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Demystifying the Quest for Canaan: Observations on Mimesis in the New World and Holy Land - Steven Salaita

Demystifying the Quest for Canaan: Observations on Mimesis in the New World and Holy Land - Steven Salaita

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Published by MuslimThunder
The essay is a summary of the author's book "The Holy Land in Transit: Colonialism and the Quest for Canaan"

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http://books.google.com/books?id=-GSkKXE_EQcC&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Steven Salaita's ambitious and thought-provoking work compares the dynamics of settler colonialism in the United States related to Native Americans with the circumstances in Israel related to the Palestinians, revealing the way in which politics influences literary production.

The author's original approach is based not on similarities between the two disparate settler regions but rather on similarities between the rhetoric employed by early colonialists in North America and that employed by Zionist immigrants in Palestine.

Meticulously examining histories, theories, and literary depictions of colonialism and inter-ethnic dialects, Salaita identifies the commonalities in the myths employed by both groups as well as the "counter-discourse" cultivated in the literature of resistance by native peoples. He complements his analysis with personal observations of Palestinians in Lebanese refuge camps, where he encountered a sympathetic perception of American Indians.

"The Holy Land in Transit" presents one of the first intercommunal studies to assess the ways in which indigenous authors react to analogous colonial dynamics. With great energy and perception the author offers a fresh contribution to an emerging frame of reference for historical, political, literary, and cultural investigation.
The essay is a summary of the author's book "The Holy Land in Transit: Colonialism and the Quest for Canaan"

Preview here:

http://books.google.com/books?id=-GSkKXE_EQcC&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Steven Salaita's ambitious and thought-provoking work compares the dynamics of settler colonialism in the United States related to Native Americans with the circumstances in Israel related to the Palestinians, revealing the way in which politics influences literary production.

The author's original approach is based not on similarities between the two disparate settler regions but rather on similarities between the rhetoric employed by early colonialists in North America and that employed by Zionist immigrants in Palestine.

Meticulously examining histories, theories, and literary depictions of colonialism and inter-ethnic dialects, Salaita identifies the commonalities in the myths employed by both groups as well as the "counter-discourse" cultivated in the literature of resistance by native peoples. He complements his analysis with personal observations of Palestinians in Lebanese refuge camps, where he encountered a sympathetic perception of American Indians.

"The Holy Land in Transit" presents one of the first intercommunal studies to assess the ways in which indigenous authors react to analogous colonial dynamics. With great energy and perception the author offers a fresh contribution to an emerging frame of reference for historical, political, literary, and cultural investigation.

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Published by: MuslimThunder on Oct 15, 2010
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Critique: Critical Middle Eastern Studies(Fall 2002),
11
(2), 129
150
Demystifying the Quest for Canaan:Observations on Mimesis in theNew World and Holy Land
STEVEN SALAITA*
I once published an op-ed column supportive of Palestinian human rights in the
 Houston Chronicle
. The article, which recounted a visit to the occupied territo-ries to observe rsthand the al-Aqsa Intifada, predictably drew a spate of hatee-mail from across the country. A good number of these responses avoidedexpressing rage in the form of threat or insult and instead attempted to engagepolitical dialogue by invoking various strands of ofcial Israeli protocol. Themost interesting came from a communique´ distributed by the InternationalChristian Zionist Center, which asked, ‘How should Israel solve the problems ithas with Yasser Arafat and his terrorist afliated organizations?The rstpossibility is instructive: ‘The American Model: They destroyed the [American]Indians and let the rest live autonomously in designated reservations.’Although there are problems with this formulation—the ‘rest’ of Indian tribesdo not all live on reservations and most tribes are anything but autonomous—theproposal offers important analytical possibilities. It corresponds with the manyletters I received decrying the notion that Palestinians have a right to retain orreturn to their ancestral land. The authors employed a rhetorical device that canbe summed up as follows: ‘If we return land to the Palestinians does this meanwe should return the land to the Indians?’ The insinuation, of course, is thatreturning land to Indians is absurd and, even if it had some credence, impossible;suggesting, therefore, that Palestinians have any right to theirs is equally absurd.The authors acknowledge tacitly that Indigenous groups once occupied landusurped by the United States and Israel. They rely in turn on a classic colonialconcept of ‘chosenness’ in order to deect attention from that tacit acknowledg-ment. More important, they highlight Indian dispossession not to reinforce abelief that Palestinians should be repatriated to land that is rightfully theirs, butto counter that claim. It is assumed, then, that the delegitimization of Indians isboth pervasive and nal. It is further assumed that Native
white interaction hasceased to be a dialectical contest staged by parties with disparate claims toidentical commodities. Rather, the American version of events has prevailed andthe Native voice is extinct or unimportant, even if it existed once beforesuccumbing to the inevitable proliferation of American progress. To support
* Steven Salaita is completing a doctoral dissertation in literature at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.ISSN 1066
9922 print/ISSN 1473
9666 online/02/020129
22
Ó
2002 Editors of CritiqueDOI: 10.1080/106699202200000779 0
 
