Between 1975 and 1978 a group of scholars in England published three annual issues of the Review of Middle East Studies. This political and intellectual project sought to articulate a radical critique of the dominant paradigms in Middle East studies. ROMES unmasked the relations among modernization theory, Orientalist representation and imperial politics, and placed the search for alternatives on the agenda. The example of ROMES inspired the formation of the Alternative Middle East Studies Seminar on this side of the Atlantic, and its production complemented in many respects the work of MERIP.
The political and economic climate of Thatcherism and Reaganism dampened these efforts, while the decline of the secular radical left in the Middle East removed an important reference point for radical intellectual work. The scarcity of academic jobs for young scholars, and the perceived necessity for discretion by many of those who did find jobs, blunted the thrust of many critical projects begun in the 1970s. Unlike Latin American studies, where the persistent resistance of the people of Nicaragua and El Salvador to imperialist domination has sustained radical American scholarship despite the inhospitable atmosphere in the 1980s, radical currents in Middle East studies remain disoriented.
One reason for this is that, prior to the Palestinian uprising, campaigns of popular resistance in the Middle East — the Iranian revolution, the Lebanese movement against Israeli occupation — have fought under the banner of political Islam. Appropriately then, the Review of Middle East Studies (edited by David Seddon, published by Ithaca Press, London) has been revived in 1988 with issue 4 devoted to the theme of “Nationalism and Islamism.” The contributions of Sami Zubaida (“Islam, Cultural Nationalism and the Left”) and Fanny Colonna (“Language, Social Relations and Intellectual Production in Algeria”) are particularly strong. On the whole, though, the articles here are less theoretically oriented than was the norm in the previous three issues, and the sense of political engagement is much diminished. This is not completely surprising. The Anglo-American radical intelligentsia has been isolated for the last decade and has consequently lost its self-confidence. It will take some time to find the most appropriate voice. Welcome back!
Collusion Across the Jordan: King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement and the Partition of Palestine (Columbia, 1988) is Avi Shlaim’s contribution to the growing body of Israeli revisionist scholarship on the Palestinian/Arab- Israeli conflict. Using Israeli, British, Arabic and American sources, Shlaim painstakingly examines the collaboration between the Zionists and Jordan’s King ‘Abdallah between 1921 and 1951 which led to a tacit agreement allowing ‘Abdallah to occupy and annex the territories of mandate Palestine designated by the UN partition plan for a Palestinian Arab state.
Shlaim’s study adds to the debunking of one of the foundation myths about Israel — that it was surrounded by uniformly hostile Arab states from the moment of its birth. But the basic narrative line of Collusion is at least 30 years old. ‘Abdallah al-Tall, commander of the Jordanian forces in Jerusalem during the 1948-49 war, first discussed Jordanian-Israeli collaboration in Karithat Filastin (The Palestine Disaster). When this book appeared in Cairo in 1959, Israelis involved in the negotiations with ‘Abdallah commented on it extensively in the Israeli press. They disputed the details of al-Tall’s bitter and polemical memoir, and Shlaim has his differences with al-Tall as well, but they affirmed the main thrust of his argument — that the Zionist leadership had extensive contacts with ‘Abdallah and understood that his main objective was to occupy the portions of Palestine assigned by the UN to the Arab state.
Shlaim’s rendition of this story is the most fully documented and carefully constructed one to date, and may well stand as the definitive version for some time. But once again we confront a maddeningly recurring phenomenon: Voices from the Arab world, drawing on their own firsthand knowledge, speak but receive no hearing. Only when these same truths are retold in the approved Western mode, often after several more wars, the loss of uncountable lives and 22 years of Israeli occupation, are they acclaimed and embraced.
Another recent, notable addition to the sparse literature on Jordan is Mary Wilson’s King Abdullah, Britain and the Making of Jordan (Cambridge, 1988) — a very competent general political biography of ‘Abdallah based mainly on British sources.
Ra’uf ‘Abbas and ‘Izzat Riyad have performed a great service by publishing an Arabic translation of a large selection of the papers of Henri Curiel, one of the founders of the Egyptian communist movement. Awraq Hinri Kuriyal (Dar Sina lil-Nashr, 1988) makes these documents, including Curiel’s autobiography and a portion of his letters and political reports to Egypt dispatched from his exile in France, available to the public for the first time. The introductory essays of ‘Abbas and Riyad summarize the charges against Curiel made by former comrades, rivals and opponents. Unfortunately, they contain many exaggerations and errors of fact and interpretation resulting from injudicious use of Gilles Perrault’s A Man Apart. They also reflect an unanalytical anti-Zionist sentiment (which at times crosses the line to anti-Semitism) now prevalent among nationalist Egyptian intellectuals, an understandable but nonetheless pernicious reaction to the American political, economic and cultural onslaught since the Camp David agreements. Their most flamboyant insinuations — that the breakup of the Democratic Movement for National Liberation in 1948 was planned by the Jewish communists and that Curiel’s concern for the welfare of the Egyptian Jewish saboteurs arrested in July 1954 indicated that he was an Israeli intelligence operative — are unsupported by any evidence. For the record, the “young foreign researcher” who gave copies of these documents to ‘Abbas is this writer. Since ‘Abbas chose to hint strongly at my identity, it seems best to abandon the anonymity I requested. The reason for my request was not that Curiel’s friends in Paris forbade me to show the documents to others, as ‘Abbas wrote. Rather, I preferred to avoid appearing to be a partisan party in any arguments among Egyptian leftists that might result from their publication.