Session Overview for special session on "Critical Theory and the Israel-Palestine Conflict: Toward New Horizons of Understanding "

Contemporary critical theory has played a vital role in exploring the complexities of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Indeed, it is difficult to comprehend the various subtle and layered nuances of the conflict's most intractable problems without drawing upon the rich work of Jacques Derrida, Carl Schmitt, Chantel Mouffe, Jacquelyn Rose, Gil Anidjar, Jacques Ranciere, and Edward Said. Without their notions of "of an anti-Semitism to come," "the state of exception," "the concept of the political," "psychoanalysis," the "paradox of democracy," and "exile" one would lack the discursive machinery to place the Israel-Palestine conflict in a non-totalizing framework.

This panel will highlight and examine how the specific theoretical concepts these figures have developed have brought the profession to new horizons of understanding, while exploring the specific resonances of these concepts within the context of pressing political exigencies in the conflict. For example, how does one go about explaining the rise of Hamas as a democratic political force in Palestinian civil society that cannot be tolerated by either the United States or Israeli governments? In other words, Hamas is an unacceptable representative of the Palestinian people precisely because it is a democratic force, a hated democratic force at that. The Israel-Palestine conflict is indeed the one world conflict where "the state of exception" is regularly invoked to explain the unprecedented measures that are put in place to justify the unjustifiable. Panelists will explore these paradoxes and contradictions through several key theoretical concepts.

Speaker #1 (Grant Farred, Cornell University)

Since the first intifada, in 1987, the Palestinian movement Hamas—Harakat Al Mokawama Al Islamiya—or the Islamic Resistance Movement can be said to have practiced exactly such a politics: the politics of the axiomatic, that set of strategies that insists upon itself as both specific and viable to the situation; the only politics apropos for that situation. As importantly, the axiomatic is a politics that insists upon itself as politics. Which is to say, the rejection of politics as consensus, the refusal of politics as the predetermined meeting in the middle the ameliorating of extremes, the art of settling for, of the middle as the place where, in fact, no politics takes place. The axiomatic claims, and retains, for itself the right to be divisive in that it necessarily, or, constitutively, we might say, separates adherents partisans, in Cal Schmitts terms from opponents counter-partisans, if you will. An axiomatic politics forecloses any possibility of concessions and accommodations (although there is, occasionally, the element of this tendency), it rejects gradualisms. There is no room, obviously, for the third or even the fourth way, for apologias, for infinite deferrals, in the axiomatic. It is salient, then, that in its very name, Hamas, an Arabic word for zeal, there is a priori contained the propensity for intense partisanship; Hamas, in and by its very name, is predisposed to-ward the axiomatic.

Critic of the consensual that he is, Jacques Rancière understands the axiomatic. In his view, The rights of man and of the citizen are the rights of those who make them a reality. There is no right or political subjectivity that has any standing unless it is claimed. The only way to claim a right is, out of historical necessity, to claim it, to speak it again and again as though it were already a right a right established, a right practiced, as it were; making it a right precisely because it is a right that has been denied, because its status is, once in question, must now be affirmed in the battle that is being differently joined. In its divisive speaking, the right (of the subjugated) becomes a right when it demands its equivalence to the existing right (of the hegemonic power). When, as Rancière says, it is recognized that [e]quality is not a fiction but an unarguable right.

It is the logic of the axiomatic that enables Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the founder and leader of Hamas until he was assassinated in 2003 by the Israeli security forces, to criticize the Palestinian Authority for being subservient to Israel and the United States. In an interview with a television station in Qatar he said the PA did not represent the interests of the Palestinian people. Yassin is not only speaking against Yasser Arafats Fatah movement in particular and the PLO in general, but he is declaring that for the Hamas adherent, Hamas is, in the first instance, not Fatah. It separates itself from Fatah so that there is, in the Hamas imaginary, no possibility that includes the agreement of an Oslo signed by Yasir Arafat, some six years after the first intifada; not for Hamas the act of subservience to the US or the EU in order to gain access to international capital or aid. According to Yassin, Fatah must be denounced because it divides itself has long since distinguished itself from the Hamas project, because it is not is no longer committed to achieving Palestinian sovereignty (or, in the terms of the Peoples Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the right to every millimeter of Palestine). Because of how Fatah addresses itself to the Palestinian political, Arafats (and, later, Abu Mazens) movement cannot properly represent the Palestinian people. The success of Hamas, which in the immediate aftermath of Oslo, refused to participate in the PAs electoral politics, can be gleaned from its electoral triumph. Less than three years, January 25 2006, to be precise, after Yassins assassination, Hamas could claim, with full electoral authority, that it did represent the interests of the Palestinian people. Hamas won 74 seats to Fatahs 45; furthermore, in the period 15 August to 12 September 2005, Hamas forced the withdrawal of the Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip after 38 years of continued occupation. Not only did Hamas represent the Palestinian people, Yassins movement achieved, politically in the name of the Palestinian people.

