in La rivista di Arablit, a. X, n. 20, dicembre 2020, pp. 7-9.
This thematic issue Language(s) of Resistance in the Arab World offers an overview of the functions of Arabic varieties and the different kinds of artistic languages used as means of resistance in the modern and contemporary Arab world. The complex picture that emerges concerns the languages of cinema, theatre, comics, poetry and online newspapers, without neglecting the dialectal varieties of Arabic used orally and in writing. The geographical area considered embraces both the Maghreb and the Mashreq, with a specific focus on Morocco, Mauritania, Tunisia, Egypt and Palestine. Our project, originally conceived as an homonymous panel for the 14th International Italian Society for Middle Eastern Studies (SeSaMO) Conference (held in Turin from January 31st to February 02nd 2019), focused on Paths of Resistance in the Arab World, i.e. various forms of and reasons for resistance in the regions involved (Middle East and North Africa).
The essays presented here contribute to a description of the Pan-Arab tendency, developed after the Arab Spring uprisings and adopted by intellectuals to express their attitude of rebellion and discontent with the social and political situation in their countries through various artistic forms of resistance, whose fil rouge is often the use of Arabic dialects. Previous studies have devoted little attention to the phenomenon by focusing mainly on Egypt and Lebanon. The other countries’ cultural production, investigated in this issue, has been almost totally neglected until now. However, in recent months there has been an increased scientific interest towards studies of this nature, suffice it to think of some of the contributions published in 2020 such as: the thematic issues Egyptian Movement Poetry, edited by Elliott Colla, in the “Journal of Arabic Literature”, and Artivism, Culture and Knowledge Production for Egalitarian Citizenship in the Middle East and North Africa post 2011, edited by Sara Borrillo and Mounira Soliman, in “Studi Magrebini”1.
In this issue we have brought together some essays devoted to the analysis of very recent works, ascribable to the genres of literature, graphic literature, theatre, short films and online press, which have not received the adequate attention from scholars. Particular attention is paid, therefore, to the different artistic languages used as means of resistance, their common language being Arabic as it is represented through its vernacular varieties. Many kinds of artistic performances that take different forms of expression, such as body language, visual art, music and song, are also required to have a close relationship with vernacular oral and written languages. Many artists choose their national language to express themselves and, sometimes, particular and local variations of it. Some contributors to this volume have sought to analyse the messages and the codes used in their relationship with these Arabic varieties.
Furthermore, these papers can contribute to adding a new piece to the mosaic of well-established studies on literary production as a means of resistance concerning some remarkable literary phenomena, such as the adab al-muqāwamah and al-adab al-multazim, as well as to the incipient research into everyday practices of resistance from below and activism fostered from above by political élites and intellectual avant-gardes. We believe that this issue helps depict an image of the countries of the Middle East and North Africa as multiple vibrant cultural realities, and far from being static and immutable, as has been believed and stated by Orientalists for a long time. In the richness of their variety, the countries of the MENA region show a common strong tendency to be characterised by a perpetual motion of resistance(s) expressed through different languages. In addition to this, in order not to neglect the importance of the role of languages during the colonial period, one of the papers is devoted to the decolonisation effort, in which language became a political means to combat military and linguistic colonisation.
Mirella Cassarino’s paper focuses on the analysis of body language in Ḥamdī al-Ḥurūb’s short film Faḍā’ al-aziqqah, with reference to parkour, practiced inside the Old City of Jerusalem, as an act of resistance by a group of youngsters. The young people involved in the short film express their act of resistance through two codes: cinematographic and body language.
The use of the body and its language is also one of the media used by Nora Amin (Nūrā Amīn) in her theatre performance al-Ba‘ṯ (The Resurrection), analysed by Alba Rosa Suriano in the perspective of a dance ritual, with all its meanings (loss, dehumanisation, oneness and survival), and through all its languages (words, gestures, light and sound). Underlining the use of all these artistic tools to resist pain, trauma and death, to rebuild the self and the social fabric, through the sharing of memories, emotions and feelings, Amin involves the audience in her suffering and throughout this ritual achieves the purpose of strengthening the resistance against violence and oppressive political systems.
This subject matter is also looked at in the essays by Cristina La Rosa and Daniela Potenza, which focus on cartoons and the use of Arabic dialects as a means of resistance against social injustice and oppression. Potenza analyses Andeel’s (Muḥammad Qindīl) use of different levels of Egyptian Arabic and fuṣḥàas an instrument of irony and satire. The varieties intermingle to create a striking contrast between the ridiculousness of the reality depicted by the images and the serious linguistic form through which it is presented. Potenza shows how Andeel’s linguistic choices are voluntary in order to impress the readers and stimulate a reaction in them.
The use of Tunisian Arabic in the cartoons examined in La Rosa’s contribution highlights the desire of intellectuals to give Arabic dialects the dignity of a language of culture and written expression. Doggui (Muḥammad Duqqī) considers his book Khalti Khadhra (Ḫālatī Ḫaḍrāʾ) a sort of manifesto for the promotion of lahǧah, and in his short poems he deals with very serious social problems affecting Tunisia. La Rosa highlights how the Tunisian phenomenon is part of a broader Pan-Arab one.
In his paper, Ould Mohamed Baba investigates some poems of Mauritanian resistance, called lə-ġna, written in Ḥassāniyyah, and shows how the language contributed to the construction of a cultural and armed resistance movement in Mauritania. Poetry is therefore a means of anti-colonial resistance against the French occupation of the country at the beginning of the 20th century. This essay allows us to broaden our perspective also in a diachronic sense, by analysing the linguistic and literary situation of a Maghrebi country, probably less studied than the others, during the colonial period.
In her analysis, Rosa Pennisi focuses on the linguistic practices of journalists and writers of opinion pieces working for the Moroccan online journal “Goud”, which is ideologically oriented towards the promotion of dāriǧah. Furthermore, her paper observes to what extent this digital space gives voice to different forms of resistance by analysing a corpus of articles published in the journal’s opinion columns about the “20th February Movement”, the “Hirak Movement” and various boycott campaigns.
We believe that the papers offered in this issue dialogue with each other and some general common trends come to light characterising the different forms of expression analysed by them: the combination of linguistic and non-linguistic codes, the power of image, the use of social media to bypass censorship and reach a large number of people, and the use of Arabic dialects, conceived as a new language of culture. All these elements are attributable to a Pan-Arab tendency of resistance in the contemporary world, pursued by young people and adults who share the same problems, means and instruments, and who succeed in providing an original contribution to the social and political struggles in their countries, today as in the past.
We would like to thank Professor Isabella Camera d’Afflitto for her enthusiasm in accepting to host this thematic issue in “La rivista di Arablit”, and we would also like to thank the Editorial Committee for their work and support.
Cristina La Rosa, Alba Rosa Suriano