Theorizing Modernities article

Re-Entangling Palestine

“Entangled.” Photo Credit: Phil Shirley. Via Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Entanglement is an ambivalent concept. While it implies an intimate and hopeful prospect, i.e. that of being deeply interconnected, it also suggests an element of unavoidability, of being wrapped up into each other’s existences in an inescapable manner. It articulates both a profound relationality but also an impossibility to choose. It is both bonding and restricting, connecting and entrapping. Furthermore, when the notion of entanglement is addressed, its opposite— disentanglement—also emerges as a promising telos. Unwrapping the knot in order to see clearly is what we do as scholars.

The scholarly effort done in The Arab and Jewish Questions: Geographies of Engagement in Palestine and Beyond is, however, a different one. Rather than untangle, it aims to re-entangle; and this re-entangling is both analytical and political. It is political as it aims to not only undo the separation between different questions (e.g. the “Muslim question” in Europe and the “Palestinian question”), but also the separation between identities. This appears centrally across the different contributions in the volume that attend to the construction of the Jew and Palestinian Arab, and which strive towards a critical unmaking of this Jewish-Arab duality.

Re-posing these questions through the lens of entanglement also shows family-resemblances with that other important concept which has gained prominence in the recent years, intersectional solidarity. In both cases, there is an effort at analyzing, understanding, and interconnecting that which appears as separate in order to create broader alliances between distinct movements. Yet, while the notion of intersectional solidarity assumes a coalition across “social group differences,” the lens of entanglement articulates a view that takes these different causes as variations of the same question. The Palestinian question, the Jewish question, and the Muslim question, hence, are addressed as iterations of the same, European question, as Gil Anidjar famously argued. Against the idea of bounded identities and distinct struggles, the notion of entanglement underscores interconnections and co-dependency. Adopting a methodology of entanglement thus entails a critical deconstruction of these acts of separation and opposition (the Jew vs. the Muslim vs. the Palestinian) but it also implies and presupposes that those possible alternatives or responses cannot be reached in isolation, but are necessarily intertwined. What would, then, these entangled answers look like? And (how) does it take us away from an imaginary of solidarity that assumes a coalition between socially differentiated groups?

While the notion of intersectional solidarity assumes a coalition across ‘social group differences,’ the lens of entanglement articulates a view that takes these different causes as variations of the same question.

The possibility to imagine these co-dependencies becomes important when the Palestinian question is discussed together with the Muslim and the Jewish question in Europe. As has been described by Brian Klug in his excellent contribution: the construction of the New Europe equally signaled a shift towards a philosemitic, supposedly pro-Israel, and anti-Muslim Europe. Islamophobia became the point of embrace that enabled the fostering of alliances, which have only grown stronger in the recent two decades, since both parties have been understood to fight a common enemy: (Muslim) terrorism. This embrace became even more acute in the recent escalation in Israel/Palestine, which saw an unprecedented uprising among Palestinians across the territories of ‘48 and ’67 around the expulsion of the residents of Sheikh Jarrah, and a violent attack of worshippers during Qadr night in the Al-Aqsa Mosque as well as the resuming of deadly airstrikes in Gaza in response to the firing of missile rockets by Hamas. During this violent escalation, at least 256 Palestinians and 13 Israeli were killed, and 94 commercial and residential buildings were destroyed in Gaza.

Despite this renewed demonstration of ostentatious and deadly asymmetry, the president of the European Commission reiterated her unconditional support of Israel, addressing the rocket attacks by Hamas but remaining conspicuously silent about the immense weaponry on the Israeli side. A lethal embrace among a shared common enemy prevailed: the radical, extremist, Muslim Other.

Very concerned by the situation in Israel and Gaza. I condemn indiscriminate attacks by Hamas and Israel. Civilians on all sides must be protected. Violence must end now.

Ursala von der Leyen, Tweet on May 14, 2021

This lethal embrace does not, however, restrict itself to the geographies of Palestine and Israel, but equally informs the suspicion thrown at “solidarity movements” (as they are called) with Palestine. To discredit the pro-Palestinian demonstration in Brussels in May, various media relayed information about antisemitic chants among the demonstrators. This information could circulate easily since most demonstrators were identified as North African or Middle Eastern, with many veiled women amongst the supporters. Such attempts are neither new, nor unique to the Brussels context, but signal an older, and already documented trend of disentangling the question of antisemitism from Europe, and re-entangling it with the Arab and Muslim question (and more broadly with the anti-colonial question).

While the notion of solidarity assumes a separation in the struggles, and a tactical alliance and support, the vocabulary of entanglement forces us to reckon with the interdependency of these different struggles.

What would it then, mean, to replace the language of “solidarity” with Palestine, with that of entanglement with Palestine? How can it help us rethink these different questions? While the notion of solidarity assumes a separation in the struggles, and a tactical alliance and support, the vocabulary of entanglement forces us to reckon with the interdependency of these different struggles. Hence, it forces us to account for the postcolonial continuations of Europe as an imperial project, both in its domestic construction of subaltern others (i.e., Muslims, migrants, and Blacks), but also in its international ramifications through its European corollaries (Europe and/as Israel, and vice-versa, vs. the Arab). Thinking through entanglements invites us, also, to think the question of Islamophobia as an extension of a European imperial project, of which Palestine is an incumbent part. It forces us to consider, infrastructurally, the making of the European and Israeli security states, and how they are interconnected. But it also pushes us to understand how Islamophobia operates as a global imaginary in the construction of an internal enemy, and of the Islamization of the Palestinian as “other.” Thinking through entanglement forces us, finally, to abandon the premise that the Muslim question can be “solved” through the Europeanization of Muslims (the so-called “European Islam”, and the disentanglement from an African or Asian heritage), or to assume that the Muslim question is unrelated to the concerns of a secularized elite in the Muslim world. With their book, Bashir Bashir and Leila Farsakh have opened the door for an important conversation and given us a hopeful vocabulary to think with.

Nadia Fadil
Nadia Fadil is an Associate Professor at the Department of Social and Cutlural Anthropology at KU Leuven. She works on religion, race and secularism with a particular focus on Islam in Europe. Her most recent publications include Secular Bodies, Affects and Emotions. European configurations (2019) and Radicalization in Belgium and the Netherlands. Critical perspectives on Violence and Security (2019).

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