Translating Revolution: Hannah Arendt and Arab Political Culture Jens Hanssen (University of Toronto)
Hannah Arendt has famously lamented in “On Revolution” (1963) that the revolutionary tradition of the United States was lost on the “‘revolutionary’ countries in the East” and the United States alike. The result, she argued, has “boomeranged upon the foreign policy of the United States, which begins to pay an exorbitant price for world-wide ignorance and for [American] oblivion.” At the same time, she worried that “Western civilization has its last chance of survival in an Atlantic community” and admitted that “American power and prestige were used and misused to support obsolete and corrupt political regimes that long since had become objects of hatred and contempt among their own citizens.” Still, On Revolution has received more attention in Arab translation circles than any of her other works – including her Report on the Banality of Evil (1963) which overshadowed On Revolution in the West. In the context of a wider Arab reception history of Arendt, this paper examines two Arabic translations – Khayri Hammad’s critical translation Ra’i fi al-thawrāt (1964, republished in excerpt in Cairo, 2012) and Abdel-Rahman Bushnaq’s Franklin Foundation-endorsed translation of her favorite book, Between Past and Future, in 1974 – in order to discuss ‘Lesser-evilism’, Arab authoritarianism and the current uprisings against both.
Jens Hanssen is Associate Professor of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean history at the University of Toronto. His book publications include “Fin de Siècle Beirut” (Oxford, 2005) and two co-edited volumes: “Arab Provincial Capitals in the Late Ottoman Empire,” (Beirut, 2002); and “History, Space and Social Conflict in Beirut” (Beirut, 2005). He has recently published in The New Cambridge History of Islam (2010), in the International Journal of Middle East Studies (2011), Critical Inquiry (2012) and an article “Reading Arendt in the Middle East” (http://www.perspectivia.net/content/publikationen/orient-institut-studies/1-2012/hanssen_hannah-arendt). He is co-editing the OUP Handbook of Contemporary Middle Eastern and North African History and Arabic Thought Beyond the Liberal Age. During his visit to Baghdad in June 2003, he filmed a short documentary (posted on youtube.com) on academic life in Iraq after the U.S. invasion. He is currently conducting research on intersections between German-Jewish and Arab intellectual histories. He also investigates the legacy of the 19th-century Arabic revival and reform movement on contemporary political developments.
This event is cosponsored by Middle Eastern Studies and the Hannah Arendt Center