostalgia and forgiveness, and for how they have endured through the two generations since.
The study will explore memory as a space for hegemonic contention. Through the contradictions and complexities of memory and hegemony, it traces how a powerful hegemony can control our inner narratives, not only how we remember events, but how we remember ourselves. It explores the dignity of choosing to remember otherwise, to separate from the meta-narratives of glory and remind ourselves of its injustices.
It brings apart the lyrics of a revolution that sang in the name of its people, and unravels the true experiences of a people who were never asked to sing along.