Humanity’s history is a history of wars and conquests, with one people conquering another only for them to be conquered themselves. Some conquests, however, aided by industry and technology, extended beyond internal infighting and natural geographic borders, reaching continents across oceans and leaving deep imprints on those who were conquered: Islam, for example, has been the religion of far-flung societies since the Muslim conquests that began in the eighth century C.E. The type of conquest, however, that interests George Fourlas (and many other scholars) is that of the colonialism by western Europe of Africa, the Americas, large parts of Asia, including the Middle East, and Australia. The people who inhabit these regions—or, in some cases, whoever is left of them—are now free of colonialism, but only “officially,” for their societies continue to struggle and live with colonialism’s impact on their lives. This raises many interesting questions, including the kind of cooperation—solidarity, if you will—that the peoples of these regions should forge so as to address the consequences of colonialism on their lives.
Enter George’s Anti-Colonial Solidarity: Race, Reconciliation, and MENA Liberation, with its focus on MENA peoples: people of the Middle East and North Africa, whether they reside in these regions or have immigrated elsewhere, especially North America. To Fourlas, MENA peoples continue to face and deal with social discrimination because of who they are, with colonialism being one crucial cause or, at the very least, a context in which such discrimination thrives. This kind of treatment is the subject of Edward Said’s Orientalism, a foundational book in this area. Indeed, one crucial thesis of the book is that such discrimination is a form of racism, meriting the label and the moral weight behind it. This thesis is important not only theoretically, as one supported by arguments and an analysis of the historical and social conditions of MENA people, but practically, because racism is a phenomenon that many people confront, thereby providing a unifying basis of solidarity among people, not just those oppressed by racism, but anyone, really, given the moral call and stakes.
George’s interlocutors in this symposium pick up various threads in the book. Verena Erlenbusch-Anderson points out that in some discourses whiteness is always being recalibrated. What were once considered non-white people (e.g., some eastern Europeans) are now considered white compared to others (Syrians). If so, then “both a refusal of invitations to whiteness and a disinvestment from whiteness appear difficult indeed,” so who is to be part of anti-colonial solidarity and who is to count as part of coloniality?
Falguni Sheth focuses on George’s re-thinking of race and racism as part of his project of forging the requisite conditions for anti-colonial solidarity as a form of meaning-making. Falguni wonders whether George’s rejection of call-out culture as part of his attempt to build reconciliation through meaning-making applies to all locations and groups. Falguni also wonders about the extent to which George’s long-term project is affected by and in a world that is “increasingly fractured by short-term visions.” Yet another question is the relationship between George’s project and the similar one addressed by many feminists of color—after all, they have similar concerns to those addressed by George.
Alberto Urquidez raises what might be a tension in George’s treatment of the concept of racism, which is reflected in the desire to both maintain its strong moral connotations and to integrate the person accused of racism into the moral community. The issue here is whether the moral force of “racist” can be retained without its shaming aspect. If this is difficult to pull off, then shaming might be a stumbling block for the integration of those accused of racism into the anti-racist community.
David Kim suggests that, contra George’s claim, anti-MENA attitudes are not just forms of racism, and that their xenophobic and Islamophobic parts make the underlying racism “more culturally and nationalistically inflected than what we might find in, say, anti-Black racism.” Whereas George thinks that xenophobia reinforces racism, David thinks that they can merge to form a separate phenomenon, something like xeno-racism. David also asks about which norms to use to forge MENA solidarity: their history and geographic breadth have too many intra-differences and too much strife to form substantive norms of solidarity. So are the norms simply strategic, to fight colonialism?
John Harfoush focuses on whether MENA identity is simultaneously too narrow and broad: if according to George, Arab identity has become a past, given its emergence in the shadow of, and against, Ottoman rule, what would George make of current Arab identity, continuously maintained in the face of Zionism? John’s worry is that using MENA instead of Arab identity might push the Palestinian issue into the background, and George might have overlooked the strategic use of “Arab” as a way to resist colonialist hegemony, be it past (Ottoman, British, French) or present (Zionist). But MENA might also be too narrow of an identity given that the emphasis of the Organization of Arab Students (OAS) on solidarity with other anti-colonialist movements around the world.
Sabeen Ahmed asks whether George’s use of orientalism and orientalization refer to a specific modality or to racial otherization, period, because one concern is “a kind of Orientalism without the Orient,” given that “what is unique to Orientalist-racism … is that it produces Orientalized subjects whose subjectivity is associated with a distinct set of historically and geographically contingent characteristics (the mystical, the submissive-exotic-erotic, the existential threat it poses to Christian empire).” Sabeen suggests instead the concept of imperialist-racism, which covers all otherized subjects, including orientalized ones.