The revival of powerful literature about the Levant

Hoffman_loc_imgAdina Hoffman at The Nation:

In English, the word “Levantine” has long been a pejorative, and at a certain colonial point referred to those upwardly mobile non-Muslim Middle Easterners considered contemptible by commentators of various stripes for being neither here nor there, whether socially or ethically. “Among this minority are to be found individuals who are tainted with a remarkable degree of moral obliquity,” sniffed onetime consul general of Egypt Evelyn Baring back in 1908. Yet for those more recent writers and thinkers who have set out to reclaim the term, such hybridity is the key to what has made the region vital. In his groundbreaking 1993 book After Jews and Arabs: Remaking Levantine Culture, for instance, Ammiel Alcalay writes of the “fertile symbiosis” and “dense and intricate interconnectedness” of the “old” Levantine world.

Which brings us back to the irony of that L in ISIL: Whether muttlike menace or commendable cosmopolitan, the classic, shape-shifting “Levantine” seems the very opposite of the rigid young zealot now being enlisted to behead captives, rape slaves, and smash ancient statuary in the name of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s viciously monolithic caliphate.

more here.