Within Yassin and Rancières thinking of the political, it is precisely Hamas's capacity, through the act of forcing the Israeli military out of Gaza and in the 2006 elections, to make Palestinian rights a reality that makes that contest at the ballot box between Hamas and Fatah such a critical, arguably even inaugural, moment in the history of relations between Israel and the Palestinians. It would be an exaggeration to say that Hamas 2005 or 2006 victory, inaugurates the Palestinian political. However, January 2006 constitutes an event because it represents that encounter between the democratic and the sovereign, that moment when the question of democracy for the PA becomes the question of Palestinian sovereignty. The question that predominates the Palestinian political: if we can argue, following thinkers such as Hobbes, Schmitt and Agamben, that sovereignty does not need democracy, is the obverse equally true? Can there be a democracy without sovereignty?

Speaker #2 (Matthew Abraham, DePaul University)

In _The Last Resistance_, Jacquelyn Rose writes that "[i]t is one of the tragedies [of history] . . . that the nation intended to protect the Jewish people has become the agent of state violence against another people, the Palestinians, who find themselves engaged today in a resistance of their own." Employing five different registers of the word "resistance" as these are found in Freudian psychoanalysis, Rose traces how the physical resistance associated with the First and Second Intifada's politics of refusal, and the psychological resistance accompanying a denial of the unprocessable reality accompanying Israeli occupation, constitute the intense pscyhological scene that is the Israel-Palestine conflict. Speaker #2 will use Rose's _The Last Resistance_, _The Question of Zion_, and _States of Fantasy_ to explore how psychoanalysis--as an interminable analysis--provides the critical theorist with the neccessary complex mode of engagement through which to adequately place Jewish and Palestinian suffering in dialogue rather than conflict. In addition, Speaker #2 will draw upon the writings of Jacques Derrida, Gil Anidjar, Chantel Mouffe, and Edward Said to clearly explicate why Jewish and Palestinian suffering provide close historical analogs for one another.


Speaker #3 (Patricia Dodd, Brookhaven Community College)

The theme of exile has become a common thread connecting Palestinians as they have sought to recreate their own history through storytelling. Post-Nakba Palestinian writing focuses on the theme of exile and the struggle to maintain cultural identity in the midst of fragmentation. In his memoir _Out of Place_, Edward Said explores his own status as a refugee feeling out of place and the struggle of being in exile, cut off from one's land and cultural identity.
The poet Naomi Shihab Nye called Mahmoud Darwish "the essential breath of the Palestinian people, the eloquent witness of exile and belonging." Ghassan Kanafani, a Palestinian writer exiled in Lebanon, created an anthology to capture the recollections and experiences of those suffering in exile and recount the longing to connect to one's land and identity in an attempt to reconnect the fragments. Speaker #3 will will draw upon these sources as she explores the theoretical richness of the concept of exile in assessing the current state of Palestinian suffering.


Speaker #1: GRANT FARRED has served as General Editor of the prestigious journal of critical cultural studies, South Atlantic Quarterly (SAQ) since 2002. He has published in a range of areas, including postcolonial theory, race, formation of intellectuals, sport's theory, and cultural studies and literary studies. His books include Midfielder's Moment: Coloured Literature and Culture in Contemporary South Africa (Westview Press, 1999), What's My Name? Black Vernacular Intellectuals (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), Phantom Calls: Race and the Globalization of the NBA (2006), and his most recent Long Distance Love: A Passion for Football, (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, published 2008). He is completing a fourth book manuscript entitled, Bodies in Motion, Bodies at Rest (forthcoming in from University of Minnesota Press, dedicated to thinking of the philosophy of athletic movement.) Farred also edited a volume entitled Rethinking CLR James (London: Blackwell Publishers, 1996) a collection of essays on the Caribbean intellectual written by major scholars in the field of history, literary criticism and cultural studies. He edited a special issue of SAQ (2004) entitled After the Thrill Is Gone: A Decade of Post-Apartheid South Africa, a serious appraisal of South African democracy, its failure and its successes, in the post-apartheid era.

Speaker #2: MATTHEW ABRAHAM is an assistant professor of Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse at DePaul University in Chicago. His work has appeared in Cultural Critique, the Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association, the Journal of Advanced Composition, College Composition and Communication, Logos: A Journal of Modern Society and Culture, and Postmodern Culture. He is currently completing a book entitled Controversial Academic Scholarship and the Question of Palestine. He was the 2005 Rachel Corrie Courage in the Teaching of Writing award winner.

Speaker #3: PATRICIA M. DODD is Professor of English at Brookhaven College (DCCCD) in the Dallas area, where she teaches rhetoric and composition and world literature through the lens of human rights. She is active in Amnesty International, the Dallas Peace Center and Quinta Terra, a non profit organization that provides aid to the poor in developing countries. She has participated in group study projects in Equador, Palestine, Cuba, Germany, France and Turkey. Palestine has been the center of her research and activism for the last three years.