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The Arabic Freud: An Interview with Omnia El Shakry

Omnia El Shakry, The Arabic Freud: Psychoanalysis and Islam in Modern Egypt (Princeton University Press, 2017)

ʿIlm al-nafs might be translated as both psychology and the science of the soul. Attending to the routes (roots?) of psychoanalysis in postwar Egypt, Omnia El Shakry asks what it means to think of Islam and psychoanalysis together as “a creative encounter of ethical engagement.” This is both the task and provocation of The Arabic Freud: Psychoanalysis and Islam in Modern Egypt (Princeton University Press, 2017).

The book’s opening epigraph comes from the Egyptian psychoanalyst Moustapha Safouan: “In truth, we find treatises on the soul in Arabic works that evoke the Freudian division among the parts of the personality: id, ego, and superego.” The Arabic Freud, then, explores the multivalent encounters between psychoanalysis and Islamic thought, turning and returning to the question of the unconscious and the modern subject. At once disruptive of the oppositions that drive narratives of incommensurability between psychoanalysis and Islam (i.e. attempts to “put Islam on the couch” and civilizing missions of psychoanalysis) and conductive of the epistemological resonances between discursive traditions, The Arabic Freud offers and inspires ethical possibility.

El Shakry studied in Cairo, New York, and Princeton, where she focused on, among other topics, the modern Middle East, European intellectual history, and the history of colonialism. Now Professor of History at the University of California, Davis, she is a founding member of the Middle East/South Asia Studies Program there and teaches courses in History, Critical Theory, and Cultural Studies. She is the author of The Great Social Laboratory: Subjects of Knowledge in Colonial and Postcolonial Egypt (2007) and editor of Gender and Sexuality in Islam (2016). “Even though as a historian my intercourse is with the dead,” she says, “it’s still an encounter.” El Shakry works within this encounter, this transferential space.

Joel van de Sande

What We’re Reading This Week

Wünsdorf mosque – built by Allied Muslim POWs.

CAROLINE KAHLENBERG

Elizabeth Dore, ‘Which Way for Cuba?,’ Dissent.

Ab Cahan, ‘My First Pesach in America – In 1883,’ Forward.

Walter Johnson, ‘Guns in the Family,’ Boston Review.

Rachel Syme, ‘The Fate of the Juicy Couture Tracksuit in the Age of Athleisure,’ The New Yorker.

CHRIS SZABLA

Christian Schröder, ‘Der Islam gehört zu Preußen (‘Islam Belongs to Prussia’),’ Der Tagesspiegel.

Linda Colley, ‘Can History Help?,’ London Review of Books.

Pankaj Mishra, ‘Crisis in Modern Masculinity,’ The Guardian.

Priya Satia, ‘The Whitesplaining of History is Over,’ Chronicle of Higher Education.

JOSEPH SATISH

Sheila Jasanoff and Benjamin Hurlbut, ‘A Global Observatory for Gene Editing,’ Nature.

Aarthi Sridhar, ‘A Journey with the Sacred Chank,’ Frontline.

Ian Scoones, ‘Realising an Emancipatory Rural Politics in the Face of Authoritarian Populism,’ Open Democracy.

Jordan Collver, ‘My Evolution: Living Along the Spectrum of Science and Religion,’ Science Religion Spectrum.

CFP: “Global War, Global Connections, Global Moments – International Conference about the First World War” (University of Newcastle, Australia, July 16-18, 2018)

For those interested in the First World War in a global context, this conference titled “Global War, Global Connections, Global Moments – International Conference about the First World War” is for you. The call for papers explains more: A century after the end of the First World War, this conference is an occasion to reflect…

What We’re Reading This Week

Book Cover ‘Zabiba and the King,’ Saddam Hussein

JAMES PARKER

Bronwen Everill, ‘Demarginalizing West Africa in the Age of Revolutions,’ Blog Age of Revolutions.

Miriam Abaya, ‘The Resignation of Old Leaders Does Not Guarantee a New Era of Leadership in Africa,’ Blog Africa@LSE.

