Sunday, May 3, 2009

War and Peace: My First Conference Presentation and My Weekend at Purdue (Part III)

(Part I, II)

The second panel was on the Middle East and was chaired by Rebecca Nicholson-Weir. The first speaker was my new found friend Cory Driver from Ohio State. His presentation was titled “Traces of Silvers: Remembrances of Jewish Members of a Moroccan Mixed Ethnic and Religious Community.” Driver offered a reconstruction of Jewish life in the Moroccan village of Midelt, near the Atlas Mountains. There is no longer a Jewish community in Midelt, but he did some field work in the area. Particularly he struck up a friendship with one of the local inhabitants, who proved to be a rich source of stories. Midelt was actually the second place in Morocco to get electricity. This region is rich in apples and was originally settled by Berbers. There are different tribes in the area, which have a history of not getting along and there is some questions in reconstructing their conflicts as to who attacked whom first and stole the land. Jews served as clerks to the garrison nearby. Driver’s friend, was close to a Jewish family, the Azlars. They claimed to be descended from saints and that they had the power to bless objects, a service that their Muslim neighbors made use of. (This “ecumenical” use of saints was actually quite common between Jews and Muslims in North Africa and can be traced back to the Middle Ages. They were in the habit of giving candy to the local children as a way of getting them not to steal from them. They were involved in stealing grain from the government; government workers were paid to “lose” the grain. Things turned downhill for Jews particularly after the Six Day War in 1967. We have a case were a Jew was shot and killed for celebrating the Israeli victory. The picture that one gets is that while Jewish Muslim relations should not be romanticized, there existed fair amount of pragmatic co-operation.

(I particularly liked the fact that Driver discussed some of the methodological problems with personal histories, an issue that I have discussed previously in this blog. He openly acknowledged that his source often contradicted himself with different versions of the same story. He presented what he took to be the most authoritative versions.)

The second presentation of the panel was “Conflicted Resistance: The Performance of Violence in Wild Thorns and Waltz with Bashir” by Aileen Esmat Genaidy of the University of Cincinnati. As Edward Said pointed out in Orientalism, Westerners tend to think of Arab nationalism as inherently violent. It is all a question of personal agency. Palestinian identity goes back before 1948 but has not become synonymous with the struggle with Israel. The novel Wild Thorns moves from mourning over 1948 to the romantic resistance of 1967 from the Palestinian perspective as various characters struggle to decide how best to resist Israel. The Israeli film Waltz with Bashir moves deals with the First Lebanon War. The director attempts to patch together his memories of the war. There is a narrative distance between the soldiers and the civilians. The film distorts the nature of the conflict both in terms of the actual violence and the symbols of it. Unlike Wild Thorns there is no sense of self agency for Arabs.

(So we actually had a real life anti Israel screed at this conference. During the presentation I thought I heard Genaidy use the term “Palestinian Genocide.” During the Q&A section I asked her if I had heard her correctly. She responded that yes she had used that term. She then backed off from it. So not only does she slander Israel, she does not even have the spine to defend herself. Someone else asked her about the film, the Reader, which had been criticized for taking away Jewish self agency. Lo and behold, Genaidy defended the Reader. So what we have learned is that one must be very careful to acknowledge Arab self agency, but it is perfectly ok to deny Jewish self agency.)

(To be continued ...)


cory said...


thanks for the nice write up. One quick note: my name is definitely Cory Driver, not Washer - Although there is a Cory Washer here at OSU. I'm not him though.

Izgad said...

Sorry about that. I took care of it. Yes Cory Washer also happens to be a friend of mine, but just not you.

esmoota said...

Ok! Another thing....I never defended the /Reader/ and said I'd never seen it. I also admitted that "genocide" was a cognitive slip based on what was going on at the time....Funny how selective memory can conveniently prop up a soap box!

Izgad said...

It has been awhile so my memory is a bit blurry. I did not get the sense that you used the word genocide by accident. It sounded like a term that you used that you admitted was a bit over the top. I am curious of the word was in your original text. You do understand the stakes of such a term like genocide at what the implications are of using it against Israel. Essentially it serves as a form of soft-core Holocaust denial. Either what happened in the Holocaust was not really so bad, no worse than thousands of Jews being forced out of their homes in a time of war, or that Jews are a diabolical group of people who murdered millions of Arabs. Such a group of people would deserve to be the victim of terrorist attack and probably deserved to be massacred by the Nazis. From what I remembered about your comments related to the Reader was that you said you did not see it, but that you had a positive view of it. If I were looking for a soapbox to preach from I think I would have been a lot harsher and would have tried to gain more mileage out of all this.
If you care so much about the Palestinians why have you not denounced the Arab countries for how they have kept the Palestinians in refugee camps for sixty years? There is a word for someone who demonizes Jews for something while letting other groups off the hook for something even worse, anti-Semitism.