On June 6, I moderated a panel discussion in Chicago on Yassin al-Haj Saleh‘s momentous book The Impossible Revolution: Making Sense of the Syrian Tragedy. The event was presented by Haymarket Books, the volume’s North American publisher (it’s published in the UK and worldwide by Hurst). The panelists were Wendy Pearlman, author of We Crossed a Bridge and it Trembled: Voices from Syria; Lina Sergie Attar, co-founder of the Karam Foundation; Firas Aladai, director of the film Winter; Sarah Hunaidi, an activist and co-host of the Hummus for Thought podcast; and Behzad Tehrani with Haymarket Books. The discussion starts a few minutes into the video. Sorry for the uneven audio quality. Turn the volume up!
It just so happens that two friends of mine have new books out on hope — one fiction, one nonfiction. And both are doing readings in Chicago this month:
The Hope Store, by Dwight Okita
Two Asian American friends, Luke and Kazu, discover a bold new procedure to import hope into the hopeless. They vow to open the world’s first Hope Store. Customer Jada Upshaw arrives at the store with a hidden agenda, but what happens next no one could have predicted. Meanwhile an activist group called the Natural Hopers emerges, warning that hope installations are a risky, Frankenstein-like procedure and vow to shut down the store.
We: Reviving Social Hope, by Ronald Aronson
The election of Donald Trump has exposed American society’s profound crisis of hope. By 2016 a generation of shrinking employment, rising inequality, the attack on public education, and the shredding of the social safety net, had set the stage for stunning insurgencies at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Against this dire background, Ronald Aronson offers an answer. He argues for a unique conception of social hope, one with the power for understanding and acting upon the present situation. Hope, he argues, is far more than a mood or feeling—it is the very basis of social will and political action. It is this kind of hope that Aronson sees brewing in the supporters of Bernie Sanders, who advocated the tough-minded and inspired disposition to act collectively to make the world more equal, more democratic, more peaceful, and more just. And it was directly contrasted by Trump’s supporters who showed a cynical and nostalgic faith in an authoritarian strongman replete with bigotry and misogyny.
Beneath today’s crisis Aronson examines our heartbreaking story: a century of catastrophic violence and the bewildering ambiguity of progress—all of which have contributed to the evaporation of social hope. As he shows, we are now in a time when hope is increasingly privatized, when—despite all the ways we are connected to each other—we are desperately alone, struggling to weather the maelstrom around us, demoralized by the cynicism that permeates our culture and politics, and burdened with finding personal solutions to social problems.
Yet, Aronson argues, even at a time when false hopes are rife, social hope still persists. Carefully exploring what we mean when we say we “hope” and teasing hope apart from its dangerously misconstrued sibling, “progress,” he locates seeds of real change. He argues that always underlying our experience—even if we completely ignore it—is the fact of our social belonging, and that this can be reactivated into a powerful collective force, an active we. He looks to various political movements, from the massive collective force of environmentalists to the movements around Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, as powerful examples of socially energized, politically determined, and actionably engaged forms of hope. Even in this age of Donald Trump, the result is an illuminating and inspiring call that anyone can clearly hear: we can still create a better future for everyone, but only if we resist false hopes and act together.
Toxic effusions and formulaic pronouncements abound in response to the protests in Iran, from the neocons to Robert Fisk (a consistent source of ideological distortion over the last several years). In sharp and refreshing contrast, here are some pieces that offer particularly valuable insights and analysis:
Here’s What’s Behind Iran’s Biggest Protests In Seven Years — Borzou Daragahi (@borzou)
In Iran’s surprise uprising of the poor, dents to revolution’s legitimacy — by Scott Peterson (@peterson__scott)
Protests in Iran Took Many By Surprise — But Not Iranian Labor Activists — by Murtaza Hussain (@MazMHussain)
The film Syria’s Disappeared has been called “brilliant and sickening” and a “must-view can’t-look documentary…about the 200,000 people arrested and detained after the Arab Spring took hold in Syria.”
