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Reviewed by:
  • The Eastern Mediterranean and the Making of Global Radicalism, 1860-1914
  • Roberto Mazza
The Eastern Mediterranean and the Making of Global Radicalism, 1860-1914. By Ilham Khuri-Makdisi. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010. 296 pp. $45.00 (cloth).

Over the past decades only a handful of works discussing the role of socialism and anarchism in the Middle East at the turn of the twentieth century have been produced. Scholars have mainly focused on [End Page 883] Arab nationalism, the ways in which it developed, and how it came to be the chief political discourse. This historiography sees the Nahda or "Renaissance" movement as the predecessor of Arab nationalism, focusing on the shared language and, in particular, on the various reforms promoted under the umbrella of this concept. Ilham Khuri-Makdisi, in her innovative work, challenges this approach debating the inclusion of socialism, anarchism, and radicalism in the notion of Nahda and suggesting the adoption of global lenses to highlight the connection of the eastern Mediterranean. The Eastern Mediterranean and the Making of Global Radicalism represents a successful attempt to fill a gap in the historiography of the Left in the Middle East prior to the First World War.

Khuri-Makdisi does not really provide a thorough definition of anarchism and socialism, but she does show how these networks impacted on a local level, referring in particular to Alexandria, Cairo, and Beirut. Khuri-Makdisi argues that radicalism forged a culture of contestation challenging class boundaries, notions of social order, and foreignness (p. 1). These three cities are the main focus of the book; they are looked upon as part of a nexus and as recipient of radical global thinking and local action. In the first chapter, Khuri-Makdisi sets the context discussing the emergence of a global radical culture in the late nineteenth century, defining key terms; some definitions are weak, as in the case of Freemasonry, or used interchangeably, creating some confusion as in the case of radicalism, anarchism, and socialism.

In the following two chapters, Khuri-Makdisi debates how the press and theater constructed and disseminated radical ideas in the three cities under scrutiny, including a more global perspective: assessing the role of diaspora communities and of foreign workers. Through the analyses of two newspapers, al-Muqtataf and al-Hilal, the author shows how attitudes toward socialism changed; from open criticism, these newspapers turned to openly embrace socialism by the outbreak of the First World War. Khuri-Makdisi, therefore, shows how socialism can be inscribed into the Nahda, but this is just a first step for a major reassessment of the Nahda defined as a period of intense intellectual production with global connections. It is argued that most of the questions concerning socialism and anarchism in those newspapers came from Syrian readers living abroad, particularly in the Americas (p. 51). Khuri-Makdisi argues quite convincingly that this evidence suggests the necessity to reinterpret this period of renaissance from a global perspective. One of the most original contributions of Khuri-Makdisi is the analyses of theater and plays that are linked with the formulation and dissemination of leftist ideas as in the case of the play, [End Page 884] performed in Beirut in 1909, celebrating the life of the famous Spanish anarchist Francisco Ferrer. In this groundbreaking chapter, the theater becomes a space and vehicle to disseminate ideology and educate people; as shown by Khuri-Makdisi, press and local administrations helped the development of theater that was seen as a symbol of modern life, making theater available to both elites and marginal classes. Though evidence is not available to discuss who the people in the audience were, the author provides a thorough analysis of theatrical production and control of the theater on parts of local authorities due to the subversive potential of the theater and plays (p. 75).

Khuri-Makdisi also focuses on two radical networks that are based in Lebanon and Alexandria. Through the analyses of the network structure and activities, it is shown how members of the network based in Lebanon adhered to the Nahda credo, but above all how they operated as Ottoman patriots—an interesting point, not the focus of Khuri-Makdisi's...