1g. Affective politics in the Middle East: Feminist Reflections on Liberating Praxi

Chair: Aitemad Muhanna-Matar, LSE

No Longer Caught Between Two Worlds: Towards A De-colonized Feminist Research in the Middle East
Sabiha Allouche, SOAS

This paper calls for the de-colonization of feminist research in the Middle East (FRME). FRME often finds itself trapped between advancing women’s rights at ‘home’, in addition to ‘talking back’ to Western scholarship. Such an approach, however, remains limited for two reasons. First, it reproduces a ‘latent Orientalism’ through the reiteration of the ‘lesser’ Orient, and the ‘higher’ Eurocentric knowledge. Second, although it is capable of answering many questions on the epistemological level, it does so without questioning the ‘point of origin’ of the knowledge it engages with. Subsequently, and drawing on recent fieldwork investigating sexual dissidence in Lebanon, this paper suggests an ontological turn in FRME, or the ‘commitment to recalibrate the level at which analysis takes place’ (Course 2010). This place is both physical and conceptual. The increased militarization of the Middle East, along with a neo-authoritarian rule are leading to increasingly policed public sphere(s). FRME scholars are hence invited to identify those ‘new materialisms’, or knowledge(s)-becoming practices and vice versa, where subjects emerge. This turn implies that resistance, agency, and knowledge are most likely to be found in emotionally-charged spaces, including kinship, friendship, intimacy, and love, themselves shifting notions, and situate these spaces in relation to imagined better futures. Moreover, this turn must account for localized affects, including the dis/appropriation of modern technology, and the relevance of an emotionally detached scientific method (by whom and to whom is research produced).

Politics of Pleasure within the Politics of Violence: Affect and Agency of Zionist Settler Women
Akanksha Mehta, SOAS

Women for Israel’s Tomorrow/Women in Green was established in 1993 as the first women-only organization under the Zionist umbrella in Israel. Committed to the security and Jewish heritage of the ‘Land of Israel’, the organization calls itself a ‘grassroots’ effort, building settlements, organizing public spectacles as well as events of ‘cultural’ and ‘educational’ importance. In this paper, I seek to examine the ‘everyday’ spaces of community building that Zionist settler women from this organization create, configure, contest, and transform. In particular, I am interested in examining how spaces of pleasure and leisure nurture affective Zionist politics, intimate practices, and become sites of political agency. I argue that it through these spaces that women experience ‘everyday’ socialization and build bonds of friendship, love, and care that nurture their immediate community and their larger political causes. Based on ethnographic fieldwork with women of the aforementioned organization in settlements in the Southern West Bank, I examine how these spaces of ‘affective’ politics further the settler-colonial cause and shape discourses of conflict, the nation, and the nation-state. I also seek to understand how joyful intimacies and emotions in times of pleasure and leisure stand alongside hatred and fear of the ‘Arab other’ to open new forms of female agency that allow the settler colony to flourish. Making a methodological/ethical intervention I ask –How can Middle Eastern feminist scholarship, methods, and ethics allow us to understand the politics of pleasure and liberation when they are nestled within the politics of divisiveness and violence?

What’s love got to do with it? Thinking ‘affectively’ about conflict and apathy in Israel-Palestine
Katherine Natanel, SOAS

While accounts of the psycho-social dimensions of conflict in Israel-Palestine shed light on the political effects of trauma, fear and mistrust, this paper considers how human emotion sustains violence in more subtle and intimate ways. Rather than solely generating national community and enstating political division, affective attachments might also maintain conflict through promising efficacy, reciprocity and stability at the level of everyday life. Based on one year of ethnographic research among leftist Jewish Israelis living in Tel Aviv and West Jerusalem, this paper explores the complex dynamics through which love, care, and joy create and sustain social bonds at the cost of producing political disengagement. Here, as individuals practice and pursue intimacy, investment and optimism within varying forms of community – from romantic relationships to family units, neighbourhoods and networks of shared belief – these relations and desires displace engagement at the broader level of politics. However, in thinking ‘affectively’ about conflict and apathy in Israel-Palestine, this paper does not argue that love, care and joy constitute apolitical emotions. Rather, as individuals actively attach, invest, care and imagine better futures within conditions of protracted conflict, the case of leftist Jewish Israelis points to how movement away from politics at the national level may open the possibility of new solidarities. Through a feminist reading of affect, this paper considers how political disengagement might paradoxically signal a transitive break with the cycles and narratives of trauma that frame ‘local’ politics, facilitating a radical shift toward trans-national forms of responsibility.

Protesting Gender Discrimination from Within: Islamic Party Women’s Organizing in Iran and Turkey
Mona Tajali, University of Oxford

Over the past decade, Islamic political movements have been increasingly recruiting women to decision-making positions despite the fact that the ideology they espouse often opposes women from assuming positions of public leadership. My ethnographic work on religious women’s activism in Iran and Turkey helps explain this unexpected trend by shedding light onto Islamic women’s organizing efforts as they mobilize public support and strategically interact with male elites in their demands to increase women’s access to political decision-making. In particular, I highlight the role that a number of high-ranking Islamic women’s rights activists with close ties to the ruling elites played in pressuring their male party leaders to address women’s political underrepresentation. Women’s close ties to the ruling elites consist of both familial ties, such as being wives or daughters of political and religious figures, as well as more formal ties that have evolved due to women’s long-term devotion to the Islamic movement or religious learning. Through in-depth interviews with influential Islamic party women in Iran and Turkey—namely members of Iran’s Zeinab Society (Jameh Zeinab) and the Islamic Women’s Coalition (etelaf-e Islami-e zanan), and Turkey’s women activists of the pro-religious Justice and Development Party (JDP)—this paper demonstrates that given the presence of suitable opportunity structures, Islamic women are publicly challenging patriarchal party attitudes of their male party leaders. Indeed, women’s close ties to political leaders enables them to leverage a form of ‘internal criticism’ as a strategy to enhance women’s political status from within the Islamic movements.

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