Amnesty International – Chicago is hosting two screenings: one at Loyola University’s lake shore campus on Wednesday October 25 at 6pm; one at DePaul University’s downtown campus on Thursday October 26 at 6pm. Following both screenings, Sara Afshar, the film’s director and co-producer, will discuss the film and take audience questions. At DePaul, she’ll be joined by Elisabeth Ward, executive director of the university’s International Human Rights Law Institute. Both screenings are free of charge and open to the public.
Want to organize a screening in your city? Want to review the film? Get in touch with Sara Afshar.
Highly recommended reading:
The Syrians Campaigning for Justice for Those ‘Disappeared’ by Assad (Nicola Cutcher and Sara Afshar)
“Syria’s Desaparecidos“ (Budour Hassan)
“Syria’s Disappeared” (Bente Scheller)
Nader Hashemi and I recently gave the following interview to Jadaliyya about our new co-edited book Sectarianization: Mapping the New Politics of the Middle East, followed by an excerpt from our co-authored introduction to the volume.
Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel, eds. Sectarianization: Mapping the New Politics of the Middle East (Oxford University Press and Hurst, 2017).
Jadaliyya (J): What made you write this book?
Danny Postel and Nader Hashemi (DP and NH): Over the last several years, a narrative has taken root in Western media and policy circles that attributes the turmoil and violence engulfing the Middle East to supposedly ancient sectarian hatreds. “Sectarianism” has become a catchall explanation for virtually all of the region’s problems. Thomas Friedman, for instance, claims that in Yemen today “the main issue is the seventh century struggle over who is the rightful heir to the Prophet Muhammad — Shiites or Sunnis.” Barack Obama has been one the biggest proponents of this thesis. On several occasions, he has invoked “ancient sectarian differences” to explain the turmoil in the region. In his final State of the Union address, he asserted that the issues plaguing the Middle East today are “rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.” A more vulgar version of this view prevails among right-wing commentators. But in one form or another, this new sectarian essentialism, which is lazy and convenient — and deeply Orientalist — has become the new conventional wisdom in the West.
Our book forcefully challenges this narrative and offers an alternative set of explanations for the rise in sectarian conflict in the Middle East in recent years. Continue reading “Interview: sectarianization as a process”
Joel Beinin has been a major figure in Middle East studies for several decades. He has been involved with the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) since the 1970s and remains a contributing editor to its magazine, Middle East Report. He and Joe Stork assembled the cri de coeur Political Islam: Essays from Middle East Report. Beinin’s MERIP author page reads like a one-man archive of leftist thinking about the Middle East over the last 30 years.
He is Professor of Middle East History at Stanford University and series editor of Stanford Studies in Middle Eastern and Islamic Societies and Cultures. In 2002 he served as president of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA). From 2006 to 2008 he served as Director of Middle East Studies and Professor of History at the American University in Cairo (AUC). Continue reading “Joel Beinin on labor movements in Tunisia and Egypt”
Nader Hashemi and I will be in the UK May 8-11 for a series of launch events and panel discussions for our new book Sectarianization: Mapping the New Politics of the Middle East.
Monday 8 May, 6:00 PM, LSE, Room 9.04, Tower 2, LSE — panel discussion with contributors Madawi Al-Rasheed (LSE Middle East Centre); Toby Matthiesen (University of Oxford); Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi (University of Manchester). MORE
Tuesday 9 May, 5:00 PM, Seminar Room 1, Oxford Department of International Development, 3 Mansfield Road, Oxford OX1 3TB. With Leïla Vignal (Fellow, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford). Hosted by the Refugee Studies Centre. MORE
Wednesday 10 May, 1:00 PM, Chatham House, London. Panel discussion with Madawi Al-Rasheed (Middle East Centre, LSE), Chair: Nussaibah Younis, Associate Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme, Chatham House. MORE
Thursday 11 May, 6:00 PM, Royal Holloway, University of London, Founders Main Lecture Theatre. Chair: Ibrahim Halawi, Senior Research Associate, Centre for Islamic and West Asian Studies (who recently reviewed the book). MORE