art of resistance

Call For Papers: Towards An Arab Left Reader.

borovoy-169hero-5mffnanowrimo-istock//illustration: iStock.com/Marvid//

Why is there as yet no reader or anthology of Arab leftist thought in English translation? If that question is of interest to you, read on.

The workshop will take place at the University of Cambridge, from 12- 14 April 2018. It will bring together an international group of scholars and translators from a wide range of disciplines to identify, discuss and translate a selection of documents that have played a pivotal role in the formation of socialist, anti-colonial and democratic thought in the Arab world.

The ultimate outcome of this gathering will be the publication of the first English-language Arab left reader, in which translated documents will be accompanied by essays that locate them within a larger historical, political and translational context. The collection aims to bring Arab leftist traditions into conversation with other non-Western and international political texts now available in English, as well as to function as a pedagogical tool and a resource for those interested in political thought in the Arab world.

The workshop will be comprised of six panels on the following themes:

1) Political Mobilization & Muslim Societies

2) Turath: Heritage and Cultural Decolonization

3) Literary Aesthetics and Politics

4) Nation, State and Liberation

5) Feminism and Gender Equality

6) Political Economy

Call for papers:

Proposals for texts on one of the above panel subjects (including party or anonymous tracts, collectively authored documents, etc) are invited for inclusion in the reader. After the workshop, participants who will contribute to the reader should be prepared to translate the entirety of their proposed text, and offer a short summation of its location in broader Arab leftist thought and political practice.

You should submit the following by October 15, 2017:

  • 400 word abstract with the following: description of the text and its author, including bibliographic information (date of production, length, publisher (if any), etc; and political location of text (i.e. when and why was it written, intended audience, distribution method), as well as the relevance of the text to the topic of your chosen panel (please state clearly on which panel you wish to present)
  • 1-2 paragraphs of proposed text in original Arabic and English translation.

Send the proposals to arableftreader@gmail.com.

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art of resistance, Lebanon

Remembering Mahdi ‘Amel: The Importance of Resistance.

Hassan Abdullah Hamdan, more commonly known as Mahdi ‘Amel, was an Arab Marxist intellectual and a political activist. Today is the twenty-eight anniversary of his assassination and a perfect time to reflect on his life and remember his work.

Hassan Hamdan/Mahdi ‘Amel, photo via sierra.mmic/

Mahdi ‘Amel joined the Lebanese Communist Party in 1960, at the age of twenty-four. Some years after, he received a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Lyon in France.  In 1963, he traveled to Algeria and worked in education in the teachers’ bureau in Al-Qustantiniyah city. He also wrote several articles for The African Revolution magazine (published in Algeria), examining education and its methods.

In the mid 70’s, he returned to Lebanon and soon joined the Institute of Social Sciences as a fulltime professor in the Lebanese University, teaching philosophy, politics, and methodologies. He started to work in Al-Tareeq magazine under the name ‘Mahdi `Amel,’ which he used in all his writings later.

Mahdi ‘Amel was also a member the Union of Lebanese Writers and he wrote poems, which he signed under the name ‘Hilal bin Zaytoon.’

As it is very well pointed out on his Jadaliyya profile, ‘Amel’s “struggle was not limited to writing but he practiced what he said by travelling in cities and villages, lecturing, discussing and explaining several causes, like nationality and liberation, to the people in a simple clear language. He was known in these discussions as ‘comrade Tariq.’ 

The essential question he asked was one asked by many other Marxists and leftists living in non-Western societies: How can Marxist principles be implemented and work within realities that were not European or neo-European? In his Frontline article about ‘Amel, Vijay Prashad relects on this aspect of Amel’s work:

In one of Mahdi Amel’s early essays, ‘Colonialism and Backwardness’, published in al-Tariq (1968), he wrote, ‘If you really want our own true Marxist thought to see the light, and to be capable to see reality from a scientific perspective, we should not start with Marxist thought itself and apply it to our own reality, but rather start from our reality as a foundational movement.’ If one starts with the historical development of a society and its own cultural resources, ‘only then can our thought truly become Marxist’ (translated by Hisham Ghassan Tohme). Marxism could not be adopted whole cloth. The reality of colonial ‘backwardness’ (takhalluf) had to be explored and Marxism elaborated to take this into account.

Since Mahdi Amel is almost unknown outside the Arab world (his work, except some tiny bits, is also not been translated from Arabic, unfortunately), Prashad said he wanted to write about ‘Amel because of his interest in innovative Marxism. Mahdi ‘Amel tried to put Marxism to the service of the concrete conditions of their society – to understand the social forces and constraints and the motive forces and possibilities of their politics.

Prashad, who met the family of Mahdi Amel and was fascinated by their story, writes:

As the struggles emerged out of and alongside the Communist movement, Mahdi Amel travelled across the tobacco farmers’ bases, giving lectures about Marxism and its relevance to Lebanon’s contemporary problems. He spoke in homes and mosques, remembers Evelyne Brun, and was listened to ‘with religious silence’. He explained how backwardness worked, and what were the intentions of Lebanon’s right wing (the Phalange) as representatives of outside forces. Years later, Evelyne Brun learned, he was known as ‘the man with the green beard’ and had attained a legendary status amongst the farmers.

Mahdi ‘Amel was assassinated on 18 May 1987, near his house in the area of Al-Mulla in Beirut, while on his way to the Institute of Social Sciences in the Lebanese University where he used to teach. After his martyrdom, his articles and educational books which he wrote between 1968 and 1973 were gathered and published in 1991 in a book entitled Issues of Teaching and Educational Policies. In these articles, he analyzed the Lebanese state’s educational policy of the Lebanese State that works to destroy the official educational process and deepen sectarian loyalties in order to reproduce the political-class-sectarian system.

The Left in the Arab world suffered gravely over the past two decades. However, there seems to be a great interest in ‘Amal’s work again, a sort of a revival, a search for alternatives. Where it will lead, we’ll see.

For more on Mahdi ‘Amel, I recommend reading the Frontline article by Vajid Prashad, Al Akhbar article by Yazan al-Saadi, and ‘Amel’s Jadaliyya profile.

• • •

Previous Remembering… sessions:

Remembering Samir Kassir: Life as Courage, Death as Silence

Remembering Hassan Fathy: To Build With The People

Remembering Assia Djebar: I Write Against Erasure

Remembering Howard Zinn: To Be Hopeful in Bad Times

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