Saturday, March 7, 2020

New Book: Arabic and its Alternatives

The new volume Arabic and its Alternatives: Religious Minorities and their Languages in the Emerging Nation States of the Middle East (1920-1950), edited by Heleen Murre-van den Berg, Karène Sanchez Summerer and Tijmen Baarda,  has just been released by Brill in open access. About it:

Arabic and its Alternatives discusses the complicated relationships between language, religion and communal identities in the Middle East in the period following the First World War. This volume takes its starting point in the non-Arabic and non-Muslim communities, tracing their linguistic and literary practices as part of a number of interlinked processes, including that of religious modernization, of new types of communal identity politics and of socio-political engagement with the emerging nation states and their accompanying nationalisms. These twentieth-century developments are firmly rooted in literary and linguistic practices of the Ottoman period, but take new turns under influence of colonization and decolonization, showing the versatility and resilience as much as the vulnerability of these linguistic and religious minorities in the region. 

Two articles about the Orthodox community in Palestine are of particular interest:

"United by Faith, Divided by Language: the Orthodox in Jerusalem" by Merav Mack

The Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, known also as the Greek Orthodox or Rum Orthodox Church, is home to a number of ethnic communities speaking different languages, including Greek, Arabic, Russian, Georgian, Romanian and Serbian, and more recently Hebrew as well. This chapter focuses on the grassroots of the two main communities, the Greek-speaking Hellenic community and the Arabic-speaking Palestinian one, in the first decades of the twentieth century.

The first half of the twentieth century was a period of growing tension between the leaders of the Arab community and the senior Greek clergy, i.e., members of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre and the Synod of the Church; the scope and depth of this tension is well analysed by Konstantinos Papastathis in his contribution to this book. In this chapter, however, I would like to shift the attention from the leadership to the members of the community and ask: how does a community function when united by religion but divided by language? In other words, I question the relationship between the Greeks and the Arabs at the community level, with an emphasis on the role of the language barrier between them. The focus is on the axis of religion and language and examining the Greek community against migration theories and the studies of language shift and language loyalty, and I concentrate on three expressions of the language divide: the choice of churches, liturgical preferences, and naming patterns.


"Arabic vs. Greek: the Linguistic Aspect of the Jerusalem Orthodox Church Controversy in Late Ottoman Times and the British Mandate" by Konstantinos Papastathis

The Orthodox Church of Jerusalem has had a continuous historical presence in Palestine, recognized by the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451) as the fifth See in the hierarchy of the Christian Church. It enjoys extensive custodianship rights over the Holy Places according to the so-called status quo agreement, and up until the beginning of the nineteenth century, the great majority of the local Christians belonged to the Orthodox creed. From early Ottoman times, the patriarchate was institutionally structured as a monastic brotherhood. This means that the Patriarch, i.e., the Head of the Fraternity, exercises more or less absolute power over all the affairs of the institution. Moreover, during Ottoman times the Patriarchate acquired an ethnically Greek character, to the detriment of the other national Orthodox groups, and especially the indigenous population. Theoretically any Orthodox individual can become member of the brotherhood. In practice, however, since the mid-nineteenth century the basic criterion for admission to the Brotherhood has been loyalty to the Greek national idea. Overall, the Arab Orthodox movement represented the great majority of the native lay members of the Church from all over Palestine. It was closely related to the Arab national cause, which explains partially its close bonds with the Muslim element of the population as well. In the Mandate period, the native Orthodox were organized in local clubs and were represented at a central level by the Arab Orthodox Executive, except of a small minority that formed the so-called “Moderate party.” The Arab Orthodox viewed the Greek rule as cultural imperialism and demanded their emancipation from Greek control, as well as the abolishment of the centralized structure of the institution via Arab inclusion in decision-making processes. Overall, the Arab Orthodox demands were for: a) the establishment of a mixed council for the administration of communal affairs, including finances; b) the free admission of Arab Orthodox people to the patriarchal organization; and c) active participation in the electoral processes of the high clergy. The role of Russian diplomacy and religious apparatus in the affair was crucial, and fuelled the intercommunal division along ethnic lines as a means to strengthen the Russian position with regard to the inter-Orthodox power competition, as well as to promote Saint Petersburg strategic goals in relation to the Ottoman Empire.


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