STEVEN SALAITA
arcane Native claims is thus to oppose modernity and endorse narratives that arealternately unrealistic and unpatriotic. Palestinians are well familiar with asimilar story.The relevance of such assumptions cannot be underestimated. Americandiscourse has long illustrated how the power to name and dene human life,human behavior, and human commodities creates dichotomies between thedominant public sphere and resistant undercurrents. Even if those resistantundercurrents often are attached to concepts of modernity and civility, they runcounter to them and expose the fallacies of modern colonial discourse. In apolitical culture bound to colonialism or imperialism—or, in the cases of theUnited States and Israel, both—the assumptions regarding disenfranchisedgroups connote racism when evoked and examined. Agents of that politicalculture generally see no need to qualify their positions of enunciation; they thuscan contest—perhaps foolishly—Palestinian land claims by arguing againstIndian repatriation.By consigning respective struggles for justice into isolated moral categories,those with access to popular media effectively remove context as a viableinstrument of political exchange. Palestinian and Native resistance, according tothose responding to my
Chronicle
article, neither are interconnected nor relevantto the modern industrial complex. One exists only to demystify the other, andthey never can be contextualized uidly in a comparative model of analysisbecause narratives of conquest have been transformed into national imagination;the state ultimately disseminates whatever discourse it deems politically expedi-ent in order that struggles with Indigenous groups will be perceived as local (andirrational) phenomena rather than broadly related encounters between the Westand those whose lands it has expropriated. In this framework, what has happenedto the Palestinians throughout the last century is not in any way connected to theEuropean rush for empire or the advent of garrison settlement and colonization.Such a framework absolves Israel of its responsibility in dispossession byconceptualizing Zionism as a unique effort framed by peculiar circumstancesthat necessitated the removal of Palestinians—at best, displacement is consideredunfortunate, but more often is denied altogether. Conversely, the lack of contextin discussing Native displacement sustains the overarching American nationalidentity, in which scattered tribal nomads with little population and even smallerlandholdings acted as unfortunate or belligerent impediments to the realizationof a pseudo-utopian liberal democracy never before seen in world history. Thelarge-scale destruction of life and land, resulting in the world’s worst genocideand most dangerous environmental crisis, is usually muted in order to preservea particular version of history that supplements the mythos of America’spioneering ingenuity. That these events correspond in obvious and vivid wayswith European activity on other continents is seen as irrelevant. That Natives arestill alive in large numbers and struggling in myriad ways to regain stolen landand attain self-determination is even less important. Decontextualization hasplayed an enormous role in the success of American colonial discourse, and, asI will demonstrate below, was not lost on those who later would constructnarratives of ingenuity and deliverance in Palestine.130
 
DEMYSTIFYING THE QUEST FOR CANAAN
Subscribing to this tradition of decontextualization—most likely unwit-tingly—respondents to my newspaper column assumed that I also shared theseassumptions and therefore would be receptive to pragmatic arguments thatdelegitimate Palestinian aspirations by transferring attention to the supposedfolly of such ights of fancy in the United States. Yet in reality—again, mostlikely unwittingly—my argument was only reinforced and, with some work, canbe made stronger and more useful. For I have only a simple response to thequestion ‘If we return land to the Palestinians does this mean we should returnthe land to the Indians?’: Yes, the United States
should 
return stolen land to theIndians. It is, after all, Indian land.
Savages, Terrorists, and the Animal Kingdom
Natives and Palestinians are perhaps the most versatile of earth’s species. In theirexperiences with colonization, their images have traversed much of the animalkingdom. Not only have they always been savages and terrorists—insults that,no matter how dehumanizing, at least imply humanity—they also have been,alternately or simultaneously: cockroaches, lice, moles, snakes, swine, grass-hoppers, beasts, ticks, leeches. At other times they are transposed from livingspecies to inanimate objects such as fecal matter or dead skin.These monikers are almost amusing in the sense that the racist impulsesinspiring them are so severe that one is hard-pressed to take them seriously. Infact, however, all of them can be found in the written American and Israeligovernment conceptualizations of Indigenes at a time when those governmentswere deciding and debating how their domestic policies should be constructed.Each of the monikers was uttered by an American president or Israeli primeminister, or by some other high-ranking government ofcial.
1
Given this reality,it is easy to understand how racism was institutionalized into colonial nations.The expressions of that racism change over time and according to expediencyof the moment, but they have yet to be eliminated. Expressions of racism mutatebased on the evolution of national culture, but they never can be expungeduntil national culture transforms itself by enacting meaningful reparations.Confronting transgressions with honesty is a prerequisite.One need not turn solely toward Native and Palestinian scholarship in orderto formulate a comparison between the two peoples. It is quite possible to do soby letting the United States and Israel speak for themselves. Robert F. Berkhofer,
1
American culture has evolved to the point where no American politician would say such things—unless he orshe is interested in a public relations nightmare. Therefore, in the United States, public discourse has beentransformed to a more civil framework, even if underlying attitudes have not evolved at all in some cases, asevidenced by the absence of apologies or meaningful reparations on the part of American leaders. In Israel,unfortunately, racist insults in the media and government are frequent. While those insults elicit protest, it is notyet enough for a politician actually to damage his or her career. This difference can be attributed to a timelineof acculturation. Israel is still a edgling nation involved in real wars with its Indigenes. The United States, forthe most part, has moved past that point in its history; battles are now conducted in the courtroom and media.When physical wars occurred, however, many of its leaders were no different from the variety evinced now inIsrael.
131

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