Ben Reynolds, ‘Some Problems in the Theory of Imperialism,’ Fragments.

Adam J. Sacks, ‘”All Humans Are Born Equal”,’ Jacobin.

JOSHUA MILSTEIN

Samuel Loncar, ‘Decolonizing Philosophy,’ LA Review of Books Marginalia.

Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Erica Frantz, ‘Putin’s Seccession Conundrum,’Foreign Affairs.

Colin Dickey, ‘Why Dictators Write,’The New Republic.

Josh Freedman, ‘The Sincere Indignation of Simon Leys,’ LA Review of Books China Channel.

BOYD VAN DIJK

Adam Tooze, ‘Notes on the Global Condition,’ Blog Adam Tooze.

Jennifer Wilson, ‘Floating in the Air,’ The Nation.

Stephen Wertheim and Thomas Meaney, ‘When the Leader of the Free World Is an Ugly American,’ The New York Times.

Brian Urquhart, ‘One Angry Man,’ The New York Review of Books.

Summer School: Imaginations, Construction and Staging of Space in Global Processes (University Leipzig, Germany, June 11-14, 2018)

It’s time to begin planning your summer program and conference travels in global history! The Graduate School Global and Area Studies at the University of Leipzig, Germany is organizing a summer school titled “Imaginations, Construction and Staging of Space in Global Processes” for June 11-14, 2018. The announcement explains more: Over the past decade, the…

Global Histories of Neoliberalism: An Interview with Quinn Slobodian

Liat Spiro recently sat down with Quinn Slobodian in Cambridge, MA to discuss his new book, Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism (Harvard University Press, 2018).

Slobodian, associate professor of history at Wellesley College and currently ACLS Burkhardt Fellow at the Weatherhead Initiative on Global History at Harvard University, revealed how neoliberal thinkers developed a vision of global free trade in goods and capital, though not necessarily people, during the crises of the 1930s and the era of decolonization. In Globalists, he argues that neoliberal thinkers did not oppose the state and prize individualism, but rather sought to use rules to encase the market away from democratic governance.

The discussion also presented a chance to explore neoliberals’ interpretations of the nexus between law and economics as well as current debates over the significance of racism to neoliberal thought. Slobodian explained the role of Central Europe in the global history of neoliberalism and the legacy of the Habsburg Empire for neoliberals’ understanding of political economy. Slobodian addressed the critical conflation of neoliberalism, economism, and pretensions to all-knowability in the recent historiography of the “invention of the economy.”

Over the course of this conversation about economists’ and historians’ “trust in numbers,” or lack thereof, Slobodian proposed reviving leftist and heterodox economics. Looking ahead, he presented steps for writing global histories of neoliberalism beyond Globalists, tracing the unpredictable, highly transnational, and strongly contested circuits through which economic concepts get taken up into policymaking.

The interview is illustrated by stills from The Walls of the WTO, a collaborative film project by Slobodian and the filmmaker Ryan S. Jeffery. The film will appear in the exhibition Say Shibboleth! On Visible and Invisible Borders, opening at the Jewish Museum Hohenems in April 2018.

Liat Spiro (Harvard University)

When the Ottoman Empire Scrambled for Africa: An Interview With Mostafa Minawi

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Left: An 1892 Ottoman map of the empire’s sphere of influence in East Africa; Right: Minawi at Palmyra, Syria

It can be a challenge to keep up with Mostafa Minawi. The peripatetic Cornell historian never lets the relative isolation of Ithaca define him, continually popping up for engagements or research stints in places across the globe. That’s not unlike Minawi’s work itself, which spans traditionally separate subdisciplines. Taking his chief specialty, the Ottoman Empire, out of the Middle East area studies prison to which it’s so often confined, he has traced, in detail, many of the long-missed connections between the Sublime Porte – the center of Ottoman governance – and sub-Saharan Africa. More specifically, his research has demonstrated how those links played into the Ottoman Empire’s participation in the late nineteenth century “scramble” for territory by European empires on the African continent – an episode in which, Minawi argues, the empire played a much more active role than has previously been assumed.

