Three Questions That Make One

By Bashir Bashir and Leila Farsakh


Drawing on philosophy, politics, poetry, psychoanalysis, and history, and extending from North Africa and the Mediterranean to Europe and North America, this powerful book poses the Arab and Jewish questions as inextricable, intimate, and hybrid forces that shape our desires and our unimagined futures.

~Sherene Seikaly, author of Men of Capital: Scarcity and Economy in Mandate Palestine

In today’s SBL/AARAAR Virtual Exhibit post, Bashir Bashir and Leila Farsakh introduce their new book The Arab and Jewish Questions: Geographies of Engagement in Palestine and Beyond. This book brings together leading scholars to consider how these two questions are entangled historically and in the present day, offering critical analyses of Arab engagements with the question of Jewish rights alongside Zionist and non-Zionist Jewish considerations of Palestinian identity and political rights.

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Over the past two decades, Middle Eastern and European politics have been impacted by three critical developments that call into question dominant understandings of nationalism, citizenship, and decolonization. First, “the question of Palestine” has not yet been answered. The aggressive and ongoing colonization of Palestine created irreversible realities that cast serious doubts on the feasibility of partition and the “two-state solution.” At the same time, Palestine’s colonization deepened the entwinements between Israeli and Palestinian lives, rendering inseparable the question of present and future rights of Arabs and Jews. Second, the Arab uprisings that erupted in a number of Middle Eastern and North African countries in 2011 signaled the demise of grand assimilationist ideologies like Arabism, Ba’athism, and Islamism, thereby calling into question the overarching “we” that cements the citizenry together. Third, Islam and Muslims have become the new internal signifiers of otherness, particularly in the West, posing serious challenges to existing conceptions of citizenship and democracy in the West. The rise of Eurocentric and Islamophobic notions of citizenship reflect, among other things, an intimate conceptual and historical link between Judeophobia and Islamophobia in Europe.

Many scholars have studied the causes underlying these developments. No study, however, has explored the intersections between the rise of Islamophobia in the West, the failure to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the political meanings of the Arab uprisings. Neither have many scholars examined how these developments are tied to three seemingly unrelated questions, namely, the question of Israel/Palestine, the Arab-Muslim question, and the Jewish question. This book argues that these questions are not only entangled but also belong to the same history—one that continues to foment tensions in the Middle East, Europe, and the U.S.

Nineteenth-century Europe turned the political status of its Jewish communities into the “Jewish Question,” as both Christianity and rising forms of nationalism viewed Jews as the ultimate “other”. With the onset of Zionism, this “question” migrated to Palestine and intensified under British colonial rule and in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Zionism’s attempt to solve the “Jewish Question” created what came to be known as the “Arab Question,” which concerned the presence and rights of the Arab population in Palestine. For the most part, however, Jewish settlers denied or dismissed the question they created, to the detriment of both Arabs and Jews in Palestine and elsewhere.

For the most part, however, Jewish settlers denied or dismissed the question they created, to the detriment of both Arabs and Jews in Palestine and elsewhere.

This book brings together leading scholars to consider how these two questions are entangled historically and in the present day. It offers critical analyses of Arab engagements with the question of Jewish rights alongside Zionist and non-Zionist Jewish considerations of Palestinian national identity and political rights. Together, the essays show that the Arab and Jewish questions, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which they have become subsumed, belong to the same thorny history. Despite their major differences, the historical Jewish and Arab questions are about the political rights of oppressed groups and their inclusion within exclusionary political communities—a question that continues to precipitate tensions in the Middle East, Europe, and the United States. Shedding new light on the intricate relationships among Orientalism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, colonialism, and the impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this book reveals the inseparability of Arab and Jewish struggles for self-determination and political equality.

This book draws on multiple disciplines, ranging from political thought, cultural studies, and history to anthropology. It seeks to fill a lacuna in the literature on European colonialism, Jewish and Arab nationalisms, and Israel/Palestine by examining the inseparability of the Arab and Jewish struggle for self-determination and political equality. The contributors draw links between otherwise segregated struggles, histories, and possibilities. They address the question of diversity and inclusive citizenship by calling into question the conceptualization of territorial separation in the twenty-first century and by considering possible venues of decolonization and historical reconciliation, given the various forms of heterogeneity in the Middle East that cannotbe ignored. Such a critical approach to the intertwined Arab and Jewish questions also allows us to go beyond the boundaries of Israel/Palestine and nationalism and reach out to Europe and the Arab, Jewish, and Muslim worlds.


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