Minawi’s first book, The Ottoman Scramble for Africa: Empire and Diplomacy in the Sahara and the Hijaz (Stanford University Press, 2016) documents some clear examples of this engagement. Its foil is, explicitly, historians who have seen a weak Ottoman empire take a backseat to European expansion during the fin-de-siècle. But his argument might be best understood through a series of images Minawi displayed during a talk given to Cornell’s Institute for Comparative Modernities this past December. In 1856, when the empire was formally welcomed into the European “family of nations,” its officials stood, individually recognizable, front and center in artwork representing the conclusion of the peace after the Crimean War. By the period of the 1884-85 Berlin Conference, famous for its role in the Scramble, the sole Ottoman official visible in depictions of the event is an almost anonymous background figure with his head buried in his hand. In the minds of European observers, the empire, its territory dramatically reduced in military contests with Russia, its treasury encumbered by burdensome debts, was clearly the proverbial “sick man,” destined to play little role in the races for territory that defined the late-nineteenth-century New Imperialism.

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A representation of the 1884-85 Berlin Conference. The Ottoman representative, head in hand, is at rear in the center-left of the image.

Yet the picture, Minawi contends, looked much different from Istanbul – and perhaps even more so from the African territories in which it sought to preserve and extend its influence. Trade routes from Ottoman Libya stretched across the Sahara to Central Africa’s Lake Chad basin, where the empire claimed influence over a number of kingdoms. In order to protect and solidify these bonds in the course of the Scramble, the empire solidified its alliance with the Sufi Sanusi order, which established lodges throughout what the Ottomans claimed as part of their African sphere of influence. The empire was not only a more central participant in the Berlin Conference than European art let on, but proved an expert wielder of the international legal terminology that developed in the course of the Scramble for the establishment of sovereignty over territory – building terms with legally specific connotations, such as the German Hinterland (territory in the interior empires which coastal territories were allowed to claim for themselves) directly into Ottoman Turkish, and appealing to the doctrine of “effective occupation” (essentially establishing a presence on the ground in claimed territories) by extending telegraph lines from the Libyan coast deep into the Ottoman Sahara.

However skillfully demonstrated de jure, however, Ottoman claims in Africa were less respected in fact. European powers concluded secret agreements allotting Ottoman territories to their own dominions regardless of the artfulness of the legal arguments emanating from the Porte, the empire’s efforts to fulfill the requirements for colonial occupation, or Istanbul’s acumen at determining whether Europeans were acting in bad faith. For Minawi, all this is important and yet somewhat beside the point. Redefining the Ottoman Empire as an active participant in the Scramble demonstrates that its potency persisted even as late as the period just before the empire’s dismemberment after the First World War. It also forces us to rethink teleological assumptions about the inevitability of Ottoman downfall that seem to follow so easily from European accounts that missed the empire’s efforts in Africa or failed to take them seriously.

In November, I managed to catch Minawi when he was between trips to New Mexico and Sudan. Our conversation, edited for length and clarity below, ranges from his recent talks to politics in contemporary Turkey to his unusual progression from engineer to consultant to historian to why the Ottoman Empire can only be studied outside a paradigm that seeks to box it into traditional area studies categories, the relationship between history and current events, and his next project, which follows up on his first book to look at how the Ottoman Empire engaged in the process of making claims in another part of the continent: the Horn of Africa.

Christopher Szabla

CFP: “Histories of Migration: Transatlantic and Global Perspectives” (October 17 – 20, 2018, UC Berkeley)

For those interested in the history of migration in a global context, this conference titled “Histories of Migration: Transatlantic and Global Perspectives” is for you. The call for papers explains more: GHI West, the Pacific Regional Office of the German Historical Institute, Washington DC, invites proposals for papers to be presented at the 2nd Bucerius…